Six years ago, native New Yorker Venus X started a party with her friends that would shake up the city’s nightlife. As GHE20G0TH1K gained force it became clear that the party was more than just a trend but rather, a real expression of the city’s youngest generation and its newest culture. A party where everyone looked cool but were never too cool to have fun. As everyone from musicians to fashion designers discovered the wave, Venus and friends stuck to their original goal of providing a safespace for nightlife’s “outcasts”—women, gays, and hood kids—to come together and wild out. Last fall, appropriation of the brand led her to put GHE20G0TH1K on indefinite hiatus. We sat down with her, as she prepares to bring the party back next month for Red Bull Music Academy NYC, to talk about where she’s headed next and all that she’s left in her wake. Plus, we've got the exclusive premiere of Byrell the Great's "Send This Bitch Up." Venus tells Complex, "Byrell the Great is an American producer and DJ best known for his ballroom infused work in the QweenBeat collective founded by MikeQ. He was born in Harlem and has been incredibly influenced by his love for hip-hop."
Judnick Mayard is a writer living in New York. Follow her @Judnikki.
Do you think this GHE20G0TH1K will be a one-off?
Right now that’s not really my concern because the city’s changed so much and everyone has done more than we’ve done in the past. It’s more about growing the idea more so than the party. The party grew and grew and outgrew. There’s no more real opportunities right now to do anything special with it that hasn’t been done before. There [are] no more huge spaces or venues. Sponsors are hard to work with. They want to have a really big visual presence and it’s not logical. So you’re expecting this niche party and then having all of these huge celebrities and companies referencing the images or the ideas.
It doesn’t feel as intimate.
It just doesn’t make sense anymore. You can’t hide it from the Internet. What are you going to do? Pretend like nobody saw, like nobody does it? No, it’s changing. I would like to do bigger events, and I would love to see everyone’s name grow individually. We can still DJ together [and] it might seem like [GHE20G0TH1K] but maybe that’s just becoming normal nightlife now.
Let’s talk about how you started the party.
I’m from New York. I’m Dominican and Ecuadorian. My parents kind of grew up in the ’80s, met on the dancefloor. They never really encouraged me to do music, but I did dance a lot for like 10 years and then I went to school, I dropped out, I went back. I was barely making it. Then I started to DJ and I really liked it. I was invested in the culture, but once I started throwing the party that’s when I found my place. I really loved DJing and musicians that I wanted to support. I was good at promoting but also good at picking people to DJ and songs to play to open up their sets and stuff like that. That was around 2009 and then 2010 was when I started working with Shayne Oliver of HBA, Physical Therapy, Kingdom, Total Freedom and Nguzunguzu, Dis Magazine. Before that it was a punk and rap party and juke.
What did the crowd look like at that time?
It was actually really calm. It was also a lot of radical black women. It only got more gay the following year.
The natural progression?
It was the natural progression because we started hiring more queer people, more women, just different people. Before that the draw was based on what we were playing and who we were around. It started to appeal more to fashion heads and art heads. I was studying art and different art projects, an intergenerational cross-genre type of party.
What was the first time you realized “People are coming to my party”?
I think it was one night when MIA and Alexander Wang, Diplo started showing up, and we were like, “Oh, make them pay to get in.”
Did you feel like people wanted you to be thankful famous people found you?
I really wasn’t thankful. It’s kind of ironic that I ended up DJing for MIA because I remember when she came they were like, “Can you play her song?” I was like, “I don’t have her song.” It wasn’t like I didn’t like her—she was cool—but it was because I didn’t like Diplo and that whole era. I was like I’d rather play black people’s music that he stole or that they referenced. Ultimately like she’s cool, but the whole politics of music and music economy is fucked up. People came there because they really wanted to come not because they were invited and felt warm and fuzzy like, “Oh my God I love you.”
Did you really want it to become that big?
I just wanted to have fun. I just wanted to have a party for me and my friends to go to. I wasn’t really making any money at all, maybe like $75 a night. It was a fun project, not a vanity project but like a brain child. I wanted to have a dark undertone. I wanted to feel allowed to, not necessarily feel emotional but angry. So, naturally, nightlife doesn’t exist like that unless you go to metal and punk shows, which are male-dominated and not women- or gay-friendly. It was very obvious that in order to keep evolving personally I had to create something. Then my friends all got involved along the way, little by little, and it just became this snowball effect.
How do you want to expand it beyond nightlife?
