In Conversation: DJ Volvox
For the third in our In Conversation series DJ Volvox talks about some of the countries she has visited as a touring DJ and sheds light on the fast growing techno scene in South America. Volvox is known for her heavyweight, acid-drenched techno sets at parties like New York’s Jack Dept and UNTER, and for her much talked-out performances away from home at Berghain, Printworks and Europe’s most prestigious clubs. As a member of the Discwoman collective she continues to champion the importance of discussions around identity as an integral part of her creative output.
Semtek: So, to begin with, what are your favourite aspects of travelling as a touring DJ?
DJ Volvox: Well, it’s a really exciting way to see different parts of the world. I’ve definitely visited more cities in the past two years than I ever did in my entire life, and, you know, you get a kind of insider’s perspective. I feel very lucky that the kind of people who book me are always very interesting, forward thinking people, so I get to see a very special picture of underground nightlife worldwide. For example in Russia, homosexuality is illegal but there are a lot of queer people involved in the nightlife out there, so you get an opportunity to hear the unspoken stories, the non-mainstream version of what’s going on in these countries.
S: You mention Russia, but what’s the most remote location you’ve played since breaking through to the international circuit?
V: I mean, remote I guess is a relative term, because I just played in Belgrade, Serbia, and to me, mentally Serbia seems very far away, even though technically it’s closer than Moscow. And São Paulo is far away from New York, but I wouldn’t consider it to be remote in any sense; it’s a massive city with millions of residents. Discovering Medellin, Columbia, was really, really nice. I guess that would be somewhere I wouldn’t expect there to be as much development in the electronic music scene as there is, but there is a lot going on.
The Columbian scene is popping off in general and there’s a really great group there called NÓTT which is headed up by a DJ called Julianna. She’s been heavily involved in electronic music in Medellin for a while, and used to have a record store there. So you know, remote is just a perspective we have as Westerners or North American people, where we imagine that because somewhere might be far away from us, it’s far away from some sort of central nucleus of electronic music. But the truth is these things are happening everywhere, and South America and Central America have many long-standing and highly developed music scenes. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about lately, as I discover more and more what’s happening over there.
S: What have been your most memorable gigs in that part of the world?
V: Being born in São Paulo, it’s been nice to reconnect with what’s going on there lately. I’ve been going back for the month of February for the last three years now, which is a really special time to be in Brazil, what with carnival and all. And I was really lucky to play a party there called Mamba Negra which is a queer-oriented electronic music party that is run by a woman, and it is de-facto the best underground party in São Paulo, I mean, hands down. They have really fantastic production, amazing sound, and it’s held at all sorts of special venues in São Paulo. I’m really proud to say that I got to be a part of it.
S: Outside of Brazil, are there any other countries in South America you’ve had a chance to play in?
V: Actually, Asunción, Paraguay, really surprised me. My contacts in Brazil took me there, and they actually have a really cool underground scene going on there. They love techno, hard-hitting techno, which for some is kind of a surprise, because the musical vibe in South America has always been a lot more melodic, a bit more subdued. But I was very excited to discover that in Paraguay they really like it hard. They have their own set of DJs, party promoters and producers who are also absolutely world class.
S: Tell me about some of the local DJs and producers you’ve encountered in those cities.
V: Victoria Mussi is working out of Asunción in Paraguay, and she has a crew called Dollhouse who do radio broadcasts and warehouse parties, underground stuff. She is the cousin of my friend Amanda Mussi, who is a DJ and promoter in São Paulo. The two of them of have opened up South America to me which I’m very grateful for.
S: You’ve also played in colder climes, such as Russia. What was your experience of touring there? Being so close to, and yet so cut off from Europe.
V: I think that, at least from the parties I’ve been asked to play, Russians definitely favour their own particular style of techno. I’m really into this darker, slower, more sexy and grinding music I’ve heard in the clubs out there. I’m sure that’s not the only style represented there, but it’s definitely a side of the music I don’t see elsewhere in Europe.
S: Can you think of any particular tunes in that style?
V: Off the top of my head, there’s a track by Cosmic Garden called Reptilian Treant, which totally coins this style. I played with Borusiade out there and being booked alongside her set the tone of the night for tracks like this.
S: As part of the Discwoman collective, you’ve been at the centre of the movement changing attitudes in regards to race and gender in the dance music scene, particularly in Europe and North America. Have you felt the effect of that elsewhere?
V: Yes, especially in Brazil, the whole female-focused and queer angle is something that’s definitely growing. I think the Brazilian culture is generally very body-oriented, and more open to conversations about sexuality and nudity than scenes in other places, and some of these scenes are way ahead of us in ways like this. Of course they still experience oppression by the local government, by the police and also just from regular people who don’t know what’s going on. So there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s a battle, you know?
DJ Volvox continues to tour throughout July
Photographs: Danny Roche