Well-spoken and quietly humble, it is fair to say that Naeem Martinez is becoming increasingly enamored by art and music as time passes. Now based in Pittsburgh, he was born and raised in Harlem where his mother introduced him to the world of fine art in New York City.
“My Mom would frequently take me to museums. Being really young at the time, I would do my best to breeze through whatever exhibit we went to see. I would then proceed to inquire about when we would be leaving. Fast forward 15+ years, I’m the complete opposite and I’m totally interested in spending hours and hours in a museum. I took a long route to gaining an appreciation for the arts and have only come to really value these early experiences in retrospect,” he says. “With my growing appreciation for arts, I began to pursue a degree in Fine Art at Carnegie Mellon in 2008. I had spent six weeks taking summer courses at Carnegie Mellon the previous year, so I had a vague idea of what I was getting myself into.”
Martinez is a DJ, producer, and member of Pittsburgh-based label DETOUR. His interest for DJing piqued upon arriving to the City of Bridges when he found himself tuned in to Carnegie Mellon’s radio station WRCT. Specifically, he was exploring the sounds of rap and hip-hop on “What’s Really Good Radio” – a Monday evening show run by DJ Thermos and Shawn MC. As he became more exposed to rappers and MCs that he had never heard of “like the Monster Island Czars and Binary Star” his inspiration grew.
“With my head full of ideas after listening to WRGR for a few weeks, I joined WRCT in hopes of having a show and DJing. I went through the proper channels of becoming a member at the radio station and took the required AIR test (which took me four times to pass),” he says. Two years later in his spring semester of 2011 he started his show “Side A, Side B”.
“Over the previous year I had begun listening to more electronic music due to the influence and range of things you would be able to hear on WRCT. I simply say electronic because in retrospect, my taste was pretty surface level at the time. The jolt that really got me into things was seeing my peers like Alex and Juan use a computer to DJ, while at events like WRCT’s Biannual Dance party. One of the things that initially appeared as a roadblock for me to begin DJing was, me wondering how in the world I would get my hands on a pair of turntables.”
In the meantime he used his keyboard to explore technicalities through Virtual DJ and Traktor. Late 2011 he acquired a controller and soundcard, and would take any opportunity to practice at WRCT. He says, “This usually meant late at night or whenever there was a free studio.”
Years later he began exploring the realm of production, dabbling with GarageBand and then eventually he delved into advanced software. From that point forward he says producing is “a practice in trial and error with me trying to get things to sound the way they do in my head. The most helpful thing for me and I have to constantly count my blessings for this, is the amount of people around me who have a wealth of knowledge and experience producing. But more importantly who have no problem sharing this information. People like Preslav, who helped Juan and I mix down the second DETOUR record, when we really had no idea what we we’re doing. Shawn, who is always excited to talk at length about almost any synthesizer and drum machine under the sun. And Tom who wouldn’t hesitate to let me know if a section of a track needed to be edited or totally rearranged, while the second DETOUR record was being finished.”
His dive deeper into house and techno came about through another community of peers at Hot Mass. “Similar to my interest in the arts, it took me some time to really wrap my head around what was what in the realm of house and techno. I credit Humanaut’s Out of Order nights with helping me sort things out,” Martinez says. “I had a rough idea of what a house or techno DJ should sound like prior, but after regularly attending these nights, I was really able to my to get my bearings on things.”
Eventually he joined DETOUR in 2012, just before the label’s first event held at 6119 – an art gallery and performance space located on Penn Avenue. The label began under the efforts of Juan Lafontaine and Alex Price, who Martinez met through WRCT. “Juan approached me about DJing this party during one of my late night practice sessions at the WRCT and I of course said yes,” he says. That first party in September 2012 featured music from Naeem, Gusto, Mirko Azis, and Mr. Sensitivity.
“The current DETOUR crew is made up of Juan, Alex, Allison [Cosby] and myself. We all shift and trade jobs as needed to keep things going, but it’s a team effort to choose what actually makes it onto each record. While I share design duties with Juan, I’m the one that finds the the B-side images for each record. Each one is a location in and around Pittsburgh.”
DETOUR hosts events on the third Saturday of each month at Hot Mass. Although a techno label, their bookings reflect an eclectic taste for sound and energy. Their parties have seen the likes of Umfang, HUNEE, Analog Soul, Doc Sleep, Gunnar Haslam, Aurora Halal, Lena Willikens, Patrick Russell, and Norm Talley, just to name a few. Earlier this month DETOUR celebrated a five-year anniversary with Courtesy and Olin at Hot Mass. A Weekend Send day party celebration followed at the Ace Hotel with more from Olin, Elvin T. and sets from label residents Cosby and Naeem.
“I believe Hot Mass has truly become a second home to a lot of people. What makes it feel like a second home for every person is probably very different, but I think we would all agree, that being able to have that feeling is invaluable.” – NAEEM
It is undeniable and irrefutable that Hot Mass has had an impact on so many, from promoters, to DJs, to party goers. Each weekend Club Pittsburgh is host to something special. “For a person who is totally in love with dance music, Hot Mass becomes this place where you can hear that strange B-side cut, from that one artist’s eccentric side project, that just wouldn’t fly in a lot of other venues around the city,” Martinez says. “On a national and even international level the quality of what both the promoters and regulars of Hot Mass collectively bring in regard to energy, emotion, care and hospitality has been affirmed as world class by a number of guest DJs. Hearing how amazing this intimate club is by people who regularly DJ the world over, speaks volumes about what has been cultivated here.”
DETOUR plans to continue the genuine and passionate agenda to push quality music through future bookings and productions. DETOUR006 is the next four-track EP set for release Friday, October 13. It will feature “stuttering electro, sluggish EBM and booming techno, by the Brooklyn based duo SEER,” Martinez says. SEER, comprised by Maroje T. of Remedy NYC and Matt Parent of Blankstairs, are on the rise as solo artists with this EP being their first collaboration. “To celebrate the record, we’ll be having a release party at Hot Mass on October 21, where SEER will be playing live and DJing.”
Whether it be through curation and creating artwork through DETOUR, cultivating his sound as a DJ, or simply enjoying it all amidst the crowd on the floor, Martinez’s appreciation for his journey through music and art simultaneously expands while his passion for the craft deepens.
“There are two realizations that I’ve had in the past year or so regarding my love of music,” he says. “The first being the sheer amount of music that is out there to be discovered. As I search for new music with every gig I play, I’m constantly astounded by what is out there. I sometimes have to stop and think, that I’m really only scratching the surface with what I know and have heard. This feeling is simultaneously overwhelming and very exciting. The second realization is about how many connections I have been able to make solely through music. I’m hardly a social butterfly but through music, it’s allowed me both to meet and share ideas with a great many people, that I likely would never had met if it hadn’t been for music.”
Tony Fairchild was born and raised in a creativity desert. Living his formative years between Toledo, Ohio and Monroe, Mich. he was inspired to seek beyond his roots to satisfy his need to discover the unknown.
“I can’t attribute any profound musical experiences or sage tutelage to my time spent in either place, but I can definitely credit the lack of art and culture in both cities with instilling in me a thirst for unique and transgressive experiences of all sorts. When you are raised in the middle of a cornfield or a faceless Ohio suburb, your thirst for adventure in all forms gets pretty real,” he says.
It took some time before he delved deep into the house and techno realm. As an early teen living in Monroe, he says, “I used to impatiently wait for the techno shows on WJLB and 89X to end so I could resume making mixtapes of Limp Bizkit and Ludacris. Only much later did I start to appreciate this music that was being broadcast in my backyard, again thanks to radio; in the form of Ben UFO’s Rinse FM show.”
After graduating from Ohio University, Fairchild spent five years living in Columbus. His time there came to a close soon followed by a decision to move to Pittsburgh, Penn. “I was fired from a long term job and ended an even longer term relationship. The time was ripe for me to explore a new future and there were no strings attached to prevent me from doing so,” he says.
He has since made a name for himself as a DJ, promoter and label head. At Hot Mass, Pittsburgh’s favorite after-hours spot, Fairchild assists throwing events through Humanaut. This came to fruition quickly upon attending his first Mass as a fresh Pittsburgh resident. Soon he would find himself being wrangled into the mix by Aaron Clark.
“Aaron Clark approached me with his signature brand of endearing enthusiasm and told me pretty squarely that he needed help with Humanaut. It was never a question; more like, ‘Hey you! Join the team!’,” he says. “As anyone that knows Aaron can attest, he is the ultimate mover and groover and an amazing community engineer. Aaron brought me into the fold as a Humanaut resident and connected me with the rest of the Hot Mass family. I couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome to my new city.”
Between Hot Mass’ resident parties (Honcho, Humanaut, girlFX, Detour, Cold Cuts), The Weekend Send events at the Ace Hotel, and smaller up and coming parties like MESH, Pittsburgh has established itself as a hub for Midwest techno and house.
“Right now I see Pittsburgh as being the exemplar of sustainable underground partying in the U.S. We have somehow managed to carve out for ourselves not only a present, but also a future as party organizers in a mid-sized American city with 2 a.m. closing laws. I see Pittsburgh as proof that this thing can work if the right people are brought together in the right circumstances with the right resources. Luck is no small part of the equation.” – TONY FAIRCHILD
He has witnessed how Pittsburgh’s success has inspired smaller metro areas to bring life to barrenness or expand on an already established smaller scene. Hot Mass continues to play an integral role for many cities within the American Midwest and Rust Belt, and has become a reputable destination on an international level.
Fairchild says, “I know that Hot Mass was a major source of inspiration for myself and the co-founders of Midwest Fresh. Seeing the team throw a weekly party that goes till 7 a.m. while maintaining a certain level of organization and professionalism is really encouraging in a country that tries to stifle this exact sort of thing. We are also now seeing Pittsburgh bring more attention to the broader U.S. scene in the global sense. Word has gotten out that Mass is a great party to play and artists are starting to plan tours around playing the club. This has bridged the (sometimes quite large gap) between the EU and U.S. scenes to the point where relationships are built that increasingly bring EU artists to the states and visa versa.”
