Ariana Paoletti’s transformative journey through sound has certainly brought her changes in scenery. From her formative gothic years to becoming the DJ known worldwide as Volvox, it has been her undying passion for music that continues to drive her. A Portuguese saying goes, “O amor é algo eterno; o aspecto pode mudar, mas não a essência” – Love is something eternal; the aspect may change, but not the essence.
She was born in São Paulo, Brazil. But when she was two years old her family moved to the United States due to the country’s 1987 debt crisis. “Just days before my family was set to move the banks shut down and kept everyone’s money, including my parent’s entire savings,” she says. “They arrived in the United States with a little more than $2,000 to their names, but my American grandparents took them in and helped them get started in Buffalo (where my mother was from).”In Western New York on the Niagara River sits Buffalo, a small and gritty rust belt city only a stone’s throw from Canada. Not only was Buffalo’s rave scene strong in the early 2000s, the Queen City brought life to various famous underground artists and was also home to a very prominent hardcore scene (most notably Everytime I Die). “I had a great time growing up there and was never bored,” Ariana says. She attended Amherst Central High School, just east of downtown proper. She was a vocalist in a punk band, and from 2001-03 she played keys and performed vocals in EBM-industrial band Process of Elimination; they would open for international Industrial acts locally and in Rochester, N.Y.
“There was a venue called the Showplace Theater that was in a crummy part of town that would let us host our own shows but we had to buy tickets from the venue and resell the tickets ourselves to cover the overhead of the event. So imagine a bunch of goths pushing tickets on their friends, almost monthly. It was a hassle but we loved it! Many times we just paid for the tickets ourselves and let our friends come for free. We were all under 18 at the time so these shows were the best option we had for going out and having a scene,” she says.
A pivotal place that defined her teenage clubbing days was The Continental, a now defunct goth/punk dive bar that was located downtown at 212 Franklin Street. “It had been open since the ‘80s and was the de-facto home of the underground/alternative scene in the area. It had a performance stage on the first floor and a dance club upstairs. It was dark and dirty and smelly and sticky and beloved,” she says. “The funniest thing I remember about the club at The Continental was that the dance floor was the width of the building but relatively narrow, the long side was mirrored and so everyone in their goth finery would dance and preen facing the mirrors, checking themselves out and the others behind them! Eventually my band played there once or twice, which was pretty exciting for me as a teen.”
It was a space unlike any other in Buffalo, where fetishism could be expressed freely and the dark electronic music ranged from postpunk, Industrial, and EBM. “Occasionally they would host touring band shows that were 16+ and I would hide in the bathroom to avoid being kicked out before the 18+ club night started afterwards. I specifically remember an Ohgr (Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy solo act) show in 2001 that was a big moment for me. Ogre was the most famous Industrial music figure after Trent Reznor of NIN and Al Jourgensen of Ministry so this show coming to Buffalo was a huge deal.”
When it comes to raving Buffalo is primed for it. Similar to Detroit, the city relied on manufacturing (particularly with Bethlehem Steel) and saw a rapid socio-economic decline along with deindustrialization. Homes began to disintegrate and many spots in the city became ghost-like structures, only to be inhabited by temporary new life.“Just before I went totally goth I started attending raves in the area with some friends – Buffalo had tons of abandoned spaces along Main Street downtown and also in Fort Erie and Niagara Falls. The first rave I ever went to was in 2000, put on by local promoters Phlux and it was a MASSIVE affair held at the Niagara Falls Convention Center. My parents drove me there and picked me up at noon the next day. I had never been to any dance event on that scale and I still distinctly remember walking into the massive main room, it was so dark and large you couldn’t see the ceiling, or the end of the room. It was a proper classic rave with multiple rooms each a different genre including a chillout room. For a while my parents drove me to and picked me up from these events to ensure I was behaving responsibly. Indeed at this time I was still naive to the world of drugs; I was just thrilled to be able to dance for eight hours straight! There were many raves I attended around that time but Groove Attack was by far the largest and most memorable.”
