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.”
For the past 15 years Chicago has been the adopted home for Sam Kern, who otherwise goes by the moniker Sassmouth. After growing up in the punk scene as a teenager in the Northwest, she was brought to the city in 2000 working as a flight attendant.
“I didn’t discover Chicago house and Detroit techno until I moved here, but once I did, I was smitten immediately … we spent most of our time going to clubs like Crobar, Rednofive, and Red Dog for Boom Boom Room. For many years my friends and I would regularly caravan to Detroit to get our fix for more underground parties,” she says.
Detroit played a significant role in her foundation as an artist, as she made her way to the Detroit Electronic Music Festival (Movement Festival) each year since the second annual event in 2001, with the exception of 2010 for the birth of her daughter.
Chicago and Detroit became such inspirational sponges for Kern which went on to establish and influence her DJing and producing. “I really can’t think of a better place to soak in the culture and surround yourself with badass mentors than Chicago and Detroit. If you go to a party here, chances are you are surrounded by amazing DJs and producers that really set the bar high and constantly inspire each other.”
While learning to mix Kern said she would carry around a little notebook and after hearing something that piqued her ear she would would ask around, scribbling down the artist and name of the track, meanwhile also establishing a network in Chicago bringing her down more paths.
A multi-tasking master, Kern juggles a variety of things including running the Naughty Bad Fun Collective, holding a residency with As You Like It, developing the Industry Brunch parties, and creating her own residential party series at Smart Bar.
The Naughty Bad Fun Collective, based out of Chicago, began around 12 years ago comprised by a tight-knit community, including Kern. She says they were “just a group of friends that loved dancing right up front next to the speakers and partying together. We could fill a dance floor wherever we went. Someone pointed it out to us and I think that kind of inspired us to start throwing our own events.” The party began to manifest as an underground event finding home anywhere the group could muster, often in giant lofts or warehouse spaces. For a while NBFC parties were being held in “The Rave Dungeon,” the basement beneath Kern and her husband’s apartment, or hosted at their friends loft in London that they called “Club Regret.”
Life spent living in London inspired her creation and establishment of the Industry Brunch parties in Chicago. What started as an underground daytime party at a friend’s restaurant has become a staple event in Chicago and has also successfully taken place in Detroit during the city’s major festival as well as throughout the summer months.
“My husband and I lived in London for a few years and were inspired by all the daytime events there. You could get a full night’s sleep, wake up, have some breakfast, and enjoy music on a Sunday afternoon. We also liked the idea that many of our friends who do work as bartenders and various service industry jobs could enjoy going out on their day off. It has been really special to watch how it’s evolved in Chicago.”
Additionally, Kern also makes her way to the West Coast, holding down a residency with As You Like It, a promoting group based in San Francisco, Calif. She met AYLI founder Jeremy Bispo about 12 years ago when she was just learning how to DJ.
“Some friends and I traveled to Los Angeles to see Richie Hawtin and Sven Vath and I guess we were dancing extra hard and probably fist-pumping. Jeremy walked up to me and asked where I was from and I said ‘Chicago!’ without missing a dance beat. He got a big smile on his face and said ‘I figured! Nobody dances like that in L.A.!’ and we became instant friends and kept in touch over the years and would meet up at parties across the U.S. when we could,” she says.
Bispo invited her to play an event in 2010 at a place called the Compound, also known for Lee Burridge’s Get Weird parties, in San Francisco and at 7-months pregnant she played her last gig before giving birth.
“The Compound was a fantastic underground space with a capacity of around 150 and had an ‘in the round’ setup; the speakers, visuals and even the crowd surrounded the DJ in a circular-shaped room. It is still one of my most favorite parties I’ve ever played. To be that connected with the sound and crowd, and I still get the occasional person coming up to me when I play in SF and tell me how special that night was. I currently fly out to SF to DJ the As You Like It parties every other month or so. The next one will be at a warehouse space in Oakland, Calif. with Juju and Jordash on Halloween,” she says.
While back at home in Illinois, she hosts her own special event titled Planet Chicago at the well-renowned Smart Bar. A continuation of her crew’s underground events, they take the party and transform the club with decorations and themes like on an underwater planet or in an alien cathedral. According to the artist, Planet Chicago is always “a little campy, a little trippy” and decorated with artwork usually handmade by one of the NBFC’s newer DJs, Jarvi.
“We also like to feature a lot of live PA’s and present it floor level so the dancers can see what the act is actually doing with their machines, or watch them sing live like when we had Portable play one of our first events,” she says. “We also like to feature longtime heroes to us. We’re not opposed to showcasing newer artists but I think there’s something important about spotlighting and celebrating artists that have been quietly grinding away over the years making fantastic music. We also believe in building long-term relationships between the artist and community, which is why we bring back artists annually if we can.”
By 2013 she developed a vinyl label called god particle. During her travels she was reading about the Large Hadron Collider and while daydreaming she thought about how music — like the smallest Higgs Boson particle — connects everything in her life. She says, “As a DJ, I love tracks that work as building blocks that can work as connectors between techno and house and electro and more ambient sounds.” Vinyl pressing in today’s age she coined as a labor of love due to various hurdles with production. Kern was excited to announce that the label will be releasing “GOPA 05” by Santa Cruz, Calif. producer Stridah.
As a mother, wife, DJ, producer, label and party developer, Sam Kern does it all purely driven by passion. “I’m positive I will be doing something music-related even when I make the leap from Mama Techno to Grandma Techno,” she says.
Kern will be present this Saturday, Oct. 17 at 45 Euclid in Rochester, N.Y. along with Shawn Rudiman for the next installment of the Signal > Noise parties.
“Shawn is one of my favorite people to watch perform, he is also a mentor and now I feel lucky to say a dear friend. I was first awed by his live show 11 years ago when I saw him and Claude Young at party called ‘Green Light Go’ in Detroit during the festival,” she says. “I felt honored when he sent me music for my label — he is truly one of the most inspiring musicians I have ever met. He just goes for it like he’s on a kamikaze mission. A lot of what he does live is improvised on the fly and I’ve seen him many times and have never seen the same show. There is a funky raw vibe to what he does, and somehow he even injects his sense of humor into the experience, which is awesome. Rochester is in for a treat.”
Stay tuned into the Sequencer later this week for a spotlight on Shawn Rudiman.