BY LANA HARRIS
Dee Diggs is a DJ and event curator/organiser currently based in Boston, MA (though a movin’ is a brewin’). She celebrates free and safe expression of identity through her powerful mixes, homaging the steadfastly unapologetic roots of house and techno through her push for inclusive, savvy spaces and black/queer/femme-celebrating tunes.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Dee about her intermingling of curation with deck-driving and her important insight into the spider’s web of the Bostonian underground music scene.
NM: Underground events are interesting in that they are dually 1) more exclusive than public venues, in their traditional “invite-only” format 2) more inclusive than public venues, in that a maximally respectful space can be curated. How do you grapple with allowing your events to reach a wider audience while still ensuring that the space is free from disrespect/harassment?
DD: I think that can be quite a double-edged sword – wanting an underground or private party to be invite-only so you know who’s coming, but also allowing it to be open enough so that people who would be interested in these kinds of things [have the opportunity to attend]. I go to events to be inspired, so of course I would want to allow for that serendipitous moment for someone to stumble into something that could possibly change their taste or their outlook on music. I think just staying within the “one bring one” ethos is a good way – being able to ask, “Who invited you, how did you find out about this party,” things of that nature, being very upfront with people, talking to people. When I ran a rave earlier this summer, it was all through email. So even random people who found the email would have to go through me. It was alien-themed, so I was pretending to be an alien from another place… but it was cool to be able to talk to people and ask them why they wanted to come to an event before handing out the more specific information for an event- ticket information, address, etc.
NM: Could you talk about Evlv Tech as a domain and your role?
DD: Sure! EvlvTech started as an internet forum for women (mostly female-identified) musicians and event curators within the Boston community. Lots of people were running into the same kinds of toxic behaviour and feeling really disempowered by other people in the scene, sometimes even [by] other women. It was a space to connect with one another, a space to ask questions that you didn’t feel comfortable asking out loud. Then, it transformed into its own collective-like festival body. We threw our first festival last summer, it was really great! We debuted JLIN, we worked with Discwoman… we had a lot of different people who are really inspiring and who had never played here before or hadn’t been here in a while. We had Volvox play, who used to live here, so that was just a really amazing experience. It was all women and non-binary artists. Though it wasn’t about tokenising; we aren’t in the woke olympics or anything. There are some amazing artists who happen to be these identities too, and it may not be as easy for them as for those people who embody what we think a musician looks like, or what we think a DJ looks like. Empowering those people and empowering myself to facilitate those kinds of ideas with my partner in this project, Tameka [E-C], is really the main goal of this and always the underlying backbone of everything that we do. Other than that, we’re about quality, not quantity – we’re not doing that many events because each one is very special to us. We’ve got to take the time and execute it in a way that, we hope, empowers everyone involved, and is an experience for everyone involved in working together and community building.
NM: What about Rare Footage?
DD: Rare Footage is this mixed bag variety show that me and some other friends dreamed up because we wanted our own platform to explore and experiment in the club- play different genres, that aren’t normally played out. It’s brought out a different side of us, and a really interesting crowd as well – people who still want that freedom, allure, curiosity. The name Rare Footage comes from the fact that Greg, who started it, is really into visuals (photography, videography) so it started out with him making music videos with my other friend, YUNG DB and Harocaz, and everything has spun out from there. Follow us on Instagram!
NM: Did you enter the scene first as an artist or a curator? Walk us through the history.
DD: That’s a very interesting question. For the first gig I booked, I felt like I wasn’t going to get an opportunity unless I made an opportunity, so my first gig in Boston I actually booked myself as an opener for these two other great DJs – DJ Pinko, her name is now DJ Reparations, and MSG, this other really cool, eclectic electronic DJ (they’re from around here too). So yeah, I booked that in a basement in Allston that usually does rock shows, it’s called The Goddess Underground. There are pictures of Grace Jones…I just wanted to embody that. Men, especially straight men, will be sleazy and go out to get babes, but even for me I feel like lots of the positive energy in nightlife in the room comes from women, it comes from the people who care about how the space feels, what the vibes are like. I definitely felt that in myself, switching from DJing to curating and back and forth. I care about those details, I care about how people feel. I’ve been to so many events, and often people notice the decor is striking, or there’s a DJ they’re really excited for…but mostly I remember how I felt at a space, at a party, wherever I am. Those are the residuals you leave with people. From there, I kept doing my own thing… I was doing college radio with my first electronic show through my school at the time, Boston University. I kept being encouraged to play out by other women. People started booking me, started giving me that chance once they saw that I was really about this. That’s been really amazing. I’ll never be afraid to say it was the femmes that put me on! And now, I walk that balance – even in my artist life, if I can’t make a gig, I’m always trying to encourage promoters to look for another femme, another person… if I can’t do the gig, don’t just pass it to this other guy who’s been playing around forever and everyone has heard of them. How about you try to find someone else who hasn’t had as many experiences playing out. Even my friends who are coming who just picked up DJing in the past year… just share experiences. That’s how I was put on, so why not do that for other people? And so, that’s how I tried the line between curator to DJ, back and forth.
