As club culture and -music continues to pick up momentum and gain popularity, it has exposed more of the countercultural origins of the scene and the music than ever before. Bolstered by the access of information at our fingertips and an increasing awareness of the original social inequalities that informed this culture, we’ve entered an enlightened age for the scene.
Openly queer and transgender figures like Eris Drew and Octa Octa have become househould names, topping DJ charts at the end of 2019, while dance floors and clubs have started affecting serious policy changes to ensure all gendered nominations are welcome. It’s a very different situation to the scene that birthed club culture. Clandestine locations playing rhythmic music in the dead of night for young black and latino gay men and women looking for some slight escape from the contant persecution waiting outside the door, were dependent on secerecy to keep the wolves from the door.
Today the landscape has not only changed, but as social awareness keeps growing, club culture is always going to be one liberal step ahead, and while the rest of the world is still coming to terms with these issues, gender barriers on the dance floor have been disolving more than ever before, especially in what were usually heteronormative mainsteram clubs.
Leading the charge in this field is the event and party set He.She.They, an organisation that ”is about trying to create spaces of inclusion and diversity where men, women, trans, non binary and agendered people can all feel welcome.” according to its founders Steven Braines and Sophia Kearney. Braines and Kearney have taken this a step further even, focussing on taking “over places that are traditionally more heteronormative crowd wise and queer them up.”
Events at leading, predominantly clubbing institutions like Pacha, Fabric, Ministry of Sound and Watergate, have been “about different types of people being welcomed in to spaces they otherwise are not often welcomed in,” according to Braines. “By making the performers/hosts queer, non-binary, trans for example and having more female DJs, trans, non binary DJs and people of colour behind the decks,” he elucidates over an email exchange “queer people and indeed intersections of all of them in a normally straight space it shows people that they are welcome.”
Braines and Kearney both work within the music industry’s upper echelons as agents for the likes of Tale of Us, Magda and Maya Jane Coles, which has put them “in a bit of a lucky position that venues have trusted us to come in and let us take over their spaces and done something weird and wonderful with them.“ Braines, a queer man and Kearny, a straight woman “we wanted to create dance music spaces where it felt comfortable for us and our friends.” and started throwing parties 2 years ago, with their singular vision to great success.
“It’s not that we are queer night” stresses Braines “we just platform and prioritise people who deviate from the straight, white, male norm that dance culture has become even though it was originated musically from black, Latin and queer communities!” They do this with a cavalcade of DJs and performance artists in each location, picking some from their extensive roster, including the de facto He.She.They residents, Maze & Masters.
Verity Mayes and Bryony Masters have been an integral part of the He.She.They “family” since its inception as the personification of the concept which Steven and Sophia says is “all about talented people who are nice people… the core of a great party. ” . The DJ duo have forged a unique sound in the booth together between playing to pure corporeal delights in dark and sweaty rooms. With sets that thrive on the instinctive pulses of the dance floor, Maze & Masters’ build their mixes from the beats up, focusing on the functional aspects of club music as stark elements rise from the deep. Warm rhodes chords and disembodied vocal snippets reach out intermittently between piercing beats ushered in on a primordial pulse.
They’ve transposed this sound from the DJ booth to the studio in original tracks and remixes for best part of the last decade, but they remain DJs at their core. While they’re sure to be making some future contributions to the upcoming He.She.They label – which Braines can confirm has signed Louisahhh as their first artist and whose “album comes out next year” – they plot their musical journeys largely through a pair of decks. It’s in that context that we receive Maze and Masters next week together with Kittin and Louisahhh as the He.She.They x Romjulsfestivalen event.
They’ll be playing upstairs after Deadswan and Vibekke Bruff, and with the event looming closer, we reached out to Verity via email to find out more about Maze & Masters and their residency at He.She.They.
How did you two meet?
We met in our hometown, Brighton, in the south of England. We crossed paths on many a dance floor and eventually ran away together to the big smoke. Brighton always has and always will have a special place in our hearts and having He.She.They. come to host the Brighton Pride Dance Top was a moment we will never forget.
Was club music a constant growing up and what were some of your earliest influences that set you on your individual paths as DJs?
Verity: My dad is a priest so it was more monks chanting for me – I’m sure that’s been an influence that comes out at some point of the morning, but it was discovering house music that had the biggest impact, although we play all kinds of underground journeys, 80s/90s original house and the message it originally brought always shines through.
Bryony: I was a little indie kid until I ended up underage in a crazy club night called Slinky’s which was in Bournemouth. It played mental hard house and jungle, and it was the first real clubbing experience I’d had and one I’ll never forget. I was obsessed with clubbing culture from that point onwards. Moving to Brighton set me onto the house scene, the early 2000s were a pinnacle time for that genre and I was totally swept up in the wave – there were some epic local DJ’s holding their own at that time and seeing them play every weekend set off the spark in me to pursue a career in DJing.
Where did your musical tastes converge and what inspired you to start DJing together at first?
