Despite dark venues and postponed festivals, 2020 has still afforded Ashley Venom her time to shine.
A Haitian-American artist, event producer, and advocate on a mission to create electronic music that "empowers the oppressed," Venom's parties have long been considered a haven for queer, trans, and intersex people of color in Miami. And while those passionate events have been placed on pause in the wake of government-mandated lockdowns, her powerful and timely message is reverberating online instead, and it's all thanks to her friends at fellow Miami-based label, Life and Death.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary, Life and Death was founded to showcase Italian talent and is known for its soulful, electronica releases. However, its reach and focus have evolved over the last decade, and it has since come to feature artists from around the world, as well as here in Miami, where label boss DJ Tennis (real name Manfredi Romano) now resides.
Instead of celebrating the milestone with packed out showcases at international gatherings like Sónar in Barcelona (the June 2020 edition was recently postponed until 2021), DJ Tennis has taken his rejoicing online, where last week he launched LifeandDeath.us, an interactive website that's home to exclusive music, podcasts, interviews, and artist-focused editorial content. Here, readers can learn not just about artists who are already featured on the label, but also about the local talent who craft the work Romano respects, such as Venom.
The website also boasts an online store filled with music files and handmade items designed by artisans that Romano met while traveling. Among their more unique offerings are skateboards and USB necklaces donning the Life and Death logo and loaded with the label's discography.
"We see this moment as a blessing and an opportunity," DJ Tennis says enthusiastically. "[The pandemic] has given us a chance to rethink everything, and our ten-year anniversary is super special for this reason. We are trying to make the best of what is happening by supporting the community, and actually it's beautiful, I have to say."
Tennis is giving artists like Venom a place to contribute. She recently shared her insights on Miami's underground music scene and offered words about her intersecting passions for event production, DJ'ing, and activism. She also curated a special playlist for Life and Death that's meant to be uplifting to listeners on a heavy day and can be heard here.
"We want to write about the people who are close to us," DJ Tennis explains. "I prefer to push those who are up-and-coming, talented, and part of this community."
The website bears a colorful aesthetic that is said to be inspired by the psychedelic and otherworldly vibe of the label's signature grooves. Those who attended Rakastella, which takes place annually during Miami Art Week at the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, are already familiar with the type of atmosphere Life and Death aims to deliver to its fans. Those same feelings translate to computer screens where visitors are met with neon accents, trippy audiovisual presentations, and other eye-catching imagery.
The new hub will also spotlight the label's catalogue comprehensively, giving fans access to never-before-heard material, vinyl and cassette tape mix series, and fresh sample packs curated by label artists, the first of which arrives July 23, compliments of Mass Prod and DJ Tennis. Podcasts will be published every four to six weeks.
Later this month, longtime fans will have the opportunity to deepen their connection with the label and the minds behind it. Those who purchase a Life and Death Passengers subscription ($8 monthly, or $70 annually) can expect a VIP experience, complete with access to an advanced digital EP download each month, members-only merchandise, and priority access to ticketed events when it's safe for them to return. For a more hands-on experience, members can participate in private monthly workshops, as well as Q&A sessions and giveaways.
"We want to bring together like-minded people who have a need to connect on a deeper level," DJ Tennis shares. "We're offering a peer-to-peer experience. It's about creating organic interactions in time, and of course, it's about content because that activates the dialogue. It's a little place where we're not just creating a one-way discussion, but a way for followers to help us improve."
Also coming in August is LADTV, a new portal offering an inside glimpse at Romano's life and passions outside of music, including cooking.
"I already filmed three clips where I teach my own personal recipes," DJ Tennis shares smiling. "I like cooking because it's actually a little bit like DJ'ing. You're mixing your ingredients, and you're giving an experience through them, the same way you do when you play music. If you mix the ingredients wrong, it tastes like shit, but if you mix them right, it tastes beautiful."
During a typical year, a busy schedule would have made it nearly impossible for a touring artist like DJ Tennis to invite fans into his personal life, but things are different now.
That newfound sense of "quiet" means it's time to connect with fans in novel ways and to bolster the emerging stars who continue to inspire the label's robust flavor.
"[Life and Death] developed quickly because the talent was amazing, and our interaction with the talent was amazing. We started from zero, and it got very big," DJ Tennis says with pride. "Now we want to explore what was always the main point of the label — to focus on local communities, especially in Miami, where there is this amazing mix of culture and music. We'll be able to do a lot of that with this website."
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