Photo: Press (Kiernan Laveaux)
It makes approximately five thousand tonnes of sense that Kiernan Laveaux would mention Ron Hardy as a DJ that profoundly impressed her. Much like house music pioneer, the Motherbeat co-organiser and affiliate of Eris Drew and Octo Octa’s doesn’t simply mix music, but does something with and to it. The Pittsburgh-based DJ also makes music, giving a sneak peek of what’s to expect from an on-going collaboration with Johnny Zoloft in this contribution to our Groove podcast. It’s a very personal mix, but as Kiernan Laveaux makes clear in this in-depth interview, it also has a deeper and more political dimension to it.
You made your first steps as a DJ at the event series In Training in Cleveland, Ohio that was founded in 2014. You were pretty new to dance music back then. What kind of music did you start out playing?
When I first started DJing, I was playing a mixture of a lot of similar stuff I still play to this day—weird techno, house, post-punk synth-wave rave musics. I basically have sort of had this same affinity for sounds in different ways and just honed in on and expanded that as the years have gone on and my mixing style has grown. I started DJing to help open up nights at In Training so people performing wouldn’t have to play to an empty room. I love playing more high energy sets now but also have always loved the ebb and flow of opening a night up. I feel like this flow between abstracted sounds and more danceable beats shows up in different ways in my DJing to this day. One of my favorite blends from beginning to DJ that I would still do to this day is Coil’s “Answers Come in Dreams” mixed into Jeff Mills’ “Alarms”!
This also marked the start of you engaging with the Midwest’s dance music history. What did that discovery process look like?
The discovery was largely due to coming up in dance music in the DIY nature that I did, as well as the unique geographical location of a place like Cleveland—being situated around cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Columbus, as well as expanding out to Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the rustbelt. It’s a place that’s able to have interaction with loads of other cities but also has it’s own unique musical energy, almost a bit isolated all the time. I was initially drawn to techno and house, realising they’re music partly born of the same region of this part of the world I’m from, and combining all these elements of science fiction, autonomy, musical innovation, community building, etc. Eventually I was just able to learn what I could through the internet, friends, and the beginnings of interacting more with the underground rave world around the midwest/rustbelt. I feel fortunate I was able to come up in what felt like a super fertile time for people throwing underground parties in that region, and being able to interact with legends and newcomers alike in a really refreshing blend of history and the present—honestly, it almost felt like a second moment of midwest DIY rave shit that hadn’t happened since the mid-2000s RAVE act age (if you don’t know about the RAVE act, read up on it!). Going further into the past and hearing DJs like Ron Hardy was really inspiring to me too, both feeling his influence on many of my favourites in the present and also hearing the way he could play any kind of music in a set and have it sound like him. Titonton Duvante once told me that being a midwest DJ is about being able to play music made in any part of the world and being able to make it sound like you, like it’s been a piece of your spirit the entire time. In many ways, this eternal conversation of music inside yourself and your surroundings is what it means to me to interact with the midwest’s dance music history—honouring the past, present, and future and how the whole world is interacting with each other through music, filtered through the continuum of your own being. Through all the forces involved around In Training, Heaven is in You, and Disco Paradiso, I was able to experience a lot of sets from regional friends all with their own unique perspectives on dance music. Literally everything from friends playing disco and freestyle records in basements, lots of live hip-hop, IDM, and industrial cosmic styles, profoundly strange and funky vinyl techno sets, fucking Limp Wrist—it really sparked a unique kind of attitude and approach to DJing as well as a super broad sound palette and love of spirit in music across genres. I feel my DJ style is entirely a product of my friends and these parties helping me see different avenues of expression and who I am. The midwest and similarly “mid-sized” US-American cities are incubators for musical openness and variety, disparate sounds joining together into a disjointed whole. It’s hard for me still to not be constantly in the process of discovering new music.
It didn’t take long until you were booked nationally and internationally. How did it feel to receive that kind of attention early on in your path as a DJ?
Simultaneously amazing and strange and overwhelming, all and none of those feelings at once. To be honest it’s all been quite serendipitous—the fact that I’ve survived this long in my life, let alone made it out of Cleveland and doing music in the uncompromising manner I’ve been able to do it is nothing short of a series of miracles and determination. When we all began throwing parties, there was zero incentive to “make it” or to even “become a DJ”—it was simply about creating space for people to hear strange, amazing music, to dance, and to connect with each other. It’s hard for me to even remember how that evolved into being booked more and travelling, but, yeah, it’s something I try to remain intensely grateful for. It always feels amazing to have people connect with what I do and say it changed their perspective on music, themselves, their surroundings, whatever it may be. I do feel like the journey has felt quite natural in a way with how things have grown. It’s helped me gain confidence in my sound through the way people have told me since day zero that my friends and I play upon some unique vibrations in the world. Everything that’s happened in my life the last eight years is beyond anything I would’ve thought was possible before then.
Eris Drew soon became an important like-minded spirit and friend and together with ADAB, you started organising the Motherbeat parties in 2018. What was the concept behind the series?
