Shot at H0l0, Queens
Joey Walker Photography
Interview by Stasia de Tilly
Our dance moves work around the mud-sweat-grit-coated floor. Jumping up and down in sync with an Adidas Tracksuit, hood up, with a black face mask and polarized sport sunglasses. The floor is below but also in front and to the side and above, we are dancing inside a donut hole shaped like the universe. The sight of green strobe lights and the sound of the rave whistle.
Hedonism as in dancing with no end goal. Queer love as in fucking with no end goal. Finding novel ways to reach oblivion.
Inside the power station: Colorful Tattoos of troll dolls underneath Thai boxing shorts held up by chains from the Baumarkt. Small girl with cool haircut who dances like scissors. A shaved head with dark eyelashes, slight smile, hazardous waste neck tattoo, blue rashguard. Camouflage cargo pants tucked into leather boots. A white loincloth over ripped tights. Rubberized face mask, drooping breasts, high-waisted floor length Hood By Air skirt. Bondage pants with criss-cross straps and plastic buckles, mesh tank top, bleached buzz cut. Tiny green square sunglasses, floral silk blue kimono. Pink tutu, cheap blonde wig, round matrix sunglasses. Platform buffalo sneakers. Wedding day white beaded and embroidered bodysuit with mesh sleeve puffs, reebok instapumps. Latex jodhpur suit in black and red with cranberry bog boots. Transparent wrestling singlet with an ovular ass cut-out. Green soccer jersey cropped with raw edge. White pleated tennis skirt with matching sleeveless top and underbutt. New balance sneakers, leathery skin, flaccid penis. Lines and lines of Kappa mudflap girls. Fishnet tights underneath shorts and flirtatious eyes. A thonged onesie made of sheer elastane and lace, thigh-high stiletto boots.
Crab walking, floor punching, kangaroo jumping at 185 BPM. Why are you wearing that? Where are your pants? In the basement of a soviet football stadium, midday Sunlight streams through the window.
I wake up and my back is to the speaker. I am vibrating in 4:4.
On a rainy Thursday night we met with Alyssa Buff, an up-and-coming NYC based designer, at Bluestockings bookstore in the Lower East Side. Upon photographing Buff’s recent body of work, garments made for the rave, we hungered to hear more about what inspires their taste in clubwear and the philosophies that underscore their craft.
Born from the Club Kid scene, Alyssa Buff’s fascination with nightlife grew once exposed to the underground electronic music landscape in Berlin. Techno offered a new matrix for this young designer to not only explore but to reinvent themselves in a world in which we’re all searching to belong. After spending countless hours on the dancefloor, Buff speaks to the themes that pervade their experience, “Hedonism, as in dancing with no end goal. Queer love, as in fucking with no end goal. Finding novel ways to reach oblivion.”
Buff’s footprints have been tracing NYC streets, beneath the glow of street lamps, across the nightlife circuit since 2013. They have been involved in fashion for a lifetime, originating with the construction of their own looks for Lady Gaga concerts and unique garments to flaunt at Lady Fag. With a craft originating in the creation of DIY garments that are ritualistically cut off the body upon returning home with the sun, they are constantly navigating queerness in garments that make them feel safe as a gender non-conforming person. Buff brings the aesthetics of their world together into their designs, under one roof, on one dance floor, to innovate what is being worn and for what purpose.
Q: Who are you?
A: I’m Alyssa, I’m a queer, non-binary person. I am also a raver, I am someone who is obsessed with fashion -- high fashion and streetwear.
Q: How did you become interested in fashion?
A: In high school I was looking at every single runway show that I could. I was reading a lot of fashion magazines. Growing up in Virginia I had access to Style.com and whatever magazines they carried at Barnes & Noble. I wanted to soak it up.
More recently in the past five years I’ve gotten really deep into techno and there I’ve found my niche. I love the music, the style, the community; my favorite place to be is on the dance floor at 6am or 10 am. [Laughs] Maybe 10am. I think the techno scene, no matter what musical purists say, is very aesthetically obsessed and image obsessed. So I think it’s given me a space to explore my identity, to live my identity, to sort of design who I am. I believe what we wear is the most straightforward way to express who we are.
Over the past three years I’ve been in a practice of making clubwear. It began as looks that I would wear out, to like drag and circuit parties in Manhattan, and have to sometimes cut off myself at the end of the night. Living in Berlin in 2016-17, I started making more wearable jewelry with found objects, rubber, and aluminum, to wear with whatever small amount of sportswear I’d wear to the clubs there. That evolved into my current focus which is unisex apparel designed for the dancefloor.
Q: What are we looking at in these photos?
