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Venus X

Venus X on the origins of GHE20G0TH1K, a club night that shaped the 2010s

The New York dance party spread its freak flag worldwide during the decade and its version of goth permeated the global pop culture mainstream

Deep fakes, influencers, viral fashion – we live in a world unrecognisable from the one we stood in ten years ago. As a chaotic decade comes to a close, we're speaking to the people who helped shape the last ten years and analysing the cultural shifts that have defined them. Explore the decade on our interactive timeline here, or head here to check out all our features.

Venus X isn’t one for convention. There’s a strong presence to the Native New Yorker that’s palpable even when you’re just speaking to her through the phone. Venus knows what she likes, and she doesn’t give a fuck if you like it, too. A decade ago, she took that same demeanour and teamed up with friend and Hood by Air founder Shayne Oliver with a simple enough idea – start a club night where they could DJ the music they liked and party with their friends. GHE20G0TH1K (an amalgamation of “ghetto” and “gothic”) took place in warehouses across Brooklyn and Manhattan, rapidly shifting from just another weekly NYC party to something seminal. Within a year it was clear: GHE20G0TH1K was radicalising the city’s nightclub scene, and no one was going to stop it. 

GHE20G0TH1K’s inception came fresh off the tailspin that was the U.S. financial crisis and had 2012’s supposed end-of-the-world looming on the horizon. The political and cultural climate was nothing short of apocalyptic and the party quickly became associated with chaos, biohazard symbols, and a thrilling, unfiltered doom. GHE20G0TH1K was a reflection of Venus’ signature DJ style: disruptive, aggressive, overtly political, and always fun as hell. “We created a glamorous, fashion-friendly, art-friendly, freak fest,” reflects Venus, speaking to Dazed from her new home in the Dominican Republic. “Everyone was welcome and everyone felt cool there. Everyone liked it.”

“We created a glamourous, fashion-friendly, art-friendly, freak fest. Everyone was welcome and everyone felt cool there. Everyone liked it” – Venus X

GHE20G0TH1K became linked with acts like NGUZUNGUZU and Total Freedom, making the party a magnet for NYC’s underground rave scene, and before long, Venus’ own untethered sets that could jump from Brazilian baile funk to Lil’ Kim to Nu metal to Jersey club to literally anything, were drawing in crowds on merit alone. Her DJ stylings went on to become some of the most definitive of the decade, and GHE20G0TH1K’s aesthetics were viral in their own right. The party highlighted that being goth was beyond a white subculture and soon enough, the ghetto goth visuals found their way into the mainstream through superstars like Rihanna, who co-opted the movement as their own.

A decade may have passed, but the core of GHE20G0TH1K revolves around community and a music-first mentality just as it did at its start. For Venus, GHE20G0TH1K is a thriving ecosystem that survives off respect. “We’re actually creating spaces and we’re hiring people and we’re friends with those people,” she says. “We’re not passing through a trend or looking for something that ‘works.’ This is just what we like.” 

Take us back to the beginning. How did the idea of GHE20G0TH1K come to life?

Venus X: It came from me just wanting to write about certain people and certain friends I was meeting from shows. I felt there was a new genre happening. It wasn’t necessarily brand new, but it was definitely being reborn. I didn’t create the phrase ghetto goth, I had heard Saul Williams use it before, and there’s a musician who titled a vinyl album in the 70s related to the phrase. Obviously, both of these people are black. They feel the freedom to use the word ghetto. I know that ghetto isn’t specific to black people, but in America, it definitely is. I saw iterations of what I thought was ghetto goth in DMX’s early work, in Missy Elliot and Buster Rhymes. Three 6 Mafia, literally devil worship mafia! Just a number of artists from the early 90s who were embodying these really goth themes in their work. No one ever stopped to say, “Oh, that’s goth!” because goth was predominantly a white culture and they didn’t want anybody else to take credit for that. I felt like Hood by Air, House of Ladosha, a lot of the rap music I was listening to about murder, even Dominican dembow were all goth. I was thinking about it in a very wide way. 

If you rap about murder, that’s goth, whether you like it or not. Because it’s dark and it’s heavy and it’s not for children. But it’s not X-rated in the way that sex is, in the way that pain and trauma is. Most rap music is about shame and guilt associated with survival. It’s about the conflict of character that arises in poverty, the way poverty leads to mass violence from a lack of basic needs being met. There’s a war going on at all times with the system and people of colour. Whether it’s slavery, redlining in a neighbourhood, gentrification, racism, classim, you name it. That’s a war. That war becomes internalised automatically and plays itself out in the storylines in the spaces where I grew up. I grew up with a lot of criminal family members, I grew up with a lot of drug dealers and murderers. I grew up with a lot of guns, I grew up with a lot of things that are not normal, that are not what you imagine a childhood to be. So for me, I wanted to say, “I hear goth everywhere and I’m just going to tell you what I hear.”