I’ve been touring a lot. I had the opportunity to work with MIA last year, which was really dope. I sang back up and DJ’d for her. I did some acting this year. I was in a commercial. It was a different opportunity and a way to be a DJ without having to compromise anything in terms of how I wanted to look or who I wanted to be. I really just got to be myself and continue in directing people in terms of fashion, music, and what they should be thinking about. The best way to do that right now is to focus on our website. There’s definitely a lot of projects with the same ethos that I’m working on right now, and they’re music-related and have more to do with objects and creating content as opposed to creating experiences. The opportunity to create experiences is wonderful but it’s very exhausting, and it’s better to create a piece of content that you can watch over and over that people can wear over and over that is still giving them the same feeling.
You were telling me about the content.
If you go into the world it’s not totally bad to participate in capitalism, but it is bad to buy a lot [of] cheap shit that has absolutely no meaning or no real value. It would be nice to participate in the process of creating media or projects whether it be physical, music, art, and not having all of the same expectations or pressures that a normal magazine or a normal store has because at the end of the day I decide how everything goes. If my objective isn’t to be greedy and make money off of little kids then I can kind of do whatever I want. That’s where I thrive.
As a woman running your own company and simultaneously building your own personal brand, do you feel like when you participate in certain things that don’t go with the brand people don’t like that?
No, I haven’t experienced much backlash, and I think it’s because I haven’t collaborated with too many sponsors. This is the first time I’m ever using any sponsorship. It’s Red Bull Music Academy and it’s a big fucking deal. It doesn’t matter what people think. I know what I’m doing and I know why I’m doing it. If I’m a freelance artist and someone is offering me money to do something for one day and I don’t have to compromise myself, I’m going to participate in the process. It’s nightlife; we sell liquor. I did a commercial for a liquor company and it’s like what am I supposed to do, worry about what a kid thinks? It’s national TV money. I have to use that to put in the company because everything comes out of my pocket. I don’t have investors and I don’t really have infrastructure so I absolutely need to work.
You’re still working to work.
It’s very basic and it’s a privileged idea to think that you can just say no. Who the fuck does that? You have to have a lot of money in order to save a lot of money. In order to be political or to be free and to be radical you have to be rich and that’s absolutely unacceptable.
How do you feel about nightlife going into 2015?
I don’t really care about nightlife right now. We’ve run into the era where it’s vanity over talent so a lot of people are really successful DJs but don’t really know how to DJ just because they party a lot with the right people. That means that you get popular and you get a lot of friends really fast, and so that’s pretty vain and it’s also pretty stupid. I also think there are a lot of women who make it really difficult for females who appreciate music to make it further in the game because they have all these PR stunted careers. It’s just a weird time. There are girls but they don’t know how to DJ very well. They really just know how to run their Instagrams well. It’s really upsetting.
Or there are girls who are stuck with one type of music. That throws me off.
I can’t really say that nightlife in general is very stimulating because it’s not. I like hood shit and I like my shit. I need to feel like I’m listening to something new or else I’m just going to want some basic, traditional hood shit. Don’t get me in the middle of what you’ve trimmed out after listening to someone’s SoundCloud. Then that’s when it starts to really fuck with nightlife. Otherwise you have to be a gangster about it like, “Strippers and bottles! Let’s have a good time.”
It’s a reflection of the city. It’s not really a space for brown kids or hood kids anymore. You rarely find a bar that plays just rap in New York.
It’s crazy because people are like, “Oh you’re just playing rap music.” Sometimes just playing rap music in a certain neighborhood is really an act of defiance. I’ve had a lot of backlash about that over the years and it’s like, “Oh you’re not goth enough,” and it’s like, your idea of goth is racist and it’s only white. If a song is talking about murder, it’s pretty evil. Let’s just deal with the fact that it’s dark. Living in the hood is dark.
The reinterpretation of nightlife is just that it can be more than being pretty and going out and dancing. Yeah, you want to dance, you want to look good and you want to meet somebody, but you also want to be able to go through the rest of the rainbow of your emotions whenever you’re feeling them and if that’s at night it doesn’t mean you want to stay home and cry in your bed. It doesn’t really give Latino and black kids the opportunity to feel a range of emotions and that’s the problem. White people have a range of emotions, a range of places they can go but we’re always the outcast. It’s not like I want to end GHE20G0TH1K, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend I want to keep doing this when there [are] no venues. When they’re all being given to white techno parties. It’s taken six years, and the city still doesn’t appreciate it but it’s had a global impact. So I’m trying to take it one day at a time and be careful where I put my energy because nightlife will chew you up and spit you back out and leave you to die. I want bigger problems, I want bigger issues, and I want bigger spaces and responsibilities. I don’t want to throw warehouse parties into my 30s. It’s way too much work for little rewards.
