Terre Thaemlitz on Queer Nightlife: The Unabridged Interview

© 2004 Comatonse Recordings

© 2004 Comatonse Recordings, with gracious permission from T. Thaemlitz

So, last week, an article of mine was published on Resident Advisor, entitled “An alternate history of sexuality in club culture.” It’s success was truly surprising—especially considering that the whole thing ran well over 8,000 words long! Despite its exceptional length, one of the hardest challenges I had in writing this article was to keep it short(er), because there was just so much to write about. That’s also a good thing, in the sense that it means that there’s still a lot to say about queer nightlife and club culture, but I was especially pained to have only included a few brief quotes from the fantastic email-interview I did with Terre Thaemlitz/DJ Sprinkles. Despite being a very busy producer, speaker, alternative historian, etc., she was immensely generous with her time,  answering all of my questions in great detail. It seemed a tragedy that most of the interview wouldn’t make it into the RA article, so I’ve arranged to have the full interview published here, as a sort of open archive. Other historians and journalists are welcome to make use of this material (with proper citation and a link back here, please). Many thanks to both Resident Advisor and Terre Thaemlitz for their support and permission!

Biographical Questions:

© 2005 Comatonse Recordings, with gracious permission from T. Thaemlitz

© 2005 Comatonse Recordings, with gracious permission from T. Thaemlitz

LMGM: How did you find your way to producing and DJing? From what I’ve read of other biographical sketches, issues of gender and sexuality seem to have played an important role in how you started your musical career and developed as an artist. Could you comment/expand on that?

TT: More important than how gender and sexuality play a role in my current productions is how they played a role in my development as a listener, consumer and collector of electronic audio. This came from two vectors during my youth: first, as a roller disco fanatic in the 1970’s amidst intensely homophobic anti-disco campaigns; and second, as a techno-pop fantatic driven to exclusively electronic music as an alternative to the rock and country soundtracks of the incessant fagbashers around me. Because I was growing up in the American Midwest, and was quite socially isolated, my experience with electronic music was largely non-communal. Even most of my other “fag” friends were into guitar-based kinds of New Wave that, to my ear, were basically rock – like The Cure, etc. There were very few people with whom I could share exclusively electronic music. To the contrary, it drove people away, out of the room, or out of the car. But despite loneliness, there was refuge to be found in that electronic-music-induced solitude.

I hope you don’t mind my referring you to an article I wrote about a pivotal moment in my rejection of rock culture (Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick calling me a “little nerd” during a random encounter while on an elementary school field trip – with photos!):

So that was the kind of experience I brought with me when I moved to New York in 1986. But of course, in the big cities, electronic music functioned in a far more social way, which I found more disorienting and frustrating than liberating. For example, in New York, a lot of people whom I would generally avoid hanging around with – out of fear-based conditioning (read “straight white guys”) – were experts in early Depeche Mode or other groups that were predominant in my record collection. And in fact, Depeche Mode did actually transform their sound into that of a guitar-sampling band popular with frat kids. Meanwhile, by 1993, the NY techno scene had crystalized as a genre, and most techno clubs were oppressively white and straight. Women in those clubs were primarily “dragged along girlfriends.” So in NY, techno-pop had transformed into a brand of techno that – at least for me – was the soundtrack of the enemy. Techno-pop fans were more likely to cross over into industrial dance and NIN than soul or disco. I understand techno was able to play a different role in places like Chicago and Detroit, but this was lost to me in NY, and my gut tells me those other US scenes were not as big as the images that the UK managed to sell back to us..

In contrast to NY’s techno scenes, NY’s house scenes were where disco, queerness, racial diversity, and gender diversity were more blatant. Not always peaceably, but openly. The sounds were more familiar to me, and gentler. A lot of the deep house from NY and NJ that came out at the end of the ’80s was a kind of bridge between those two sensibilities of disco and techno-pop that I grew up with. A lot of it was cheesy. And most had horrible wailing diva vocals. But even at its most aggressive, it wasn’t “violent” sounding. For me, even freestyle and new jack, like that horrible Janet Jackson “Rhythm Nation” sound, were too abrasive and – contrary to popular belief – utterly funkless. I think part of it had to do with the dance styles as well. A youth of fagbashing had conditioned me to fear crowds – particularly thrashing crowds with any kind of hyped up rock energy doing paramilitary moves – so the more sweeping and fluid dance moves in house clubs struck me as less aggressive. These were all the ways house somehow made sense to me on a personal level, as someone who came from the Midwest. And considering I lived around the corner from the old Dance Tracks record shop, I had easy access to some good house records… and even more horrible ones.