A: This body of work was created between July and October 2018, with the exception of the rubber necklaces which were created in January 2017, and the latex trousers which were made in October 2017. In some photos they are styled with contemporary and vintage sportswear and fetish gear from my personal collection.
All of my fabrics are surplus materials sourced from fashion friends I met through the techno scene. The final result is chaps, straps, and bodysuits. Everything I’m wearing in these photos I’ve worn raving.
What are some of your design references?
A: I play a lot with gender markers and what people expect from masculine or feminine garments, but more importantly how you can create shapes, silhouettes and garments that are not tied to a history or menswear or womenswear. I think clubwear is outside of traditional fashion; there isn’t a clubwear establishment per se.
In Berlin, I became so inspired by the things going on around me in nightlife. I found the overlap in the venn diagram between Techno and Fetish to be really big, so that soaked into my reference pool a lot. I think something interesting about fetish wear is that it can take away your identity. I work with masks a lot. I’ve had the experience of being at a club wearing a full face mask and I say hello to my friends and they’re like “Who are you?” I could have been dancing next to them for 6 hours and they would not have known if I hadn’t outed myself.
Vintage sportswear is super inspiring for its functionality and style. I spent a lot of time at Berghain, Ohm, Griessmuhle, About Blank, all these other raves and klubnachts, just looking around at the hardest dancers on the floor with the craziest style.
What are they wearing and why, and what is that saying about them? I cultivated a lot from that. A part of it was I wanted to look cool and fit in, but also look like my own individual self. I never wanted to be like, “everyone’s wearing this harness and I wanna get one too.”
Q: What are the philosophies that inform your work?
A: The nature of my practice is, I design to make myself feel good and as soon as I put the garments on - I feel powerful. I ask myself, can I dance in this? Can I wear this all night? How do we play with proportions in garments that allow you to hide or augment parts of your anatomy? I’m trying to find ways that clothing can express to the people around me what I’m feeling about myself.
When I’m wearing a full look of my designs I want people to wonder: What are you? I want people to be confused…because I’m confused. I am pairing that tiny little bikini top with shorts and packing a huge dick. I want people to look at me and not be able to misgender me because they can’t. In a very personal and internal way, I feel like gender just does not apply to me.
I’m still finding my position. But I want to take all these influences and make something truly genderless. Not just putting boys in dresses and girls in sweatpants. Nightlife is a place where I’m allowed to have that freedom, I can act out my gender in different ways. At work I have to be the same person, but I can go to a different party every weekend as a different person if I want to.
Q: How do you want your designs to contribute to nightlife spaces?
A: Aesthetically, I want to create new things that I haven’t seen before. I want to give people the ability to be their true selves and give people clothing that is affirming and made for them. Give queer people, gender fluid people, genderqueer people, trans people access to clothing that is made for them. Fashion is binary, its menswear and womenswear and even though we’re in a time where things are increasingly unisex, the structure of fashion is still binary. I think I have this freedom in making clubwear because it doesn't have this establishment, and also because, at this moment, I work in a way that’s closer to an art practice than a fashion business.
New York is full of amazing people, but compared to other nightlife scenes that I’ve had contact with, New York feels a little bit repressed and scared when it comes to owning your body. I want to bring some kind of freedom, comfort with your own body, feeling more comfortable to show off your naked body that I don’t think is a part of American culture. There’s something really amazing about being able to be topless at a club and not feel sexualized. I want to push the culture a bit and nudge it, I don’t want to regurgitate the same aesthetics and ideas.
Shot at Rockaway, Queens
Joey Walker Photography
Interview by Stasia de Tilly
Devin Black hosted Aquatic Themes on WNYU Radio for 2.5 years — the show entailed spending two and half hours in the mix with fresh tracks each week. Aquatic Themes not only became a seasoned scavenger of tunes but also gained skills in layering a truly unique selection of electronic music. From Techno, Dubstep, Drum and Bass, Electro, Dub Techno, and Minimal House, Aquatic Themes reaches far and wide to submerge the listener into a sonic body of water.
In his world, the headspace of the mix plunges as deep as the Mariana Trench and darts nimbly across genres like a circling shark. Black compiles tracks that make a mix as much of a visual experience as an aural one: shifting baselines sound like the engines of underwater spaceships; metal birds chirp sharply; and the blips of minimal stabs appear to drift over the horizon. Black is evolving his craft toward the future: taking these sonic metaphors and invigorating them with new life through his projects in digital media.
Black opened up to us about his hard drop into dance music via the true tunes of Skream!, his childhood in Atlanta, Georgia, and what’s ahead for DJ Aquatic Themes.
Q: Something I find really unique about you is your taste in music, where did that development begin? Did it have anything to do with growing up in Atlanta?
