The following story appears in Highsnobiety Magazine Issue 14.
New York City has long been a hotspot for creative ingenuity. Bolstered by an exceedingly diverse ethnic makeup, endless opportunities to express new ideas and an insatiable appetite for reinvention, the Big Apple has birthed some of the most eclectic and influential subcultural movements the world has ever seen.
While the internet has played a pivotal role in diminishing the exclusivity affiliated with niche tastes and aesthetics, there exists a tribe in NY that continues to provide a pulse for the city’s thriving underground scene: GHE20G0TH1K. Launched in 2009 as a local club night by DJ and Manhattan native Venus X, the project has since turned into a globally recognized institution hellbent on crushing fashion and music stereotypes — and looking damned good doing it.
Upon scrolling down your Facebook feed, you come across an event flyer bearing ominous biohazard symbols, Fraser spiral patterns, bold-lettered typography, evil clown illustrations and a DJ roster laden with names so arcane they’d make a search engine self-destruct. Interest piqued, you order an Uber and type in the party’s location, which appears to be a warehouse nestled somewhere off the beaten path in Brooklyn, New York. After multiple quarrels with your driver over which route is quickest, you ultimately arrive and halt before a queue comprised of characters more diverse than a costume display at your local Halloween pop-up store.
Face tattoos, Buffalo platforms, chokers, bondage trousers, Marilyn Manson T-shirts, lime green braids, blinged-out gold name chains and head-to-toe Hood By Air. You walk inside to a scene reigned by chaos and mutability. Dark rap, Jersey club, ballroom, industrial, nu-metal, dancehall, grime, reggaeton, baile funk and Aaliyah all rammed into each other at frenetic cadence. Vogueing, shuffling, dabbing, twerking. Welcome to GHE20G0TH1K.
From the people that crowd its dance floor to the fusillade of music that penetrates through its speakers to the irregular spelling of its name, nothing about GHE20G0TH1K (pronounced “Ghetto Gothic”) is conformist. Launched in 2009 by Manhattan native Jazmin Venus Soto, more widely known as Venus X, the party began as a space to funnel aggression through dark sonics and visceral dancing, in addition to altering the notion of goth being an exclusively Caucasian subculture.
“I was a 23-year-old college student at the time and was going to a lot of punk and goth shows,” Venus briefed. “I just started learning how to DJ and my first gig was at this bar that my boyfriend at the time worked at. He gave me a night to play and I called it ‘Death Wish’ and it was billed as a ‘ghetto gothic’ party, but inspired by ’80s goth rock band Christian Death.”
What’s traditionally viewed as goth stems from a subculture that originated in England during the early 1980s, an offshoot of post-punk defined by macabre aesthetics, gloomy lyrics and black clothing. Though broad in what musical styles it encompasses, goth, in the old school sense, isn’t commonly known for its diverse membership.
But Venus and her pan-ethnic clan of like-minded misfits would soon shatter this white-washed illusion of what goth is, expanding the subculture to include a whole new community and breathing new life into its definition.
“Me and my friends were listening to a lot of juke music, Three 6 Mafia and Memphis rap, which is a very dark subgenre of hip-hop. I was like, ‘This is so goth!’ Or, at least, I thought it was just as goth as the type of music being played at the parties I was religiously going to, which only played Joy Division, The Cure and Alien Sex Fiend – bands that are considered to be pioneers of what we’ve come to know as gothic music. I also went to a lot of raves, but they really lacked diversity. We definitely wanted to fuck up the assumption of what goth was but also keep it pretty dark.”
Together with House of Ladosha’s Adam Radakovich, Venus hopped around several venues before “Death Wish” would eventually morph into “Ghetto Gothic” (later stylized as GHE20G0TH1K), a night that linked her with other genre-bending DJs and producers such as Kingdom and Total Freedom, forming a niche group that heralded a new type of club music open to experimentation and shifting perceptions.
“I think what we mostly wanted was a place to party where all of our cool friends who were listening to a very specific, weird range of music from the internet could come to and hang out in, because we didn’t really have a place to go. You don’t just want to live online like kids nowadays and I think there is a difference between playing shows and really cultivating a space for people to come to regularly.”
The manifestation of a physical space to communicate Venus and company’s culled influences would prove key in establishing GHE20G0TH1K as a full-fledged brand, one synonymous with a lifestyle trademark to New York’s thriving underground scene. Music has and continues to be the party’s biggest pull, but the experiential components derived from its bombastic energy have inspired creative feats from other disciplines as well.
Shayne Oliver, an early GHE20G0TH1K affiliate and former resident DJ, used the space to launch nascent designs of his local imprint Hood By Air, which has since become a hallmark to the Big Apple’s fashion and music underworld. Los Angeles-based electronic record label and artist collective Fade To Mind have been one of the platform’s first and most fundamental collaborators. Performance artist Boy Child, ballroom label Qween Beat, AraabMuzik, DJ Rashad, Awful Records, A$AP Nast, Divine Council, Kelela and Arca have all dominated the stage at some point during the party’s run.
But while GHE20G0TH1K may be a familial institution deeply rooted in New York-centric subculture, its influence hovers over global audiences, too.
“It’s not my story, it’s our story. It’s our platform to tell our own stories which also shift around. Everyone comes with a different background in music and art and is inspired by where they come from. You can hear that in the sets. Some people play more Baltimore club, some people play more reggae, dancehall, grime, techno, etc. We definitely packed the Berlin Biennale back in June, which was awesome because we had long time supporters of GHE20G0TH1K from the Berlin art world there. We wouldn’t be where we are now without our worldwide community. ”
Now in its eighth year, Venus has no plans of shortening GHE20G0TH1K’s legacy, expanding its namesake into a record label, a line of clothing merchandise, a pop-up retail space and regular showcases all over the world. It’s all pretty impressive for a movement that continues to pride itself on an independent mindset and business model, but like any revolution, the vision’s progression is completely dependent on communal input.
“The show that I put together is six hours long and I’m involved in it, but I’m making sure that it happens by bringing new people in all the time to help me produce it. It’s much bigger than me and that makes it important. It’s about a space that we’re trying to make and everyone knows when to fall back and when to fall in and give their part so that we can have a healthy relationship for the work we do. We work very hard, but working together isn’t the hard part; traveling, dealing with bad promoters and getting resources are hard. GHE20G0TH1K is second nature to me as well as all the insane artists who make up its core.”
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