In addition to Midwest Fresh, Cleveland’s In Training parties are another that have been influenced by Pittsburgh. Instilling and growing small but concentrated music scenes in these rather desolate areas are necessary for cultivating creativity and providing safe spaces. Regarding Ohio he says that “in a state so devoid of culture, these parties are absolutely crucial. In Training and MWF in particular are some of the last bastions of cool shit in their respective cities. Thanks to them, Ohioans have a chance to experience something more novel than the weekly special at their favorite overpriced brunch establishment. On a more positive note, I have seen the nexus of MWF and IT summon an entire generation of incredibly smart, funny and immensely kind party people from the woodworks. These people have become DJs, promoters, producers and contributors to the scene, both locally and globally. Most importantly they have become a community of friends. Today I count almost all of my closest friendships as products of the intersection of MWF, IT and Hot Mass in the past three years.”
Party energy is pushing out beyond Chicago and Detroit and growing in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cleveland, also stretching to the edges of the Rust Belt in smaller cities like Buffalo and Rochester. The Midwest Rave is alive and well. That classic rave feeling can come in so many different forms, and although inexplicable the existence when experienced is undeniable. How does Fairchild define it? “No Way Back 2013 or whatever year they sold out of water and I had to drink Snapple all night to stay alive in the 95+ degree heat. Any party that nails that feverish, unhinged and diehard vibe shall be knighted as True Midwest Rave.”
As a DJ he has contributed to the growth of the scene not only in Pittsburgh but with his booking beyond. He recently returned from an international stint where he played in Denmark and at Berlin’s Tresor. Prior to that he was found in Detroit at this year’s Industry Brunch, Service at Smartbar in Chicago, Washington D.C.’s Flash, In Training, and many times on home turf for Midwest Fresh. On the horizon he’ll be sharing the night with Hot Mass resident Naeem for REDUX in Buffalo as well as the next Jack Dept. in NYC for a Hot Mass showcase.
Additionally, earlier this year he launched his own record label. Is / Was “seeks to put out future-proof new releases that will be as listenable in 20 years as they are today.” Complimenting that mission, sublabel Was / Is will reissue classic cuts to “serve as reminders to dancefloors of 2017 and beyond of the origins and possibilities of this music.” Output includes releases and represses from Archetype, Dwayne Jensen, Mark Ambrose, Cube 40, Omni AM and 4E. Dropping Monday, September 25 will be a limited run of Cube 40’s “You Make Me Function” reissued and remastered. Attesting to the vulnerability of change he comments on how his initial drive to show a reflection of the “true lineage of American dance music” has evolved.
“The vision and concept of the label are currently in flux. I was just talking to Brian Bohan and Shane Christian of In Training about how I feel like I have no coherent curation for the label at the moment. At first it stressed me out, but I’m settling into the fact that the only coherent thread through all releases is that they represent a moment in my exploration of the wide realm of dance music in all its forms. My recent obsession with UK garage is even leading me to drop the whole ‘true lineage of American dance music’ thing. My only goal right now is to put out what I feel to be important music in whatever moment it comes to me. Right now I’m salivating over the idea of putting out a comp of 1995-1997 proto-UK garage tracks for instance. In three months I will most likely have moved onto some other compulsion and will pursue that until it haunts me no more. No matter the format or genre of the release, I suppose the goals for each label are always the same.
“It’s no secret that I am disappointed by the lack of funk, swing and experimentalism in today’s music,” he continues. “I hope that I can steer both labels to exemplify how I’d like to see this music continue to progress.”
Music was a gateway beyond normative minutia of his surroundings. It continues to be a guide into the past and future. “Music has opened a whole new world of exploration and connection to me that I otherwise wouldn’t have. I’ve had some of my deepest spiritual experiences thanks to music,” he says. “I’ve connected with people from all over the world and forged almost all of my deepest relationships through a mutual love of this one thing. Not having access to this would be like emotional and developmental equivalent of having your ISP turn the internet off.”
In Central Illinois, Justin Cudmore was raised with Midwest sensibilities. His environment, he says, was simple but there were structural bounds that kept him from feeling truly free. When he was in his youth and started to feel he didn’t fit in with the the people around him, he found sanctuary just next door.
“There are straightforward expectations about what you’re supposed to do when you grow up, how you’re supposed to act, what you’re supposed to look like,” he says about his hometown of Springfield. “My family and my surroundings taught me to be genuine, polite, helpful…but anything different or out of character was pushed away. My family was not religious but still clung to conservative ideals on family and politics.”
Around middle school Cudmore started feeling estranged from his youthful peers. “I never opened up to my parents about these feelings, instead kept them inside. My neighbor growing up next door was an old hippie and I think she could tell I was different. She would invite me over for tea and we’d listen to The Beatles, go rummage through junk, make sculptures. That was an outlet for me I didn’t have in other places. She really opened up the world and my mind to let me think maybe it’s OK to be different; maybe there is more out there.”
Her name is Janis and one specific memory he has of her was when he was around 13 years old. “She invited me over and we were going through all the ‘junk’ she collected in her garage. She loved garage sales. We’d go out hunting for items on the weekend. On that day she showed me this collection of all blue glass bottles she had been keeping. Anytime she went to a rummage sale or antique mall there were certain items she looked for and loved to collect. These blue bottles were one of them,” he says. “She brought them out and we used metal pipes stuck into the ground to display them, almost as a bouquet. I vividly remember creating this decoration from nothing with her. It’s still there in her yard as you drive in. I loved these moments of creativity. I don’t think I realized at the time how comfortable I felt around her or how much I could be myself but looking back it was really special. Having that time helped me find myself at crucial points in my teen years. Janis really shaped me. She always encouraged travel, the arts, exploration, fun. Major contrast to my more conservative parents. I don’t think I’d be where I am without her guidance and love.”
Music eventually became a grounding creative expressive outlet as he processed these feelings. He found his rhythm playing drums in grade school and continued until the end of college. “Percussion is something that always came easy to me. Jazz, concert, marching – I did all of it. Band was a place for weird kids to feel at home and have something to concentrate on,” he says. While attending the University of Illinois he played in some jam bands. Inspired heavily by dance-driven beats he would incorporate post-punk sounds when they played. “New wave groups really captured my ear,” he says. “The melodies were uplifting and the bass/drums driving still. That combination stuck with me.”
Cudmore started DJing in college and went on to host a club night called Physical Challenge. “I played a house party sophomore year for Halloween that was a big success. It was probably a mixture of blog remixes, ‘90s house classics, some of my own music, Girl Talk edits. Anyway, it went really well. The owner of the local club hit me up and asked if I’d like to help run this weekly night at The Canopy Club – one of the oldest spots for live music in Champaign-Urbana.” He agreed but only after returning from a six-month study abroad stint in Norway’s capital, Oslo. This trip became pivotal in expanding and fine-tuning Cudmore’s music taste.
“Living in Oslo those six months was a big shift for me. Dance music was just getting cemented as something I really cared for, I was started to dig, buy records – then I left to go live in a place where I could club at 19. I would go almost every weekend to different parties. Blå was my favorite. Locals like Todd Terje, Prins Tohams, G-Ha, this party called Sunkissed – really left an imprint on me,” he says. “Cosmic house but with a groove and a bassline. I returned from Oslo that summer with a whole new perception of dance music. It became clear to me just how little I knew and how much there is to know. It humbled me. I tried to bring that attitude to the club in Champaign every Wednesday, trying different combinations of things – disco, house, techno. I learned you didn’t have to stick to one sound.”
After college he moved to Chicago where he immediately delved into the scene, frequenting spaces like Smartbar, Danny’s, Berlin Nightclub, and warehouse parties such as No Affiliation. Somewhere in the mix he met Steve Mizek, founder and A&R head of Chicago labels Argot and Tasteful Nudes, as well as founder of now defunct website Little White Earbuds. The two started talking and Cudmore started working with Mizek on the website. He says, “I would assist with site architecture, coding, ads – we were trying to make some money off LWE. This is actually when I started first meeting a lot of New Yorkers over email like Bryan Kasenic. He would purchase ads for The Bunker in NYC. My big contributions were two Curator’s Cuts mixes, along with some end of year lists. LWE opened up a whole new world of underground music for me. It was kind of like going to Oslo all over again but even bigger and I felt more connected this time. My record collection at home was starting to grow and I felt confident to contribute a mix that I’d be proud of and one that would suit the style of LWE. To this day that final mix remains one of my favorites.”
At 21 years old and new to the clubbing, Chicago’s Smartbar became influential as he explored his sexual freedom. “Smartbar is dark, it’s seductive, no one seems to care what you do. It’s how clubs should be. That was the first basement club I went to. And really I did all my formative clubbing there. Nothing in Oslo really matched that layout,” he says. “At that time in Chicago, Queen hadn’t started yet. Sunday’s there was this party called Dollar Disco. But Boystown was close and sometimes gays would wander over. It was the first place I felt comfortable dancing with a boy all night to house music. It is a special place. Nowhere else could I have done that. That’s why places like this are so important. They allow us to be ourselves in the dark, in the fog. We can act on our curiosities and let the music take us over.”
From a childhood feeling different and out of place, he felt comfortable enough with himself around 22 years old to come out to his parents, “And it didn’t go well,” he says.
“That started a slow descent in my relationship with my family which wasn’t always the best to begin with. And so when Jordan, this boy I loved and cared for, said he got a job in New York and was moving – I didn’t know what to do but follow him. Also after two years of Chicago I felt like I was ready for more. As eye-opening as Chicago was for me, it does have a level of stagnation that I felt. I could have stayed in Chicago and really buried into my music production. I could have seen myself become a sort of Smartbar hermit – run with the same circles and be a bit of a techno recluse.”