A: Growing up my mom would always play Hôtel Costes CDs. Of course Ultra. Chilled 01, from Ultra Music. It’s their compilation from 2001 of their chill-out tracks. You play it in hotel lobbies.
Anyways, Atlanta. The big thing I remember is, I was hanging out with my step brother and dubstep came up. I said, “Oh, that’s that wub wub music”. So I went on YouTube and looked up dubstep and the first result was this UKF mix with this BAR9 track called Strung Out. I heard it and I was like..woah. I started off listening to mainstream dubstep stuff; then I saw a video on YouTube that is gone now from the digital archives.
Q: Wow, obscure.
A: It was a parrot dancing to Haunted by Digital Mystikz. Around that time, I got my driver's license, and I got a car because you had to have a car in Atlanta to drive around.
…Grandma is calling me.
Q: Pick it up if you want
A: No, I’m busy with this interview thing.
I think it was very coincidental, like if I had discovered Dubstep before, I don't know if it would have had the same effect. My car had a decent stereo system. It was an entry level KIA Sportage. I put on Skream! With the exclamation point. I was like, Woah, this BASS...it’s awesome!
A lot of my friends in Atlanta are younger so I would drive them around and they would have to listen to my music...but they all kinda loved it. They all loved Skream! When I got into techno towards the end of high school I don’t think they were that much into it, but they had time.
Q: They had time to develop their taste..
A: …They had time to submit to four on the floor beat and the power of the kick drum.
Q: A thing that I love about your mixes is your taste: Was your taste developed on your own or was it something given to you?
A: Something I remember doing in the car a lot that contributed to me DJing is listening to the Fabric mixes, especially the dubstep ones like FabricLive 37. Caspa & Rusko — just hearing how mixing worked and the progression of songs. Not listening to whole songs but listening to how they were in a mix. It all comes back to that Atlanta question; it was centered around being in a car. Speaking from a nostalgic angle there is something I miss very much about Atlanta which is in the summer, or the fall, or the spring. Probably the winter too honestly, just having the windows down and blasting Digital Mystikz. Atlanta has a lot of winding roads in the woods. Cruising around in my moody adolescent times, as we all do. I would just drive around in the evenings, listening to the cicadas.
Most of my high school career I was listening to Dubstep and the UK Funky - bass around the time...techno wasn’t a thing until...
I actually remember when I discovered techno: it was Photek DJ-Kicks mix. I didn’t even know who Photek was at the time. It had all these UK bass track and some techno-bass mix, Sepalcure, Kromestar and Dead Eye by Baby Ford. I remember hearing that track and being like “hmm...it goes like unts unts unts then buh buh buh unt unts unts merh merh merh.” I think that track, by Baby Ford made me realize what techno was.
Q: Would you consider your main genre of interest to this day to be techno?
A: Pretty much, because techno encompasses so much. There’s house, electro, dubstep, but techno is the kind of thing that seems to sit in the middle for me. Everything kind of branches off of it. I remember it was mid-December of 2013 when I found Black Sea by Drexciya on Spotify. I think I heard Wave Jumper before, the kind more electro-y track, but Black Sea is a banger with the bass line, and then those pads come in….holy shit...oh my god. The thing about Drexciya; I am not the first one to say this, by a long shot, but they combine aggressive harsh elements with really beautiful musicality. It’s a brilliant thing how they do that. I think that combination also attracted me to dubstep.
Q: So the year is 2013, where is Devin?
A: I remember my first real underground electronic experience in New York. I heard about a party called Reconstrvct, and many people in New York will speak highly of this party. I emailed the promoter like, “hey I’m 18, but can I still come to this party.” He replies, “yo bruv, yeah you can come. I got you but don’t tell anyone, don’t bring anyone, just come.” so I go and it’s literally in this parking garage in the Lower East Side. I didn’t even know the LES at this point, so I finally find it. I walked into this parking garage like… oh, this is a parking garage.
I go around the corner and I walk into the loudest bass I’ve ever heard. I still uphold the fact that Reconstrvct had a serious sound set up. You walked into this dark pit and it was the Get Darker party. I stayed till 6am entirely sober. The promoter was like, “don’t drink, don’t go to the bar, please”. I was totally sober and the sound was so good. You could go onto the roof and see the Williamsburg Bridge and the stairwell up to the roof.
Q: So you had a radio show for a couple years at WNYU called Aquatic Themes, tell me about that experience?