I don’t want to throw warehouse parties into my 30s. It’s way too much work for little rewards.
When you’re a woman in this city and you get popular it’s like, “You don’t need my support anymore. You’re getting shine.” As if somehow that shine replaces the base of people that you have.
It doesn’t replace anything. You have to work harder. As a woman I’m not being stopped here-- being the mother to the little kids that want to learn how to live life. No, I don’t get paid enough and I don’t have enough resources.
Do you think that’s a pitfall for women, not just in nightlife but a lot of industries?
Oh yes, nurture the culture, nurture the community, nurture this, nurture that. I’m not here for that. What I am here for is to build off of what I’ve built already and to not let celebrities own it and co-opt it and misguide people through the experience of what it is to be ghetto goth. I’m not saying I created or I did anything special other than throw a great party and help my friends get to where they wanted to go as DJs and fashion designers. It’s a lot of support. It is about having a more diverse life that is multicultural and not in a cheesy, Afropunk kind of way.
So I know that you slowed it down last year…
I said I did but…I did for a few months.
What made you bring it back?
I don’t think I’m allowed to end it yet. People still needed to be there, people still needed to come out. It’s not my fault that the city wants to party, [but] it is way too hard to work against the man when the man is literally taking your shit and acting like you don’t exist. I don’t know how to make it work. So it’s a lot to contend with when you’re doing everything independently and when you’re just getting lucky and getting successful because people like the way I DJ. I wasn’t putting on mad mixes and getting mad plays. I’m not even it in for that. If I stop tomorrow, I stop tomorrow. Nobody’s going to say, “Oh yeah, I heard her DJ and she was mad wack.” No, I did my thing, I do my thing, and that’s it. I’m going to continue doing my thing, but if people think it’s hot they’re going to take it from you. You have to resist, you have to say, “Fuck it, no.” It was a very big moment for people. You’ve been to the parties, we’ve been to the parties, you know what it’s like. Those motherfuckers don’t represent nothing that we represent at those nights. That’s not what they do. Do what you do, let me do what I do and if you don’t want to let me do what I do, fuck it I’m going to protest and I won’t do shit.
The next GHE20G0TH1K lineup is awesome. Were you trying to book people you loved from the past or people you’re listening to now?
First of all, thank you. I feel like, Sissy Nobby is somebody I always wanted to hire and I feel like he’s more raw. I’ve never played [Big] Freedia’s music. Freedia’s way too commercial for me, the way it plays into the branding and corporate events. But I love Sissy Nobby, so I said, “We have money, let’s book him.” I didn’t want to stray too much from what I know works and what I know is best for me. It’s not about constantly trying new people, but it’s about honoring the people who have helped define the brand and that have helped define the fun and make it poppin. Mike Q is one of those people, QweenBeat makes so many records, and Divoli has never really had a chance to play in New York so I just invited him to be present and to perform lowkey during the set. It’s going to be MC’d by this amazing MC called Precious from Vogue Knights. My friend Ma’ Nguzu and I are doing a back-to-back set. Total Freedom is going to play, and I think we’re going to add one special guest who’s a favorite of Total Freedom’s, that’s really it. Hood by Air is hosting, which is amazing, and this is what it is. This is not your chance to debut at GG. Divoli is only because I play his tracks so much, but everyone else it’s like honor your top DJs and keep it real. We have our own Funk Flexes, Cipha Sounds, and DJ Clues, but they are not getting enough love and enough credit. The Internet changed everything, and if DJs were a little bit more risky, we could open up a lot of doors for people to come share their music with us.
Do you think GHE20G0TH1K will always be New York?
I want it to be more than just a party and more than just New York. I would love for it to be a good idea to be general to the world. If it’s going to be Rihanna-status recognition to the idea of GHE20G0TH1K, it should be a pervasive way that people relate to music and the way that people relate to culture, politics, and themselves. If it’s not that, then get off our shit, hop on your next trend, and let us keep working. The world needs mixing and that’s the whole point. People do this stuff because it makes them feel better. That’s it. As long as they have problems they need to release, there’s work to be done.