New York City’s GHE20GOTH1K party has unquestionably played an intrinsic role to the development of dance music and fashion’s global underground. The best way to describe the aesthetic of the event is to blend ’90s party monster culture with the blunt honesty of the urban experience plus a heaping spoonful of progressive social activism. On October 31, the party celebrates its fourth anniversary with a blowout Halloween rave at 1040 Metropolitan in Brooklyn, New York. As the de facto face and voice of the party-turned-movement, Venus X is more than a selector – and after more than holding her own in an internet-legendary back-and-forth with Diplo regarding cultural appropriation – she’s arguably a 21st century digital superheroine. From being co-signed by some of the world’s leading recording artists and fashion designers to playing sets in pretty much any and every type of venue imaginable: opening for Erykah Badu at Afropunk, playing hardstyle for runway shows during Fashion Week, and now opening for M.I.A. on tour. She’s an icon and standard bearer.
Key as well to the party’s development has been its ability to organically align itself with top-tier underground creatives who have a sense of style to their craft that gives them next level potential. The connection between Shayne Oliver‘s alignment with GHE20GOT1K and the global rise of his Hood By Air fashion brand is undeniable. As well, with releases on top labels Fade to Mind and Mad Decent, producer and DJ Mike Q spins on the 31st and is another GHE20GOTH1K frequenter preparing for a next-level breakout. A prolific producer considered the dean of the New York ballroom/vogue scene, his Vogue Knights party is a mainstay for black and Latino gay youth in New York City. Furthermore, both he, as well as the party, were featured by Diplo in a column for Vanity Fair.
I had the opportunity to speak with Venus about GHE20GOTH1K’s growth, her own development, Mike Q, and her thoughts about heading back underground as the past four years of underground culture progresses into the mainstream. An intriguing look into the future from behind the eyes of one of its creators, it will definitely give a new perspective to the rise of EDM and its capitalistic urges.
What has been the most gratifying development over four years of GHE20GOTH1K’s development?
Connecting with fans around the world, and spreading this DIY culture into an international experience. It’s been really cool to play parties inspired by GHE20GOTH1K. There are kids starting their own thing in places like Mexico, Germany, Vienna, random places worldwide. They’ve invited me out to play, and to have that happen is gratifying.
I feel like so much of what gets aligned with GHE20GOT1K comes from the brand’s close alignment with the Internet. How important has the internet been to GHE20GOTH1K’s development?
This wouldn’t have happened without the Internet. The Internet is essential. The Internet is the new street. Especially in places like New York City where everything has been taken away real estate wise, we have to connect online. The physical spaces are gone. The Internet definitely represents the new streets.
How has your growth as a DJ and person been aided by the GHE20GOTH1K movement?
You have to grow, right? It’s definitely helped me learn to take chances, to play new music, and blend [sounds] together. The Internet and travel have given me access to different geographies. I’ve become friends with so many different people, from so many different places who have different playlists. Now, I’m at a point where I am considering getting into the production side, and developing a few mixtapes. I think that a lot of what makes me different is the fact that my role is only as a selector. A lot of people are so worried about production and being online that they do online, online, online. What makes me different is that all I do is play in clubs. You have to find that synergy.
I wanted to ask you about Mike Q, because I feel like so much of what he’s doing in the gay and minority communities right now is so important, and I’m always glad that he gravitated towards GH20GOTH1K. Your thoughts about his development? I mean, that Vanity Fair piece is crazy!
You know what’s funny is that his party really hasn’t grown since that piece. He gets so much exposure, but it doesn’t mean he gets more money in his pocket. The one thing that teaches him and that it reminds me is that we’ve gotta keep building into other markets. It’s not just about gay subculture, it’s about expanding past that, and, especially for Mike, getting the opportunity to become a full-time DJ.
Speaking of growth, I definitely wanted to ask about you working with M.I.A.. How did that come about, and how has it been working with her?