A: So, I got lucky and got on FM in 3 months because no one was doing it over the summer in 2015, and the Music Director called me up and was like,”Your mixing is pretty ok, do you want to do FM?” I listened back to my mixes and they were pretty awful back then when I was new to DJing, but DJing for 2 hours a week makes you so much better. I got a ton of cool guests like these awesome Brazilians, Urubu Marinka, Martha van Straaten — Berlin Sao Paulo mix. NYC locals like Shy Eyez, Doctor Jeep, Beta Librae, Malory. I had 20+ guests. The Guy Gerber one was so funny, I loved it. He just talked about tower defense games, books, his party he does, and the flowers.
Q: The flowers?
A: He has a lot of flowers at his parties, but apparently some people had taken that idea for their own. I will legitimately say though: Gerber was a really chill dude. I’m just some kid with a college radio show who got hooked up with a PR agency that believed in me. He was in his hotel room talking to me on the phone, and 20 minutes into the 40 minute interview, all of his friend arrive at the hotel room, and he keeps doing the interview. He could have been like, “good talking to you I’m gonna go party with my cool international DJ friends now,” but he kept doing it. I respect that because I was just a smol bean radio host.
I think having a radio show was where I went from just having a bunch of tracks to having to dig for new music all the time. I used to have the dubstep stuff and the techno stuff. But now I have all these different areas of each genres. I have a dubstep: techy/funky playlist that I love because it has all the early James Blake, 2562, and old Mount Kimbie. I really loved radio because it pushed me to go far and wide to collect all these tracks that I’d heard. All those tracks that I never would have hunted down. Also learning to DJ and having an audience, it's really motivational, instead of just being by yourself in your room. You get Victor from Washington Heights calling in. So I know I had to perform with Victor listening.
The whole DJ thing is very hard to get into in a way, unless you have friends who are deep into it. It was a nice way to be like, “hey everyone, I exist!”
Q: How does your personal production compare to your mixes?
A: I made my first song in May of 2011 on Fruity Loops...it was pretty damn bad. I have such a big archive of tunes, I love going back to listen to the seven years of progression. The thing that’s perplexing about making tunes is it has to A) sound good musically, sound good in the headphones and B) has to bang in the club too from an engineering perspective and from a rhythm perspective. Have I found my voice? I don’t know. I’ll make a ton of tunes one month then the next month I won’t make anything. Or just loops and sketches. I think honestly, can I not work in my bedroom? Do I suck at this? Do I spend too much time trying to get the perfect amount of reverb on the subbass of the kick drum?
It’s something that I’m working on, but I’m not rushing it. Ultimately living in New York City, you come home and you’re kinda tired. One day everything will come together, but for now I have my 300 or so random-ass files. I’ve considered doing an originals mix because they don’t stand on their own. They’re either brilliant, but the engineering is weird, or the beat is awesome and it’s just a loop. It would be cool to do an OG mix of all this stuff that I think it super interesting, maybe because I know the context behind everything.
I want to do my late 90s-early 2000s hotel lounge downtempo bossa-nova acid jazz mix first.
Q: Top dance music sounds and if you had to be one which would you be?
A: Perfect dub-techno stab. Basic Channel did it pretty well but Maurizio, who is one half of Basic Channel — my boy Moritz von Oswald —makes amazing, crisp, dub-techno stabs. M4.5…no, M7. Deepchord does them well too. I love a white noise when it’s like Prince of Denmark type white noise. It sounds so rich. Maybe that really nice white noise sweep from Morning Blues by Skream
Q: Tell me about the principle of the mix?
A: I love CD mixes, which are a dying art. Fabric is going to end the Fabric series at 100. They are at 99 right now. These mixes are pretty much perfect most of the time because it’s a prepared mix. Dubstep Allstars Volume 6 by Appleblim: every transition is like, wow.
I think what I realized about the Last Aquashow…it was the last radio show I ever did after 126 shows. It was a culmination of mixing for two and a half hours a week, building the collection. I knew the tracks: after 16, 32, 48, 64 bars, what was going to happen. What key the tracks are in, where the frequencies are, how the bass lines work together, the amounts of shuffle on the tracks, and how they play with each other.
It comes down to knowing tracks, and I can say from experience that if I haven’t mixed in a month and I have all these new tracks, I have no idea what I’m doing. I feel like I’m starting again with all these new songs. So I think a huge part of mixing well and blending well is just knowing the tracks. People say, “it sounds like one long song”. Well maybe it’s a good mix.
Q: You’ve been pursuing visual art, been in to photography a long time, and I hear that you’re getting into more design stuff. Do you see a visual element coming into play for the Aquatic Themes project?
A: So I’ve been taking photos since around when I got into music thing. I remember when I did my Aquashow and whenever I would upload something I would have the Soundcloud picture and I would move mine next to it. It created this cool little visual narrative. The Aquatic Themes T-shirt first edition had a bit of that photo in there.
