Interview by Jesse G
Could you tell me how and why you came up with the idea of releasing this compilation?
The Physically Sick thing started last year. Physical Therapy, Umfang and I had attended an event somewhere in Pennsylvania, which was before Trump was elected. It was a big Boiler Room event and they did this thing called a „Weekender“. It was amazing but it ended up getting shut down by the police. It was in a very explicitly Trump area, there were signs everywhere, which was really disturbing for us coming from New York, seeing this and then the weekend ending in police shutting an event down. This series of events seemed so crazy and gave us a certain idea of what was to come. Then Trump was elected, we were all like „wow this sucks“. Daniel (Physical Therapy) said we should do something and try to protest this. I can’t really remember how exactly we came up with the compilation but we said let’s do this and have it released on Inauguration Weekend, so that’s kind of what spurred it on. Last year we were a bit broader on the focus of who we’d donate the money to; there were four different charities and organizations. It was great and had a really awesome effect and impact. This year we wanted to amp it up a bit and make it a bit more directed in terms of who we’d give the money to. Last year was a bit mixed; there was Planned Parenthod, ACLU, National Immigration and Callen-Lorde.
So this year we decided to just give it to the Brooklyn Bail Fund because the prison system in the USA is, as everyone knows, a complete disaster and incubator of racism. I think that has actually been more successful. It feels more political and has more impact.
Since the majority of prisoners in the USA are black and people of colour, was this race debate also a reason for your choice this time round ?
Yes, absolutely. I mean the prison system in the USA is modern day slavery. It was actually Daniel’s idea to do that and obviously we all just jumped on it. I didn’t really know much about them before we decided to do it, but Daniel followed them for a long time. I’m still learning about them and what their work is and stuff like that, but the response and respect that this organization has is really mind-blowing and really moving. They’re actually doing real work and it’s just really amazing to be able to support that.
I think it’s good that you’re doing this since you create more awareness about this topic and this organization.
Absolutely. People don’t know these things, you know? I didn’t. That’s part of the journey too, not just being on this moral high ground and preaching, but also learning about all these things.
How did you choose the artists?
We got really overexcited and were like „oh I love this person, and this person…“ it kind of just comes together and I think Emma (Umfang), Daniel and I just work really well together and have similar tastes and at the same time we kind of connected to different pockets of people, so it comes together really well. Emma’s curatorial part is that she really has tapped into these really weird “alien” Techno DJs and producers that nobody knows, so there are these really awesome lesser-known people on the compilation because that’s who she follows. Daniel has been doing this for kind of a long time and has been touring a lot longer than Emma has, so there is a connection to some of the older artists on the label, who have also been doing it for a long time, which gives it a nice historical element too. It’s super interesting, Anthony Parasol who is on it has been through the system, he’s been in jail, so it was really awesome to have him on the compilation because that’s a position he’s had to deal with and a system he’s had to go through. That was obviously one of my favourites because it came full circle. A lot of what I picked was drawn from my inspirations of where I went last year and where I travelled to, people I met over the summer at Unsound and Deckmantel. It was very much a reflection of the journey I was on last year and it was really cool to bring all these amazing artists I’ve met throughout the year on to one compilation. That was my direction. In reality we don’t think that much about it, it just sort of comes together. But there are so many people! We already have a list for next year.
So you will continue doing political work ?
Oh yeah, we really enjoy doing it. It’s really fun and we work together well, so that makes it even more fun. I can’t talk enough about how your relationship with people and who you work with is really what creates great things, as opposed to just being good. We really have a lot respect for each other and enjoy working together. Putting this out to the world is just a positive thing.
What do Techno and House represent for you in a political sense ? Do you see similarities between the Techno scene and the feminist movement ? In my opinion the Techno and electronic music scenes generally accept people for who they are but now we need to bring feminism into it and I see this as a bit of a contradiction.
I don’t necessarily see it as a contradiction but it’s tricky. Talking about Techno being political, honestly my first thing is to bring up race. The way I was introduced to Techno was not by the black artists who were the pioneers of it, but through raves in the back of University thrown bunch of rich white kids at school. It was great but I had no idea who created that music. I was young, taking drugs etc. And then it wasn’t really until I met Emma that it became politicized to me. I met Emma at Bossanova, the club where we started Discwoman. She played a Techno record called « Super » and I was like: „oh my God what is this sound?“ because I haven’t heard music like that in such a long time. I went up to her and we became friends really quickly and she taught me so much about where the music came from. She told me about people like Jeff Mills. I had no idea and that was really striking to me because I was a young black kid in London, feeling like a fucking alien and little did I know, there were other alien black kids just like me who I didn’t know about and I didn’t get taught about. Then the music became really political for me because I was like: „wow I can feel connected to this“, more than just being a party and taking whatever. It was pretty mind-blowing and also disturbing that you just aren’t taught those things.
Since it started as such a political thing, I have the feeling that has become kind of lost these days. Do you also have a similar impression? Do you think it’s coming back?
I think it’s coming back, although some people will definitely disagree. But I also try to be a bit of a hopeful person, otherwise what’s the point of doing anything that we do? But I do think there is kind of an effort, at least in New York City and in places where people want to promote talent such as the old-school Detroit guys, the old-school Chicago guys, people want to talk more about that. I think that is really awesome and different than a few years ago in New York where that just wasn’t happening. It’s definitely more a thing now and that’s awesome to me. Some of these Detroit guys are getting more bookings than before. I think there is definitely a shift to people wanting to put those people on and wanting to promote them. And it’s just way cooler to have that; as a party planner, having a black Detroit person playing Techno is just going to make you look better. That’s just a fact (laughing).