I still wasn’t very social with music, though. It was only after I became active in some direct action groups like ACT-UP that I began doing (quite bad) mix tapes and spinning at benefits. But even that was never ideal or welcoming to the types of house music that really interested me. I’ve told the story a million times of being fired from Sally’s II for refusing to play major label records. It was in 1992. Losing that job happened around the same time many direct action groups were falling apart as many people were transitioning into employment at CBO’s (Community Based Organizations), and working more bureaucratically. My social networks and personal relationships were also crumbling around issues of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, etc. So everything in my life just fucking imploded. And it was in that period that I began producing my own tracks, as a pretty jaded and cynical person. But I wasn’t very good at wielding that cynicism. I was flailing around, because I was still too intimidated by the hopes of others, and hadn’t the time or experience to learn or cultivate language (sonic and verbal) that better represented my intentions, as well as my general nihilism. Of course, that’s a constant and ongoing struggle, but back then I was really green, and disserved by a reliance upon the language of identity politics around me.

Scene-specific questions:

© 2000 Ruthie Singer-Decapite, with gracious permission from T. Thaemlitz

© 2000 Ruthie Singer-Decapite, with gracious permission from T. Thaemlitz

What significance did gender and sexuality have for the NYC house music scene, when you were living there? Were queer folks relatively prominent as fans, artists, and/or promoters? 

Based on my experiences, I would say yes to all three of those, but immediately qualify it as a predominantly male-centric, or from-the-M, queerness. House was much more aligned with gay cultures than lesbian cultures. To say the scene was queer is not to say there were not plenty of straight-identified people around, especially at the bigger clubs. And, in consideration of trans-spaces like Sally’s II where you had a lot of straight-identified Johns, I want to be clear that I am really talking about queerness – as opposed to normative gay and lesbian cultures. Of course, how gender and sexuality collided in club spaces really depended what clubs you went to. Many of the clubs catered to particular tastes and audiences. If the club as a whole was not queer, then there were particular queer nights that one would go to, avoiding the other nights. And musical taste was part of the formula. Part of the cruise.

But music wasn’t the whole cruise. In many queer clubs the music was rather incidental to the atmosphere, even when it could be annoyingly precise. For example, around 1990, the rice bar Club 59 used to endlessly loop a video tape of Dead or Alive concert footage most every night, and people still came to troll… that’s how they used their video and sound system, which was quite fancy for the time. It was totally in your face, incessantly queer, but also quite passé and brutal in its monotony. I mean, I think it’s important to point out these kinds of off-the-wall spaces were the mathematical majority of NY nightlife venues, in comparison to the legendary mega-clubs like 1018, Sound Factory, The World, etc. which you could count on your fingers. Otherwise, when we talk about “queer fans, artists and/or promoters,” we tend to assume we must be talking about large masses of people back then supporting this house legacy we carry around in a shrine today. There was a lot of other queerness going on that was really embarrassing, to be frank. But that is part of queerness – to be shameful and embarrassing. Not in a cool or empowering hipster way. Rather, in a way that is about people trying to force gender and sexual mobility within a rigid and brittle heteronormative patriarchy. Of course, failure, shame and embarrassment are part of the process. Queerness is something other than Pride[TM]. It has a different soundtrack.

What about sex work? A lot of the NYC midtown scene seems to have taken place in informal “red-light” zones, and sex work is often cited as a means of survival for transpeople in urban contexts. Was there much overlap?

Yes. There were venues where these overlapped blatantly. Sally’s II and Eidelweiss were the two main trans-worker clubs I knew of. Performers at East and West Village clubs often considered themselves “artists,” and I heard more than a few rants against the Midtown “whores” by stage queens at The Pyramid – which gave rise to the Deee-Lite and RuPaul scene. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never enjoyed The Pyramid. But of course, the Meat Packing District and West side piers were where a majority of sex work was happening. It was a street scene. Many of those girls couldn’t afford the cover charge to work in clubs or other places.

What was the impact of urban gentrification during the 90s, in your experience? Giuliani’s cabaret laws?

