The NYC techno scene, as colossal as it is, remains incomparable at present with techno’s birthplace, Detroit. Within New York’s ever-changing and gentrified landscape, many challenges are imposed on the techno community, and especially its queer members. To address some of these issues, The Face invited several NYC techno community leaders to discuss the importance of carving out space for marginalised bodies.
The Face’s Paul Bui followed up on the discussion with some of the dinner guests and notable figures including: Volvox, Lydo (X‑TRA SERVICES), LSDXOXO, Katie Rex (Bound), TT, Carry Nation, False Witness, Seva Granik (Unter), NK Badtz Maru (Hot ‘N Spicy), Kozlov and Joey Quinones (Agenda), Cali Rose (New World Dysorder), NE/RE/A (Distrik1), Justin Cudmore (Balance, The Bunker) and Tom Calahan of Techno Queers…
How did you first discover or get involved in the queer techno scene in NYC?
Lydo: I remember going to places like the old Spectrum, Trans Pecos and parties like GHE20G0TH1K. Around this time, people started throwing techno parties. This is where I discovered what techno can really do to my body and how I can dance to it for 12 hours straight. I love introducing people to fast techno and trance.
LSDXOXO: Initially, I gravitated towards the scenes in NYC that focused on more eclectic styles of music and curation, so I started out frequenting parties like Contessa Stuto’s “Whorehouse” or Venus X’s “GHE20G0TH1K”. Although I’ve always loved techno, I didn’t think I’d enjoy the space I’d occupy in that scene as a gay black guy. Once I discovered that parties like The Bunker, 11:11, and Unter existed, the notion that I wouldn’t enjoy the techno scene in NYC went away.
Cali Rose: My first experience with the NYC queer techno scene involved an event put together by my DJ collective New World Dysorder; managed by an intimate community of QTPOC members and founded in 2014 by a family of trans-femme DJs and artists. In the summer of 2016, during that first visit, we as NWD curated an event in Brooklyn at the venue Secret Project Robot. We called it “ICONIQUE”.
Carry Nation: Having always been queer and needing a place to congregate, we’ve sought out these spaces from the moment we arrived in NYC in the ’90s. There were later periods when it felt like no traditional venues were supporting or fostering our community and for our own events in the 2000s we ended up sourcing spaces off the beaten path that could more conducive to the way in which we celebrate.
Seva Granik: This story goes back to 2007 when I came back from Berlin after having had discovered Berghain. I was still processing what had happened to me there, and I found that Brooklyn wasn’t ready for anything like that yet because there was no queer techno scene to speak of in New York. I waited a few years to see if the community was ready to take on techno, and then suddenly Bossa Nova Civic Club popped up. Although it wasn’t really queer back then, I figured it was time. This is right around when Ladyfag and I started throwing the SHADE raves. [We] worked together from 2010 to 2015 but parted ways after the SHADE project closed. Those raves seem to have been pivotal and eye-opening moments for a lot of people in terms where to take queer nightlife. But we were careful at first not to beat people over the head with hard techno only. SHADE was a mix of hard house and techno, so as not to scare a largely house-loving crowd away.
NK Badtz Maru: Finding queer raves in NYC that I fuck with was definitely a long process, and I am lucky to have met a solid crew of people along the way. I think people who feel out of place will always try to dig deeper, to find something more (already existing, or by creating something new). Sharing knowledge with people who match your energy is necessary, that’s how I found my community within the NYC scene.
What are some of the most pressing issues facing this community today?
Volvox: As our crowd has gotten bigger and bigger, it’s become increasingly difficult to find suitable venues for our events. Since here in the USA we lack a general cultural awareness surrounding club culture like in Europe, it’s much harder to find landlords and other folks in power who are willing to work with us.
NE/RE/A: The lack of available spaces definitely is the main issue. Queer spaces have traditionally been underground spaces, mostly held at illegal spaces and run by collectives with limited resources. A city like New York is not a friendly environment for these types of collectives, especially with rents rising, spaces disappearing (converted into condos most of the time) and owners not wanting to deal with the risk and potential liabilities of providing spaces for raves.
Katie Rex: Nightlife as a whole faces a lot of common issues across the board with venue accessibility, fees, and support from society at large. Where these problems are overarching, LGBTQIA+ people face these issues tenfold, since these are things that press this community in all areas of life. Our community is historically underground, so while we try to navigate safer above ground situations, we’re met with our vision being turned around by venues, fees being slashed in comparison to others, and massive backlash from social media platforms on content that we use for promotion. And this is me, speaking as a white cis-woman, these issues are even more amplified for QTPOC.