For me, there is not much overarching concept behind the series besides creating open and welcoming spaces for people to be able to engage with music passionately. What I enjoy about the few Motherbeat parties that have happened is that it’s a rotating cast of DJs and people helping make it happen in various sections in the world—only two have happened in Pittsburgh where ADAB and I are currently based, but others have occured in Seattle, Berlin, and hopefully more cities in the future with likeminded lovers of music. The main thing I like to see happen with it is spaces that allow for engaged dancing and interaction with one another, keeping alcohol at a BYOB status with no sale of it in the space/venue, and keep the experience open for interpretation for everyone in attendance helping create it. It’s been a true joy to be able to have these events split between ADAB, Eris, and I almost having rotating extended “resident” sets we do at different parts of the night, followed by Farplane engaging in other layers of deep listening to ease out of dancing. If anything, I think “deep listening” is as close to a concept as it might be—listening in musical forms, physical forms, interpersonal forms with a different intention than we’re subject to in the world. “Motherbeat” itself is to me only one phrase or word of many that can help speak to the interconnectivity of all things and each of our own individual experiences with that, while also defying any sort of absolutist definitions around it. As much as there is power in giving wording/language to experience, there is a lot of power and depth in the ephemeral and experiential nature of phenomena. I would always encourage anyone to find their own meaning to exist in conversation with the intent behind anything I am a part of.
Already the fifth Motherbeat edition was cancelled due to the pandemic and you didn’t play many gigs again until early 2022. How did you spend the first two years of the pandemic, and how was it getting back on the road after this? Your schedule seems to be pretty full right now.
I spent a lot of pre-vaccine pandemic just surviving and trying to keep my mind open. It’s all a blur now, but I spent a lot of time DJing, watching anime and sci-fi, and going on walks in some of the nature spots I’m grateful to be living near at the moment. I really just poured myself into playing music during that time to keep in touch with myself, it’s one of the only things that makes sense in the world. Almost like whittling a piece of wood for years to make into a flute to play songs out of. I’m definitely super grateful for the amount of traction I’ve been able to keep up since vaccines came out, and the fact that anyone gives a fuck about what I do or music I play. My schedule has definitely been consistent and I only hope it continues to. Ultimately, I love being on the road and being able to share music in multiple different countries and cultural vectors with people everywhere. On the flipside to these beautiful levels of being able to reach wider audiences, the more that I’ve travelled, the more things have also been intense and full of reminders that the general public would mostly love to remain blissfully unaware to the very real levels of racism, transphobia, and misogyny that remain at play in the world at all times, and ignorantly think we’re beyond having to still deal with any of these things in our subcultural dance music world, too. Shout out to the people worldwide actually pushing things forward in these necessary ways though—I appreciate beyond words the genuinely kind hearted, considerate, and no bullshit people that have taken the time to make myself and other performers and attendees feel respected and comfortable, inside and outside of gigs throughout the world. I am hopeful that things can begin to evolve again beyond this strange post-vaccine weird new adjustment time we’re in right now, and grow again into something encompassing & worthwhile. Touring/travelling is both validating, difficult, and mind-blowing every time, and ultimately I’m grateful to be working with a group of people who have my best interest and safety at heart, and many loved ones to vent and share feelings about the different layers of the world we all must navigate daily. I feel it’s important for all of us to endlessly critique these worlds we must also survive in, as much as it’s important for us to also enjoy sharing space with people and sharing invigorating artistry wherever we can.
You are also affiliated with Drew and Octo Octa’s T4T LUV NRG platform and label. How exactly are you involved in T4T LUV NRG?
I’m involved with T4T LUV NRG insofar as being part of its loose collective nature and that I’ll eventually release sounds in some forms through there. It’s ultimately Eris and Maya [Bouldry-Morrison, a.k.a. Octo Octa]’s label/project that they curate and oversee, but I’m happy to be united with some dear friends and inspirations through it. I’ve known them and many other people involved in it for a long time, and it’s been beautiful to have seen it grow so far and to see it as something that will only continue to grow and expand. The main reason I got into dance music was to meet and connect with the energies of other trans people, which is how I got in touch with ADAB, Russell Butler, Eris, everyone … T4T LUV NRG to me is a world born out of the isolation many of us have felt in our lives, and trying to transmute that into unbridled connectivity. I’m grateful for the ways I am able to do that alongside my loving family.
Apparently, you have also started to make music. How is that coming along, what role does producing music play in your life right now?
It’s been really fun! I’ve been inspired to make music more and been jamming with a variety of talented friends of mine in Pittsburgh and beyond … Yessi, Charle Wallace, XC-17, Samira Mendoza, 30,000AD, Carbon Anderson, Johnny Zoloft, and 2lanes are all immensely talented humans with music out in the world everyone should check! I’m also now part of Spiral Generator, a rotating and amorphous transgender dance musick rave ensemble, as well as been making music primarily with Johnny Zoloft at their home studio in Pittsburgh every week. One of our tracks currently titled “Insight” actually kicks off this mix, featuring some amazing vocal contributions from our friend BB. I used to be in a no-wave band before getting into DJing, and now feel within myself how to marry the chaos and harmony of music I love—feeling all of the multiverses inside of me melt down into each other. Making music has now been a beautiful extension of my being, when I DJ it’s also intensely musical but more and more I understand what my voice is and how I want to sing to the world. I love how much there is still always to learn with the process of creation.