He continues, “I moved to New York only for Jordan, my boyfriend; I didn’t want to lose him. Work/music was an added benefit of moving here. I really had no intentions of a music career coming here. I got a job at a startup, Jordan started his job, and we continued our lives pretty much as is in Brooklyn. I would come home from work every night, get stoned, work on music, dig for music. But not to play – not to release things – music at that point was always a side hobby. Sometimes I think I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now without all those years of simply going out, hibernating on music, learning things. Too many people jump right to the DJ thing. That was never a motivation of mine. I was curious, just like way back when I was young, hanging with my neighbor learning new things. It was always like peeling back a page on something new – new sounds, new labels. There was always something more to know. In my eyes, it was not my time to be playing in New York. There are plenty of people who have put in their time and know loads more – they should be playing.”
He began networking and connecting to people in the New York City realm, including folks at The Bunker like Bryan Kasenic and Mike Servito. Cudmore met Servito after making a comment on his Boiler Room set. A conversation started and a friendship blossomed.
“I went to see him play at TBA Brooklyn. That’s where I met him for the first time. There was some natural friendship chemistry between us and we stayed in touch. I went to see him play at the Bunker and Out Hotel. And soon hanging every few weeks turned to texting, meeting up after work for a margarita, getting dinner. Our relationship started and remains to be just because we get each other,” he says.
“We had similar problems with our family growing up about being gay. We were both searching for this kind of escape. Our friendship grew stronger because we could talk/share music but Mike was more like an older brother to me. He has shown me a lot, and how to be an adult.” With similar taste in music they would have lengthy email chains of tracks sent back and forth. Cudmore eventually introduced Servito to his boyfriend Jordan and Chris Miller (aka Gunnar Haslam). Miller, Servito and Cudmore eventually went on to start performing together as Hot Mix. He says, “Just three boys sharing stories, laughing about music – we had each other’s backs. I started regularly attending The Bunker probably six months into my friendship with Mike. I eventually met Bryan and the extended Bunker family. He probably wondered who was this kid Mike kept putting on the list.” Cudmore’s introduction to the Bunker were post-Public Assembly days, when parties were being held at Output.
“The Bunker family is made up almost entirely of Midwest expats with a love for Detroit techno. They all sort of welcomed me in. Just as I have seen a handful of new faces welcomed in after me. Having never had a family that supported me for me growing up, here in NYC I had that for the first time, and I could be myself. Everyone had my back and I could be myself. I partied and met people and learned about more and more music along the way.” – JUSTIN CUDMORE
While living in New York City he continues to work on music, perform and push forward with the “Bushwick hustle” by picking up any occasional part-time job to make money on the side. New York, he says, “is an expensive city for an artist. But also all these friendships and opportunities would not have happened if I wasn’t here. I also wasn’t searching them out. I was just following my interests.”
Cudmore was fiddling around with production, sending little demos to Servito for constructive criticism with no real guided intention toward a certain label. “Sometimes he’d give some feedback, other times he’d say what he liked. But I wasn’t trying to make things for him or any label in particular so I just followed my own ear. One time I was playing with this acid line and sample and jammed this track together.” He sent the demo over to Servito. “Unlike other times, he reacted immediately and freaked out. He insisted to have the WAV so he could play it that weekend at Bunker. That was actually the first time Mike used a CDJ – before that he was always vinyl only. The track went over well.”
A huge opportunity came to fruition for Cudmore after Servito dropped that track during a Honey Soundsystem party in Folsom, Calif. Soon thereafter the label members made their way to NYC to chat with him about “Crystal”. A completely inspired Servito and Cudmore started working on a remix together. “We had never thought about working on music together before but it seemed natural – so we sat down and me as his engineer sort of built what he had in mind. The inclusion of Chris was a no brainer,” Cudmore says. “He was our boy and our DJ partner. He was of course extremely happy to contribute a remix. The whole package came together really naturally and nothing about it was forced. I think that’s why it was the success it was. It made sense on that label and came out right before the summer. Timing was on our side.”
Since the track’s official release on HNYTRX in 2016, he has had subsequent releases on The Bunker as well as Interdimensional Transmissions for the Acid Series project. Performing throughout numerous venues in New York City, he has also been booked at TV Lounge and Tangent Gallery in Detroit, Hot Mass in Pittsburgh, and Spybar in Chicago. Abroad he has played at Berlin’s ://about blank, as well as in Barcelona and Ireland. He says he can feel that he’s on the scene’s radar, but at heart he will always cherish being an anonymous rave soul among a crowd of so many others still seeking the comfort he has always been on a mission to find.
“It’s cool but I feel this constant need to prove myself over and over every weekend. Mike says this won’t stop and he still does it to this day. But there is something about just being that kid in the background of the party dancing in the fog that I miss,” he says. “Now I’d be crazy to sit here and say I wish I still had a full time job and didn’t get to do music full time. I feel very fortunate to be where I am and not have to get another job after I was let go last fall. In a way I guess this was my dream and I didn’t know it yet. I feel like life kind of unfolded this path for me and all I was doing was following my interests and staying close to my friends.
“Every weekend I play I learn some things and also realize how much more there is to learn. It can be intimidating to be affiliated with such giants like Mike, The Bunker, Derek [Plaslaiko], IT Detroit. I always think that if I was some kid on the outside I’d be like, ‘Who is this kid anyway?’ I’ve always had some confidence issues and it’s taken people like my neighbor or people like Mike to pull me out of my shell. Mike is truly my mentor and best friend. He shaped me into who I am today. Maybe he saw something in me way back when we first met and groomed me for this. I just hope that everything continues to be fun and I can still have those moments lost on the dancefloor.”
Attendees of Sustain – Release will be able to catch Cudmore play a sunny poolside setting next weekend. His fourth record is currently in the works and has had two mixes recently released from TRUANTS and also through Is Burning with Servito.
“The list of things ahead of me seems daunting. Every weekend is like a new challenge. But would I rather be sitting in my office working on something I don’t believe in? No way.”
The year was 1988 when Jennifer Witcher, otherwise known as DJ Minx, fell in love with house music. “Although I’d heard house music on the radio often, I never liked it,” she says. Until one fateful Friday evening a few friends brought her to the Music Institute in Detroit, and everything changed.
“There was a long line to get in and that made it so I had to get in there! After a long wait, we finally got in. The crowd was dancing like there was no tomorrow! The sound system, the crowd and that badass DJ was it for me! I started going to the M.I. every week. That’s when my love came to fruition.”
For three decades after that night she dove into the music world and progressively developed herself into a powerful innovator, DJ, radio host, label owner, and producer. This path to success all started with a challenge posed by Derrick May. One night at the M.I. he told her, “Don’t come over here again till you’re DJing.” And so she did.
Helping her rise to the challenge was Minx’s old friend Jerrald James who began mentoring her. “CAT! Jerry the Cat, is what we call him,” she says. “Cat knew that Derrick May ‘challenged me’ to be a DJ, so he pushed me – hard – to get into it. He helped me get turntables and a mixer and explained how to mix music. He came to my apartment with two records a week telling me to mix them.”
Undoubtedly, the more she grew as a female DJ she encountered struggle and discrimination. Her mentor was there to remind Minx to keep her head up, and never stop grinding. “When I started to feel overwhelmed by guys being disrespectful, I told Cat I was going to stop DJing. He demanded that I keep on playing, and to ignore idiots and stupid things. He pushed and pushed and pushed me to be grand. I love me some JLC (Jerry the Cat)!”
Minx mixes records with sophisticated, graceful and robust energy. In the second wave of Detroit DJs and producers, she was there hustling along with the best of them. Her moniker unfortunately encouraged unwanted advances and negativity, but Minx never let the textbook definition of her name keep her bound into some ideology of what she should be. No longer will minx solely be defined as the wily ways of a flirtatious woman. Now, Minx means a hustler with tenacious diligence paired with zero tolerance for bullshit.
Encouraging empowerment within others, she has used music as a platform to advocate and support females interested in mixing. In 1996 she founded female DJ collective Women On Wax.
“Many girls looked for support and help with ‘how to become a DJ’. A few of them had heard of me or saw me in action. I developed the collective to help female DJs (or potentials) to be more confident in their performances and in the business aspect of things. I’ve mentored and helped Magda, Jennifer Xerri and Laura Hardgrove, just to name a few.”
Ten years later that collective became a label on a mission to put out quarterly deep and soulful house tracks. Inspiration to make this next step in her music career came from Kenny Dixon Jr., otherwise known as Moodymann. He advised that she push in a new direction, and onto the next phase of her life.
“I love music because of the way it makes me feel, and the way it makes other people feel. It’s a helluva pick-me-up when I’m down and is a motivator when it’s time for production. I don’t use drugs. My music keeps me high.” – DJ MINX
Eventually she created a sub-imprint W.O.W.B.A.M. (Women On Wax Bangin’ Ass Music). She also has her own productions and remixes out on labels such as West End Records, Third Ear Recordings, Trisomie 21, Soiree Records, Code Red, Liberate, to name a few. The track she became most known for – “A Walk in the Park” – was picked up by Richie Hawtin and released on M_nus in 2004. Initially, Hawtin and Minx were familiar while she was mentoring Magda. After hearing the track in a set by Ricardo Villalobus, Hawtin and his manager reached out to Minx and Hawtin says to her, “Anything you have with bass like that track, I want to put it out.”
To add to her repertoire, Minx also has a prominent presence on the airwaves with two years as engineer and host of Queen Beats Radio on WGPR Detroit Deep Space Radio. On 91.5 FM Minx also hosted “Steamy Windows”, a weekly program through the University of Canada in Windsor.
As an international DJ she has performed in world-renowned clubs like Tresor and Panorama Bar in Berlin, Stackenschneider in Russia, Club Air in Japan, as well as in Paris, Toronto, Switzerland, Spain, and Belgium. Not only did she play the inaugural Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2000, but she has played throughout the United States including Hot Mass in Pittsburgh, for Sole Rehab and Signal > Noise in Rochester, Deep Sugar in Baltimore, NYC’s Output and Good Room, and more. Of course it goes without mentioning, throughout the venue circuit of Detroit where she still resides.