“I felt like Hood by Air, House of Ladosha, a lot of the rap music I was listening to about murder, even Dominican dembow were all goth. I was thinking about it in a very wide way” 

What were the early parties like?

Venus X: It went from 75 people to 150 people to 500 people weekly at a warehouse that was illegal. I DJd, my girlfriend at the time did video, Shayne also DJd, my brother did security at the door and also sold molly and weed. My sister from the same neighbourhood I was from did the list. It was a family affair. An idea sparked a business – which was feeding, employing, and servicing a community of not only dancers and music fans, but my own family. We had a system we could trust. It wasn’t frivolous art. I wasn’t like, “Let me make an album!” Not to say that’s frivolous, but there’s something very personal about that. It doesn’t necessarily require a bunch of people and it’s not necessarily about a show happening every week where you might end up in a dangerous situation. Someone could get roofied, raped, they could take a bad drug, they could overdose, they could get robbed, anything could happen. We didn’t have insurance! 

This idea turned into a business and a thrill and it kept going for ten years. It went around the world, the ideas went around the world. There’s fake HBA in Africa and the Dominican Republic right now from the super virality of a brand that celebrities wear that turned into bootlegs. And what are they associating with that? A party, GHE20G0TH1K. If you know, you know. A lot of people went to that party, a lot of people hung out there, a lot of people got inspired there, a lot of people took ideas from there, a lot of people evolved their work in that community. When you realise all that stuff is happening, it’s like, “Who am I to stop it?” There’s a bunch of us making it work. I thought of it, organised it, made sure everything ran smoothly, but at the end of the day it’s just an inevitable way to describe an era where all these amazing people realised what they could do and what they were good at and built off of that idea. It’s very much a moment in New York and a moment globally that also translated into pop stars using the aesthetics or working with HBA, both consuming the product from stores and doing lots of custom stuff. People wanting to be associated with the brand and that brand being very dark and heavy. The margin, marginal topics. They’re not marginal to us, but they are in the vocabulary of white supremacy. 

We’re creating something where all of a sudden you respect what we do. It’s a whole ecosystem of people who enabled it to be so great with no real setbacks. Not real ones. I tapped into my generation’s void and I delivered my part. From that I was able to become a DJ, build a career, identify artists that I want to work with forever, and make great friends. Everybody’s still not close, but the things that remain are undeniably worth a lifetime of working and searching and meeting people in a very short time.

I know the political climate at the time heavily influenced GHE20G0TH1K, too.

Venus X: Absolutely. We were young and broke. Things were just as bad as they are now, except they weren’t so explicitly racist. Something happened where everyone thought the world was going to end. We capitalised on that fantasy and the fear of what it would feel like on the last night of Earth. It started in 2009 so you had three years of apocalyptic behavior before you realize it’s not happening. Then you just continue and make it a lifestyle. 

The apocalypse played out in different ways.

Venus X: It did. The powerplant in Japan inspired me so much at that time. It leaked some radioactive liquid into the ocean and there were a lot of people displaced and made sick by it. Also, the BP oil spill. These things enabled me to make the logo a biohazard symbol. I saw a similar logo by a now defunct hardcore band called Biohazard, but I was already using radioactive symbols. I was calling the party a radioactive space. We activate through sound. But also radioactivity is a real fucking issue right now. I was really obsessed with the news, I still am, but I know too much now so it’s not fun. It just feels like it’s the same storyline over and over with different details. Like oh, you all are fucking shit up again.

What was the crowd at GHE20G0TH1K like when it first started? Did it shift over the course of the decade?

Venus X: GHE20G0TH1K has always been very diverse, very gay, very women-friendly, Afro-centric, diaspora. It always depended on how we booked. You get what you give. And if you looked at all the lineups, we predominantly hired people of color who were queer, who were women. Obviously, it wasn’t always all women because there hadn’t been that many female DJs accessible to me until recently that I want to book locally. There’s also that craze of general female DJ. Even still, just a female presence in every way possible. Through trans women. We had a moment in our history where we had a party called “Play With My Pussy” and we changed our logo to that for a year. We had that at Planet X, it was lit neon for all the customers, straight, gay, or other, it doesn’t really matter. Even the kids. 