When school wasn’t in session Ariana would perform The Rocky Horror Picture Show each Friday night at the Amherst Theater on Main Street, a staple to this day for new art films and re-screening classics. “Nearly our entire cast was from my high school. I had very horrible acne on my face and back at the time that I was extremely embarrassed about it but performing in various states of undress with these folks helped me feel more confident about my body and how I looked! My mom would drop me off at midnight and watch X-Files at home until 2 a.m., she’d then pick me up when our show was over. Once I had my drivers permit I drove myself and my friends home from these shows as my parents were very sick of staying up so late,” she says. “I had stellar grades and was very serious about school which is why my parents were always so accepting of my nighttime interests!”
Upon graduating in 2003 she was deciding between Boston or Chicago; she chose to attend Massachusetts College of Art and to continue clubbing unhindered. “I was already well entrenched in the Goth clubbing scene by the time I turned 18 and indeed I chose to move to Boston over Chicago because the minimum age for clubs in Illinois is 21 whereas in Boston it was 19+ at the time. Club life had already become my main interest and there was no way I was going to put that on hold for three years!”
Through Livejournal she ended up connecting with Angeldustrial, a local crew throwing events at Cambridge goth-club, Manray. “They welcomed me with open arms into their midst. I became a part of the crew, eventually joining their fetish-leaning dance performance troupe” for about a year after her move. “That was the beginning of my professional involvement with clubs, as I made the transition from spectator to performer.”
Angeldustrial’s core beliefs include “raising cultural discourse through high technology and blending social circles for greater DIY networking.” These friends got Ariana to start DJing in 2006 with a group birthday gift organized by her friend Jenn – a Numark CD Mix 2. Koren (aka DJ Punketta) helped get her first DJ gig at Redline, a Harvard Square bar that’s now closed. But before she started learning the craft she was being molded on many Manray nights in the dark corners of the club.
Manray was an integral space for the Industrial/goth scene from 1985 to 2005; its name derived from the Dadist artist. Although it has been more than a decade since closing, Ariana can still visualize the space vividly. It was “a sprawling old-school style club with several rooms, a main dance floor, second dance floor, lounge with its own bar and a downstairs with men and womens restrooms, coat check and a large dressing room. Manray’s main dance floor had a second story DJ booth so the DJ was totally out of sight, but looming over the dance floor. There was a phone booth in the corner you used to request songs from resident DJ Chris Ewen. There was a large stage that hosted many famous bands and also the dance/fetish performances. The main room was sonically dedicated to goth, rock, and ‘80s synth. Swishy stuff that trad(itional)-goths loved to swoop around to in a flourish of velvet, point toe boots and clove smoke. The second room was more of my domain, focused on EBM, industrial and alternative electronic sounds with a decidedly more cyber-futuristic and European slant.”
As Manray closed its doors in 2005 the local scene fell along with it, although some of the club’s events continue elsewhere to this day.
Eventually she “made the transition from goth/industrial to electro/techno.” A party called Hearthrob – which took place every other Tuesday night at The Middlesex Lounge – is where she sparked a residency with Make It New. Hearthrob is also where she met “an entire small village of people that now live in NYC all met there, including NYC lighting designers Michael Potvin and Kip Davis, Unter’s Olga Romanova and KUNQ’s False Witness.”
“I ditched the black and went full on new-rave as the noughties rolled on into the blog-house era. Soon after I was asked to become a resident of Make It New, the weekly Thursday party at The Middlesex thrown by the Basstown crew. The people I met there showed me that you didn’t have to be ‘an adult’ or established to throw a great party, and the Boston electronic scene as it was now basically grew up around the Hearthrob and Basstown parties.”By 2008, freshly graduated with an art degree in hand, she decided to attempt living in Berlin. “By then I knew Techno was my life and so I had to get to the motherland. I remember the first time I went to Berghain was in 2008, as I heard it was a pretty sweet fetish/alternative club, like I was used to at Manray. I was still mourning it’s closing so I was excited to get back in black,” she says. “It was so way beyond anything I imagined. I remember I wanted to see Mark Broom play so I rushed my friends to get there at 1 a.m., which to me was very late to get to the club! When I arrived I found out Mark wasn’t playing until 6 a.m. or so…what the fuck!? I had no idea clubs were open that late.. On some later trip someone from Juilliard took my photo outside the club for a school project, maybe one of the earliest such surveys.. I don’t know where those images ended up but I’ve always wondered…”
Her best friend Lauren was working as label manager for International Deejay Gigolo Records, and DJ Hell would invite Ariana to staff meetings. Exploring her local Media Play in Buffalo is where she became familiar with the label and others such as Astralwerks and Hed Candi.