“What I find everywhere is that people are actually in love with this music. Doesn’t matter what language you speak or where they’re from, when folks are on the dance floor the communication flows all the same.” – DJ MINX
A pivotal venue for Minx was one in the beginning of her DJ career: a residency at Motor, an influential club for Detroit in the mid-1990s. Located in the city’s Polish neighborhood, Hamtramck, the spot was far-removed from downtown Detroit but home to the greatest local DJs with close ties to the Music Institute. Carlos Oxholm, Motor’s co-founder, put together the sound system for the Music Institute and when M.I. veteran Derrick May played Motor’s first year anniversary party the space started picking up some steam.
Shortly after that night, he recommended DJ Bone as a resident for Fridays, which were dedicated to techno. Following soon after, Motor brought on Mike Clark and DJ Minx for house nights on Saturday.
“Motor! Oh my god, what a club! So, I get a call one night from Linda G., who was a promoter at Motor. ‘Hey Minx, it’s Linda G! So, what are you doing every Saturday night, besides being the new resident DJ at Club Motor?’ That’s how it happened!” she says with a laugh. “She gave me some details, asked to meet with me to discuss further, and the following Saturday I was in there like swimwear! One of my fondest memories is when I opened for Derrick May – my influence in all this. He stood behind me and watched me spin. I turned around and he said, ‘I can’t believe that you got into this…and you’re so GOOD!’ I felt like a little twinkly star that night.”
She continues to shine and spread the groovy house music she has fallen so deeply in love with. Once again, catch Minx at Charivari, a small family-style festival in Detroit this weekend. “If you haven’t experienced it, it’s time to make plans to visit the D! I’ll be playing in L.A. for the first time in August, I’m excited about that! There’s also Boston, Atlanta and Paxahau’s 19th Anniversary party coming up. Outside of parties, look for my next release on Women On Wax Recordings in the fall. I also have a new label, Footwerx, debuting in the coming months.”
Eternally encouraging more women to get mixing in the clubs or the underground, or maybe start producing the presses themselves, she passes along a piece of advice for those that are just beginning.
“My advice? Don’t feel belittled by the ‘it’s a man’s world’ mentality. Instead, look at it as being your world. Work hard to achieve the success you envision. Don’t let negative people and situations hold you back. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, whether it’s support from others, pay, whatever – PHUCK THAT! Handle your business!”
Do as Minx does. Redefine your world and keep pressing on. Don’t let anyone hold you down. Do it with heart. Do it with soul. And don’t forget to always keep it funky.
In Central London sits Savile Row, a street lined with tailors who honor a history and tradition of crafting custom suits. Inspired by fashion, his dream destination, and the manner of the craft, Gianpaolo Dieli applies a similar bespoke integrity to his life in music as a DJ and producer. He resides in Chicago and is known by his alias, Savile.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by clothing. In many ways, fashion inspires me to write music as much as anything else in my life,” he says. “My core ideal of a DJ is one who reacts in the given moment, who is ‘tailoring’ their performance, music, etc., to those in the room and situation at hand. I adopted this name as a reminder, in some way, that I should be making it up as I go along.”
Applying this philosophy to many other aspects of his life – with the ever changing ups, downs and in-betweens – Dieli has navigated so with a passionate and exploratory heart.
Michigan born he was raised by a matriarch in an old farmhouse in Sturgis, a factory town just 10 minutes from the border of Indiana. Brought up by his grandmother and mother, two generations of Italian immigrants, he says his home life was one of comfort and safety.
“Looking back, I was terribly fortunate to be raised in an open-minded household smack-dab in the center of a conservative Christian hotbed. I was surrounded by intolerance of all forms as a kid, and as a result my childhood was fraught with bullying and quite difficult when outside the home. My taste in music and personal style made me what you could call an outcast and I was fairly unliked by my peers until the tail-end of my high school years,” he says. “My mother had an idea to send me to summer camp when I was eight or nine, hoping that would provide me with some male role models as a fatherless child. What she didn’t expect was the great cultural discovery that would happen at the hands of camp counselors from all walks of life and countries across the world. Here, I discovered my first musical love – underground hip hop, and my musical experimentation and desire to create began in earnest.”
With a background in graphic design he originally planned to go to art school for college but his passion for music prevailed. He says, “I stepped back from design after realizing I couldn’t continue to learn and grow in music with the same intensity while still creating quality, thoughtful design.” This endeavor also proved difficult as he lacked the proper resources. Additionally, there were several other factors that came into play and diverted Dieli’s path toward art school. “I spent a year after high school kicking up dust in my small town, and ended up getting arrested for a drug offense as I was going through my application process,” he says. Since misdemeanor drug charges affect eligibility for financial aid, he decided to take a costly plea deal with probation and counseling. “This, coupled with the fact that I could only rely on loans for whatever wasn’t covered by scholarships and grants (I didn’t get enough), led me to do some hard math and realize I’d be leaving school massively in debt with a major that was quickly becoming over-saturated,” he continues. In order to survive he picked up a full-time position as a cook.
By 2010 he made the move to Chicago where he started working long nights in restaurant kitchens and even went through a brief period of unemployment. Although months spent without work was a challenging period, he says it was “one that afforded a surplus of reflection, discovery, mistakes, and a lot of growing up that I sorely needed.”
First and foremost he moved in the pursuit of music. He did his research and began connecting himself to Smartbar, other clubs and undergrounds in the city. He says, “I made a list of folks in the scene I wanted to meet and started going out as frequently as I was able to. I felt it was important to me to make my presence known as a dancer and patron first and foremost. I was fortunate to meet a few supportive friends who took chances on me as a new DJ, and I started playing around the city shortly after I moved in 2010.”
Yet he remembers vividly when he first started discovering house and techno. His earliest memory of dance music ventures back to a program called Electric Circus, a live Canadian dance program which aired on MuchMusic.
“I had very little connection with [dance music] besides an interest in ‘city life’ and the dancing on the show. Embarrassingly enough, the ‘stand out’ moment in cementing my interest in dance music is tied to Hot Topic, everyone’s favorite mall goth outpost,” he says. “Daft Punk’s ‘Around The World’ was playing one day as I was at the local mall and I was transfixed by the repetition in the chorus. I sung the hook for weeks, at that time not having Internet at home or any local music stores, until I convinced my mom to buy the CD for me weeks later. I can remember standing in my yard with my Discman in my pocket, raking leaves, and daydreaming about the world of sounds in the intro to ‘Revolution 909’. Was that a club? A house party? Who were these people?”
Eventually he would discover those places and those people. On floors he would become one of those dancers and in the booth he would be the person playing that grooving music that he fell in love with. Not to mention, he would become an active player in creating those sounds.
He began releasing tracks in 2010 followed by a 2012 release on Amadeus Records, which relishes the musically unorthodox. Later that year he partnered with Jason Garden (aka Olin) to put out the Horizon EP on Wazi Wazi Music and then Thanks, Karl on Argot in 2015. Karl, he says, was a bouncer at Smartbar “and became a beloved gatekeeper figure of our home club.”
Steve Mizek is Dieli’s closest friend, DJ partner and founder of Chicago-based record label Argot. The two not only can be found performing side-by-side but also work together to put records out through the label and sub-label Tasteful Nudes.
“Argot exists to showcase American Dance Music in it’s many forms. The sub-label, Tasteful Nudes, celebrates talent outside the U.S. Steve has been a crucial ear and support system for years and his taste has helped shape many of my records,” Dieli says. “We started DJing together in the summer of 2013, and after a few years growing closer as collaborators, Steve asked me to come on board to help manage the label with him at the beginning of 2016. Managing a vinyl label has been humbling, to say the least. The market is unpredictable, the trends swift and the payoff is self-made. Trying to find special ways to share the stories of our artists and their music has been a wonderful challenge in the last year. We are coming up on our fifth anniversary this fall, and will be commemorating with a special release and some events!”
He continues, “All my records since then have been made to present bits and pieces of the friends, parties, travel, sounds, that are happening around me.” No Sleep, Not In America, an output on Chicago’s Stripped & Chewed label, was released in 2016. Later on that year he released Share Power, a record on Argot with two tracks inspired by the present and influential Midwest techno scene. The A-side “3 Hours In The Meat Sink” is a nod to Columbus’ underground Midwest Fresh, while on the flip side “Effort Won’t Betray You” is a dedication to Cleveland’s In Training.
His work and effort has brought him into a whole new realm of experiences, including traveling to Germany to play with Mizek at Panorama Bar as well as Bar Charlie in Munich.
“My experiences as a dancer and a DJ in Europe have been peppered with realizations about the similar threads that tie the party together, no matter where you find yourself. There are certainly little peculiarities, especially in terms of stamina and programming, but ultimately the same kind of release and reckless abandon you might encounter at a party overseas can be found anywhere else, at any time, if the elements are right. In terms of Berlin specifically, I think what makes the city particularly unique to me is this layer of darkness that kind-of hovers below everything. It’s a city that’s easy to fall into completely. The party is always within reach. That sort of awareness can push crowds into a really interesting space, and I think this thread is one of the things that makes the city so alluring.”
As he continues to create his mind is inquisitive, constantly philosophizing the bigger picture and occasionally writing down sentiments of the experience in a truly vulnerable way. In a blog post from 2011 he delved into the idea of fear and how it becomes a driving force in so many aspects of our lives. In his piece he writes:
“As someone who pursues the dream, you must be prepared for the fear.
You can call it the ego, resistance, or the lizard-brain; but you must be prepared for it.
I treat my fear like a compass. it always points true north. It always points to what matters.
The stronger the fear, the closer you are to your goal.”
I asked him to expand further on this concept of fear, especially now after so much change in his life. He says, “In as far as my true fear – this is such a complex one… I think, at this moment, my most present fear is that I’m not making myself available enough to those around me. By ‘available’ I mean present in whatever capacity I’m needed in – be that support, advice, physical presence, advocacy, etc. This fear informs much of how I schedule my time, engage socially and otherwise. I have adopted many habits in the last few years geared towards sharpening my level of attention and it’s potency in any given moment. These habits guide my time spent writing music and how I DJ. My residency at Smartbar, Service, is absolutely about these themes, too. The notion of being present and flexible in support of others’ needs.”