We always had a similar vibe, even when we were playing solo gigs and people would often comment on that back in the day. We’d buzz off sending each other music, and eventually someone booked us our first set together at a terrace party in Brighton, the Sunday day parties were legendary back then. When we moved to London we cut our teeth playing an after-hours party in a tiny terrace room of Area in South London, where we really started to define the ‘M&M’ sound. Being in the smallest room in the club gave us the freedom to really experiment with what that was, taking people on a journey is something we’ve both always loved to do.
Did you instantly find a rapport and how did your musical tastes develop further as you started Djing more together?
When we joined forces we just had and still have the best time playing together and we completely inspire each other to this day. We’re best mates, we have a lot of fun playing together and we think that communicates to the clubbers, it always feels like a private party when we play together. We maintain our own sound and energy through our sets which create our eclectic style, where they meet is a special authentic place.
There have been some remixes, but I assume that DJing is a priority, or are there some plans to make a stride into production in the future?
We are originally DJs at heart but have also been teaching ourselves to produce, which can be challenging with two very hectic schedules. 2020 is the year for M&M productions – so watch this space!
What is it about DJing that keeps you intrigued and devoted to that kind of music?
It is always the music, finding and playing new music is an obsession for both of us, but it’s also the shared connection and energy of a dancefloor which is like nothing else in the world. Music is definitely a home for us and our family is the community of people it organically brings together, sometimes for just one night, and sometimes for life.
Your sets are quite versatile, but for me there’s a kind of deep approach that ties a red thread through the mixes I’ve heard. What usually draws both of you to a track?
We started playing regularly together in after-hours clubs, so deep house is part of our roots. The joy of being able to take people somewhere with the subtleties of that sound means it’s a genre we will always respect. It’s all about the energy of a track, for us it has to have a groove or something unusual that hooks you in. If it doesn’t make you move, it shouldn’t make your set.
And how might you move the other into a different direction through the mix?
We love a lot of different types of house and techno and tend to just read the crowd, so we don’t often know how a set will end up! There isn’t too much conscious thought involved, we get inspired by the music that the other plays.
You’ve found a home in the queer/polysexual clubbing community, not just at He.She.They, but also Little Gay Brother. What was your introduction to this world and what attracted you to the scene as DJs?
Being queer ourselves, the community has always been a big part of our lives. We’ve always been drawn to that insatiable energy of a wild queer party, there’s really nothing that compares to it to be honest. It’s really important to us that we can represent us and our queer family, and being able to spread the message of equality and inclusivity on a global scale through music is an honour, we are very thankful to He.She.They. and our other residency Little Gay Brother for giving us the opportunities to do so.
How did you end up being residents at He.She.They?
We have always hugely respected The Weird and The Wonderful and our friendship developed both in London’s and in various tents and fields at Secret Garden Party; then to Ibiza where we shared an office. We were touched to be asked to part of the journey from the beginning and that Sophia and Steven saw a resonance in our ethos and liked what we do, it’s been incredible to see the message spread worldwide. Being able to play and see the positive reaction to the party at such respected venues as Ministry & Fabric London, Watergate Berlin and Pacha Ibiza has been emotional, we feel very much part of the team.
And what’s the driving ideology behind the concept and how did it resonate with what you were doing as DJs?
Living in the queer community, activism is part of your life, everyone has had to fight for something whether its the courage to come out, or support brave friends on their personal journeys. He.She.They’s ideology totally resonates with this, and therefore with who we are as people.
We have been lucky enough to exist both within the queer scene and also the wider electronic music scene. You often find that the two worlds didn’t really converge, and they SHOULD, because there is some incredible talent not being given the chance to live their potential! Steven & Sophia took He.She.They. to the world to give everyone a shared opportunity and the world fucking loved it, which only looks to increase and spread the message further in 2020.
How do your sets at He.She.They differ from the stuff you usually play and are there any tracks that you would consider He.She.They anthems?
There’s a mad kind of energy, a fierceness, that comes through in us both when preparing for He.She.They. sets; which comes from a sense of freedom, there isn’t a mould you have to fit into which is very refreshing. He.She.They. celebrates experimentation and pushing boundaries.
Here’s a track that sticks out to us both from our first HST gig, dubspeeka & Visionz “Floorshow” (Bodyjack’s DEXT VIP).
It’s a travelling event series, so the audiences must differ between parties. How do you guys accommodate these differences in terms of your sets and the party?
One of the uniting threads that we have found throughout every HST party is that everyone really just wants to be free to party and are really open-minded to how that may occur! It’s like everyone has found a place to exist as themselves whether they knew they needed that or not, so although there is a focus on freedom of expression, it’s also kind of about that not mattering, as the crowd is super diverse but ultimately all just there to dance no matter who you are or what you play.
What are your expectations for the upcoming event at Jaeger?
Well, Louisahhh and Miss Kittin are playing, so we’re expecting Oslos foundations to be shaken to their very core! We’re expecting the unexpected, as what comes out when people are given the space to express is a very weird and wonderful thing! But above all, quality, love, respect, and a lot of stomping.