It’s an interesting question to answer because I want to say that it got bad at some point, it got big at some point. It has ebbs and flows, we’re still indie for all intents and purposes. I never signed any deals with anyone, I don’t have a team that manages me. I have a lawyer, I have assistants for sure, and in various projects I have employees, collaborators, teams, and communities of people who make things happen. There’s constantly this flow of people that I get to decide how to curate. I curate with the best ability out of who I know and what’s most convenient for me. The world needs more black, women, and gay representation in nightlife and music in general, especially at a mainstream level. My goal is to keep prioritising and booking those DJs. This is about championing not just an urban space where black people know they’re the only ones invited, but a space that can be the best scene on Earth. It’s partial to the Caribbean and African diaspora because that’s what I like and that’s who I am. I’m not trying to make the perfect party for the perfect world, it’s just what I like.

Was there a specific moment or certain night when you knew had birthed something major?

Venus X: The first one. Just kidding, they’ve all been really good. There’s no specific night. In 2011 we had AraabMusik at the height of his career in a basement in Brooklyn. We’re only two years in! We’re running an illegal club in a warehouse. Those moments were great. We had DJ Rashad a year before that, RIP. We booked NGUZUNGUZU for the first time, Physical Therapy was a resident and they were going B2B. Every iteration of GHE20G0TH1K has had incredible names. Year 1, Year 2, Year 5. We just had a great show last week and I couldn’t be more proud of the curation and what they DJs played. No one played the same thing. It easily could be one of the best nights on Earth categorically. I’m still doing what I’m actually doing. The rest of it falls into place and requires a lot of people because it’s a business. Bringing the right things to the people who want them, an intergenerational, diverse audience that would look like any other audience that a pop experience would draw. Even though we are very niche, we’re great. Anyone can enjoy us. If you’re racist, maybe not. If you get anxiety at clubs, maybe not. But the music is great, the energy is great, the people are great. 

To say, when did I know? I’m still not big. I’m not rich. I’m well-known by a lot of important people and I appreciate their support, but it does not mean I am peaking yet. I’m still having to prove to myself that this is worth doing. But it’s about the music! The DJs are doing their jobs, and the producers are doing their jobs, as are the clubs kids and fashion kids. And guess what? We find them all and we put them together. If you don’t show up, that’s your business. But I know what I’m doing is genius because the people involved are going to win. They’re really talented. Maybe in the tenth year now with the music that I’m working that’s gonna change and I’m going to have to accept that yeah, we are big. When did I know? I’ve always known. I’m just waiting to see if it tips over and I can actually have a mainstream experience without compromising what I do.

A big part of GHE20G0TH1K was its deep ties to NYC’s fashion scene. How did that connection happen?

Venus X: It’s very organic. I wrote about HBA in a blog, Shayne and I were already friends for years. We weren’t as close as we became through GHE20G0TH1K, we used to hang out at parties and see each other in the street. We had a lot of mutual friends, we had some mutual best friends. It was just really easy. Same with Raul [Lopez, of Luar], we used to see each other all the time. We used to work at the makeup counter at Bloomingdale’s, I think. Some crazy shit, real New York shit. Naturally I had to support them. They would host the parties or they would dress me for an event or they would give me a gift for my birthday. That’s how I ended up wearing HBA in A$AP Rocky’s video. Shayne randomly gave me a crop top. He didn’t have a website or a regular collection coming out, he didn’t have any products for sale, he just gave me a shirt. I wore it to the video and I was like, “I can be in your video, but I want to be in this shirt.” Then the video gets a lot of views and the world becomes introduced to the brand. That helps us reach new markets because Shayne and HBA are associated with the party. We’re creating music for HBA and the runways and parties or a commercial. Fatima Al-Qadiri and I did the soundtrack for the women’s show in Paris. Women’s would go on to be such a definitive part of the brand that just started off as men’s. What can I say? We had a really perfect situation. It’s all part of a story that’s really perfect, even though it’s very insane. 

What was the NYC club scene before GHE20G0TH1K? How did the party shift it?

Venus X: Before NYC was very bottle service oriented and very hipster. Like electro-clash, M.I.A., Santigold. The nightlife itself was very divided between bottle service and hipster shit. Then we came along and fused it all together. We created a glamorous, fashion-friendly, art-friendly, freak fest. Everyone was welcome and everyone felt cool there. Everyone liked it. You know, rappers would come and there would be trance dancers naked. It was like, “Okay! That’s just what it is!”

Looking back, how did it feel seeing the GHE20G0TH1K aesthetic in the mainstream?