You’ve recently played an all-nighter at New York City’s Mansions club. How do you prepare for such a set?
Yeah, I played all night at Mansions on 6/9/2023, amazing numbers to have my back with the music … Shout out to them for hosting me and I’m excited to come back to do it again! For a set like that, there is honestly not much prep for me at this point. Over lockdown I frequently started to do livestream DJ sets that would easily stretch out anywhere from two to 14 hours of playing continuously. At this point, three hours minimum is my comfort zone for playing.I am constantly playing, consuming, and experiencing so much different music at home and at gigs that really I just love to cue the record up and let it all go. I try to narrow down the range of what I go for slightly in long sets, have similar “genres” in my crate, but ultimately let the experience guide me and keep it open and flowing … I really detest planning live sets too hard, it becomes too egoistic and takes away from the feedback experience of it all. I’d really love for more people to book me for all-night sets, there are always stories waiting to be told.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
The idea for this mix was to channel thoughts and feelings on existing day-to-day life in the USA and in a place as socially and environmentally horrific, yet aesthetically beautiful, as Pittsburgh—a city with breathtaking nature and people, combined with nearly unbreathable air and some of the most rampantly unchecked white supremacy in the entire country. Kinda similar to my Truants mix from four years ago, with some eternal themes of connection, disconnection, tension within oneself, but also the beauty of feeling the sun on your face, the wind from the trees, the song of birds, & the joys of dancing with friends and family. I’ve been really inspired all over again from recent trips to Detroit and around smaller scenes like Washington D.C. and Richmond, hearing poignant music and expression from people young and old all just trying to make something beautiful and real out of these moments in time. Every song I play here has inspired me in some way—some of these are deep favourites from years ago that finally formed a psychedelic world together—including a few of my favorite Detroit cuts ever!—and some are favourites from the past few years that remind me to slow down, remember who I am, and enjoy the wonders of being alive. Parts of this mix are like when the sun is shining but constantly covered by clouds, sometimes obscuring the solar glow into a grey bleakness, sometimes parting to allow brilliant light to shine through, sometimes creating rain to wash away and start over. You start out in the center of the abyss, sparking a flame, eventually finding your way out of the depths and into new realms of potential. I’ve also been reading through all of Berserk by Kentaro Miura and having that influence my work—this mix could largely be heard as wandering through the interstice between worlds, encountering many beings and prisms of yourself along the way, fighting against predetermined notions of fate and causality to inspire others and become who you are. It’s also just a lot of songs that would be fun to dance to very loudly in a very strange room somewhere in the universe. Basically, songs about trying to smell the flowers and connect with yourself, while at the same time constantly existing in a violent, crumbling empire as we are now, and seeing the way white supremacy continues to destroy all that it consumes. Where do you find peace in yourself, where you’ve come from, and where you’re going in all this confusion? No relief in sight, so we must create it with each other and continue to destroy what destroys us. I finished the mix long before seeing this, but I also think this small line from Samuel Delaney’s Dhalgren, which I’m reading right now, encapsulates a bit of these feelings: “Things have made you what you are. What you are, will make you what you become.”
Last but not least: what are your plans for the future?
Hopefully more music and more involvement in community activities that help people’s lives outside of hearing music loudly a few times a month, alongside playing music as loud as I can wherever and whenever that allows. Continuing to play music in alternating realms of infinite love and righteous anger, and also petting the three lovely cats I have in my life right now. I’m also in the process of helping birth an amorphous label, something I’ve wanted to do for ages, under the name Sweet Abyss. Keep an eye out for that in the future! I’ll also be on tour in Europe and the UK this Summer and Autumn, around playing at the WHOLE and Draimolen festivals. I have open dates in September 2023 onwards, so worldwide party people, please hit me up to play wherever! Much love to everyone taking the time to read my thoughts here and listen to the sound!
Stream: Kiernan Laveaux – Groove Podcast 384
01. Audio collage of The Jimi Hendrix Experience – EXP + Moon, Turn the Tides Gently Gently Away + Purple Image – Why
02. Kiernan Laveaux & Johnny Zoloft – Insight (feat. BB) (unreleased)
03. Ali Berger – The Stew (No Organ Dub)
04. WOOD // WORK – Eyes Wide Shut
05. Igaxx – Matango
06. Bookworms – sample01
07. Bambounou – At The Mirror
08. 62nd Cell – Wake Up
09. Madre Guia – Solar Plexus Defense
10. DJ Rolando & Mad Mike Banks – Aztlan
11. Oliver Ho – Fossil
12. Bigfoot – Pants
13. Los Hermanos Detroit – Son Dos
14. Patrice Scott – 2000 Black
15. Tondiue – Vega (unreleased)
16. Hame DJ – Flying Angel Club (Nice Girl Remix)
17. I:Cube – Vacuum Jackers