TT: The techno community in NYC is one of the first opportunities, that I know of, to break down this false construct and to unite us. It requires us to stop believing that any of us are separate. Often, there is a tendency to “reverse” and “reclaim” privilege over white and straight people who previously dominated the community. This is equally as destructive and creates indifference that prevents the community from coming together as one solid force.
Joey Quinones: The most pressing issues facing the community today is diversity. When I first started going out in NYC 11 years ago it used to be way more diverse, from different cultures to age. Now it’s mostly white cisgender gays.
Cali Rose: In the beginning stages of NWD’s formation, we experienced an incredible amount of disrespect and shade. This only made us more determined to succeed. The trans/queer community is continually overlooked, objectified, and dehumanised. Even now, 4 years later, the US government is still deciding whether we deserve rights in the workplace — this just being one of many oppressive acts against us. Safe spaces are not as accessible and our community is suffering greatly for it.
How important is it for lineups to reflect the intersectional values of this community?
False Witness: This is a point of contention for me because promoters and club owners everywhere love the diversity rage solely for optics, not just in New York City. It’s completely self-serving. Diverse lineups are quite meaningless if you’re not uplifting the people you’re booking. What good is it if you’re hiring marginalised artists for their labour and then underpaying them (or not paying them at all)?
Tom Calahan: Representation matters, as do actual power dynamics, and this really should not be up for debate! What might be up for debate is how best to intervene in any given situation in order to redistribute power more equally.
Justin Cudmore: It is hugely important, and I think we’ve definitely seen a shift by many promoters in an effort to make progress on this front. This scene was bred from subcultures that were non-white, non-straight and ones where trans people were welcomed. It’s important that artists with those backgrounds are given key voices in the scene.
Katie Rex: Our community has grown on the foundation that black-trans women built. To not abide by intersectional values is to go against the core ethos we were conceived on.
TT: Techno was invented by POC and made famous by Europeans/white people; the two needed each other to create what it is we have today. In order for this community to have continued growth, it requires greater demonstrations of intersectionality and showcasing the variety of talented individuals that sustain it.
Kozlov: Not only is it important to expand on diversity through lineup bookings, but the invitation must extend to marginalised audiences with a focus on accessibility. It is simply not enough to slap a few queer artists on a bill and expect your event to embrace inclusivity. We must make these gatherings feasible for all types of people through means of affordability and availability of tickets and space.
Lydo: Lineups should be reflective of the community they want to represent and serve, and the queer POC community is a big part of that, they should feel like they belong in these spaces. If your party lacks diversity, there’s a reason for that. The communities that you feel are lacking in your audience have to want to be there.
How does a scene remain “underground” yet accessible to people that want to discover it?
Volvox: I think that the term “underground” these days reflects a style and state of mind. It’s about focusing on the quality of experience over maximising profit. We rely on our dedicated community members and wonderful hosts to introduce new folks to what we do.
False Witness: The artist Josephine Shokrian gave me some deep insight this year about what it means for art to be accessible. Club environments, especially in DIY scenarios, can sometimes be very inaccessible and quite ableist at times. It’s not malicious intent: we are very susceptible to overlooking oppressions we don’t experience, especially when the idea is to have a good time and party. I question the objective of the underground if it’s not primarily for marginalised people who need it for catharsis and release.
NK Badtz Maru: I think “underground” is truly an energy, rather than a status, for a scene: the energy brought by ravers feeling themselves on the dance floor, DJs bringing their most to the decks and vibing with the crowd, honest promoters who quiet their ego to truly serve the people. It’s definitely something you can’t fake or sell, and when people do, that’s when you get hella corny nonsense from people trying to clout chase.
Tom Calahan: ‘Underground’ is a loaded term and is no longer useful. Let’s keep this simple: we want spaces for queers. We don’t want bros to know about these spaces, so we try to ensure that only to the “right” people find out about these parties. Instead of obsessing over telling only the “right” people, I think we should bring back the door as the primary site of audience curation. Dictating entry at the door can easily be hijacked by racism, or really any type of poor judgment, so let’s elevate people able to perform door duties as responsibly as possible.
What steps can be taken to carve out more space for marginalised bodies in this community?
LSDXOXO: Marginalised bodies need to have more positions of power within this community in order for these spaces to exist. If people have more of a voice in what happens within the scene, they’d feel more comfortable being involved.