Venus X: At this point we can’t talk about anyone specifically. We have to talk about everything from Lil Uzi Vert’s style to Rico Nasty. It’s not like I know those people or influence them directly, it’s part of an overarching arrival. It’s less me. Yeah, I did something specific in New York with my friends, but we did it together, and more people are going to do it. So now it’s the perfect time for us to define what it accurately means. Like, lots of people are goth. Playboi Carti is goth, but a rapper. Also, really experimental. Sometimes you understand what he’s saying, sometimes you don’t, but it’s brilliant because even when you don’t understand it you have to look it up. When people created rap, they didn’t think it would turn into this. This is emotional, complex, dark, and very strange. It’s art. That stuff can exist in our space. Whatever’s working for people, they should do it. It’s not limited to us at this point. What’s done is done. 

There were times when it wasn’t popular, that’s when pop stars were using it and appropriating it. People have always been looking at our crew for answers for things. You get HBA, then you get a CFDA award for Telfar. It just helps us get out point across better. We’re this insane dance party that goes from one end of the spectrum to the other. And thank you for the validation, it’s necessary because one day you don’t care about this stuff anymore and you’re on to the next thing. We’re older and someone needs to keep this shit alive. I’m just happy that young Latino and black kids are able to have something that they feel represents them. And as a culture we’ve arrived at a place that having tattoos or being goth or punk is not the end of the world but also we might be able to really explore what that means. 

“I’m just happy that young Latino and black kids are able to have something that they feel represents them. And as a culture we’ve arrived at a place that having tattoos or being goth or punk is not the end of the world” – Venus X

Does GHE20G0TH1K differentiate itself from the ghetto goth aesthetic that’s been taken on by others?

Venus X: I think we’re doing something different from everybody else that might look or sound ghetto goth. We’re actually creating spaces and we’re hiring people and we’re friends with those people. We’re not passing through a trend or looking for something that “works.” This is just what we like. It would be cool if everybody else would also acknowledge the greatness of the musical genre and the people that we’re highlighting because it’s a stage and a platform. It’s just like a magazine. Granted it’s an experience, but it’s also a place where you learn about what you should like. Cool, these people are supposedly ghetto goth, but are they championing these producers and these DJs and these designers and these artists and these personalities? No! Are they even doing that in their own community? No! They’re just another artist trying to look for an outfit or trying to be a certain type of thing that they genuinely don’t understand, but it’s like go for it. Everybody’s making products, do it.

It’s all about community.

Venus X: Community is an integral core of everyone’s survival. The only way that it doesn’t work is if you’re a greedy, selfish piece of shit, which most people are. Especially celebrities, rappers, musicians, and all the like end up creating these worlds where they have a bunch of “Yes Men” around them and they’re trying to protect their image. Then there’s people who really live, like real artists who live amongst other artists and create communities together to support each other in whatever ways are demanded. God bless the industry, it’s a very important and functional place for some people. But then there’s the real world where your money doesn’t dictate my success. I don’t need a $500,000 investment or a $10 million investment. This shit is who I am. 

How do you hope GHE20G0TH1K evolves?

Venus X: However it’s supposed to. I have hope that I can continue to survive doing what I love while working with my friends. I hope it’s not too exhausting or traumatising. I’m also down for the ride. I think that once you experience this from the inside, like me as an artist and DJ who has to deal with insane narcissists on the music side. Not just music, also fashion. Fashion is full of psychopaths. My hopes are that it continues to move by the people for the people, and that’s it. I don’t care about anybody else anymore because it always comes with a fine print. I’m just happy to be here and I hope to keep doing what my calling is. I’ve enjoyed every second of this experience. 

I do understand that I am in the belly of the beast, though. I’m not going to pray for fame and success that I can’t get through my own fan base or my own investment in myself because I know that this is one of the nastiest industries on the planet. Venues, agents, managers, and even the artists themselves are in a race with each other and image and clout. They’re not worried about their artistry. They’re not really worried about their feelings, experiences, their musical diets. Success is different from mastery of skills. You have to figure out if you like music or if you just like the lifestyle. I do not wish for anything except for my music to be my focus. The rest of this shit is weird and everyone who’s in it knows it. I’m just saying it out loud. One of these days, other people will say it, too. Fulfillment has to be the goal or this shit will eat you alive. Your own team will eat you alive. And I say that I hope they print it because the people I say that about know exactly what the fuck I’m talking about. I chose to do GHE20G0TH1K, I could have a family right now or be a doctor, which is what I was studying. Bank on loving what you do and being part of a culture that will make history. The rest of this shit is literally a movie. The characters are not real. It’s messy and it’s not about the music anymore, that’s why I say I don’t care what happens. I just want to be happy.