Historically, music has told the story of a society, often times literally. For those that doubt it, one only has to look to how politically charged lyrics became at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and during the presidential election. Even in decades prior, from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s to the Vietnam war of the 1970s, songs of protest have served as literal fuel and a source of hope in movements of change. Today in New York, a cohort of music-led collectives are still using music as a tool of resistance and working to create a space for marginalized people to be able to cut loose.
Here are a few of our favorites who all participated in Red Bull Music Academy's "A Bed-Stuy Function."
“We are a queer collective based in North America that sits at the intersection of contemporary art, dance music and nightlife,” Coral Foxworth, better known as FXWRK shared. That first aspect of the collective’s descriptor is unique, having seen members like SHYBOI and False Witness perform music-related work at gallery spaces like MoMA PS1 and Fridman Gallery. But like many collectives, the linkup also involves a bit of camaraderie, which the members appreciate.
After getting its initial start in Boston by Micah, Rizzla and Battyjacks, KUNQ relocated to New York where most of the members are currently based. “We don’t grow very fast,” Foxworth explained. “It’s about one or two people every year.” The Wesleyan College graduate joined about two and a half years ago along with Izzy Ocampo, who goes by the name “Stud1nt.”
Sonically, the group can be hard to describe but that’s partially by design. “We all kind of do our own things,” Foxworth said, although a thread of heavy, hardcore club music is evident throughout. “It’s a little more diffused and nebulous. It’s kind of hard to define but that’s kind of our vibe. What we want to escape is being defined as one certain thing. It’s just a collective of like-minded souls that have found each other.” In practice, that means that while the group doesn’t host any recurring parties, they can often be found playing on the same lineups for events.
Papi Juice has a look. If you see a flier or graphic from the party it’s immediately apparent. That is largely due to the work of Papi Juice collective member Mohammed Fayaz, a self-taught illustrator who has made a majority of the group’s graphics, including over 25 fliers. That look, though brought to life by Fayaz, was a vision first ideated by the collective’s resident DJs Oscar Nunez and Adam Mar.
"We started the party because we thought there was really a big need for a space for queer and trans people of color to gather and feel like it was for them,” Nunez explained. “We were drunk at a bar and decided to throw this party one day.” Since that 2013 start, the idea has evolved. First it was simply a monthly event — in 2015 this changed — but eventually Papi Juice became a collective focused exclusively on the support and representation of queer and trans people of color.
“Mohammed’s work is so iconic and also so personal,” Nunez said of the art Fayaz creates for promotional graphics. “His style became our style and Cristobol [Naranjo] is so good at capturing people when they are feeling their best and when they are at their happiest. People love seeing themselves represented and for queer and trans people of color, particularly in gay spaces, that doesn’t happen often.” This quartet of color, with Naranjo as the house photographer, is changing the dialogue.
The sound of Papi Juice is representative of that same onus. Nunez and Mar are both men of Latin-American origin, but are also part of the African diaspora. “It’s a complex identity,” Nunez admitted. For their parts, in practicality that means a mix of club music, reggaeton, latin music, and at times disco, house and old school R&B in what Mar affectionately calls “black barbecue music.”
Though it is no doubt an overused term, there is a certain vibe evoked when Tygapaw jumps on the boards. “We are partying with a purpose,” Dion McKenzie, also known as Tygapaw, explained. “Partying for liberation. Getting good vibes out of traumatizing situations; it’s escapism through music.”
As a Jamaican queer person McKenzie felt the need to create a safe space. “Every place is a straight place because straight people are allowed to take up space where they please. That’s not always the same of queer or trans people of color,” McKenzie explained. “The need to create spaces where we can feel some semblance of being a human, of being treated equally, is what really drove Fake Accent into being what it is today. It’s supposed to be that space that provides security in some way.” While for McKenzie having a safe space is more about the emotional and psychological trauma queer and trans people of color face, Fake Accent, a party turned collective she began in Prospect Heights just over three years ago, does its part in providing therapy.
“This is music that’s rebellious music,” McKenzie said after explaining why she gravitates away from rap music that has a history of being misogynistic and homophobic. About a year ago Fake Accent began its transition into a collective composed of artists that create work as an expression of their daily experiences. “It’s going to be cunty and lit and show how much we embrace ourselves when everybody tells us we are freaks or we don’t belong anywhere.”
Though collectives can be nebulous or mainly in existence for support, DISCWOMAN takes a different approach. In addition to hosting parties, the Brooklyn collective acts as an agency, booking it's female or femme-identified creative talent for everything from festival gigs to documentaries, runway shows and ballets.
“I was invited by Emma [Burgess-Olson] to join a live streaming event that they were doing for the whole day,” London-born Kerrie Ann Murphy better known as Bearcat said of how she got her start with the organization. DISCWOMAN was founded by Olson along with Christine Tran-McCarren and Frankie Hutchinson. “We didn’t know each other that well but I kind of smashed the set and they asked if I had an agent. It happened really organically,” Murphy continued.
According to Murphy, who first toured internationally at the age of 17, DISCWOMAN looks out for the underdog. As a femme-presenting queer woman of color who experienced racism when she relocated to Berlin and often finds herself fetishized at events, the collective provides much more than just emotional support.
“As the creative it’s kind of hard to manage all of [the business] as well as create,” Murphy said. She describes her DJ sets as genre bending, incorporating rap, house jungle, garage and trap music. “I can finally worry about my job and not all those details.”
“It couldn’t be harder looking like us and getting to do what we do as a femme-presenting queer person,” she said, referring to body objectification that is prevalent in the industry. “When I go in to get on the decks it’s so hard to convince people that I'm the DJ.” According to Murphy, DISCWOMAN mitigates some of this confusion.
For more music check out the playlists that fuel the creativity of five very different artists here.