In 2005, the gothic-industrial club Manray in Cambridge, Massachusetts closed its doors after nearly 25 years, and “basically brought that entire scene to a screeching halt,” laments São Paulo-born and New York-raised Ariana Paoletti, aka techno DJ Volvox. The stylized crowd and gloomy music of these spaces - Manray was the mainstay, but Buffalo, New York’s The Continental was also key - defined her clubbing days as a teenage goth. “It was really sad because it was an incredible community and like nothing I’ve ever seen since.” Inside the clubs, it “definitely wasn’t techno”: looser and darker electronic styles dominated; a distinct sonic dissonance based on ’80s rock experimentations, labels like Chicago’s Wax Trax! Records and the swirl of post-punk attitudes and pulsing industrial sounds, known as EBM.
Socially, it was just as mixed and alive. “Manray had a lot of people who were original ’80s goths, and there was a lot of stuff going on at that club that you just wouldn’t see at clubs anymore (besides somewhere like Berghain). Dark electronics and fetishism were tied together, and presented as a healthy, normal experience.” Painting the scene, she waves her fingers over her pale face in dramatic flourishes and recalls her shaved head, purple lipstick and heavy platform boots - the latter of which she’d import from London-based gothic clothing shop Cyberdog to her Buffalo bedroom.
This subculture is something she re-writes into her own work. “The gothic-industrial community had a high fashion approach to a particular and devoted musical history, which has always been tied together at the point of the club scene,” she affirms. “Being at The Continental and Manray were valuable experiences that flavored my outlook on what dance culture can be. I consider what I do now to be an extension of industrial – the sound, the attitude, and the music that I play.” As a DJ, Volvox’s sound is a thundering one, with strains of machine funk indebted to EBM and electro. But her come-up has been a marathon rather than a sprint – across styles and cities, spaces and crews.
Her developing style has often come from pragmatism. After collecting industrial music for years and not long before the closure of Manray, she came to consider techno a better-produced and more accessible sound than those she’d been embedded in. Record like Dave Clarke’s remix of Terence Fixmer and Douglas McCarthy’s “You Want It,” as Fixmer McCarthy, were sonically and conceptually powerful: industrial music made for techno dance floors, with a greater dynamic range than the more old school gothic strains. “Over time, techno became a natural progression away from the goth scene, which had no money and no real future in it anyway,” she admits.
With her chances to DJ locally dwindling, Ariana shed her skin, moved to Boston and became involved in the Internet-centric scenes of early- to mid-’00s new rave, electroclash and minimal techno. As a resident of longstanding Boston party Make It New, she saw that the crew were perceived as “tasteful DJs that knew what they were doing, and could adapt to different environments”: from playing weekend-long warehouse raves with broken equipment, to opening for Deadmau5 at House of Blues. It taught her plenty, she insists, but being busy and broke was difficult. After co-founding Together Festival in 2010, but rarely getting paid over $100 a night to DJ and feeling squashed up against the city limits, she decided to move to New York City.
The first year or so felt both claustrophobic and lonely. No helping hands were extended until a new bar opened close to her warehouse living space, The Flat. They were looking for a promoter to run alternate Thursday nights, and she sold herself: DJ, promoter, chameleon and nerd. Pretty soon after, it was a deal. Speaking to Volvox, her unapologetic directness is front and center. When she can’t thrive within a scene – if it dies, becomes ugly (or worse, boring) - she studies and becomes involved in another. When she took on the booking of alternate Thursday’s at The Flat, it wasn’t just a job: it was a social outlet for a newcomer in the underground.
“I had to book four DJs (besides myself) every month, and giving people a gig is a great way to meet people – nobody doesn’t want a gig,” she laughs. One of the bodies at her first Thursday party was John Barclay, the DJ and promoter who’d just opened the 1,900-square-foot Bossa Nova Civic Club in North Brooklyn. Impressed with the turnout and vibe of her first party, he offered her the controls of Friday nights at Bossa Nova Civic Club – and she’s been running them ever since. Now called Jack Dept., she sees Fridays there as a meeting point for DJs from across the US, and particularly for residents and DIY figures.
I never thought that anything I’d be involved in would be shouted out by Forbes.
Bossa Nova Civic Club has given her more than a job, though – it’s given her a family, too, in the Discwoman collective that she’s both proud and in awe of. After spending “pretty much five nights a week” at the club, she came to know the founding members of Discwoman - Frankie Hutchinson, Emma Burgess-Olson (aka Umfang) and Christine Tran – and they asked and answered their own, simple question: “why isn’t there a female-centric crew in our scene, and why aren’t we it?” As a booking agency on paper and a sisterhood in practise, the parties that Discwoman host and the increasing attention devoted to their cause are a timely coalescence of sounds and attitudes: part of a growing discussion about representation and safety within the club scene, and a focus on home grown, DIY talent in the US underground.
“We were seeing a lot of talented women who weren’t getting enough shine, and we wanted to get them (and ourselves) more work, but there’s also a DIY ethos that connects us and allows us to be specific about what we want to achieve, and how we can do it.” Reflecting, it sounds like her sisters bolster her, even from afar. “I’ve always worked hard, but I also exist in my own dreamland and haven’t been the best at making myself ‘present,’ you know? Discwoman are creating a conversation about our world that I’m not good at describing, but I am good at doing. I’m so thankful to them for their vision.” She does her best to finish a sentence through a rattle of laughter. “I mean, I never thought that anything I’d be involved in would be shouted out by Forbes.”
By early 2016, though, Volvox wanted to look past New York. Having not visited her Brazilian father in São Paulo for some years, and feeling disconnected from Brazilian people and the Portuguese language, she made the trip in January and discovered a techno scene less commercial and more ambitious that she had experienced there before. Playing Amanda Mussi’s Dusk party – “in Portuguese they call her a ‘techno lobbyist’, because she’s putting it all out there for the city” – in downtown warehouse club Trackers, she also sensed that the scene was enveloping itself in a lo-fi, harsh sound that has a kinship with that of the current New York underground. It goes like this: São Paulo is the New York City of Brazil – grey, intense, dirty – while Rio de Janeiro is its Los Angeles – bright, laid back, beach-centric. These industrial sounds slink up from the concrete and heat.
“São Paulo has kids throwing parties in decrepit squats, so of course they’re going to be playing some twisted techno, but the tropical-ness of Brazil adds a looseness and spirituality to it,” she says. “It’s acid-influenced, but it’s also very musical and that’s the Brazilian-ness of these producers that gives it flavor.” Assured by her time there, she draws bold lines between rhythms she once saw as separated. “This trip has started a whole new paradigm of my life,” she insists. “It’s about a feeling, not about being super referential. I used to think that the Brazilian me enjoyed live samba drumming, and the US me enjoyed techno, but now these two, powerful things feel closely related to me.”
Her own sound, then, is changing again. Her attitude remains industrial, but her scope of genres is broadening. “I want to take acid house and techno to an extreme where its almost unlistenable, but still engaging – somehow,” laughing again. As her head dips back, there’s a row of black platform boots in her room, and Nitzer Ebb come to mind: “Whether you be glad, sad, or bad/You’ve got to know that there’s fun to be had.”
Listen to Volvox’s Choice Mix on RBMA Radio here.