It was so bizarre. around 1997 Disney just came in and bought 42nd Street. Literally. The sex district was gone within just a few months. I remember Disney had one of their fucking electric parades down 42nd, and they had so much political clout that the city actually turned off all the street lights for them. I mean, that may not sound like a big deal, but to anyone who did activist work and had heard endless bullshit from cops and city officials about safety regulations, fire codes, and all kinds of crazy shit to limit the movement of protestors, it really laid bare the relations between commerce, politics, and the construction of mobility within “public spaces.” Meanwhile, many of the girls from Sally’s II were economically forced out of the city. Some moved to Jersey. Others went upstate. Others, nobody knows. It was heartbreaking.

When I go to NY these days, people say, “Hey, look around now, it was worth it.” They weren’t there at the time, and have not had access to any cultural memory of the events of the time. Homeless people not simply being bussed out of Manhattan, but beaten ruthlessly by cops who removed their name tags so they couldn’t be identified, such as in the Thompkins Square Park riot. I saw it with my own eyes. I lived on 6th and B when it happened. Anyone who says what Koch and Giuliani did was “worth it” is either ignorant of the facts, or heartless. They were bloody days.

How about Tokyo? How have issues of sexuality and gender played out in the scene(s) there since your arrival? How do your experiences in Tokyo compare to those in NYC?

Queer sexualities and genders are not major players in dance clubs here. There are some conventional “gay nights,” etc., but for the most part dance clubs here are pretty conservative. The techno scene is mostly a mainstream heterosexual meat fest. House parties seem to be more about deep listening, but not always. The venues that are most organized around issues of gender and/or sexuality tend to be the hostess and host “omise.” I really despise those venues, because the models of gender and sexuality they both embrace and deploy are so incredibly codified and rigid… and utterly reconciled with patriarchy. Even the “onabe” FTM host bars. I find it all really grim and capitulatory.

One of the places I did like to go when I first moved here, but to which I haven’t gone for many years, was a small “snack” in Shinjuku with dressing rooms and lockers, so people could safely and discretely cross-dress within the space. Maybe one or two people took on over-the-top characters that were obviously born of long-term repression, but most people just inhabited the space as rather uneventful transgendered people. I think in the West such a space would be heavily fetishistic, or for straight guys who like to wear panties (which, of course, do exist here). I was introduced to this particular space by a friend who shared similar sensibilities with myself, and it was really a different trans-space than I had ever experienced before in the West. Those who didn’t cross dress were not there as spectators, but more as people who were too afraid to crossdress themselves, so they simply shared in the comfort of interacting with other trans people of different experiences, or in different stages of transition. Some of us, like my friend and I, arrived in femme and didn’t use the changing rooms. Of course, a space such as this could never function with a door policy, since it was a precondition that people understood the clothes you arrive in where as much drag as those you changed into.

How do these modern-day scenes compare with earlier periods that you had experienced, as far as sexuality and gender are concerned? (i.e., what’s your historic account of the status of queerness in house music scenes?)

All great house clubs in NY were queer. Absolutely, it was a queer scene – but not of the West Village white-boy hard body clone variety. I tended to gravitate towards clubs like La Escuelita, which were heavily brown, heavily trans, and had open doors for lesbians. The music could be pretty horrible (ref. new jack and freestyle), but the climate was welcoming.

For sure, as LGBT Pride[TM] identities have become increasingly visible, codified, and reconciled with dominant Neo-Liberalism (marriage, family, etc.), they have also become increasingly conservative. And so has the music, right along with it. Disco, house, techno… all of it is in some way a part of today’s Neo-Liberal soundtrack. There’s no denying it. It fills shopping malls, airports, and TV commercials.

Speaking from my own experiences as a youth, in which electronic music was often times the soundtrack for spaces of social and physical isolation, I am increasingly aware of how my own experiences with electronic music are largely incomprehensible to those around me. I guess that’s why I invest so much time and effort into documentation, texts, etc., to frame those less considered contexts that determined the peculiar ways in which audio media socially circulated around some of us.

Broader questions:

© 1999 Bart Nagel, with gracious permission from T. Thaemlitz

© 1999 Bart Nagel, with gracious permission from T. Thaemlitz

What’s your take on the recent Russian anti-homosexuality laws, and the response by EDM promoters and clubs (e.g., the “Promote Diversity” campaign)?