Jason Garden, talent buyer for the Chicago club, offered Dieli an opportunity to build his own night from the ground up. The opening party for Service was held on April 29 featuring guests from the Midwest. Pittsburgh’s Tony Fairchild and ADAB, resident of Cleveland party Heaven is in You, joined Dieli in the Smartbar booth that night. The event calls to service yourself, the room and each other. The description reads: “We will set the table for conversation, interaction. Decentralizaton. A focus on us. The spectacle of an audience enjoying each other. The regal nature of a room of great friends. The curiosity of introductions. A state of play.” Inspired by his past experiences in the industry he says the evening is not only a curation of talented music but one that cultivates an atmosphere of hospitality. Smartbar was entirely transformed that night. Curtains draped from the ceiling to the floor and some tables were set with soft glowing light.
“I’m more and more convinced these days that the magic of ‘the party’ is created less by the DJ and more by those on the floor. When coupled with a young adulthood spent in the restaurant industry, Service emerged as a way to experiment with different ways of engaging a crowd. I am incredibly fortunate to have one of my close friends, Craig Gronowski, as my partner in Service. He’s an interior designer by trade and brings a level of expertise and confidence to the design process that has blown these ideas out further than I could have hoped. With Service, Craig and I endeavor to create environments where the crowd is both taken care of and challenged in equal measure – a kind of space where people feel comfortable enough to be curious and explore. These conditions, I think, will lend themselves to the kind of party you feel better walking out of than when you walked in.”
Maybe you’ll catch him playing somewhere, as he says “I’ll be playing out as much as I possibly can, with a focus on more solo outings, for as far as this ship will take me.” On the horizon Dieli will have several mixes released, the most recent put out this week through Honey Soundsystem. Additionally, he just signed a 12” to some friends in New York City which he says will span a wide range of tempos and styles.
“I’m fortunate to have a list of challenges as long as my ideas, which means more growing ahead and more experiments! As we speak, I’m working on edits for the next album to be released on Argot, the label I run with my DJ partner and brother-from-another, Steve Mizek. We’ve got a beautiful acid record from Todd Osborn coming just in time for summer, and we’ll be celebrating our five year anniversary later this year with a pair of 12” compilations and other fanfare.”
It becomes quite clear that the moniker he adorned himself with is a true reflection of who he is and the way he creates in the world. With a humble heart he works carefully and with close attention to detail. He does so honestly so to most suitably fit the form of his creation. All the while, it is apparent he walks through life gently and fully aware of the energy in motion that surrounds him.
He is a hustler. He uses music as his platform to inspire, bring growth and spread knowledge. If you have ever seen him play records you will see among the crowd a solid core of community friends up front and center. Bruce Bailey is a true Detroiter.
Being born and raised in Detroit directly developed his love for music, he says. “After all, from Motown to techno, us ‘Motor Citians’ have some substantial musical roots. Detroit is known for hard working individuals and I guess that really rubbed off on me.” Initially entering the scene as a promoter he decided to delve deeper into mixing records as he became witness to the inexplicable energy created by the music, the DJ, and the crowd.
His story’s trajectory truly demonstrates how versatile, grinding effort and an attitude that won’t quit can help you achieve your dreams. Bailey is a DJ, a promoter, a music lover and a businessman. Through various avenues and vessels he has established himself by taking opportunities as they come and perpetuating progress. He says, “It’s like working on my craft 24 hours a day is normal or something. I wouldn’t be able to stay relevant today without that instilled work ethic.”
It stretches back to his time spent as an undergraduate student at Western Michigan University. Centrally located between Detroit and Chicago, Bailey (with a foundation of music history from his hometown) started to become increasingly more exposed to Chicago house music. He and his friends were playing vinyl and at the time he says “the record purchasing craze was unbelievable.” They were able to tune into house music on numerous radio stations picked up with his roommate’s high frequency antenna. “I remember many a night (sometimes day) we would sit in the dorm room with sounds blasting, writing down what we thought were the names of new music we had never heard. On weekends we would drive down to the Windy City and purchase vinyl or send word to the Detroit buyers to grab some of this new music we’ve heard.”
As he started to become more established within the scene, Bailey and his partner Vern English worked together to found Tandem Entertainment Company. They both had been spinning since college. “We were getting booked individually at a ridiculous clip. One day we collectively decided that we needed to emerge from the underground way of doing business. So, we added eight or so additional DJs, sound techs and personalities to the team to help cover the plethora of events we couldn’t keep up with beforehand. It not only helped us to totally legitimize the steady stream of revenue but also assist us in multiple tax related ways,” he says. “Over the years ‘The Tandem Brand’ has covered a diverse number of events as our DJ services became mandatory from numerous corporate and underground bookings. To this day The Tandem is the most utilized DJ company in Metro Detroit.”
Throughout Detroit he has held residencies in the city’s most reputable spots. Bailey’s first was at Cheeks, a legendary establishment where Jeff Mills’ Wizard persona came to fruition. The spot was also home to moments like the debut of Inner City’s “Good Life”. In 1991 Bailey went on to become head promoter and resident DJ at Club 246 where he stayed for seven years. It was during this time that DJ Minx got her start, Delano Smith got back behind the decks, and the stage saw the likes of so many local favorites like Norm Talley, Moodymann, Al Ester, and Terrence Parker.
“This is arguably the most historic club in Detroit history and the stories from this era are nothing less than amazing. Probably the most memorable was – well let me set the stage first…” he says. “Club 246 was located on the street level of The Madison Hotel in the thick of Downtown Detroit. The night I was given to run was a Thursday. In the early ‘90s you couldn’t get a continuous weekend night to promote house music at any venue downtown, hence the Thursday night sets began. So, I’d say halfway through my seven year run (on a Sunday if I recall properly) I got a call from the owner saying there was a fire in the building. Now keep in mind all the other businesses within the hotel (including the hotel rooms themselves) were defunct except the ordinarily designed Club 246 and it’s adequately sized walkout patio.”
He continues, “So as you’d guess I’m in limbo regarding this situation as Thursdays were definitely the hottest thing going in Detroit at this time, house music wise. The fire department came out and extinguished the fire and it was a mess throughout the building. I knew we’d be closed for some time with a good possibility of never reopening. To my surprise a few days later I got a call saying that we were gonna try and move forward with opening up – I couldn’t believe it. Somehow we opened and it was super successful. Outta the disaster we got an upgraded sound system (so needed) and for maybe a week or two you could smell faint remnants of smoke, but unbelievably not even for one week did it deter the capacity crowds from supporting.”
After Club 246 closed he moved on to a restaurant called Lola’s in 2002. This residency lasted him about five years which he says “catapulted my brand and solidified a switch, as a week later I became the first resident DJ at TV Lounge.” At the time Bailey’s friend, Tree Graves, was the owner. Formerly called Half Past 3 (now frequently called TV Bar) this venue remains one of the strongest Detroit spots. “You see, Half Past 3 was more so the cool spot for the cities jet setters before transforming into the house/techno mega club that it is today. Sport players and dignitaries flooded the venue on Fridays and the Salsa community filled the joint every Saturday.”
The list of residencies and artists that have performed either inside, on the patio or down the alley at TV Bar is innumerable. With a welcoming atmosphere the club’s energy continues strong longevity to this day for locals and visitors alike. Bailey says, “TV Lounge is a family and I’d like to think I did my share of work in elevating it to the worldwide iconic status it receives today.”
There is an undeniable uniqueness to the Detroit hustle. It is grassroots, unrelenting and if you have seen it before you know there is a genuine confidence embodied in the energy. This is why you see (in many Detroit DJs and producers) this particular attitude which makes their presence so special. Especially during the time before technology, there was a limited accessibility in sharing sounds. It took, as Bailey and so many others did, pushing out hundreds of cassette mixtapes. Speaking to people face-to-face and developing real-time connections was the only accessible avenue anyone had to make their name known. In Bailey’s mind it’s how you set yourself apart.
“Here in Detroit you’d never solely make it in the DJ business if you sat back and waited for clients to contact you. If you excelled here in The D, you must be liked, have a solid game plan and also the intellect to overcome obstacles – hell, I always say if it was easy everyone would be doing it (successfully),” he says. When you see Bailey play on home turf it is so apparent that he has developed and maintained relationships throughout the years. Keeping those personal connections alive is a foundation for success is just about anything.
“Certain things you do dictate your character and I believe that represented mine in the best fashion. Of course my original saying had to go on this sign as marketing waits for no one – ‘the brand don’t build itself.’” – BRUCE BAILEY
There is plenty on the horizon for Bailey starting this spring with the release of his latest EP The Detroit Room through Open Bar Music. He says, “This two track release has been simmering for quite a few months. Additional production by Oscar P and Delano Smith make this a sure fire underground hit for the deep house music fan.”
Additionally, you can also look forward to a two-day boutique festival in Detroit during the last weekend of June at TV Lounge. With efforts from Bailey, the venue’s staff, Josh Guerin and Delano Smith, talent is booked and “people can expect the official announcement sometime early May. Collectively we couldn’t be more excited about our first stab at a local festival.”
Within Bailey is a deeply motivated passion to create and build. He blends together his entrepreneurial spirit and his love for music in a way that is tasteful, genuine and inspiring. The name Bruce Bailey, is more than just a name. “Music for me is a collection of emotions. I love it for the way it brings people together and how it unites communities. Without music there would definitely be a void in my life. I look forward to spreading my love of music around more this year as I have road shows in China, New York, Houston, Chicago, Dallas, North Carolina, Los Angeles and Virginia already set for this year. Yup, I love music…”
Catch Bruce Saturday night in Rochester for Signal > Noise.
In a world where society is structured by gender being categorized in two opposite forms, Jarvi Schneider’s gender identity lands fluidly somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, free from segmented definition. Fully enveloped in Chicago’s queer scene, the self-identified nonbinary artist and DJ was raised as a child in the house and techno scene of Detroit.
Jarvi spent their adolescence in Ann Arbor, Mich., eventually moving on to Commerce Township until the end of high school, to finally land in East Lansing, Mich. before moving to Chicago in 2012. The move, Jarvi says, was “to finally free myself from a state of no jobs, lack of public transit, and extreme queerphobia and racism.” Due to this atmosphere and being a hairstylist by trade, the salon was a difficult environment to find comfortable footing in Michigan.
