I first saw Juliana Huxtable's naked body in the form of a green iridescent statue by Frank Benson at the New Museum Triennial in New York. Centralized and surrounded by Juliana's poems and self portraits, I read on to understand these were her "self imaginings", which she tells me is from a time when she'd try out different characters in New York's nightclubs. Surrendering to an identity is something Juliana transposes from her mixed visual artistry to DJing. "It just follows my oppressions and my wins, so that will come out when I'm playing." she says. Reflecting on nights out where drugs, music and character converge, "I think clubbing provided this safe space using fashion, dance and all these things in nightlife that are a bit more immediate."
Juliana plays glitchy, eclectic, bootleg magic and has been invited to record mixes for The Fader, Boiler Room and feminist techno collective Discwoman, serving soundscapes in which a Korn remix and Madonna acapella can sit side by side without question. Following a set this year at the RBMA New York Festival (the same one that programmed Solange's An Ode To in the Guggenheim), Juliana joined Melbourne techno contingent Chiara Kickdrum, DJ Kiti and Brooke Powers at Red Bull Music Academy's Transliminal, a Dark Mofo initiative which transformed Hobart City Hall into an industrial-scale warehouse rave this past weekend.
On her attitude to partying, there's still a conjecture about clubbing Juliana doesn't get: "People who associate clubbing with a certain age, I'm like, you can all have babies and retire at 45. That's not really my personality so… whatever." We found out more about her on her way back from dinner with friends to the studio.
THUMP: What did you eat for dinner?
Juliana Huxtable: We went to this vegan restaurant. I had dried cauliflower and a veggie burger taco.
Who taught you to DJ?
I started myself. It's pretty easy to start with your computer using basic logic and then I started playing with a controller and then a DJ came to a set that I was doing and he said "I think what you're doing is really cool but you need to get off your computer because this is lame." He started teaching me the basics and I would go to his house and just feel so stupid not knowing what I was doing. But then it kind of turned into this thing… I bought CDJ 2000s, a mixer and just started playing around and ever since then it's taken off because I have my own equipment. Now I have 2000s but 2000s don't really read the beat correctly so you develop more of an intuition.
Do you collect records?
I started to learn vinyl but I don't really have nostalgia. I'm not a nostalgic person so CDJs are cute for me.
How do you prepare for your sets?
I never plan a whole set because no matter how much I think it's planned out, I'm always going to have an impulse—that's the fun of DJing. To me, it kind of defeats the purpose if you just plan the whole thing. Mixes that I release online I record, adjust and re-record. I think of them more as things that exist in their own right. Generally they reflect how I play and I'll include music and transitions I'm currently obsessed with. Most of the time I don't plan my sets when I'm playing live. Maybe an intro if i want the drama.
Do you go out often in New York?
Oh of course. That's half the reason why I moved here. I'm going to be like 70 years old in the club. People who associate clubbing with a certain age, I'm like "you can all have babies and retire at 45." That's not really my personality so… whatever. I love clubbing. I love going out. There are different types of subcultures in club cultures. The type of culture that's specific to what younger people are doing is age-specific, but there's different ways of relating to clubbing and for me, that's when I can appreciate something, like the cultures surrounding house or techno, that might seem a bit more conventional. It's not as age or context specific so it kind of opens up the experience of dance music to people in a way that isn't so 'online'.
Do you experiment with different characters as a DJ?
I think musically that's always happening. It just follows my oppressions and my wins, so that will come out when I'm playing. Two years ago I was more often hosting parties so I would be having fun with the way I dressed and how that can play into a character. I still do that but it's no longer my primary visual language. At that time, I didn't really have a recognised visual practice and I couldn't support myself at all doing that, so I think clubbing provided this safe space using fashion, dance and all these things in nightlife that are a bit more immediate. It's still there but I've been able to develop a practice in other forms and I think those needs aren't closely related enough. Now, I can think of an impulse and develop it in a different context.
Where is the House of Ladosha at creatively?
We all work on very different things. My house sister just curated a show about queer Caribbean culture and dealing with questions of identity in limbo, national identity and citizenship. The show was very involved with the House so some of my house sisters are in video pieces.
Were you excited to experience Dark Mofo for the first time?
A lot of times when I do festivals or gigs away from New York it's just me by myself, which is fun in a lot of ways. But this is cool because Le1f is gonna be there and I have a lot of online relationships with people that live in different parts of Australia.
Do you have much planned?
No, I don't like planning. I feel I have to plan enough things in my life and I'm terrible at that so when I travel I just show up places and what happens, happens.
That's a great way to travel.
I like doing touristy stuff sometimes but I just wanna meet people, which entails them introducing you to their world—that's more so what excites me about travelling. I prefer that than an experience where I can decide how I want to relate to the thing that's totally foreign to me through commodified trips. I'd rather just let people introduce me to their context.
Juliana Huxtable plays Club 77 in Sydney this Friday June 23. Tickets available via RA.