Venus X’s genre-mashing, teeth-gnashing and culture-spanning DJ sets have made her one of the most in-demand underground DJs the world over. Ballroom, reggaeton, non-western pop, feathery R&B and spoken word are just some of the mp3s that the Washington Heights resident knots together in the booth. It’s not that Venus has an irreverence for genre, but that she gives platform to cultural output which is sometimes underappreciated or marginalised. In the underground dance scene, it's not often that politics cut through the bass, however obliquely.
Venus X’s name really started getting around in 2011, with the success of the Ghetto Gothik events that she still hosts sporadically with Shayne Oliver of Hood By Air – the next party is September 14 – and the green hair that she rocked in A$AP Rocky's "Peso" video. Now she’s flown internationally to deliver her diverse and sometimes shocking DJ sets, and when we speak to her she’s just performed at Stay Out West, the after-hours offshoot of Way Out West festival in the Swedish music capital of Gothenburg. She shares her Top 10 things she’s learned in her rise to prominence as an underground breakout – not that she has an intention of moving away from left-of-centre any time soon.
I’m running around at the moment because I’m going to Russia this week and I have to get a visa. I do understand that I have to be very safe and pretend that I don’t have a persona that they can look up on Twitter that I like girls. I’ll be like “uh, i’m just here for vacation!” It is scary, so I’m just going to try and do as much as i can within the boundaries of my own safety.
“A radical life”
My DJ sets are the only way that I’ve ever been allowed to make a statement, know what I mean? It’s really subversive when you’re just DJing a party then you can throw in something really meaningful to the whole world. People don’t get upset because you didn’t make them go to a protest or something. It’s like an embedded radical life.
Queering Justin Timberlake
The best part is you can take a remix track that everybody loves like some big Justin Timberlake song – and it’s vogued out, and they’re all straight and hetero singing along to it not know knowing the context is totally gay New York. That’s when you’ve achieved it, it’s almost about making people be gay without even knowing it, like 'you see? it’s not that hard! We’re saving the world with or without your approval!'
Girl got lucky
I got lucky. I was a girl, I was a DJ, there was a need for women in the field, and the fashion and art industry opened itself up to me. I went to art school and I studied art for a few years so I knew how to engage more than just as a hire act.
Sharing the Power
By DJing at different kinds of parties I was given power that I wanna share with people who won’t get access to that. People who’ll never be able to DJ for elites, to be able to play their music but also to create the opportunity with the party to have them there physically. People can see that it doesn’t matter if the DJ is in his 40’s – he’s making amazing juke tracks in Chicago, he should be a part of the New York underground. Why? Because we like his music.
It’s been this human movement. A body dancing to good music that was not being acknowledged when we came onto the scene in 2009.
A-List In Good Time
I’ve been approached to do everything. Crazy collaborations, to work on mixtapes or albums or be managed by the same people (as big names). I’m willing to participate if it feels good and it makes sense, but I’ve turned a lot down. What’s happening this shift where the commercial industry realises that there’s a lot going on underground but they don’t know how to respect and how to really involve people without becoming culture vultures. The industry is all bullshit – of course i’m hesitant, because I don’t want to be taken advantage of.
I’ve noticed a global influence of Ghetto Gothik because of the internet, which has led to like what looks like a world of small versions of Ghetto Gothik which I get to play. They respect the same musicians and are trying to create a new underground for their youth. It’s very intergenerational because the art world is so into it and the fashion world is so into it. It’s been this human movement. A body dancing to good music that was not being acknowledged when we came onto the scene in 2009.
It’s a very gorgeous place, and I know some of the stuff that’s going on in the underground scene there. There’s a party I Djed in Stockholm called HAM CITY which is awesome. They’re bringing out my group of friends, and we’re kind of creating the same sounds even though we’re half a world away.
This is a time in the world where people are crossing paths more than ever. There’s a super-healthy underground scene where DJ’s can travel the world without having an agent, without having a label behind them, without even putting out records, just being good at what they do. The craft is being appreciated again and there’s no rules anymore. We move these sounds - we import them and export them and develop a language for ourselves because we are the youngest version of humanity and we have fucking technology, we have information.
A Life of Research
You’re always listening. I’m really into movie soundtracks at the moment – horror soundtracks are the best. It might not even be right for a set, it’s just staying inspired. There’s always music that’s just not being played. My recommendations at the moment… This mixtape from a guy named Byrell that's amazing. He’s a producer, one of Mike Q’s friends. His mixtape is amazing, really cool.
Venus wears Chanel jacket from AW12
Hair: Brittany Pappa
Make-Up: Michael Anthony
Follow Venus X on Twitter here.