While living in Michigan Jarvi says that “even within the queer communities, there is a lot of ideas of what a queer person ‘should and should not be’ or ‘look like’ to really be accepted.” They came out officially as nonbinary about two years ago.
To identify as nonbinary means one does not identify as exclusively masculine or feminine. “I have always been androgynous. I have always been called a boy. I think the worst of it all was being forced into a queer identity (lesbian), because anything outside of the binary was even too much for suburban Detroit queers to grasp. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard the term ‘nonbinary’ until I moved to Chicago, and even then I could hardly grasp it because of what I was accustomed to all my life. After some major trauma in my life, I realized that I had to make sure for the sake of my own brain and my chosen family, I had to be true to myself and who I am.”
Chicago for Jarvi meant better opportunities and was a cheaper and easier move from Michigan. “I sold my car, packed everything I owned into a Ford Excursion, and my cat, and I moved to Chicago knowing only a couple folks from high school, to start my new life.”
Jarvi is a member of the Naughty Bad Fun Collective crew, a resident of Planet Chicago night at Smartbar, and also runs and curates freaky queer club night Acid Daddy’s Haus of Diesel. Their introduction to the NBFC became a pivotal moment for Jarvi’s life in Chicago by experiencing an open, free environment and eventually learning the art of DJing.
“I found this crew (or maybe they found me) shortly after I moved to Chicago. They threw the best undergrounds in the city, always had the most welcoming vibes, and even outside of the rave we all became more than just people you hang with at the party,” Jarvi says. “After meeting Sam and the crew, I pretty much attended everything that NBFC did and started to help out with setup and tear down. Somewhere between that and the DJ lessons, I became one of the crew!”
It was just before Jarvi’s birthday in 2013 when God Particle label owner and NBFC’s Sam Kern (otherwise known as Sassmouth) gave them their first ever DJ lesson as a birthday gift. Jarvi says that “after two lessons we just vibed and kept working together. I think the bond we share is incredible because I have been listening to and attending techno and house events since childhood with my father, and not one friend or other DJ I have ever met had ever offered to teach me the craft. I’ve always known the music industry is a boys club, and having the opportunity to try to do something I loved and admired for years with a person who understands the struggle of not being a cis man in this scene, is easily the best gift I’ve ever received.”
The NBFC is comprised by Kern, Jarvi, Pat Bosman, Ryan Kelley, and a slew of other DJs, producers and artists that overtime have helped create and maintain the collective. The core crew shares roles collectively when it comes to bookings, design and direction. “That’s one of the best parts about working with these folks is that every last little bit of the vibe is created by all of us. I will say though that setting up sound has absolutely nothing to do with me. I can barely set up my TR8 to Ableton without referring to notes,” Jarvi says with a laugh.
For the month of March both Kern and Jarvi continue to use their established music platforms as a vessel to push and strengthen female, female-identified and queer artists, DJs and promoters by participating in Daphne. The month-long festival hosted by Smartbar will incorporate workshops and events to emphasize that mission. According to Jarvi, the biggest obstacle for women and queer persons is commodification.
“The constant struggle of, do you suck it up and go through it in hopes that you will get closer to being seen, heard, understood? I can’t tell you how many times I read an article about some white cis techno dude talking about his struggle not getting booked and having to work his awful 9-5 when all he wanted to do was play his Surgeon records for a packed underground rave. Sometimes it feels like there’s only a certain allotted amount of women-identifying and queer artists, and the recycling of the same ones can be frustrating not because they shouldn’t be getting all the gigs, but because there are so many of us in the world without exposure simply because so many people who are in charge of bookings don’t want to look. Probably because they don’t REALLY care. I think it’s also important to point out that if your women-identifying idols in music don’t help any other queer, women-identifying and nonbinary, or POC artists, they probably aren’t as progressive as you think.” – JARVI
Motivated by the frustration and with a desire to maintain personal and creative freedom, Jarvi started Acid Daddy’s Haus of Diesel a little over a year ago. The stage persona Acid Daddy came to fruition for Jarvi during Plastic Factory, the first party they were ever involved in at Berlin Nightclub.
“The party was a wild latex club-kid party with wacky installations and performances. La Spacer and I were the resident deejays for the Thursday night monthly, and it evolved somewhat from a joke in our group about how me and one of the other members were the ‘daddies’ of our group, and my love for acid house – among other things.”
Long after the Plastic Factory parties, Jarvi continued on harnessing the Acid Daddy energy. “I was up at a camping trip, Tentsex, when at some point in the weekend our generator runs out of – you guessed it – diesel. In a loopy state, I’m arguing with someone about how to get more fuel for the generator so we can get the music back up and running, and in stubborn Taurus fashion I storm off back to my tent. Sam happens to be in a porta potty and overhears me mumbling to myself something about ‘Acid Daddy, gimme that diesel’. The phrase stuck, and when I was given the chance to do my own party at Berlin [Nightclub], Acid Daddy’s Haus of Diesel just made sense!”
Acid Daddy is so much more than just a name. Jarvi says, “I think what is so important to me about this stage name (that may in the future develop into a moniker for music) is that it really represents the evolution of my gender identity and the happiness that comes from no longer being forced by society to be something I am not.” The name encapsulates and empowers Jarvi’s freedom from the oppressiveness of gender normative roles.
The house and techno scene is historically rooted in providing a free space for people of all types and expressions. There are so many artists, promoters, writers and DJs out there that continue to use the electronic music environment as a platform to promote cultural and social awareness, by cultivating a safe welcoming space. Yet, there are places within house and techno where those roots have been lost somehow. Our music scene is just a microcosm of our society at large.
To deviate from the normalities of any facet can result in a negative response from others. That’s what makes the dance floor so unbelievably significant. That’s what makes artists like Jarvi and so many others equally important. To understand that gender and sexuality are on a spectrum is to see that by inherently breaking binaries we are simply forming unity.
“The gender binary is just a way to keep cis men in control and women-identifying folks subservient. Even the most progressive cis folks I know still show me totally innocent ways of being affected by the binary. I think the most obvious is the inability to use gender neutral pronouns. Folks can learn a new hobby, how to operate a vehicle, or get a certificate/degree in a field they’ve never understood in their life but can’t incorporate a plural, nonbinary pronoun into their vocabulary when they already know the word. I struggled with the use of ‘they/them/theirs’ at first, and I identify that way. Sometimes I think folks can’t grasp the use of neutral pronouns because they still don’t really believe that it exists. I connect very much with femininity and that identity, but not 100 percent. I cannot really say that I relate to anything masculine, and honestly spent a lot of time trying to dismantle the binary connection with words, for example, ‘daddy’. NBD (nonbinary daddy) is a term we use out here in the Chicago queer scene a lot. I highly doubt I started that term, but it definitely fits like a glove.”
What does being nonbinary mean specifically for Jarvi?
“Grey area. In between. Not this, not that. I truly believe there are more nonbinary folks in this world that exist than cis folks. Once the term becomes more common in mainstream queer entertainment (because it has to start there before we get it across the board) I think a lot of folks who realized that this binary they’ve been forced into because of tradition and fear, really is not for them. Some days I feel like wearing a dress, sometimes I feel like wearing a suit, sometimes I feel like growing out my mustache and being topless in a leather chest harness, but not one of those outfit choices express any binary gender to me. when you erase that, you have so many less things to worry about because you just get to be you. However you want to feel or look, it’s just you.” – JARVI
Nonbinary folks fall within the overarching transgender category. By definition transgender denotes a person whose identity and gender do not correspond with their birth sex. Gender expression and identity is expansive and complex, yet simple at the core: people are who they are, and they should feel comfortable being and expressing themselves. But we live in a society where transphobia is very real, causing harm (in varying degrees) to those who identify beyond the binary.
Jarvi spoke a little bit deeper about experiences had alongside Chicago DJ/promoter Ariel Zetina. “My relationship with Ariel, be it romantic or platonic, has always provided us with struggles from the outside cis hetero and cis gay male groups. Whether it’s slurs stemming from binary-loving cis hetero normies, or the hyper-sexualization of both our nonbinary trans identities. By cis gay men, we both encounter negativity even in the most unlikely of places (i.e. queer spaces). I have learned so much from her, especially about POC trans and queer-related events, artists, and struggles that are otherwise swept under the rug so to speak in primarily white queer spaces (which is most of the spaces in Michigan).”
How can we help? Javi says: educate. “If you hear something offensive or hurtful, it’s pretty easy to respectfully explain why that isn’t tolerated and to enforce that strict no-tolerance of hate in spaces, whether it’s rave spaces or the dang super market.”
Music will continue to be the space for Jarvi where there is safety and love. It is so very clear that this deeply rooted passion has helped them evolve and grow into a true representation of themselves. Isn’t that what we’re all really striving for?
“I love music because it saved my life. It can say everything I can’t put into words. The music itself doesn’t judge me, it guides me. Without music I would never know the rave scene. I would never have found my chosen family in the underground where you can be anyone you want to be, as freaky and weird and out there as you want. Like-minded individuals all there together because the world doesn’t see us as the creative and beautiful individuals we are. PLUR forever.”
A techno and house music scene, particularly for the queer community, was lacking in Cleveland, Ohio. Brian Bohan, otherwise known as Father of Two, is one of three who put together In Training – the city’s freaky, most prominent club night.
Bohan was born and raised in Cleveland. For the past six years he has resided on the west side of Cleveland, barring a short stint living in Chicago in his early 20s. During his free time he says “you can usually find me gliding around the streets of Lakewood delivering for Jimmy John’s, or at home with my boyfriend acting like a dumbass online.”
I inquired of him to reveal the mystery behind his moniker, Father of Two. “I had a much, much, much worse fake DJ name when we first started In Training that I will decline to share. So I was already in the market for a new one when one day, I was contacted by a stranger via a gay hookup app,” he says. “His opening salvo to me, which I assume he was hoping would lead to some sort of sexual congress, was ‘Hey! Father of two great kids here, how’s it going?’ It all fell into place instantly. I responded, ‘I’m doing well, and even though I’m not remotely interested, thank you for giving me my new DJ name!’ And the rest is history.”