Is your experience in Europe different than in the USA? I always have the feeling it’s so white here (Europe). If you look at those Internet polls lead by white male DJs and even at many female parties, the line-up is still so white. At least that’s my perception. For example this guy who reacted to your tweet the other day and started a fight about reverse racism, this kind of thing gives me the feeling that since Techno is getting more and more mainstream, there is this mentality of equality and I’m a bit afraid that people will forget about the still existing problems, not only in society but also in the scene and also forget where this music has its origins.
Absolutely. All these things are going on at the same time. That guy, he did take me a back a bit, because I was like: „Really? You’re still back there?” when everyone else – at least in my small circle – or the people who I follow and who follow me have a similar idea of how things are, or so I thought. So I was like: „Really? You’re coming with that basic comment?“ How many people around you think like that?“ It’s surprising that no one is checking or questioning him. It’s absurd, has no one ever checked his privilege? That is disturbing and there are so many people like that. Sometimes I’m in a bubble because I’m around people who agree on the same things, which I’m happy about, but then it’s a wake up for me to see that not everyone does think like we do. But I also think that particular incident was less about what I said and more about him wanting to silence people who are speaking up. I always think it’s more about that.
Now that you’ve made Techno-feminism a thing and since Discwoman is so popular, it’s also become cool to have feminism in Techno. In the last years you grew so much and probably connected with many other female DJs, collectives etc. How do you feel about intersectionality and how do you think other women in electronic music feel about intersectionality ?
I’ve seen a couple of groups like SIREN in London. They started a little bit after us and are a collective initially made up of white women. We came into conversation with them quite early on and what took me aback was their reflectiveness of their privilege and their understanding of that. They also have been very committed to diversity, putting on women of colour etc. for the parties they book. That’s exactly what you should be doing. I’d never seen white women organize like that before so it was really striking to me. They expanded more since then but the founders are white women. Because of the bookings they’ve done, people wouldn’t see them like that. They’ve taken on a different character and style and that’s what’s really interesting because you haven’t just pushed your own face forward, you’ve actually thought about it and centred other people who have less of a voice than you do. Another collective in New York „Working Women“ are four white women, they also book women of colour and make an effort to do that and aren’t scared to have those conversations either. It’s not about your collective having every aspect of diversity possible. It’s what your actions are doing. Are you providing space for those people? That’s something that I have to constantly think about as well.
Well in terms of our bookings: „who do we need to make space for in this line-up?“ In every party or the mixed series we do. Let’s think about the voices that need to be heard and let’s push for that with everything that we do. Which isn’t always perfect but I think you have to be having these conversations with yourself and with each other.
Since we already talked about it: I think mostly female DJs are white here (Europe) and I don’t believe it’s because more white women are djing, it’s that white women have a voice as opposed to women of colour who don’t get attention. Do you think women of colour have it harder because their skin colour and appearance have an impact on their own behaviour and the way they represent themselves? The DJ scene is also about business and about how you promote yourself. Since you work with many female DJs of colour, how is your experience with that? How is your experience with other people booking them?
That’s a really good question. I think that’s something I can approach with my own experience of being a black woman and wanting to do stuff in the world and that it’s been hard for me. Just generally speaking, not even specific to being a DJ. I had to work fucking hard to have self-confidence and to be able to think I can do anything. I grew up with a single mother in a working class family. People never thought you would amount to much and very similarly to my peers who I grew up with; mostly young black kids, south Asian kids, that’s who I went to school with. Their aims were: „I think I want to get married by 21“ or „I want to have a kid“ which is totally fine but that being your only idea about what your life can be, as an option given by society, is so sad, when other kids who have more money are like: „you can go to university, you can be a doctor, you can be a politician. And you can also have kids if you want (laughing) and someone who can look after them, if you want.“ It’s really crazy. I think speaking specifically about DJs, they have to go through so many humps to get to a point where they think they can be represented or they can play and all these things because you’re so filled with self-doubt and insecurity. As a young person of colour it’s such a hill to get over. It’s so sad. I think a lot of people are grappling with trying to find their self-worth. I’ve had a lot of messages where people who don’t see a direct accolade or response to what they’re doing at all times, just want to give up because they don’t see any return on it. That’s the hardest thing to talk about because… maybe you won’t see a return, maybe you won’t be the famous DJ or producer you want to be. But I do know the people that I work with and that I’m close with, have gotten so far because they’ve worked really hard and I’m not saying that’s the only way to do it because that’s not true. It feels like a shitty response to say: „you just have to work harder“ because it’s so much more than that. You have to wake up and believe in yourself that day and then work hard. It’s really impossible to answer.
During your time with Discwoman, gaining more and more attention, have you had any bad experiences that were hurtful or intense? Being intersectional is being aware of your privilege but also about the minorities you belong to which is also an intense experience.
I feel like the whole thing is just full throttle intensity. I personally suffer from pretty bad anxiety. Today I’m pretty good but a lot of the time it can be really hard. You’re dealing, especially as an agent, with a lot of emotion and it’s people’s money, it’s their livelihood. The relationships I have to have with people and really emotionally intense. Often people don’t see that part of it, so when they ask me to represent them, it’s like „no“ because it’s literally „let me start another relationship“. It’s not that easy to pick someone up again. It’s really hard to expand because it’s about if you get along and if we can get along. That’s where my moments of tension are – is this agency part. There are always hick-ups and stuff, there are always moments where we’re not perfect or we’ve done something incorrectly that has led to an error on a booking or something like that. I used to be harder on myself about that but now I realise this is how it works. We have to make mistakes sometimes.
This interview was first published on missy-magazine.de