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In celebration of Pride Month, two leading figures in Detroit’s LGBTQ+ underground speak about the omnipresence of electronic music in the city’s culture, the importance of queer spaces and the music scene’s femme future.

Detroit has housed several generations of innovators since the storied days of the Belleville Three, from the uncompromising sonics and anti-corporate stance of Underground Resistance to the jitting ghettotech of DJ Assault and DJ Godfather, via the subaqueous, conceptual electro of Drexciya.

But there are voices that have been frequently been overlooked in the creation of Detroit’s origin stories – the scene’s women and LGBTQ+ artists. DJ Minx (real name Jennifer Witcher) has fought to course correct this wrong, by championing artists from this vital, vibrant part of Detroit’s musical makeup.

Witcher, something of a Detroit legend, took up DJing after attending dances at the renowned Music Institute (she has since lit up dancefloors on a weekly basis with a singular blend of precise, soulful house and techno). In the 90s, she founded the influential Women On Wax party and label – a platform for female artists that sought to provide greater opportunities in a closed-off industry. For her work in music, she was awarded the Spirit of Detroit award by the City in 2018. She came out in 2021, during Pride Month.

Now, in 2024, a new generation of queer, Black and femme artists are pushing boundaries in their own ways – making good on the legacy that Witcher helped forge. At the forefront is DJ Holographic (real name Ariel Corley), who has come to represent the face of Detroit’s future. Her sets – rooted in the city’s history, but taking influence from R&B, funk, disco, Motown and far beyond – have seen her play some of dance music’s most influential clubs, from Good Room in NYC to Panorama Bar in Berlin. Shoring up her role as Detroit torchbearer are two considerable cosigns: she received tutelage from Mike Banks of UR and, in 2022, was even invited to curate and mix the fifth volume of Carl Craig’s Detroit Love series, released via his legendary Planet E Communications label.

To celebrate this year’s Pride Month, Crack sat down with these two respective leaders of their generations to chat about Detroit’s past, the enduring legacy of techno within its Black culture, and Detroit’s bright, femme future.

Can you talk about how you became aware of each other’s music and work?

DJ Holographic: The first time I heard about Minx was definitely word of mouth. A thing about Detroit is it’s actually very small – an intimate grapevine of conversations. I found out about Minx a few years after I started DJing, through Stacey Hotwaxx Hale. Over time, I heard more from Black women’s voices, they would praise her glow and energy – and they would all tell me how badass Minx is. And it was interesting – sometimes women are conditioned by society to tear each other down. But to have that breaking of society’s standards, being like “no, there’s another Black woman, you need to get to know her” – it made me really happy to hear that, I really needed to! Because the first time I saw a Black woman DJ, her name was SuperDre Andrea, I was instantly like, “I can do this too.” Before her, all I would see was these white guys.

DJ Minx: It was also word of mouth. People would be like: “Have you heard of Holographic? She’s out here killing it.” We first met in 2018, it was at a Paxahau Party at the TV Lounge, and we started talking. She seemed a bit shy. After the pandemic hit we started getting together and doing these b2b parties and working on music together and it’s all bliss. Like she mentioned, Black women are usually conditioned to tear one another down, and it’s just absolutely ridiculous – there’s room for everyone to be a star. So much space.

H: That was the first time I officially saw Minx play, and it all made sense – all the conversations, the energy, the ‘legendary’ part. It was very divine and very good. Then I started playing a lot of her music, especially stuff on Women On Wax, and got to perform with her more, which was really cool. Now we’re doing a few b2b shows, like at Sónar. I make jokes, like Minx is such a good DJ but I’m like: “Jennifer, please don’t burn the place down.” I love it, she’s just ripping it, and ripping it, and ripping it. When I come to the decks I’m maybe more grounded – slowly bringing it up and down – and Minx is like: “I’ve got a lighter bitch, I’m gonna fuck shit up.” And it’s really good to feed off that energy because it’s so badass. With her I feel like I can have a real conversation – it’s funny, it’s sassy, it’s in-your-face Black, and I love it. It’s strong femme Detroit energy. Like we cannot walk into a room without you seeing us.

Minx, what was the energy like in Detroit in the late 80s when you first started going out, and what was the scene like for queer Black folk?

M: It was probably in the early 90s when I first started seeing queer Black people. It was in a club called Shelter where, on the bottom floor, there was a dance music night with all different types of DJs. When I initially started going out it was to the Music Institute and it was 90 percent Black people listening to techno – with techno being born here in Detroit, all the people that would listen to it or dance to it were Black people. Different people started joining afterwards but it was initially a Black thing. When we started hanging out at Shelter with the queer folks, that’s when it started building.

H: In Detroit at that time wasn’t there like a whole bunch of dance halls?

M: Yeah, there was Little Mo’s, Todd’s and Menjo’s. The crowd was mixed, so it wasn’t just queer or just straight, because of music. It was everybody dancing to everything together.

Do you think that’s still the same – that inclusivity?