The thing is, I’ve read 3 books about typography recently. Typography is…once you learn about it you can’t go back. You just become THAT little asshole, who just looks at this stuff…the line length — why is it on this side — the line length needs to be like book size so it’s legible!
I want to expand Aquatic Themes. It’s always been a brand for me. Aquatic Themes T-shirts. Aquatic Themes parties. Aquatic Themes cryptocurrency…AquaCoin. Because why not.
Q: So do you actually have an affinity for the ocean or is this a Drexciya thing?
A: No, I love the ocean. I just keep having this dream where…I’ve had this recurring dream for years. The theme is similar where I’m on the beach and a tide is coming in quicker and quicker, and I can't escape or outrun it. Maybe this is common with technology…but my phone is always in my pocket, and it’s submerged, and its already wet. All my shit’s wet and water’s up to here and I can’t get away from it. It’s sweeping everything away.
I Google this, and apparently it's a common thing but there’s no conclusive results because no one knows what this shit means.
Q: What do you think it means?
A: I don't know. I just don't.
Q: Fun Questions. Who would win or what do you prefer – sharks vs. dolphins? I know its sharks!
A: Yeah its sharks! It’s definitely sharks. They’re very intelligent. Sharks have been around for like 400 million years if not longer. They’re pretty sick. They don't need to change. To quote the Ramadanman song from 2010, “Don't change for me!”
Q: Grimes vs. Elon Musk – Battle Royale?
A: Obviously Grimes, because you know she would do some Hunger Games type shit, and Elon Musk would probably try to make crazy stuff out of sticks and Grimes would just get a sword and chop his head off. She looked pretty comfortable using a sword in the Genesis music video.
Q: Bodega Sandwich order?
A: I used to go with the big ass bodega sandwich, but I’m at the point in life where I can’t eat a bunch of bread and meat without feeling shitty. Bacon egg and cheese with hot sauce on a roll is my go to.
Q: Mix off: SIT or Farben? Production off.
A: Production off? Definitely Farben. I think the reason SIT is so good is because: classically trained musicians. So they’re great at arrangement and all these little details. Farben is also good at all the arrangement and little details. He’s not doing any of the crazy music theory shit but everything else is like …Woah. 2023 – I’m calling it. Micro house revival.
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Shot at The Mixtape Shop
Joey Walker Photography
Interview by Stasia de Tilly
The Duchess is weaving her way through Brooklyn’s local clubs providing an energy that audiences crave. She speaks about something in nightlife that you don’t get from the motions of day to day life - a higher spiritual feeling. Maybe it’s a dance floor epiphany while watching your favorite DJ or just a solid night with good friends. It’s a feeling that gets us out of the house and into the cold only to be welcomed by an excited kick, calling to us as we dance discreetly in line at the coat check. Dance music seduces us with the potential for release, so that whatever we go out in search of, we allow ourselves to be open to the message of the DJ, guiding us from behind the decks.
Q: So New York was the first place you began actively participating in music, what’s that story? How did you get into DJing?
A: I used to work in fashion, designing womenswear - high end RTW. It's a long story, but in short: I reached a point where I didn't want to deal with all the politics of that industry anymore. It was hurting me in so many ways - I was letting it - and so I had to quit. I started out again from scratch - ended up getting a job as a barista just to pay rent and stay put. As i tried to figure out what to do next, I didn't know what yet, but i knew that I didn't want to leave New York. I grew up in London, but my mom's family is Italian-American, five generations deep - from Borough Park. I had always wanted to come back and live in the city, as I'd never really felt connected to London or English culture on a deeper level. Fashion had been my entire life up until that point, since I was 13, basically. So my whole world caved in and I really didn't know what to do next - I just knew I had to stay here and whatever it was that I was gonna do with my time, I belonged in Brooklyn.
