Watch your snowballs: the First Lady of Beatdown, Lady Blacktronika, is hopping on her magic sleigh and coming down the mountain for Honey Soundsystem on Sun/22. She'll be giving SF some much-needed transwoman power on the decks, and it will be the tea.
That mountain would be Mt. Shasta, where the prolific, San Jose-born producer and DJ has been headquartered lately, releasing track after track of absorbing, soul-seizing grooves on her Sound Black Recordings label. Her aesthetic takes the expansive and unrushed Detroit beatdown blues-house sound (with which she's had some personal experience) and the mesmerizing moodiness of artists like Theo Parrish and Alton Miller in unexpectedly deep directions -- using her notable experience as a singer and some lovely dubby effects shared with her former production partner Mattski to give the malleable beatdown sound some intriguing new shapes.
In anticipation of her first DJ gig in San Francisco after spinning around the world, I chatted with her over email about her gospel music-loving roots, the challenges of being a transgender woman in the electronic music industry, and some of the women on the scene that she admires.
SFBG This is really the first time you've DJed in San Francisco?
LADY BLACKTRONIKA Yes this will be the first time I've ever played in the Bay Area. It's a long time coming since I am a born-and-raised Bay Area girl from San Jose.
SFBG Your music transmits such a deep, techno-spiritual quality. Can you tell me some of your favorite music growing up -- and who might some surprising people you're listening to now be?
LADY BLACKTRONIKA I grew up on KSOL out of San Mateo and DJ Cameron Paul's mixes. Lots of soul and lots of disco, boogie, and dance music. Dance music, primarily disco, has always been in my life thanks to KSOL and KMEL growing up. I also always loved traditional African music and gospel music even though I was raised a Jehovah's Witness and was told it was wrong to listen to gospel, cause it was false religion. (PS: All religion is false religion. LOL.) Now beside house and disco I'm listening to John Grant's Queen of Denmark and Montreal's glitch-hop crew Alaclair Ensemble.
SFBG You've said the Detroit beatdown sound really struck you -- but a prominent Detroit label rejected the tracks you offered them because there was "no progression." When you compose a track, what shape do you usually aim for, if not traditional "progression?" What types of tracks by others catch your ear that seem to fit in with your aesthetic?
LADY BLACKTRONIKA Emotion Emotion Emotion. I am super moody, often able to find joy and happiness but sometimes very sad. I am resilient though. I put all that emotion good and bad in to my music. If it ain't got that swing as they say… but in my case it's heart and soul that I must put in to every track. That's what I want to hear from other music, and what I hope to convey with my sound. Honesty is also a huge ingredient in my witch's brew.
SFBG I see you're active in the Women in Electronic Music group on Facebook. Can you share some of your thoughts about the state of electronic music in regards to female presence, and who are some women you think should be ruling the electronic music world right now?
LADY BLACKTRONIKA I think the broad mainstream presence of women in electronic music is lacking but growing. Women are in full force though in the underground and not to be underestimated. I hope I am representing women well with what I do. As far as other women to watch out for you know I have to big up my Supreme Scyence sisters Jenifa Mayanja and Lola Dakinin9. Also non-producer DJs to watch out for: Jennifer Xerri is a bad muthah shut yo mouth. LOL. Sarah Farina in Berlin is a nu soul-broken beat-avant-guarde newcomer that I am gagging over. Her mixes are dope as shit.
SFBG Can you give us a current top five tracks?
LADY BLACKTRONIKA 1. Juan de Dios, "Spirituality"; 2. Mattski, "Twilight"; 3. WBTTU Anthems, "Stebeni's Theme"; Eddie Leader, "Ummmm Well"; Core 4 Spin, "Brothers and Sis"
SFBG Can we talk a little about your feelings as a transgender woman in the electronic music community? Have any reactions stood out for you?
LADY BLACTRONIKA We can. Although as a transwoman in the industry, my experience has pretty much been that of a woman in general. Though I did have someone suggest I do drag show-type gimmicks to further my career. I was like, Why should I have to do that when I already have media attention?
I also had someone say "I knew a woman couldn't be making beats that good" after I told him I was transgender. I was so shocked. I take offense to that as a woman and as a transwoman. It's difficult to imagine that this sort of blatant and utter sexism exists in underground house, but it does.
SFBG Ick about the sexism ;( Do you find that as a transgender woman you're able to step across the gay-straight club divide -- and do you think that there is such a huge divide anymore? Also, are there other transgender people on the scene who you admire?
LADY BLACKTRONIKA I don't live in the city so I don't know what's going on with the club scene so much. This is the first time I'm getting fanfare in the gay community which is great. I've been wondering where all the family was at. So nice to know we are not all in to circuit bullshit LOL
I wish there were other transwomen that I knew who were into the sound I am into. I can't say I know any others personally or have any I admire.
SFBG So what are some of your favorite places in Mt. Shasta? I might be heading there come spring ...
LADY BLACKTRONIKA Some of my favorite places in Mt. Shasta are the freeways, railing and greyhound station -- any way to get out of here. LOL.