Let me refer you to this article I wrote about a performance I gave in Moscow on the same day the preliminary law went into effect in St. Petersburg (this was before the law went national):

In these cases, I’m afraid (“afraid” being a key word, of course) that my instinct is always to be most concerned about immediate violence or retribution against local individuals. Especially when I am both culturally and physically so far removed from those people who pay the highest consequences. I have actually recently declined offers to return to Russia since the law went national, because – even though I am being directly invited – I would hate to show up, take the money and leave, then find out later that someone had to pay consequences for my actions, or simply for being associated with me. So I worry on this level. And I know it does not jive with Western outing strategies, which are all about resolving social crises through visibility. I think Western queers and transgendered people have lost certain skills for strategically manipulating invisibilities and silences to our advantage. For sure, I am not saying invisibility is any more liberating than visibility – of course, there are tons of examples to the opposite – but the current emphasis on visibility over all else seems to come with a price of public homogenization that concerns me.

Meanwhile, the notoriously homophobic and transphobic world of Olympic sports seems to have eclipsed Madonna in the role of championing international discussions of the Russian law. The more I read and hear about the issue, the more I am aware the information is almost entirely coming to me from Neo-Liberals with whom I would never ally myself with. Again, this tells me as a Westerner to be humble and recognize my position as an outsider, and consider more explicit ways to express solidarity with those suffering under the law. Most people reading this article will have absolutely no material connection to Russia, so it’s easy to talk big about coming out loud and proud. However, as someone being offered work opportunities there, I do have a material connection, and so I have to think twice. I realize in my little world I have a greater chance of putting individuals who might hire me at risk, than I do of changing the legislation at issue. That may be a grim realization, but it should not be mistaken for a position of ambivalence. It’s the opposite. I worry for queer friends and colleagues in Russia. And I know that even if the Olympic committee were to get the Russian government to overturn the law (which it won’t), and have their games with some people in the stands allowed to wave rainbow flags, that would not resolve the larger social crises at play.

Based on your releases (especially Midtown 120 Blues) and essays, you seem to be committed to contesting a utopian and universalist account of club culture (particularly the idea of a “house nation”). What are your concerns with this account? What are its potential consequences? Is there a place for utopianism in queer politics and/or dance music scenes?

That’s a lot of questions! [Laughs] Well, I mean, appeals to nationalism… how could anyone not have problems with that? Let me rephrase that: why the fuck do so few people have problems with that? Nation, tribe, clan, family… these are all horribly oppressive and exclusionary things for me. For most all of us. I mean, I’d like to say it’s the ultimate in camp gestures for queer and trans people who have been consistently ostracized from those very social structures – on every level, from legal exclusion to family violence – to invoke them on our behalf… using cheesy synth dance music, nonetheless. I mean, it could be really funny. Sometimes it is… I’m sure of it, although I can’t think of a funny example at this moment. But I think most people are either ambivalent or sentimental about those social structures. And that’s sad. It really shows how many “queer” social visions are as predictable as anyone else’s. Why shouldn’t they be, if most people have grown up internalizing and reacting to the same dominant cultural bullshit as most everyone else? That internalization frames our conceptualization of forms of resistance.

The question about whether or not there is a place for utopianism in queer politics and/or dance music scenes is quite baiting and oppressive to me. Please, tell me, where are the places divested of utopianism in queer politics and/or dance music scenes? Those places divested of utopianism are what I plead for. This is one of those things I keep saying over and over again, but, “Forget about dreams and hope!” They are always rooted in the distorting desires of our current oppressions. I’m utterly convinced that strategizing around “hope” leads to very different results than organizing around an inability to continue accepting the unacceptable. I really believe the latter is better for identifying and addressing immediate material conditions of violence. Organizing around hopes and dreams is how we get to absurdly abstract notions like “love is the answer,” and that dancing or making music is enough to change the world. We end up distracted by our own mechanisms of desire, while violence and murder continues. How many trans-women have been attacked or killed in New York alone this year? How did race and poverty also play into those incidents? Think of the recent vigil for Islan Nettles, one of the trans-women who was killed this year in NY, and how the dominant politics of hope and healing put forth by politicians and family members only further emphasized the alienations suffered by transgendered mourners (http://janetmock.com/2013/08/28/islan-nettles-vigil-trans-women-of-color/). Fuck utopianism, please! Struggle to get real!