The coffee shop where I ended up working built a bar inside the space and the owners (Frank and Jay) wanted to promote it. They asked me to organize and throw a few parties to get the word out. By that point I knew everyone in the neighbourhood pretty much and had been going out dancing a lot just as a way to release and blow off steam - I had a vague idea of how to throw a party together - ha. A friend who lived above the spot said his roommate was a DJ and would be down to play the first party. This guy - Shawn Dub - was the first person who really introduced me to DJing as I know it today. He brought down his ENTIRE set up for the party - turntables, mixer, speakers too I think - plus ALL these records. So many records. I remember at the end of the night, I’m standing next to him watching him close down the party and I was like… ‘This looks like a lot of fun’. He was like, ‘It is.' I asked, ‘Could I do that?’ And he said yeah and he would show me how. So I went over to Shawn’s house every week after that. I’ll never forget he started me off with an edit of Love’s Theme by Love Unlimited Orchestra/Barry White which I already knew from listening to it in the car with my mom - 'Heart Radio' golden days haha. I was kind of obsessed with it?! I'm a sucker for good strings... So I spent several hours a week at Shawn's house just finding the 1 on one record while the other was playing, queuing it up in the headphones, release, fade up, fade down. And over and over again. I did that shit for hours and I loved every second of it. Eventually I was ready to try the same thing but with 2 different records (!) and just built from there. I started buying records of my own, really making sure I mastered one simple thing before moving to the next step. Shawn took me as far as he could, but I needed more explained to me - I'm a total perfectionist... He introduced me to another friend of his that he thought I'd work well with - DJ Scribe. They were playing parties together at the time: I Love Vinyl, founded by Scribe. That's a whole other story...those parties - I can't get into it.
Scribe and I instantly connected. It was beautiful. So now, instead of walking a couple blocks up the street to Shawn’s house from mine, I’m going from Crown Heights to the Upper West Side every week with a bag of records on my back for a lesson with Scribe. That's how I really started to learn the nuances of the art, and in turn, I got a refresher in music theory as well. Scribe is interesting because he started off in the early 90s playing college radio - obsessed with hip hop as it was all really having it's Day. But he is also a trained musician - me too. Violin for him, piano for me. So we both have these detail-oriented ears, and love the life, humor and rawness of everything New York - it was the perfect combination for a great 'student/teacher' relationship. Again, I’m a perfectionist - so I wanted to learn everything I possibly could to help me get total control over the equipment, the records, and the music - bring all these fantasies in my head out in to life.
Q: What is the origin of The Duchess?
A: It's a two part thing: A couple of girl friends of mine who were launching a web series knew that I was learning to DJ and had been practising night and day, and they wanted me to be their DJ at the launch party for this series. But I was still in private learning mode - going up to Scribe's every week, crying every session hahaha ENDLESSLY crying after every fuck-up because I was so frustrated at my own humanness and I couldn't yet do the things with music that I wanted to hear! I had no intention of playing out at all but these two friends of mine - Kait and Cat - they were like: "You’re going to play the party and we’ve already come up with your DJ name, it's 'The Duchess’ - you're welcome." They wouldn't take no for an answer and they really believed in me which is very sweet thinking back on it because I could barely put two things together, honestly. I was kind of horrified because the name that they had come up with was so much bigger than me or the way I felt about myself, especially as a DJ. But they were like, ‘Its perfect. You're from London but you’re here in Brooklyn now and it's cute and very sassy and that's how we think about you!’. So yeah - that was all set in stone hahaha ("sassy", lord) and I played the gig but still wasn't really sure if I was going to keep the name...
I was doing a lot of research at the time on the history of New York nightlife - like every good student of this, i guess. I was reading about the Paradise Garage (obviously), that 'New York Sound' that I was getting to know and love, the beginnings of House music - and I found this one story that I’ve seen repeated in many different accounts and biographies since. It’s a story about how Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles met. Legend has it, they were working at a Ball together - both helping this drag queen named Duchess get ready for her number. They were both kneeling at her feet, sewing beads on her dress before she went out. And I just died upon reading this: Two musical Giants meeting at the feet of this young queen called the Duchess? That married up so much of what i loved about DJing and music in general - Larry's command of the Paradise Garage and Frankie’s euphoric work at The Warehouse - giving birth to House music, period. Fantasy fantasy fantasy. They were both pivotal creators of the sound I enjoy so much today and am pushing forward, hopefully. That discovery solidified it for me and The Duchess stuck. I imagine it can come off as arrogant maybe but whatever, people can take it or leave it. They're gonna think what they want.
Q: Do you remember some of the first tracks that sparked your attention? Or a song you heard that made you think "I have to have this"?
