As part of Equalise My Vocals, a new Spinoff project focusing on equality in the music community, Coco Solid speaks with the DJs behind Auckland club night Fully Explicit.
Fully Explicit is a monthly club night held in Britomart, downtown Auckland. Free to the public, the night specialises in club bangers, explicit rap and R&B (of both the ‘feminist-potent’ and ‘sexy male’ variety), house, vogue, techno, bounce, dancehall, reggaeton and jungle. What sets Fully Explicit apart, at least locally, is that it’s proudly tailored towards people of colour, the queer community and every gender. These groups all come through feeling safe and centralised in a club climate that rarely prioritises them.
Having grown frustrated with Auckland nightlife, Rachael Duval (aka Creamy Mami), Joanna Neumegen (aka Lil Hoe On The Prairie), and Nikolai (aka Brown Boy Magick) decided to contribute. Since Autumn 2016 the trio has been filling a void they recognised as queer brown Aucklanders who also happened to be DJs. Rachael is a DJ and artist from a Samoan/Maori/German/Chinese background. She and Joanna (a writer, painter, and DJ from a Thai/Polish/Scottish mix) are based on Karangahape Road, where they joined forces with neighbouring Niuean/Samoan musician Nikolai. Through Fully Explicit, the collective advocates for queer visibility and gender equality within the framework of partying, sharing music and being with friends.
The result is a motley and crowded attendance, an open-minded definition of ‘good music’ and a tight kaupapa once a month. The organisers christened their night Fully Explicit, not just because uncensored jams are inevitable but because, for them, it’s also about expressing their intentions openly. Among those is a simple drive for more inclusion and a relaxed entitlement to have fun in their own way.
Coco Solid: Let’s look at the global movement for more club nights like this: evenings which focus on who’s on the line-up a bit more, the inclusion of people who don’t often have the same access as more privileged consumers. Some communities can’t just step out and paint the town red, it’s a bit more loaded for them. How do you feel being one of those club nights, where that mindset is only just starting to blossom here in New Zealand?
Rachael: I think it’s amazing that I can be someone who helps push that along. I look around at my friends and they are those marginalised people not being catered for. They’ve got taste, they’re talented, they’re amazing but no-one is making space for them. And my friends don’t want to go out to every other night if it’s not mindful of them.
Nikolai: The whole club scene in Auckland is that way, in general.
Rachael: They never consider including different people or different ways of doing things. It has to be a certain way and I’m always thinking ‘why?’. Why does it have to be that way?
Joanna: Also, it’s boring.
Do you think because you come from these different communities it gives you an empathy when you’re putting this together? Is it a night for yourselves in a weird way?
Nikolai: Yes, definitely
Do you feel like you’re part of a movement on a global scale, or is it not that deep?
Joanna: There’s always a parallel. Obviously, you’re influenced by what’s happening. But it was never the intention to be a part of that, it’s just something that came out of our own experiences. We weren’t being fulfilled and we had frustrations. But having this love for bringing our community together … and you know it always goes off. Cos everyone wants to shake they ass.
Are people starved do you think? Of what you’re doing?
Joanna: Yes. You can only tell because if we throw a party, we’ll only tell a few people yet everyone comes. They thirsty for it!
(Everyone cracks up)
Rachael: No-one is going to play the stuff we play here. Of course, I’m gonna think it’s really lit stuff, but a lot of it is for our friends. Our internet friends might send us a remix and we’ll think it’s insane, so we play it.
I always hate those suss club nights … ‘we’re going to play R&B … but ironically’. Whereas this is a bit more genuine, respectful I guess.
Nikolai: We’re always playing the stuff we like. That’s the thing. I go to other places and it feels like they’re playing music for other people, trying to impress other DJs, not stuff they actually enjoy. Whereas, if we vibe with it, we’re gonna play it.
Rachael: That’s probably what brings our crowd too.
Nikolai: A lot of other people are playing for different reasons.
(Everyone): For money!
That must be freeing, that you’re motivated by different ‘targets’ … what is your target?
Joanna: We just want everyone to get their life. To share a moment together, to go ham. That’s what makes me happy.
Rachael: For people to get up together, no-one to front. Just my people going off.
I read this thing the other day: healing isn’t casting a magical spell on someone. Sometimes healing is simply holding a space for someone so they can learn to heal themselves. Carving out a non-judgmental space for someone to try out new versions of themselves.
Rachael: Exactly. We want people to dress up hard if they want to be that person. Be someone they can’t be at another club. I’m open to anyone expressing themselves, even if they are uncomfortable. If they explain their situation, I’m open to making the night safer for them. I want an open space that’s mutually respectful. That’s it.