Yeah, what’s crazy is that I’ll be going from GHE20GOTH1K on Halloween to playing Terminal 5 with M.I.A. the next night. We met organically. She followed me on Twitter, and re-tweeted the conversation I was having with Chief Boima [regarding cultural appropriation, at the height of the Venus/Diplo saga]. [For this tour] she asked me to open up for her. We take it one day at a time, and I think it’s the beginning of a long relationship. She understands what it is to be a woman and brown in an industry that really doesn’t know how to handle that yet.
I know that $hayne is DJing at the party, and I was really impressed by the positive reviews that Hood By Air received at Fashion Week this year. I know that he’s been aligned with GHE20GOTH1K for some time, so I wanted to ask about how that came about, and your thoughts on his success?
It’s all about friends supporting one another. Shayne’s amazing and we’ve been friends for a decade. Hood by Air has been around for 10 years, and people definitely slept on it. We are good friends, and we feel the same way about the world so we support each other. That brand doesn’t just represent a person, it represents a culture. It’s great to see someone be who they are, and not water themselves down to be accepted into the European fashion vocabulary. Hood By Air is a household name now.
Speaking of household names, it’s intriguing to hear hardstyle getting another run as a mainstream dance sound. If I remember correctly, the first people who were playing hardstyle again in the U.S. – in an urban party environment – were you and the GHE20GOTH1K crew. Thoughts?
It’s fucked up. Total Freedom did a [hardstyle] remix of Beyonce’s “Diva.” We loved it, so, even after he DJed a set at the party, we started playing it in the club. That was around the night that Diplo came to the party, heard me playing it, and taped my set. I asked him to turn off his phone, and then explained that if [he] liked it, to come back every week. Of course, he made a hardstyle mixtape the next week. The Fader and others covered that story, and the sad thing is that still, nobody that was a part of the culture that brought that back into the club actually got credit for that. It’s definitely fucked up. They can call you out, embarrass you and everything. All I wanted was for him, or anyone to just ask why we’re playing that music. The mainstream is definitely pimping the culture we developed right now.
So in light of this, have you considered possible changes to GHE20GOTH1K given that so much of what it is all about is ascendant in the mainstream right now?
No, you just have to keep doing what you do. There’s no time for me to defend myself. I just keep doing GHE20GOTH1K. We have to pay people better than playing club nights, block parties, festivals, whatever else they could be doing at the level they’re at. People treat others like a trend. We don’t do that. I wish that we could double everyone’s pay every year, but the market is not built that way. [GHE20GOTHIK] is like a bodega selling candy. We can’t worry about that Godiva store selling a chocolate bar for $10. We sell Crunch Bars for $1, and were going to keep selling them.
But sound-wise I’m sure that you’re thinking ahead now that the mainstream has “caught up.” Where do you find the new songs, and what do you think about the role of the selector in developing new sounds?
Every day [what's popular] changes. I pay attention to what are people in my neighborhood listening to. It’s so hard to keep up with genres these days. One year it’s Baltimore club, one year it’s juke, one year it’s jerking music. [As a selector] I’m responsible to play a set that reflects that, as well as 20% of that set also being a hybrid of those styles to reflect progress. The bigger goal to me is to create a new space where we can all hang out. I have to synthesize [all of these styles] and bring them together.
Where do you think underground culture is headed?
I love that Kelela mixtape. The evolution includes vocalists. It’s more than just club remixes, it’s all about creating a new mainstream sound. It’s all about doing things like taking new remixes of “I Took The Night” by Chelly and putting them into mixtapes. The mixtapes should be creating a new canon for what it is to be in the club. I think a DJ Unique remix should be in every club every night, just to get the kids to understand that remixes are just as good as the original. If you like the mainstream version of a song, and you know you’ll hear it at the club, why isn’t the remix in your “getting ready to go to the club” mix? People deserve to be hired and paid for those tracks. Alternative remixes should be part of the regular vocabulary of music. That’s how we change what is happening in the mainstream.
Tickets for GHE20GOTH1K’s Fourth Anniversary Halloween party are available now.