This year alone, Yulan Grant made the sound collage for the Chromat NYFW show, had her video work DIS/PLACED on view at The Kitchen, and played Säule in Berghain with her fellow Discwoman artists. For DIS/PLACED she created an eight-minute video that combined footage from her family’s archive of Jamaican dancehall with images of queer dancehall parties in Brooklyn. Out of those contexts her DJ alter ego, SHYBOI, also came to life.
First operating in the collective KUNQ, she threw parties and played together with DJs such as Stud1nt, False Witness and Rizzla. Their Twitter feeds, artwork and interviews have always been a bastion of recognition for queer artists of colour. Take this 2016 Resident Advisor interview for instance, where SHYBOI said: “You can not dismantle white supremacy in the club. Last year a student promoter invited me to DJ at a New England college. They wrote my biography for me and it was like, ‘Here’s SHYBOI. She’s dismantling white supremacy in the club with, like, these types of beats.’ If it was that easy do you think white supremacy would still be around? All I have to do is show up to one club and play for an hour and a half, and the entire paradigm would be destroyed? I know we’re socially conscious, and these are nice buzzwords, but it’s a fucking lie.”
The interview evoked, unsurprisingly, many negative responses. Artists calling out a white heteronormative patriarchal society while challenging the narrative that this could be broken through club culture aren’t often celebrated. But Yulan’s words have inspired and educated people like us, the Dance With Pride collective, to organize with our community. This Friday, we’re inviting SHYBOI to a party we’ve set up together with queer collective Niet Normaal* at EKKO in Utrecht. The night is taking place in honour of Zack/Zackie, a queer activist from Athens who was recently murdered. In preparation and anticipation of the party—where we’ll be raising funds and awareness for the community in Athens and #JusticeForZackZackie—we sent SHYBOI a few questions.
You’re part of a New York collective called KUNQ. Could you tell us something about how that collective came together?
KUNQ was formed 7 years by a bunch of freaks who wanted to find more like-minded heathens.
How would you describe the KUNQ sound?
Irreverent, emotive and tongue in cheek.
You recently tweeted: “By the end of this year I will have played in 25 different cities (many of which I’ve never been to before!) here’s to 25 more!”. How has touring influenced your DJ and art practices?
I’m still trying to figure that out, it’s all sinking in slowly. This is the first year I’ve toured this extensively and I’ve spent the majority of that time in Europe. Seeing different club spaces in various countries has made me think about how underground scenes organize in a myriad of ways to get to (perhaps) the same goal. Utopia. It’s allowed me to experience sound in a completely different way, I react to certain sounds in a different way, I wear earplugs more often and I’m more concerned about what longevity can possibly look like. DJing, unlike my other art practices, has immediate feedback. You just have to look out to the floor to see the audience’s reaction. It’s allowed me to process how public engagement can work outside of club spaces.
Are touring experiences also something a topic you share or even strategize about with other members of #KUNQ or the agency you’re with (Discwoman)?
If any of us has played the same show before, we talk about the event; the promoters, the city, the crowd, the sound and the equipment. Across both of the groups we have different trajectories that sometimes overlap and we they do, we try to give each other advice and comfort.
Now that we’re talking about Discwoman: when I was at the Discwoman night at Säule it was the first night in a long time where I (Axmed) felt at home in a club, and specifically Berghain, as a black queer man. How did you experience that night?
Säule was incredibly fun. I was worried that it being a Thursday there might not be much of a crowd but I was happily proven wrong. It was beautiful to see so many different faces in the fog. Aretha Franklin had just passed and NK Badtz Maru was opening and dropped (You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman and I started tearing up and then I had this moment of, “this is exactly where I want to be”.
When talking about creative ecosystems with Resident Advisor, you mentioned that at a #KUNQ party not all tracks hold up to institutional standards for audio quality, and how exclusionary it is for clubs to demand WAV-files because some of the music you love playing is not of ‘high quality’. Do you feel that you are limited when playing at most clubs with institutional standards for audio quality?
I don’t feel limited. I play various genres within a set so if a track has great hi hats and snares but the kick drum is shit, I’ll layer another track that has a massive kick to make up for the low quality of the other track. If the majority of your tracks are high quality, and then you just have to drop a track that’s not the best, you can get away with it. It’s all about you, what emotion the track is evoking and how the audience reacts to it. Low quality doesn’t have to always mean the track is bad.
In hoping to break with these institutionalised ways of excluding certain people from clubs, what advice would you want to give to ravers and organizers that don’t see themselves represented in their local scenes?
It’s hard to feel motivated to explore the scene if you think you’ll be the only person like you at that particular event. Explore, find mirrors, we’re out there and we’re all looking for each other. See you in the fog.
Last but not least, why did you call yourself SHYBOI? 🙂
70% because I’m genuinely shy. 30% because I like having separate identities.