I think mostly this year I am concentrating a bit more on DJing, which is kind of iffy for me. I feel very altruistic when I’m facilitating an event, so letting go of the reins a bit is hard… but one thing I know, it’s good because I can’t run those kinds of events in the ways I want to here without an array of limits – time limits, the limited DIY venue situation… I really want to concentrate on elevating Evlv Tech so that even when I eventually move on from this city, it lives on and has a life of its own. Hopefully it goes on to elevate other artists! It has elevated me… the more that I give to it, the more that I’ve gotten from that work, and that’s been a beautiful give and take cycle.
NM: You spoke about the extreme difficulty in hosting underground club events in Boston. Yet, we also recognise the presence of a substantial population within that area that needs an art-focused, inclusive club space. How do you suggest future/current curators address the above issue? What is a possible area of forward movement?
DD: I don’t know what the future is for underground club events. Sometimes I get really discouraged about the safer spaces thing – of course making it inclusive, but also just making sure that it’s safe. Especially for women, for femmes across the gender spectrum, I don’t know why in these spaces people feel like you’re there to be groped. I’m not at a club for proposition, I’m at a club for music. That’s what I come for, that’s what I love. I just don’t want to see us move into a time where every event has a safer space policy, but it’s not taken seriously. You shouldn’t have to go to a party and fight for your right to exist, fight for your right to not be touched and not be bothered. I hope that that keeps getting better and is a bigger conversation. I just think it comes from people even realising that it’s the little things.
Side note- I complained about a show a few weeks ago (publicly in the Facebook event) and the promoters rushed to my comment saying “Oh Dee, you should have just told us and we would throw the people who bother you out.” But if it’s a lot of the crowd (and I was moving around on the floor the whole time), how are you going to throw all of those people out? It has to be the ethos of your party, people coming in the door have to understand- this is what we allow in the space and this is what we do not. It’s all about the smaller interactions with people, making sure that every step is consensual. Make eye contact with me, tap me on my shoulder, get my attention. Make sure that I’m fully aware, and that we’re interacting. That way it can be consensual.
Possible ways to move on is the way that underground has always been – you find a new spot, you do it all over again, and you wait until that’s blown up. The dust settles, and you keep going. Work smart, not hard.
NM: Moving to your music- how does identity and open expression of such interplay with your artistry?
DD: Identity plays a huge role in it. I really want to reclaim a lot of traditional house and techno- space in those genres and in the culture for black people mainly, but for people of all marginalised identities. If you go back into the history, those are the people who started this. It’s just funny to me, like… how can black/gay people feel uncomfortable in this environment? How can queer people be made to feel uncomfortable when this music was made for us?
This culture was our culture when we couldn’t go anywhere else to be ourselves, to feel welcomed, to feel like there were people who knew our names, there were people who would rejoice when we came in the door with an outfit on and we felt and looked our best… that’s what it’s supposed to be about. So the music inspires that original culture and ethos for me. That’s always what I’m striving to get back to. I don’t want people to forget, I don’t want the history to be rewritten or whitewashed. It has been to a certain point.
So maybe I feel like the girl who’s crying wolf, but only, it’s real. Techno is black. House is black. You must admit that that’s where it came from, and you must respect the people who are picking up that legacy now. When I discovered this music, I felt like this was my legacy. Black weirdos, decades ago, were putting all these feelings into sound that I would be able to still connect to now, and I think that that’s so beautiful.
Not just because it’s important to me as a black person, but because that kind of thing can set us free or it can at least make us feel free when we don’t feel free anywhere else. When we walk out of an event, we feel all the constraints of our social state, and our political state will be bearing down on us, there should be one place that we feel free. So I definitely try to do that when I’m playing. I try to take people away, I try to surprise myself as well… the element of surprise is so important to me.
I just tweeted after my gig on Friday, “the two DJ tools that I use the most are the filter and the element of surprise.” That to me is exciting, amazing – when the DJ is killing it and you think you know where they’re going, and they just completely surprise you – that is the true adrenaline, the true drive. Music just shows you that there’s so much more for you to learn.
Something someone else told me after one of my gigs was, “I never realised how euphoric it can be to listen to a set and enjoy it and not know any of the songs but just to realise that there’s so much good music out there that you may not know, and it’s a beautiful moment of discovery, of letting go, when you can have someone open that portal for you.
Featured photo credit: Georgette Bibber