What about the electronic music industry itself? How has the commodification and mediatization of post-disco musical genres impacted house music’s queer histories, in your view?

Marx said all things in history happen twice, as it were, first as tragedy and second as farce. I think the queer histories we find served to us by industries are very much farcical. Queer histories have traditionally been constructed of secrets, missing passages, random utterances, vagueness… yet we are served histories rooted in the language of Pride[TM]. Meanwhile, the tragedies continue, so I can only assume what we have been witnessing in mainstream media is not so much about queer histories, but is more about a change within Neo-Liberal history telling. It’s a change that has many people confused as to what queer histories might otherwise be, if not about Pride[TM]. And it’s a change that adds confusion to my own projects as they interact with mainstream electronic audio distribution channels, etc.

I am always aware that my “actual audience” – those I would personally consider to be my audience, as people who consider themselves to be struggling with issues of gender, sexuality, and other cultural oppressions – is inherently outnumbered by my larger “consumer audience” consisting of many people who simply don’t give a fuck about anything but the groove. That larger consumer audience is important to record labels for sales, but they are not important to me. And that reveals something uncomfortable about my relationships to record labels as well. But this kind of imbalance, and minority interest within an already fringe genre of audio, is the very nature of queerness. It emerges from reactions to context. It is not about an identity in and of itself. Nor is it about some Liberal fantasy for the absence or overcoming of identity. Queerness is about the struggle against identity construction, knowing full well that one can never escape or transcend those cultural systems which dominate us through the imposition of identities. So, like, you had people on RA bitching about how “ugly” the cover to the Skylax edition of my K-S.H.E album was, for featuring an antique photo of a nude trans-woman, but those people would never stop to think, “Even as an owner of the album, or as a self-declared fan, I may not be the audience for this release.” Most people assume that audiences are always populist in nature, and as part of the populace themselves they are automatically a potential audience for any album. And for this reason, I am immediately suspect of accessible queer histories, because populism is contrary to the very material conditions of queerness. I don’t bring this up as a way of enacting exclusions against others, but of drawing attention to how dominant cultural acts of exclusion and violence have cultivated the contexts in which queerness emerges as a form of resistance. Accessibility is a sign that specificities are being overwritten and lost.

I have personally been struggling with the idea of “queer archiving” for many years now, pondering strategies for the self-destructing archives, self-erasure, and promoting “offline digital culture.” Meanwhile, “online,” I try to generate as much text-based noise as possible – including by participating in this interview – so as to challenge the online noise of inevitable unauthorized uploads of my projects. I would love for my online presence to be like a dead language that people might read, but have no idea what it sounds like… the actual sounds themselves inhabiting physical spaces, passed hand to hand, with trust, and not randomly uploaded for just anyone. How is uploading tracks to YouTube and Soundcloud any different from dumping a box of 100,000 CD-R copies of your favorite track at the biggest shopping mall in town and just walking away? The premise is wrong. It is not a queer move.

Your DJ Sprinkles persona seems particularly pertinent to this article, especially in the way that it seeks to counter dominant EDM narratives with queer/trans perspectives and strategies. What does DJ Sprinkles convey to current “EDM” audiences? What does it represent?

I suspect what it represents to most people is quite different from what it represents to me. I am constantly mis-promoted as having been a “popular New York DJ,” when I have said repeatedly that was never the case. In fact, even though I left NY in 1997, a lot of people still think I live there! Sprinkles is not about the iconic New York DJ. Sprinkles is about the utterly unknown DJ’s who bought underground house records, struggled to find places to spin them, and constantly failed. It is about DJ’s who never played at any of the clubs you’ve heard of. People misinterpret an “infamous” place like Sally’s II for being a “famous” or popular place. As notorious as it was, very few people ever went. It was an empty ballroom almost every single night. And as a DJ there I was, of course, neither famous nor infamous. This is a very difficult position to represent and discuss within the audio marketplace and press. It’s inevitable that, in many ways, the visibility of my recent activities as Sprinkles has rendered the character rather useless for me. I’ve tried to steer the conversation away from authenticity by not making a follow-up album, and steering my recent releases as Sprinkles towards traditionally “unoriginal” project formats like DJ mixes and remixes of tracks by others. However, I feel like it’s not an interesting name to release tracks under at the moment.