He started DJing mostly through In Training, the monthly party he hosts along with Shane Christian (who DJs as Kiernan Laveaux) and Aerin Ercolea.
“There aren’t many avenues in Cleveland to get to play out the type of music I wanted to play before we started doing this. The only previous experience I had was doing a small Monday night residency with my friends in a crew called 4NPLCY a few years ago,” he says.
The idea for the queer-run and queer-focused party was developed by Aerin and Bohan in 2014 on the first night they met. “I mentioned offhand that I had always wished that I could do some sort of freaky queer night with weird music at a weird venue and she basically came back to me a few days later with all of the initial logistics for it planned out. Shane was (and is) Aerin’s roommate, so she was just always around when we were discussing all of this stuff so she became a part of it pretty quickly as well,” Bohan says. “I think we all happened to meet at an interstitial point in each of our lives where we were all very ready to switch things up and try something new, and that energy translated into all of this getting off the ground quickly.”
In Training is held at Now That’s Class, an underground bar and venue located in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood of West Cleveland. The venue is a sanctuary and blank space for the events that don’t quite fit into the more frequented and popular spaces of the city. “Now That’s Class, for better or for worse, has long been a venue and gathering space in Cleveland for freaks, weirdos, and musical acts that realistically couldn’t get booked anywhere else. The few ‘clubs’ there are in Cleveland (LGBT or otherwise) were useless and tacky, and we had zero faith in them to let us do what we wanted to do or be any sort of asset to us. Their incompetence and lack of ambition is a large part of what drove us to start doing this, so in a strange roundabout way, I almost have to thank them. We needed a space that we could transform and fully control, and Now That’s Class has provided that. The venue and location isn’t perfect, but it’s our home and it’s almost impossible to imagine doing it anywhere else in Cleveland. The world’s shittiest dive bar with, somehow by the grace of God, a really great soundsystem, knowledgeable tech people, friendly staff, and bathrooms that demand an iron will.”
The party has hosted artists and performers including Titonton Duvante, Bill Converse, Tony Fairchild, DJ Shiva, Clark Price, Sassmouth, Jarvi, Pat Bosman, Steve Mizek, Savile and more. The name of the party was Aerin’s idea. Bohan says, “It sounded mysterious, kind of slutty in some undefined way, and open to interpretation. It mostly just sounds cool, and it can mean something different to everyone”
Cleveland is among the smaller U.S. cities that play a very important role of the evolution of the American dance floor. “I think our small communities provide the blueprint that some parties in larger enclaves do their best to try and emulate. I can only speak for us here in Cleveland, but we do what we do because we would otherwise have nothing to live for. It’s that simple, and that (apparently) gives what we do in these places a sense of urgency and authenticity and ‘grittiness’ or whatever people in the larger cities can attempt to create their own version of with their more abundant resources.” Cities with the tight-knit family structured communities are fueled by concentrated energy, cooperation and a do-it-yourself attitude.
“Our communities drive this thing. We are the source of the energy. I think a lot of people generally assume that we basically just do small town versions of a big city phenomenon when it’s often the other way around. I may sound like I have a slight chip on my shoulder, but I think all of us doing things in these places should acknowledge our place and be proud of the work we do and what it means for the culture as a whole.” – FATHER OF TWO
Although he says it’s difficult to be objective about how In Training has played a role on a larger scale, he delves deeper into what the party means to him, being queer in Cleveland. “Doing this has really helped me spread my wings, so to speak, and really embrace being gay and feeling like I can define what that means for myself in a way that encompasses every aspect of my personality. Cleveland’s wider LGBT scene is pretty emaciated for a variety of economic and cultural reasons, and it was pretty hard to connect with most of the people I was coming across or even trying to date. So I hope it’s done for the scene what it’s done for me, which is put the right people in close enough proximity to each other under pleasant circumstances so that they can grow, teach each other, learn from each other, dance together, act stupid together, and make a bunch of new weird-ass friends.”
The In Training crew identifies wholeheartedly with the community they have cultivated, bringing an authenticity and ingenuity to their parties and their mission. Aerin Ercolea identifies as non-binary/femme and Shane Christian is transfemme and her talents as a DJ are becoming increasingly recognized. Historically and culturally house and techno has roots as a refuge for minorities and the oppressed. Although today’s youth has embodied a culture of acceptance, it is clear through recent events that there is still a lack of understanding and compassion. So queer focused parties will continue to maintain defiance against prejudice and hate by allowing strength in unity on the American dance floor.
“As much as we stress the by-queers-for-queers aspect of our party, at the end of the day, a substantial portion of our audience is straight and cisgender. In a city where it’s a struggle to get enough critical mass for anything besides bad garage rock and fusion tacos, we’ll take what we can get, and as long as these people recognize that they are guests in the space, we very rarely have any problems with the queer and cishet crowds coming together. Personally, I view it positively.”
Similar to Hot Mass, the Pittsburgh party that strives to blur the lines between the gay and straight communities of their city, Bohan revels in the relationship he has developed with that particular dance floor and everyone involved. He says the Hot Mass family “has become a huge part of my life personally and some of the strongest and most supportive allies for us as a crew. So much of what they do has served as the initial [and continual] inspiration for what we do and how we operate, but I think both the vibe and our goals are pretty different. I think that’s what makes the relationship between our two institutions so special.”
When it comes to the queer community of the house and techno scene beyond Cleveland he says he’s not sure how much of an impact their party has made yet. “But I hope we are part of a process that will start to open up space for all queer people and weirdos in this current sort-of Renaissance we are having for underground dance music in America.”
Catch Father of Two, along with Chicago’s Jarvi, on Saturday, March 4 for the next installation of REDUX in Buffalo, N.Y.
For years Maya Bouldry-Morrison found herself somewhere between two identities. Through her development with music production, and a positive experience coming out to the public, she has grown ever more comfortable as a trans artist known mostly by Octo Octa.
The Chicago native spent her formative years in New Hampshire, but is now Brooklyn-based, at home with her wife and high school sweetheart Brooke.
Initially she started flirting with electronic music in high school after seeing some friends perform with just a computer, Microkorg and maybe a Roland MC-307. She says, “When they were done playing I asked if I could play with them and I immediately went on eBay and got a Korg Electribe ER-1 for something like $80. From then on essentially every day I would go to my friend’s house and we would play around with what little equipment we had and would make some new pieces through circuit bending. We played a couple shows but for the most part we would hide out in a basement and figure out how to make music,” she says.
While studying at the University of New Hampshire, Maya bought Ableton Live to form dance band Horny Vampyre with her friend Jeremy, while using the Octo Octa moniker to explore experimental solo music.
Horny Vampyre is when she really started delving deeper into performance. “Jeremy and I would play tons of college parties plus other shows and the focus was very much on us being right up against the audience. Most of our friends knew a lot of the lyrics so everything would essentially become a gang chant and everyone would flail around. I later took that feeling and somewhat applied it to Octo Octa,” she says. “I was making a lot of IDM and breakcore at the time which was somewhat dancey but felt more at home at a noise show then a college party. At the end of college is when house music finally clicked with me and I figured out that a 4×4 beat at slower BPM would actually make my solo shows more fun and everyone would dance. Once that happened I was all in.”
She continued to perform and produce eventually releasing her debut EP, Let Me See You, through 100% Silk, the house sub-label of Not Not Fun Records. She says, “I was a big fan of Not Not Fun for a number of years and one day I noticed that they had set-up a side label that was going to be more focused on dance music than noise and ambient material.”
With a history producing mostly IDM Maya says she wanted to send productions to Not Not Fun but didn’t feel they were an ideal fit. “So when I saw there was a sub-label that was closer to what I was making I was excited to send them demos,” she says. With the few demos she had, Maya made a Soundcloud account and shared the link to the 100% Silk submission email. “They got back to me a few hours later and said they wanted to put out the record.”
Since then she has had several releases including the 12” Where Did You Go / Through the Haze under Argot, More Times EP under German label Running Back and Further Trips through Deepblak. Her first three albums have been released through 100% Silk, with the most recent Between Two Selves in 2013. She has also been traveling to perform, playing her first European in Germany at the notable Panorama Bar, held a Red Bull Music Academy residency in Manhattan, and has also performed Barcelona’s Sonar Festival.
Her influences range from classic WARP records, IDM, drum ‘n’ bass, Los Angeles record label Tigerbeat6, and has been supremely inspired by gender fluid trans artist DJ Sprinkles. Also known as Terre Thaemlitz, she is a prominent producer, DJ and theorist in the scene.
“I always like the display of watching people find out she’s a nihilist. I don’t always agree with what she talks about, but watching her be the ultimate curmudgeon is a refreshing perspective that I don’t think we hear enough from,” Maya says, reminiscing about Sprinkles’ lecture at Sustain Release this year. “Terre is significant to me because she was the first trans producer that I knew about that wrote music that directly spoke to me in terms of both ideological content and sound. That was something that had never happened before. I feel like that is something that would happen for a lot of people with like, punk/hardcore. When I was growing up hearing new music for the first time, going to shows and seeing people perform, even if I enjoyed it – there wasn’t a whole lot that connected on a significantly deep level. I was a diehard drum ‘n’ bass/jungle fan in my teens and even that which got me extremely hyped and excited, there was still always a little something missing, even if I didn’t know it yet. Midtown 120 Blues had this pull unlike anything else I ever heard before. It just clicked and I heard parts of myself in it.”
Maya began her own transgender process in 2012 and officially came out just a few years later, inspired by the story of Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, previously known as Tommy Gabel. Maya first told her wife (a cis woman who identifies as queer) and eventually opened up to her family. Maya made the public persona change from male to female and says the entire process was positive and supportive, except for a couple comments from the public. “I haven’t had many issues being a trans artist beyond the garbage I have to handle when traveling. Dealing with TSA, documentation, and gawking passengers is obnoxious but something that passes once I’m where I need to be. Overall I am a more comfortable performer now that I’m out, so as a whole everything has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. That also might just be the culture as a whole right now especially in underground dance music circles. If I had come out in 2013 like I had originally wanted to I may have had a much harder time.”
