In this third part of our series profiling DJs around Portland who are working to cultivate a more inclusive music scene, we talk to DJ, artist, and nightlife curator Vera Rubin about “nighttime installation”-slash-party PSY//CHIC, the need to reinvent the club on queer terms, and the labor entailed with throwing parties in Portland.
Can you start by telling us who you are and what you do?
I started DJ’ing about seven years ago. I am self taught and during that time I was insanely broke and had almost no resources to do so. I put a computer on layaway for a year because I was incapable of being financed. I watched YouTube videos on how to use computers internally because I did not and still do not have the financial resources for vinyl or CDJS. At the time and now – I just wanted to see the club elevate in a level I still perceive that it has not met. I am always working on deepening the quality of music, the quality of the experience, the quality of the vibes, and pushing the boundaries between high concept and high experience. I am hoping to start having more standard acceptable tools to DJ with soon.
How did you first get into music? Were you listening to it long before you started performing it, or have the two always gone hand-in-hand?
There has never been a time in my life where I have not been obsessed with music and I cannot conceive moving into a place where that is not the case. There was a time in my life where my exploration of music was embarrassing and pedantic but that is part of growing up and exploring. My selection and my digs now are pretty advanced but are still in the parameters of not being able to afford a lot of music and of not having good equipment. My selection feels on point and my skills have so much room to grow. I am happy for that.
How did PSY//CHIC come about? Is it the first event of its kind you’ve run, or did it have predecessors? And long have you been doing it?
PSY//CHIC will be turning one year in September. In Portland and Seattle, I have been producing nightlife for a little over five years. My parties range from playing post punk in bars, to Italo Disco parties inside of Bodegas, to high scale large happenings with over 1,000 in attendance. PSY//CHIC came out of my analysis of where nightlife needs to go. Ambitiously, I am hoping to set a different techno path for dark queens across the globe. I think collectively – the iron is hot now for clubs to become integrated high concept spaces with queer and straight people who are obsessed with the night and are audiophiles. However; for this to work in a way that is fun and beautiful I feel that queer people need to be at the front of building these spaces and integrated spaces need to be on queer terms. Queers historically have created culture and aesthetic and I am hoping to create a new one in this lineage. Quite simply, I am hoping to institutionalize and advance queer arts and music that builds a night all of us didn’t even know we have been dreaming about and have been hungry for it forever. I want all walks of life there of course, just on queer terms.
PSY//CHIC is an ambitious project that puts high level music, art, and fashion into a rave, it is a community work of art, it is a nighttime installation, it is a musically intense experience. People should come into this expecting to hear and see things they have not seen before; to feel disoriented and excited; they should dress up as it is a respect to the surrounding beauty of the music and the art. Most importantly they should come with a deep level of reverence and respect for the night and those that are brave enough to come. That means not commenting on people's bodies, gender presentation, or sexuality. That means letting women party in peace without sexualizing them. That means owning your limits and use around substances. This means having control over your words and actions so that others might also experience the collective release that the night allows us.
What have been some of the most gratifying experiences you’ve had running PSY//CHIC?
Each one is its own intense gratifying experiences. I am looking forward to future ones more specifically the creation of Holy Mountain Rave for New Year’s Eve to usher in 2017.
What sort of challenges have you faced running PSY//CHIC? Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known when you were getting started?
The challenges are really ceaseless for me as a broke person, a feral child, a weirdo artist, and as a woman. Our set-up, break down, and work day is labor intensive and three full days. Behind the scenes, the conversations that come out of high concept high collaborative art with your community is always challenging in positive and negative ways. Politically in Portland- we are coming up against a changing city structure where the night is more or less illegal so much of my administrative time is balancing how to run an above ground legal party, talk to city bureaucrats, and balance out the safety concerns with the city and those with the overall health of my party. I am also trying to grow it intentionally which means there have to be a lot of boundaries set on crowd curation, on promotion, and decisions about artistic and musical direction. I think I would have liked to know early on that I would be working a lot for very little financial returns although that is part and parcel of doing nightlife.
What are your impressions of Portland’s music scene as a whole?
Portlands music scene is vast, is not a monolith, is changing, and right now is in an interesting place of developing marginalized artists and musicians.
What are your plans for the future of PSY//CHIC?
It is and I am ambitious in the scope of wanting PSY//CHIC to have a global presence and be part of the artistic and musical conversations and shift conversations. I want us to be at the forefront of those conversations where we are doing a large part of the listening.
Obligatory to any Discogs interview: What are some of your favorite tracks to drop into a DJ set?
It changes every month but right now: early in the night I enjoy anything out of the Metal Dance genre of music and my favorite is "(The Echo Of) Frozen Faces" by Propaganda. Mid-night time I really enjoy anything by Dopplereffekt and Kraftwerk inspired techno. Late night when it is about to get weird I like playing Tzusing. Early morning when it’s time to come down and see the sun come up - I want to always hear "Selected Ambient Works" by Aphex Twin or "Galop" by Lena Platonos.
Is there anything else you’d like everyone out there reading this to know?
Come to my party. It’s fucking really fun.
PSY//CHIC will be happening at District East, 2305 SE 9th, on these dates:
10/15 with DIMENTIA (Katabatik)
11/26 with Natasha Kmeto (Dropping Gems)
12/17 with Bezier (HoneySound System)
All photos by MYKLFSTR.