A: Oh yeah - It’s a song called "Love" by Groovestyle (aka Eric Miller aka E-Smoove aka Thick Dick AND SO MUCH MORE). I found it through researching the Dope Jams / Slow to Speak guys - Paul & Fran. I went to an Easter party of theirs at Goodroom years ago and they blew me the fuck away. Up until that point I hadn't heard anyone play a night moving through so many different genres of music the way they did - and every single record was amazing and served a divine purpose. They just knew what they were doing - with every aspect of the party, not just the music. They came down from upstate (where the store moved to after closing up in Brooklyn) and decorated the Goodroom to within an inch of its life - had someone working the lights totally in sync with them while they played, used the fog machine properly (ha) I couldn't see my hands infront of my face at one point coz there was so much fog and a strobe was going off and then this huge pink and yellow daisy person/decoration(?) was in my face and i flipped the fuck out! So the next day I was exhausted from dancing so much and took to the web - found this "top 10 Valentine's records" list they'd compiled for an online magazine and "Love" was in there. Even listening to it through shitty laptop speakers I was like - DAMN. This is it - just a perfect house record. It’s everything I love about house music captured in just over 7 minutes. It has everything you need: a beautiful swinging beat, good horns in just the right places, ecstatic and unashamed rnb vocals - ‘...something about you baby, drives me crazy ... there’s something about you baby ... come ON - ’ and then the kick comes in and you're like What. The. Fuck. I live to play that record at just the right time of night coz it starts out with just the chords and hand claps - really empty - with this guy starting to explain how he feels about this girl - just a clap on the 2 and the 4 and you bring it up nice and slow and then it just goes OFF. Anybody out there with half a pulse is with you at that point, and it's on til the end - "We've got the formula for Love..."
This song means a lot to me and if I’m ever feeling a certain way i’ll put that on. If I ever forget what I’m doing or why I’m doing it, in terms of music and djing, I'll put that song on. I’ve stopped playing it out recently though because I went through a phase where I was playing it too much! So I purposefully leave the record at home now. I have double copies of it because I’m totally wearing it out. So that's it - Groovestyle, "Love".
Q: So you’re hosting a show on WAXX.FM called Spiritual Mental Physical, which is amazing..
A: It’s also a party - it was a monthly and at the moment it’s every other month.
Q: Oh what venue?
A: Jupiter Disco, shout-out to Maks and Al!
Q: Tell me about the radio show in itself and the philosophy behind the party?
A: I don't know if I am achieving this with any of it, but the attempt is being made: Spiritual Mental Physical is a name that instantly came to me because it's a direct lift from the 3 parts of life that I have to take care of to ensure that I'm in with a shot of living as close to my Highest Self as possible. l have to focus on those three parts in order to be healthy and go about my business in a way that isn’t just completely irresponsible. I have to take care of my spiritual health, my mental health and my physical wellbeing - and the same is true for me when it comes to nightlife and DJing. I don't have a hope of having a good time or helping others to have a good time through music or hosting in any way unless I've taken care of myself first- so I can show up to a venue or a party or a situation with as much love as possible. I mean sometimes I'm still all the human things - frustrated, angry, depressed, bored, lonely, tired, vengeful etc - but predominantly I want the basis to be positive. All those other things can get worked out through the music.
I also think about the 3 part experience of leaving the house at night, ready to go out. On some level, you've got to be physically energized enough to get dressed and leave the house with intent. Then, whatever you're putting in your body or not putting in your body - are you drinking, doing shots? Smoking, taking something? And probably you're hoping to have an interaction with another person - other people - ? Trying to see what's up, what you can get into. There are very real physical aspects to nightlife. I mean the noise of it! the lights! it can be physically assaulting if it's all in the wrong hands. And mentally - how are you feeling? What happened to you today? What are you going through? What do you need? What do you want? Are you in a place where you're open to listen? Or willing to give something? And then the spiritual component is that we’re all going out in search of something greater than ourselves - I'm leaving my house at night because I want an experience, something I can't create for myself by staying in the house. Something bigger than me that involves other people - and all the mess of that haha. These days when I go out I don't just want to take, I also want to give - my energy, my support. I have to be careful about where I go and who I go with coz I can't give of myself where it's not wanted or safe. The best nights out for me are the nights where I know I can connect with people in a really beautiful way that doesn't require me to necessarily even have a deep conversation with them. We can dance and hang and be near each other in a safe space - probably a private space. Be kind to each other. I can’t talk for long about anything important in a club or at a party. It's not the place for that - it's a place where (hopefully) music can speak for me, you, and all of that.
When I do the party at Jupiter Disco now, I make sure i show up in a loving frame of mind, ready to connect with people through the work. I only book fellow djs to play with me that i really fuck with 100% and know that they are on the same creative path as me - they have their own ways of embodying that 3 part life experience through music - I trust them, I look up to them. I know we will have fun - and if we are having fun, everyone else will too. The ideal is to have a space of my own that I could control top to bottom but - Jupiter is a public space that still manages to feel intimate and attracts a pretty chill open-minded crowd. And it has everything we need equipment-wise to get somewhere. I feel lucky to have a regular slot there, for sure.