M: I think the energy is still the same but it’s also different, because people can feel free when they’re around their own people. So if you’ve got a room full of queer people, they can feel like they can live. Like this Pride Month, it’s going to light up – it’s a totally different feeling.

H: I agree with that, I only came to dance music culture in 2008 when I finished high school and went to my first Movement. I was collecting all this music but hadn’t officially been on a dancefloor that wasn’t a wedding. The other thing about Detroit is that we will hear all these classic techno songs at weddings, so when I play these songs and people are like “these are the greatest club songs of all time”, I will only compute these as wedding songs, not club songs.

Really? Like what for example?

H: Jaydee, Plastic Dreams.

M: God Made Me Phunky, [by Mike Dunn as MS X-Spress].

H: And there’s one from Underground Resistance and another song from Juan Atkins too – these are songs that you do the hustle to.

M: It’s so embarrassing.

H: And so I see people in clubs playing these songs and I was like: “This is a wedding song, what are you doing here? This is amateur hour.” Then I realised that for the rest of the world, these are Black family culture rooted songs. But, for me, the difference between 2008 and now is that more straight people are starting to understand the diversity of dance music and where it came from, and understanding that it’s also based around Black and queer people. Acceptance is still not fully there; I had a situation happen with a friend this past week – he’s Latino and queer and he got harassment from somebody while he was in a queer space. It’s interesting that we’re trying to [accept everybody] but there’s still a couple of hiccups now that we have straight people invited into this queer space and they still don’t understand why there are so many gay men with their shirts off.

What do you make of Berlin techno being given UNESCO World Heritage status?

H: That was based off techno clubs right, not techno music? If it was techno music I would have been livid, because everyone knows Detroit made it, no question. But if that’s what the heritage is about, the club culture of techno, then I hate to say it, but Berlin wins that. We do not keep a culture of clubs here, and that’s a problem. I’m hoping that people in our city see that and be like: “Why don’t we have any clubs?”

M: We have clubs, like TV Lounge, Marble Bar and Spot Lite, but we don’t have Tresor. We don’t have clubs that are specific for techno, and that we are missing. It’s hard, I don’t know, I might start one.”

Minx, can you talk about founding Women on Wax?

M: It started because I wanted to try out a residency I had at a club called Parabox Cafe, it was on Michigan Avenue every Monday night. I always had guest DJ. Then one day I was talking to a young lady named Corey, and she was telling me that she wanted to DJ, and so I thought: “You know what? I’m going to have all these women that I’ve spoken to about wanting to play records – I’m going to have them all come to the club and play a set.” I had K-Hand, Corey, myself and we did a night at Parabox and it was all women playing vinyl, and at the end of the night I got on the mic and I announced next week’s guest. And people were like: “No, no, we want women on wax!” And I thought that this might be something.

Then I decided to keep with the name, and to mentor all these women who had contacted me about helping them or giving them pointers. People would call me from the West Coast [saying]: “I want to be a DJ but I’m not getting paid any money.” And I would give them advice, like this is what you do in this situation. So that’s how I started the mentorship aspect.

“The thing about Detroit is that we hear all these classic techno songs at weddings, so when people are like ‘these are the greatest club songs of all time’, I will only compute them as wedding songs, not club songs"

Holographic, can you tell me about your new label?

H: I had [a label] during the beginning of the Pandemic, called Hitchhiker. I had a song with a friend that we wanted to put out but then everything shut down, panic mode. And I also had my panic mode about this label. Once we were back on more foundational energy – like no one’s trying to rush things – I decided I needed a new one, because I could tell from that old relationship, the old label, it was just not in the true spirit of music for me. So I made a new one, Through the Veil, with more intention to use music as a healing tool for me. After my mum passed, the biggest and only healing tool I used was DJing, it got me through a lot of stuff and created friendships and relationships that became loving environments I could express myself in. And I know I have some sassy ass songs about sex and fucking, but it’s still music and it’s still passionate.

M: Hey, you gotta heal.

H: As a femme, making music is almost like having a baby, and if I want to give a child, I want to have good intentions before I put it out there. So I made Through The Veil to be a healing space for me, and hoping when I get more artists on board it would also have a healing agenda to it as well. Not just putting out tracks.

How does seeing what Minx has done with Women On Wax – and other elders, for that matter – inspire the way you do things?

H: Between Minx, Carl Craig, or even UR’s Mike Banks, they all changed my brain, making me realise, “This is our music, this is our culture.” I think the next step is to move forward on the spiritual path of being that Black person of the future. Carl Craig is all about being Black people of the future. And I had to be like, “I am the Black future”, and step into that role.

Minx, what excites you about the new generation of Detroit?

M: It’s looking really bright, it’s really Black. I love it. I love seeing so many Black women out here creating this music, playing this music – it’s driving for me. Detroit is full, DJs and producers are coming out of the woodwork. And they’re everywhere – in London and Berlin. There are Black women out here making and doing this music, like Holographic, Ash Lauryn in Atlanta. I like to see them shining their lights and I’m really proud of Through The Veil.

H: Thank you.