“CD compilations used to be a huge thing and the Gigolo series was second to none. This is where I learned about artists from Terence Fixmer to Derrick Carter. When I was 17 years old I told myself ‘one day I’ll go to Berlin and meet DJ Hell.’ It was an insane dream, as far removed from my teen life as anything I could imagine. Well, I completely forgot about that until in 2008 I was sitting in the Gigolo Berlin office and it hit me. ‘Holy shit.’ I thought to myself. ‘I’m here. ANYTHING is possible!’” – VOLVOX
Three months later in Berlin, she says, “I was 23, recently graduated and jobless, with blue hair, a terrible spat of chin acne and a bogus story of working at a record label. Nobody would rent me a room until one day I met a Brazilian guy whose room I was interviewing for. The lady I was looking to rent from had a giant gnarled ponytail hanging off the side of her head and red lipstick that was all out of the lines. She had a huge dog, hundreds of plants and asked me metaphysical questions about ‘what I wanted from Berlin.’ ‘You don’t want to live here,’ he told me. ‘This lady is crazy. If you don’t find anything else you can come stay with me, I’m moving into a one-bed.’ And that is just one of the many times being Brazilian has saved me in a pinch.” Their chemistry as roommates matched as his job had him up early to work each morning and Ariana would sleep during the day after being out each night.
Until one morning her roommate woke her up in a panic – there was a fire.
“We tried to make an escape but we were overwhelmed by smoke in the hallway and I almost lost consciousness choking in the darkness. It didn’t help I just HAD to bring my DJ bag with me. I started to drift off then I remember thinking to myself ‘No, I’m not going out like this, not now.’ I got up and shouted for my roommate. Just as we were both about to pass out he smashed the hallway window with his bare firsts. Firefighters arrived soon after and took us to the hospital. After this experience I decided I had enough of Berlin and moved back to Boston.”She spent three more years in Boston DJing, throwing events and dealing vintage clothes. Her gigs were frequent, but $100 a night just wasn’t enough. “In the back of my mind there was always this nagging voice telling me that a wider world was waiting for me, and that I was squandering my potential staying in Boston.” In 2011 she made her move to New York City.
Working her way into the rhythm of the city she started promoting at The Flat, and also helped found Moon II along with Michael Potvin. This warehouse art space on Rutledge Street off Broadway became home to a series of raves and events which Ariana says “put our group on the map in the burgeoning DIY electronic scene.” One of the space’s first tenants, Daniel Fisher (aka DJ Physical Therapy), was a nexus figure integrating them into the local scene. Ariana recalls Ron Morelli playing one of the first parties and Mykki Blanco using the space to rehearse.
“Eventually the local Hasidim who owned the space brought those efforts to a close, they certainly didn’t appreciate all the queer party freaks that were hanging outside, smoking cigarettes and carrying on into the morning light,” she says.
Fischer introduced her to John Barclay, owner of Bushwick’s beloved Bossa Nova Civic Club. At the time the bar had just opened and he was looking for a resident on first Fridays of each month. She and John Barera ran the monthly together for a couple years before it evolved into what is now known as Jack Dept. “For the first couple years the party had no name, only hot DJ lineups and little more than a Facebook event. That was the style in Brooklyn at the time, very understated, if you knew the artists you knew what was up. I don’t even have flyers from that time, I guess we never even made any!” Yet, popularity for the party grew.
“When I came up with the name Jack Dept. all the energy we had put into the parties up until then just came together in a big way. I remember one dancer excitedly letting me know ‘I’ve been to ALL the Jack Dept.’s!’ …it was only our second party. That’s when I knew the name was spot on, that it would encourage such enthusiasm and also stand for a consistent level of forward-thinking bookings.”