Often a lot of reactive inspiration comes from uninspiring things, making hostile situations productive. What are some of the things you’re reacting against?
Nikolai: For me personally, if I go and DJ somewhere on K’ Rd, or even I play with people I have known for years, a lot of them, mostly white people, they can make it really uncomfortable. And they take up a lot of the space. You’re not having a mean time with them.
Joanna: You’re just there to give looks. And it sucks.
Rachael: We’re also reacting against the type of music that gets played.
Nikolai: ‘Yo listen to this recording I got from 1925, I got it on vinyl. Did you know I play on vinyl?’. Cool, mean bro, must be nice to have all that gear.
Rachael: Must be very nice. It’s that type of elitism we’re reacting against.
Nikolai: Elite white DJs, and cis white elite dudes as well.
Rachael: They’re always trying to speak in this elite terminology.
And the trusty adage – if your shit isn’t accessible to the poor, you’re not doing anything revolutionary really.
Rachael: That’s us. We’re poor. We’re people of colour. We’re struggling in our own ways to live our life and if you are always fighting, you gotta find new ways to get your life in this city. That’s the reason I started DJing in the first place.
I often get ‘your music isn’t really political if you’re just singing about sex and partying a lot’. I’m just like … you know political people like those things right? We’re allowed to have fun, a reprieve … we’re allowed to be happy. What, we ain’t allowed to cut a rug anymore? Get the fuck outta here.
Joanna: It’s such a narrow view of how to be political as well. It’s dated, straight up.
So how do you respond to the more academic spins that are hot right now in club culture? We’re dismantling the club, we’re subverting the machine. That isn’t it either, is it?
Joanna: Again, this is elitism. Just another kind. That’s a set of intentions, they are creating a facade saying ‘this is what we are’. But in actuality, when you go and experience it for yourself, none of that is true.
I think this is an Aotearoa thing too, eh. We don’t necessarily analyse everything meaningful we do …
Nikolai: We just do it.
Rachael: ‘Muck in. Do the work. Don’t worry about it. Don’t overthink it. You’ll get there one day!’
Nikolai: She’ll be right mate!
(Everyone cracks up)
Joanna: People feeding off this social capital, trying to align themselves with very real beliefs. Identity politics, yeah it’s huge at the moment but that’s not our set of intentions.
Rachael: And people want to use the word intersectional constantly. Now when I’m describing myself I feel this pressure to use that word? I don’t know how else to explain what I am… it’s so limited. I want to speak to the people who invented these words cos I don’t agree with it!
Joanna: Where are the receipts!
I compromise now and say inter-seki.
Joanna: You know we’re always told as POC in a white society not to use our intuition, it’s too mystical, it’s not rational. That’s bullshit.
People coming must be appreciative of having something specific, tailored for them. Which some of us can’t always take for granted.
Rachael: The spaces are getting smaller. The areas you can put parties on … everything’s getting gentrified in Auckland, especially up in K’ Rd. And if you’re if a queer person in central right now…
Joanna: It’s like a final frontier or something
Is it a little bit … I never wanna say it … what a time to be alive?
Joanna: Oh yeah totally eye of the storm. So let’s make the most of what we have while we have it. Because we‘re so lucky to be right in the middle of it and to have access to the stuff that we do have.
Rachael: We can help pathways for other people too. Like we’ll often get recommendations about people, ‘my friend’s a DJ, they’re queer, they’ve never really had many opportunities to play’.
And then they play and you realise what a travesty it is they’re being slept on.
Nikolai: Yes. Like, where were you? Where have you been hiding?
Who are the communities you wanna see come through, who do you do this shit for?
Rachael: We want to make this open to anyone, but they do have to be on the level. Respect people. In a perfect world, everyone would be on the level and we trust they are.
Joanna: We have priorities though right?
Rachael: Yep. Local. Queer. People of colour.
And the kaupapa isn’t performative, this is coming from a place of experience and intuition?
Rachael: Some of us don’t have a formal education. Often I can’t speak about it so I just have to be about it. Be it, do it.
Nikolai: We’re really practical. We don’t always think about everything, we just know how to get things done.
Often when you have collectives, different members bring different visions to it. What do you each individually bring to it?
Joanna: When I listen to a good song, I get a certain feeling, I’m going ham, I just think to myself … I need to share this with people.
Rachael: Same thing. When I play remixes that my friends do, I love putting people on. I’m playing my friend in the club, everyone there is enjoying it. That synergy is what I’m living for.
