Venus X was recently in the East Village in New York, prepping for gigs and running errands for her new boutique, Planet X. Traffic could be heard in the background. A police siren wailed in the near distance. Two more followed.
The busy din reflected the curated cacophony of her DJ sets and, in a way, the chaotic environment that gave life to Venus and her signature style. She was born and raised in New York of Dominican and Ecuadorean heritage.
Her DJ sets are a collage of pop music and political content. At her ongoing GHE20G0TH1K ("Ghetto Gothic") parties, one is likely to hear Chicago footwork, Brazilian baile funk, Baltimore club, and even news snippets culled from YouTube alongside a smattering of contemporary hip-hop and R&B, all chopped up and smashed together in a salad of international pop.
“When you’re creating more of an environment, it’s just a lot more work," she says. "There’s a lot [of] detail, and people take it for granted.”
Despite her demonstrable prowess as a selector, Venus prefers to act as a behind-the-scenes force through the GHE20G0TH1K brand. From its beginning shortly after the 2008 financial collapse, when no one in New York could afford to go to larger clubs, the party charged a modest cover and frequently shifted locations. It served as a common ground for the diverse groups that make up the city’s nightlife.
“It’s about all of us relating in real time, which is something that a lot of people forget in the age of the internet,” she says.
The night became an incubator for talent in music, fashion, and art. Like-minded musicians such as Total Freedom and Nguzunguzu got their starts there. Shayne Oliver, founder of the cult fashion label Hood by Air, was a DJ; he now designs for Helmut Lang. Arca, the boundary-pushing producer who will perform at this year’s III Points, has cited GHE20G0TH1K as a formative influence; in interviews, he’s admitted to attending the party, though only as a spectator.
“I could graduate onto different experiences,” Venus says of her continued involvement with the organization, “but as an artist, it’s really important to be around people who think the way I do, who are politically engaged, who are aesthetically engaged, who are thinking about what the world looks like and how to have a role in that and creating that as opposed to being told what to wear or what to listen to or what to think about.”
Ultimately, one of Venus’ goals with the brand is to create and sustain a world more amenable to different ways of seeing. Part of this is shifting what she sees as a DJ culture that remains patriarchal and hostile toward minority artists.
“Look at who makes the most money as a DJ: It's all white men, and they mostly play music inspired by or derivative of people of color’s music.”
As that struggle continues, Venus is pushing her brand ahead. Last year, GHE20G0TH1K opened as a record label, and her gender-inclusive boutique, Planet X, opened in Chinatown this year. The once-floating party is taking solid form, and the DJ intends to keep it that way.
“We want to be the ones that set the trends," she says, "not wait for them.”