“I’m especially happy right now being more involved in the queer community. I’ve identified as queer since I was a teenager, but since I never came out to my parents my queerness wasn’t something that I would publicly discuss. Therefore I also wasn’t seen as someone who was queer and I wouldn’t necessarily be invited to play queer parties even though I really wanted to. They were the spaces I felt the most comfortable in.” -OCTO OCTA
During the same year Maya started coming out, she was also suffering from debilitating anxiety issues. In addition to expressing through artistic creativity, Maya explores further into how she manages her anxiety and promotes self-care in her own life. She passes on advice for others who deal similarly, especially now as there’s an increase in emotional strain during trying times.
“The first thing I try to do during an anxiety episode is figure out if there is an external issue triggering it or if it really is just an internal issue. When I feel an episode coming on and I need to be like ‘am I stressed because there is a deadline, am I forgetting something, or is it just my brain today?’ If it’s an external issue or issues I break it down into discrete pieces and do them one at a time. I also make lists when I’m really worked up and cross them off as they’re completed which will make me feel better. If I’m just having a hard day for no apparent reason then my self-care is to clean my apartment, work on music, take a bath, and maybe go for a walk to clear my head. It may or may not work, but trying anything beyond just shaking and thinking about how screwed I am helps. Talking to friends I’m sure also helps a lot, but if you’re like me then you’ll be like ‘oh I don’t want to burden them.’ I typically wait until my partner comes home and then tell her everything. That’s something I really need to improve.”
Continuing on with producing and performance, Maya has several opportunities on the horizon. This month she’ll be releasing an EP on Paris-based label Skylax as well as Brooklyn label, Love Notes. With an album to be released on Honey Soundsystem this month, she said she’s hoping to make an overtly queer statement with the record, as her last album – Between Two Selves – was more ambiguous regarding Maya’s personal life. Keep a look out later this year for her second 12″ for Argot and a second EP for Deepblak. Additionally, she’s putting out a split record with Ames Henry for her friend’s new label, based on their monthly party Frendzone. “Then beyond that I’m planning some other things. So, busy busy busy!”
You can also catch her playing as Octo Octa for the first time at Movement Festival in Detroit this year. “I am very excited to be playing Movement this year! The only other time I was there I was playing an off-site DEMF party to a couple people. We went to TV Lounge afterwards until the party there got shut down and then I had to fly home the next day. So it was a very short trip. I’m glad that this year will be different.”
From the moment she bought her first piece of gear, Maya has developed an unbinding relationship with music, while simultaneously liberating herself. “It’s the most intimate and participatory art form. I feel like it’s the best art form that you can consistently engage with in different ways and it’s also mobile so you can interact with it anywhere. Sound plugs directly into you. It can strike emotions in me in a way that looking at a painting doesn’t. Being a creative person, music is the thing that’s most connected to me and has allowed me to express myself in a way no other art form could.”
Catch Octo Octa tonight at Strange Allure in Buffalo, NY.
Sweaty bodies, a wall of lights and a sound system that pulls you in and won’t let go. If you have experienced Hot Mass, you understand. Aaron Clark, co-founder of the Pittsburgh party, is in charge of co-curating resident nights Honcho and Humanaut at the after hours spot.
While growing up in Ohio, Clark wasn’t very active in the music scene. Mostly a bedroom DJ he says “I was still coming out of the closet and trying to pull away from my church. Once I turned 18 I started to hit the parties happening at Red Zone in Columbus and Moda in Cleveland.” Shortly thereafter he moved to Pittsburgh for university, unfortunately right when the city’s rave scene was in a lull.
When it comes to Clark’s background as a DJ, he says “I sort of tripped into it.” He would hear electronic tracks in the background of commercials and scour the internet to identify them, which would turn out to be “stupid stuff like Chemical Brothers. This was Napster days, so I’d download that stuff, but then realize that people made remixes of these things, which led me to more underground producers. It was kind of a rabbit hole situation,” he says. “I know a lot of people don’t believe in folks coming in from the commercial side of dance and landing in a good place musically, but it happens.” In high school he was introduced to his friend’s boyfriend, Rob, who had a full DJ setup and PA. This piqued Clark’s interest and pulled him to the performance side of electronic music which he says “really helped me start separating quality from bullshit.”
Before Hot Mass became one of the most prominent parties for today’s scene Clark spent about eight years throwing large scale events. While seeking a place to throw small after parties for their main events they stumbled upon Club Pittsburgh, a private men’s bath house located in the city’s historic Strip District. The space is relatively small, with small dark spaces for private encounters.
He reminisced about the beginning stages of their parties in the bath house. “When we first checked it out, we weren’t even sure how to use it. The space was super weird, not laid out in any sensical way for dancing, lots of hallways and cruisey rooms (as part of the bath house) but we could go late. So we took it, and had Kirk Degiorgio play a second set after his first one. It went off! I think we pulled the plug on a full dance floor that morning around 8 a.m.? Up to that point we would struggle to hold a crowd until 4 a.m. max. We were all really blown away by the crazy energy that room had, so we kept going with it.”
John McMarlin, manager of Club Pittsburgh, proposed that the after party events become a weekly which ultimately brought Hot Mass to fruition. Clark says, “That sounded insane to us, as everyone knows how impossible it is to keep a weekly party going. It’s torture. The idea was that maybe we could pull it off if we had four separate crews as part of the larger collective, and we all took a different week so we didn’t burn out.”
Hot Mass as a whole is comprised by four parts: Honcho, Humanaut, Detour and Cold Cuts. Each Saturday of the month is accounted for. Honcho is held the first Saturday followed by Humanaut on the second. The city’s record label collective Detour showcases the third Saturday and new to the roster is Cold Cuts, an event which curates an affinity for disco and hoagies on week four. I inquired how each of these facets play a significant role not only within their space but also to the scene at large. “This is a tough one to answer. I think all four crews touch different sounds of dance. Humanaut heads straight to techno, Honcho loops in the gays and does all genres, Detour is heavy on live sets as they’re so production-minded due to their label, and Cold Cuts is just a great fucking time. It’s positivity music,” Clark says. “You kinda touch all corners, and funnel everyone into one club together, making it easier for people to figure out what they like and dig deeper. Ideally, we are always giving up-and-comers a shot on the decks as well. It’s something I personally want to push further in 2017.”
The four crews work together to maintain the integrity of the space and progress the continuity of energy and quality talent.
“We’d all vote on the larger rules of the club, keep the door cover consistent, and operate under a unified brand – Hot Mass,” he continues. “We wanted the general public in Pittsburgh to think ‘it’s always a good time there’ and not get hung up on who was promoting the party. Amazingly enough, it worked. And over the past four years we’ve just tried to improve the place one piece at a time as we got the money, knocking out walls, moving the dance floor, new sound.”
But what exactly is it that makes this Pennsylvania party so special? The size of the space is small bringing an inherent intimacy to any party. Sexuality here is open and free and there is an undeniable consistent energy when you make it until 7 a.m. and those lights turn on. “It still feels crazy that we have this beautiful thing. I think being attached to the bath house (Club Pittsburgh) is incredibly important. Right out of the gate, it’s a gay space. That helps with crowd quality immensely and is really an inseparable part of it all. Once you have that base layer, you add the layers of good friends, techno heads, and out-of-towners coming through each week,” he says.
Honcho was established in 2012 while Humanaut was founded in 2005 and run by the collective efforts of Clark, Paul Fleetwood, Paul “Relative Q” Zyla, Benjamin Kessler and Tony Fairchild. Through both Honcho and Humanaut the floor of Hot Mass has seen talent from the likes of Bill Converse, Derek Plaslaiko, Shawn Rudiman, The Black Madonna, Claude Young, Ectomorph, Bicep, DJ Minx, Sassmouth, and so many more. Last summer Clark assisted hosting a Honcho Summer Campout in the West Virginia woods and sometimes you can catch a set by Honcho, which is comprised (give or take) by Clark, George d’Adhemar, and Clark Price.
“[Hot Mass] is one of the only places in town where different peoples bubbles crash into each other. Pittsburgh is not known for being a diverse place, which can feel suffocating at times. Hot Mass is a bit of an antidote to that.” – AARON CLARK
The dance floor at Hot Mass is one of which that allows freedom, tests your limits, breaks borders and pushes boundaries. There is no pretension, and with Club Pittsburgh’s environment these parties bring everyone together by serving to both the gay and straight community. Clark believes that these attributes of a party are “important because these moments don’t happen enough. As we’ve all seen, everyone is content to live in their own personal bubble these days. Gay people need to party with straight people, and vice versa.” He explains that this outcome won’t happen at a typical gay club which serves mostly as a place to get drunk. “I think the important part here is that there’s something for everyone to bond over other than a bar – the music.”
When he’s not bringing in talent or throwing down sets himself, Clark can be found working as a Cultural Engineer at the Ace Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. Through this position he wears many hats working with community relationships, marketing, event programming and social media. “I was attracted to it because I had respected the Ace brand for years, and I wanted to force myself outside of my comfort zone of just throwing techno parties.” Through this avenue they are collaborating with The Andy Warhol Museum, hosting independent markets and panel discussions, as well as pop-up dinners. Although a small component of what he does at Ace, Clark incorporates small music events at the hotel, with an occasional Hot Mass day party outside.
No matter what Clark does, both day and night, his love and drive for music will run deep and with passion. “Music is one of the only things that can overtake my emotions completely. I remember one time at a Bunker show in NYC, Magic Mountain High was playing live. My partner and I had just gotten to the club, completely sober. We’re standing on the dance floor and we just started crying. The music was so beautiful, it was involuntary. That’s really cool. There’s a lot of beautiful stuff in the world, but music consistently does crazy things like this, over and over again.”
Catch Aaron Clark make his Western New York debut on Saturday for the two year anniversary party of Rochester’s Signal > Noise.