Interview by Kelly Lovemonster; Photo of Essex by Dame Pipi
It’s Friday and you and your friends have been pre partying in anticipation of a hella cute evening. Everyone is feeling F I N E, saucey and ready for a night out. But right when y’all show up to the neighborhood house party (or whatever the highly anticipated turn up is that evening), the DJ starts playing “Safety Dance” by Men with Hats. Where’s the wide eye emoji? This is a true story and happens to describe the beginnings of Oakland via Detroit’s DJ Essex’s career. “And everyone stopped like WTF?” he told 4U Mag. “That was the point I figured I should learn to DJ. I wanted my friends and I to hear music that was relevant to our experiences.” Essex is a QPOC (queer person of color) DJ who fuses the rich sounds of cumbia, twerk and hip hop. And TBH, that is only the tip of the iceberg of sounds this Bay Area DJ can mix together.
“My sets always include Latin music, it’s my way of saying ‘I see you, I think we work well together.'”
Essex’s unique worldly sound made him the perfect person to curate an original mixtape to celebrate our Bey 4U issue. Like our Issue 10 mixtape artist, Her Majesty has also been known to use a vast soundscape in her productions. Plus, Essex’s self-proclaimed “worldwide ratchet” beats in this exclusive mixtape is going to make y’all scream Y E S.
4U MAG :: Detroit is known for being a musical epicenter, especially with house music. How has Detroit influenced you?
ESSEX :: I was born and raised in The D and I’m a fag. So of course I really love house music. I’m saddened that I don’t have more chances to play house music in the Bay. The generation of queer youth I currently play for can sometimes be obsessed with hearing hip-hop, and I’m going to make this complicated by saying I also love to make people twerk. But I often feel like my Detroit roots are suffocated. I feel like outside of NYC the children are forgetting the significance of house music, especially in QPOC history. I’ve had a lot of folks here tell me they don’t like house, and a lot of the children in the Bay don’t realize the pop music they’re listening to is essentially a reinterpretation of house music. For example, Detroit house has always had a strong sci-fi futuristic aspect, and that’s very apparent in the impact of the robotic and cybernetic sound on music we here now.
4U MAG :: What aspects of this mixtape are Bey inspired?
ESSEX :: The mix is built around some of my favorite Bey remixes. She clearly has a huge influence on music globally so taking the lead from those remixes, I did my best to show off what I mean when I say, “worldwide ratchet.”
4U MAG :: You have an activist and political background. Do you find that your DJ style reflects those aspects about you as well?
“Despite it’s politically radical and anti-racist veneer, power is still largely maintained amongst white folks.”
ESSEX :: The dance floor has been the primary arena where I exercise my politics. White supremacy was never more apparent to me than in that moment when I decided to learn to DJ. I was used to being in queer party spaces with predominately white folks, with line-ups of all white DJs playing music that primarily other white people wanted to hear, like “Safety Dance” or never-ending ’90s nostalgia. Cultural spaces are essential for creating community, and when white people are consistently the ones who have access to the resources to create events and make media they often leave people of color marginalized and alienated because our interests are different. As neoliberalism drags on we are increasingly experiencing an erosion of the self-determination of people of color as resources are further concentrated amongst whites, and that is very apparent in the queer community. Despite it’s politically radical and anti-racist veneer, power is still largely maintained amongst white folks.
In light of all that, a huge piece of my political work is black and brown unity. Our communities are often left incomprehensible to one another within white supremacy, despite the fact we’re both getting fucked over by this system. My sets always include Latino music, it’s my way of saying “I see you, I think we work well together.” What music do the black people in the audience want to hear? What do the Latinos want to hear? Asking those questions when I curate a set is what has made me a DJ that not only stands out, but is respected – I play the shit black and brown folks want to hear even if the white people don’t like it and it’s their party and they’re the majority of the bodies in the room and they’re asking me to only play songs in English lol. It’s always energizing and affirming to see folks go wild when I transition from hip-hop to cumbia to some twerk shit in Spanish. Those moments when I’m centering our needs always make me the happiest.