The radio show on Waxx.FM is the more 'private' extension of the party - it's a chance to get more indepth with artists and good human beings that aren't necessarily djs or party people - but they totally embody the 3 principles through their life and work. I bring people on who I admire, that are living exciting, fulfilling lives and have something to offer the listener: Moon Rhythms, Tasnim Ahmed, Victorious DeCosta, Malik Hendricks, Beta Librae! If they’re not DJs I ask them to curate a playlist of music that they are into at that time and I help mix it for them. I’ve really enjoyed doing it. It's enabled me to connect with so many people that I would love to be closer to, but because we are all so busy and on our grind there isn't enough time in the day to cultivate these relationships and connections as much as we'd like.
Q: How does that relate to the way you mix? You’re very aware of the time of your set and the energy you want to bring to the dance floor. So tell me a bit about your DJ philosophy?
A: It’s really pretty simple: I do what I love. I only play music that I love. I don't buy or own any filler records. Everything has to be 100 percent The Shit. For every record to make me feel like Groovestyle’s "Love" is a pretty really tall order, but they are out there - from every genre in existence. I keep finding them - it's just beautiful. Like finding a techno record that makes me feel as sexy as "Love" and knowing they could both be played during the course of a night and make perfect sense - it's all coming from the same place and heading in the right direction. Every record has to make me feel something special - some kind of tangible emotion, be it positive or negative. That part is for certain.
When I play I am trying to tell you what's up. I'm also asking you questions, I'm trying to see what's up with you. But ultimately all I can do is show up with the experience I have to-date, give you what I have and hope that you relate and you're down. It's a chance for escape, fantasy, to get high - all of that.
Also I am really trying now more than ever to not give a fuck about what anyone else is doing. I spent so many years listening and looking to other people for answers and guidance and the 'right way' to do things - not just with music. It's only really in the last couple of years that I’ve been like: "No one can tell me how to do this. This has to be a journey I take by myself." I love doing this. Whether I play out at a party or alone in my room, I feel more myself doing this work than at any point during the day or night otherwise. It’s an emotional, personal, spiritual practice. I know that all of my peers relate to this - I'm not unique in this experience by any means.
Additionally, I'm careful about the places I play at, and who I play with. I try to only put myself in situations where I'm supported to the point where I can give the best that I can - where I can give my all. I’ve had experiences as a party-goer that have been transformative because the people playing that night were supported in those ways and therefore enabled to play like that. So we all have a good time and get filled up with some hope to go home with. I can get up the next day and have coffee and keep it moving - trust.
Follow The Duchess:
KFeelz (Miss/Chief Collective)
Shot at The Cloisters
Joey Walker Photography
Interview by Stasia de Tilly
Kfeelz, a brooklyn-native, is a member of the Miss/chief Collective and has an intrinsically deep love for a wide range of music. The up-and-coming DJ is comfortable spanning the genres of afro-beats to techno, and everything in between. She explores creating vibrant and energetic space through pulsating rhythms and funky vibes, and is set to do exactly that on 1/27/18, as she's slated to open the floodgates to Solarplexia at Analog BKNY, performing alongside K-Hand (Trip, Acacia), Volvox (Discwoman), Barbie Bertisch (Love Injection), and DJ Voices (Working Women). She will be the first DJ to perform under the Solar name, we are extremely fortunate to have her.
Q: How did it all start for you?
Kfeelz: There are multiple influences on how I’ve become a DJ, but my friend Cal was one of the people who introduced me to house and dance music because he was really into it when I met him and knew a lot about the history of it. I thought it was fascinating that a lot of dance music has been created by black and brown people in spaces that were open and queer. The origins of the music sparked my interest but I also absolutely love dancing. One of my friends proposed that we start throwing parties with an all-women DJ line-up. From there I started using Virtual Dj and now I play and practice on CDJ’s. One day I want to be able to play vinyl. I am a part of Miss/chief collective which is an all women of color collective and they really inspire me.
Q: Who is your biggest influence as a DJ?
Kfeelz: I have a lot of influences. There are many incredible women (so many!!!) who are DJiing who really inspire me! All of the people who came before me who were creating spaces and still making spaces that are black and queer and free inspire me. The women of Discwoman really inspire me! K-HAND is a very big inspiration to me as well. All of the incredible black and brown people who have started this music from Detroit and Chicago inspire me. The DJs that I know in Brooklyn who are creating their own worlds and sound inspire me!
Q: What are you listening to right now?
Kfeelz: I have been listening to a ton of mixes lately! I have been listening to the latest Underground and Black Mix from Olive T. I’ve been listening to the most recent Discwoman mixes! I’ve been listening to a ton of gospel house to because it makes me dance and South African gqom. I have also been listening to Stevie Wonder. It depends on what mood I’m in but I tend to consume a lot of music daily.
People is our page dedicated to the amazing local talent, dancers, and headliners who make Solarplexia what it is.