(NOTE: The next 3 paragraphs were added later by Thaemlitz during the editing of this transcript just prior to publication, as an expansion/clarification)

As if simply to illustrate this point for our discussion here, Fact Magazine mysteriously just did an online write-up called “The Essential… Terre Thaemlitz” – an odd title for an article about an anti-essentialist – and the catch copy states I “operate in a field of one.” How is that not a cliché reduction of my activities to those of a Modernist Artist alone on the cultural vanguard? (I only single it out the Fact article here because it is fresh, but the problematic language at issue has been used countless times.)  I mean, the article is admittedly written with (quote) “more than half an eye on the newcomer,” but through its attempts at pluralist appeal, and by framing me through the myth of the lone Artist, it is actually misdirecting readers’ attention away from the social contexts and issues through which I would personally attempt to introduce people to my projects. Of course, we know the author is well intentioned, and all of this is a kind of cultural oversight born of journalistic convention, but this dynamic is a huge problem for me – culturally and personally. So I have to continually think about ways to obstruct and interfere with the promotional processes through which I economically survive. But for more than 20 years I have been saying this is a lost cause. All I can do is publicly perform this failure and misrepresentation over and over again. Or, to be more precise, openly allow others to publicly perform that failure upon me. I know my stance is only “queer” to other queers familiar with the representational game in play (my intended audience) – which is a very different proposition for audience than “newcomers” (which, as in the Fact article, are not simply people unfamiliar with my work, but people presumed to be generally aloof and in need to being baited into an interest in my interests).

This is why most journalistic coverage of my work is inherently problematic. It insists upon speaking to a construct of “newcomers” (as opposed to a different model of people unfamiliar with my work), and convincing that “newcomer” construct that my projects speak to them as well. This completely conceals (closets) the fact my projects are actually in critical antagonism with the pluralist voice deployed by journalists. That does not mean I speak in an unaccessible voice (to the contrary, I think I am opening up access!). However, because the standard journalist or editor is pressured to assume a pluralist voice equated with an image of inclusiveness, all other voices become branded either exclusionary or alienating.  I suspect a similar editorial process lays behind your RA article being titled “An alternate history of sexuality in club culture” (as opposed to, say, the very different reading “A history of alternate sexuality in club culture”). It’s unfortunate, because the published title implies that the dominant (or “non-alternate”) history of sexuality in clubs must be other than the one you discuss, hence that of heteronormativity.  So I also see that as part of the same voice about which I’m speaking. That voice leaves no space for the antagonism required to actually discuss the topic they attempt to represent. It is a voice of addition and subtraction which militantly protects people from algebra, geometry or calculus. And an awareness of what is blatantly omitted or silenced is how queers learn to speak and read things, right? Like, based on our conversations, I assume someone like yourself would see the Fact article, and immediately have these dynamics I speak of register for you. Similarly, I am here speaking to you in a very different voice than the Fact writer speaks about me (even though the author may be totally queer, but just assuming a non-queered voice to keep their job, etc…. this is another aspect of queerness, that the problems of the Fact article do not preclude the author’s potential as a queer ally). Queer experience teaches us that queerness is never publicly spoken of, or spoken to, in queer terms. We also know queers are always publicly spoken of, or spoken to, as though those non-queer terms are adequate for conveying – or more commonly, selling (either socially or economically) – queered interests. This is a never-ending part of queer socialization, and despite how frustrating it is, I take comfort in the way in which it culturally denies any crystalization of queer language or representational strategies. Queer strategies allow us to engage inevitable representational failures, and question the construction of power. And that is something different from Pride[TM]-based representational strategies aimed at sharing in dominant cultural power. 

In contrast to that media presence around Sprinkles releases, within clubs I think it still kind of works as a moniker for failed DJ’s, though. In general, I’m pretty sure that most people who come to my events have never heard of me. The event organizers and a few customers might know who I am, but most are just there to be at a club, and have no specific interest in what I do or play. Or there are also those who think they have an interest, because they downloaded some tracks that weren’t supposed to be online anyway, and decided for all the wrong reasons that they were into it. As a result, it’s rare for me not to get complaints from people about the music I play… which is usually my own tracks. [Laughs] It’s true. It’s very rare that I get through a set without complaints. So the fact that I still feel I’m always playing at the wrong venues and the wrong events is still somehow in sync with the original Sprinkles trajectory. Even at queer events, things go wrong. Like at the recent Butt Magazine party in Berlin, I swear I wasn’t even eight beats into the first track of my set when some clone came up with the “Can you play…” request-face, and I was like, “Sorry, no requests,” and he put on a big sour puss and pouted, “but… I don’t know how to dance to this!” Like, it’s still 4/4 beats, just not going 130bpm… figure it out! Or when I played the after-party for the transgendered symposium “Gender Talents” at the Tate, and was harassed by a stray straight woman who called me a “faggot,” repeatedly and without irony, when I refused to play her request for Madonna, of all people. Of course, not everyone at the events are like that – absolutely not. But the fact that shit happens consistently at most all events across the board, in country after country, reaffirms my true “level” as a DJ in this business. And I can’t help feeling the unsteadiness of that “level” has something to do with queerness.