Some of the party’s bookings include Shawn Rudiman, Kiernan Laveaux and Father of Two, Justin Cudmore, Doc Sleep, Hot Mass residents, Eris Drew, Mary Yuzovskaya, Patrick Russell – and that’s just to name a few. “Over the years I’d say half the people that came to the early parties have become famous in their own right and the party is now informing a new generation of edgy Brooklyn clubgoers,” she says, adding that her and Barera are working to bring in national upcoming talent.
“I deeply appreciate having the privilege to break young artists here in NYC and also to provide an intimate club experience for more established DJs to enjoy. As I play more and more massive events across Europe I have recognized that the intimate dive/club experience is something that brings me back to my roots and lies at the heart of my passion for dancing and electronic music.”
Out of the party grew a digital-only record label of the same name in 2016. Pushing lesser known producers who create techno and acid, the imprint has seen releases from Will Martin, M//R, TX Connect, AAAA, Horos, Innershades & Robert D, and Pete Vai. Ariana handles the art direction.
Additionally, the Bossa Nova residency is where she became acquainted with Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, Emma Burgess-Olson and Christine McCharen-Tran: the founders of Discwoman. This collective has grown to become a globally-recognized platform and booking agency for woman-identifying artists. As one of the group’s first clients, Discwoman has played an integral role for Ariana not only providing further growth for her DJ career, but in the strengthening of her community.
“Discwoman definitely turned me on to the female DJ mission. I guess what I’ve realized now is how amazing and special my youth experiences were in that all the scenes I’ve described until now were well-balanced between men and women, straights, gays and everyone in between, people of all races and decidedly liberal and creative leanings. I never felt like anything was missing but clearly that hasn’t been the story everywhere. I’m happy that Discwoman can inspire more people to take up electronic music, their support also showed me that there was a wider audience for what I do than I ever imagined!” – VOLVOX
When she’s not at Bossa she also holds a residency with Unter, the acclaimed underground party whose unique aesthetic and high-caliber bookings have brought on a serious reputation. Additionally, for the past few years she has been touring on an international level stretching to 21 countries beyond the United States. Her gig roster is incredibly extensive in review. But you can certainly find her frequenting Berghain/Panorama Bar. Perhaps you caught her performance alongside Umfang at last year’s Dekmantel. Back on Buffalo turf in 2016 she played to an intimate dancefloor for Strange Allure as the city’s underground scene began its most recent surge. That’s hardly close to scratching the surface of how much she has done and where she’s gone.
But, there was one party specifically that focused and refined even further the vision of love that Ariana has for music. In February 2016 she made her way back to Brazil for Dûsk, a party in celebration of Vênus Ácida [Acid Venus]; a party inspired by the planet poetically known for its myths of feminine energy and creating balance. Visiting the motherland reintroduced her to ancestral power. This reconnection to the idea of home helped her understand more so her own essence of being.
“I always say that my love of dancing comes from being born in Brazil. They just LIVE for it there! I’d say it’s the national pastime. It’s in my body and my soul. But growing up away from there I never knew what it was about me that was Brazilian. Since I knew only my family I had little sense of what Brazilian people were like. I only knew that I always felt somewhat different/alien all while growing up. That I had a fire inside me that wasn’t like others around me,” she says. “Finally in the last three years I’ve been able to spend quality time there as an adult, and so much has clicked into place. My passions, my desires, they all make more sense when I see myself in this frame. I am so so grateful for the friendships I’ve sparked there, the fruits of which have been deeply spiritually nourishing. I always come back from São Paulo feeling 100% more confident and embodied.”
Over time, life’s little details changed. No matter the city or sky she is under. No matter the time of the day. To thousands of people or just a handful. Ariana’s love for music is eternal.
“I love music because it’s an internal journey that can take you around the world. Music has nourished me for my entire life and has been the great driving force of my happiness. As you can see my life has been wrapped around music for as long as I’ve been doing things and I’m just dumbfounded by how far it has all gone. I’m a lifer for sure, come find me in 10-20 years…I’ll be on the dancefloor.”