Nikolai: I think before this I would hear music and identify with it, I’d think to myself, ‘this is me’. But I wasn’t a DJ yet, I was only in bands. Now I have a new way to share. I can say, ‘it’s not just me right, this is a banger right, I’m not crazy right?’
And that’s a big part of it. ‘It’s not just me right?’ That casual camaraderie.
Rachael: Yep casual camaraderie.
Joanna: Radical authenticity. That’s the buzzword for the minute but I really believe that.
Rachael: You know what … I’m so sick of performing. I want to lift the veil on everything. Like who’s under here!
Nikolai: Alright what’s going on here!
Rachael: Actually! Why does everything have to be that way?
Cos the music industry preys on things not getting demystified, so they can control who gets a cut and who’s in the cut. They gotta keep that cloak and dagger shit alive.
Rachael: So they can make money. They can say who has the access, who doesn’t have the access.
What’s it like being jutted up alongside suits and different social scenes, right in the heart of Britomart? You all seem comfortable in the gaps, in the social mess of things…
Rachael: It is difficult and it is cool. Like you saw Akashi voguing and the businessmen from the bar next door clapping along, that does happen
Nikolai: Toes tapping! One more time dear! The thing is… you can’t control it.
Joanna: And why would you want to control it, it’s just reality.
Rachael: But if one of those people came into the bar and called someone a f*ggot…. It’s zero tolerance in that way. We’re tolerant but we do what other bars don’t do.
Nikolai: They always say, ‘if they haven’t done anything to hurt you physically, we can’t kick them out’.
So what do you want to see change when you go out?
Rachael: I wanna see more diversity. I wanna see the venue, the performers and the audience all have mutual respect for each other.
I have deep respect for classically trained musicians, but I ain’t one. But I’ve learned not to define music by being ‘qualified’ in that way. What makes a DJ to you, who plays with you?
Rachael: We respect an amazing DJ. If they play vinyl or on a computer it doesn’t matter.
Joanna: And if they play something live, I really respect that.
Rachael: Same. I don’t always have access to the resources, to the money … and as a ‘struggling artist’, working, living hand-to-mouth I’m not always gonna get the time to reach that high skill level.
Joanna: But we still have something we can contribute.
Rachael: My friend might dropbox me a remix, I’ll get the file and I’ll play it on my controller. Cos that’s the gear I’ve got.
Nikolai: And anyone can get it. You can’t download vinyl … so what, no-one ever hears it?
Rachael: And we will let people play off Virtual DJ. And we have.
Nikolai: No Traktor, no controller, straight off the laptop. Cos the music is good.
Rachael: And people should hear it.
Joanna: We got sick of the puritan thing.
Nikolai: We have stories.
What, do people stress you about file size and quality or something?
No … I was just making a joke!
Nikolai: I’ve had someone stand by the booth and study everything I played. He’d say ‘you’ve actually played this song twice!’
Nikolai: Then he says, ‘I must be a real fan to notice you’ve played the same song twice!’. And I said, ‘no if you were a real fan you’d notice they were two different remixes of the same song’.
Joanna: Stay in your lane please.
Is it nice to have this, a project where people stay in their lane and don’t talk to you that way?
Nikolai: It depends what lane they’re in and how they do it. If they are giving me good advice, then I’ll listen to it. But if they’re trying to critique me on what I do, and what I love? Get in the fucking bin.
Rachael: I think often white people, they get resentful because we’re not doing things their way. The right way.
Nikolai and Joanna: The white way.
What is the white way?
Rachael: Always going through the correct, expensive channels. Thinking we have to do it like them.
Joanna: Fuck your correct channels.
Nikolai: ‘I’m sorry was that mp3 or WAV?’
Joanna: ‘That’s so amateur’. But it’s going off and people love it. You mad?
What do you see in the future for Fully Explicit?
Joanna: Just take it as it comes. Maybe we get to play somewhere on Friday or Saturday?
Nikolai: Hello! Anyone reading this can you put us on … book us Friday or Saturday please.
Rachael: On the record!
Joanna: You may not make a lot of money but people will be dancing and feeling amazing!
Equalise My Vocals is a panel event and music showcase on gender equality in music happening in May 2017. As part of the project, Coco Solid will be conducting a series of interviews for The Spinoff, talking to a wide range of women, transgender and non-binary people, within all sectors of New Zealand music. Overall this project is about sharing stories and pooling knowledge and experience, while building a rolodex of resources for music-lovers (of all genders) who might need them in the future.
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