I think a lot of DJ’s and producers have these aggressive audience encounters – queer or not. I mean, they happen so much to me that I just can’t imagine it’s only me, but nobody talks about it. And I think I know why. I think it’s difficult for people to speak about because the promoters are working hard, putting money at risk, and most of them really want the DJ’s and producers they bring in to have a sincerely good time. “Good” in the conventional sense of communion and celebration. So it’s really difficult for me to talk about these things with promoters, because all that I’m speaking of registers as complaints, or some kind of failure on their part. Of course it’s not! It’s part and parcel for club life. But you can see how confusion arises. My positions are already so at odds with most people in this business that it sometimes becomes hard to find common language to constructively discuss the pervasiveness of assholes in the crowd, and what they tell us about our “safe spaces.” For me, that is a cultural discussion that could potentially bring us – the promoter and I – together in solidarity within that larger social context. Unfortunately, for many of them, the moment of “solidarity” is supposed to take the form of social communion with the crowd. So if they hear me speak about assholes in the crowd, I am excluded from their model of solidarity, and they feel excluded from mine. But I do try to pursue these conversations with promoters, and talk through the discomfort as much as possible. Unpleasant conversation is definitely an important part of the “Sprinkles project.”

At one point in Midtown 120 Blues, you mention the exclusivity of the NYC deep house scene (in particular, your anecdote about getting into the Loft); this theme also appears in histories of NYC’s disco scene, where exclusivity could be protective of marginalized sexual worlds while also enforcing elitist hierarchies of coolness, beauty, and wealth. What are your thoughts on the politics/ethics of this exclusivity? What do you make of modern-day clubs that associate exclusivity with the protection of queer sexual spaces, such as Berlin’s Berghain?

Well, in thinking of all the various door policies I have witnessed over the years, I think they have always been more likely to be used exclude people based on race, poverty (often determined by fashion) and gender, than they have to offer protection. Amidst US “black/white” race politics, I have seen “brown” peoples be consistently fucked by both black and white clubs. There is also a tragedy in how door policies reaffirm sexual and gender closets, in that they fail to recognize gender and sexual variations that do not take on familiar or particular visible forms. Stand me on line at a conventional gay club in men’s clothes with my long hair, and see if I get in as quick as the guys with buzz cuts… So I’ve personally never felt “protected” by door policies. To the contrary, I felt most “protected” in a place like Sally’s II, where you had a tremendously mismatched assembly of sexual, gender, racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds – who all somehow still managed to get each other off.  Not in rainbow harmony. In socially chaotic and anti-systematic debauchery.

What are your current projects?

© 2009 Comatonse Recordings, with gracious permission from T. Thaemlitz

© 2009 Comatonse Recordings, with gracious permission from T. Thaemlitz

Most recent releases:

Forthcoming releases:

  • DJ Sprinkles & Terre Thaemlitz remixes for new album by Francis Harris (aka Adultnapper), “Minutes of Sleep” (I am the only remixer for this album).
    • “You Can Always Leave (Curtains)” house remix by DJ Sprinkles
    • “Dangerdream (How Che Guevara’s Death and Bob Dylan’s Life Militarized Brigate Rosse)” electroacoustic remix by Terre Thaemlitz
  • DJ Sprinkles remix for Vakula, “Sleepy Vision (WEB DuB’s Weepy Vision)”

In Process:

  • Terre Thaemlitz: a still untitled continuation of threads in “Lovebomb” and “Soulnessless,” furthering critiques of family/clan/nationalism, and in particular a defense of non-reproduction (childbearing).
  • Various house projects under new aliases TBA.


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