False Witness: It must be reiterated for event producers: Book black artists. Book trans artists. Book indigenous artists. Book POC artists. Book women. Book local artists. And pay them! Marginalised people will come when they feel they are represented. I would also suggest to queer families and groups to start their own businesses and operations, and from there, unionise with neighbouring factions. Solidarity in numbers. Help your tribe.
Justin Cudmore: When marginalised bodies see LGBTQ+ and POC on line ups it is a rallying call to people that identify as such that they are welcome there, so I think that promoting diversity and intersectionality on lineups has benefits that extend to this. As a gay man, it’s been inspiring since I was a teenager to see queer people celebrated and doing cool things. My first memory of seeing a queer person performing was watching Le Tigre perform on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2004 and I will never forget that. I was 16.
Katie Rex: Prioritising safety using community members, instituting clear guidelines for patrons, and creating protocol that doesn’t involve physical force from security or ever calling the police on a marginalized body.
Joey Quinones: In terms of attending events, by letting them in for free or a cheaper “fare” price. In terms of booking, there should be way more variety in the parties being thrown than just the white male artist/DJ.
What’s one of your favourite dance floor memories in NYC?
NE/RE/A: I will never forget the Unter Halloween with DVS1 at the old Greenpoint space. I still get very nostalgic when I think of it. That space was till this date the most incredible place where queer techno parties were being held. The best part was waiting till the early morning sets where you could see the sunrise over the Manhattan skyline, while dancing to a killer closing set (most of the times by Volvox!).
Carry Nation: Some of our favourite memories were those early mornings at the original Spectrum, when the whole nightlife community got off work and gathered as the sun shone through the skylight onto the dance floor. We would play tunes and dance until we dropped, safe in the knowledge that inside those walls we were truly free! (Aside from those couple of times everyone had to be quiet because the authorities were outside, but those were quite memorable as well…)
False Witness: 2017, 6AM at Unter in a warehouse in Greenpoint. It was one of the most uncanny dance floor experiences I’ve ever had. Inspired, I went home that morning and began writing my record Red Curtain Daybreak.
LSDXOXO: That’d probably be Christmas Eve 2016. My best friend and I were spending Christmas Eve in NY together, and away from our families. We were in a bit of a funk, so decided to go out to Holy Mountain. Nita Aviance and Michael Magnan often closed the night on the first floor at the venue. The B2B they played is still seared deep into my memory. That particular moment helped me to realise the importance of this scene and the part it plays in the queer community.
Tom Calahan: Who else remembers the Club Shade with those penis-shaped laser cannons? (Was that one of the last ones?) If we can’t bring back Club Shade, can we at least use it as a template for what’s possible when all of us come together?
Lydo: At the last two X‑TRA raves one of my favourite moments was walking in to see my old friends meeting new people who were there for the first time. It is such a privilege to be able to bring people from different worlds together. But I think my ultimate favourite moment from this year was with Joselo, who throws a great party called Maricon and DJs too. We just found each other on the dance floor and it was so organic, we took care of each other the entire night and now he is one of my best friends. I think dance floor and raves have this incredible power to forge friendships and bring people together.
NK Badtz Maru: Anytime I went to the rave solo and left the rave with crew and big plans for breakfast.
What do you think the future holds for this scene?
Volvox: I do think there will be more and more challenges as the real estate situation becomes ever more complex. But I hope that our community will be flexible and embrace any potential evolution, whether that means different event hours, re-invading Manhattan etc. Who knows what creative solution we may need to attempt!
False Witness: I hope people remember spaces like The Spectrum and have the audacity to try to build something like that for themselves. I also think we spend too much time just trying to survive and allies just let us struggle because only the party is visible and not the day-to-day. That needs to change so we can start envisioning any kind of futurity at all.
Kozlov: The future is bright outside of the techno abyss, but we must be proactive about staying informed and taking action in local /domestic politics, especially communicating with governing bodies that hold influence and power. We need to utilise the foundation that previous queer visionaries have built and expand beyond our crazy little NYC bubble.
Seva Granik: The continuing trend now is in the dying of the real underground scene‚ which the rampant gentrification of NYC is to blame for. So we’ll be seeing fewer real underground things happening, and I can’t blame people for not wanting to do that — it’s downright crazy at this point to try to do illegal stuff. Clubs are certainly taking over, but they’re also trying their best to make room for queer parties by offering them their own nights, so that’s comforting. And we’re just going to keep at it, until we’re broke or in jail, I guess.