BabexHouse is the name of a new music and artist collective in Seattle, made up of POC/LGBTQ (People Of Color/Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer) DJs and artists who are dedicated to creating safer spaces in dance music. Their mission is to bring House back to its roots—Black and brown trans and queer communities seeking each other out for support, success, and connecting with their love of electronic music on the dance floor.
But in the face of gentrification and hashtag #EDMsowhite, it hasn’t been easy to carve their niche in Seattle. KEXP contributor Amber Cortes reports.
Every third Sunday at Seattle’s Timbre room, BabexHouse holds a dance night made by, and for them.
BabexHouse says it’s filling a major void within the QTPOC electronic music community in Seattle. There aren’t many nights like this out there. But there used to be.
Renee Carla Jarreau spins with BabexHouse as DJ Reverend Dollars.
“And it just felt like this really great scene was forming, maybe about like two, three years back,” Jarreau says.
Back then, she says, a whole bunch of underground dance nights for queer and trans people of color were springing up in Seattle. There was Darqness, there was Night Crush, there was Caramelo, there was Soul-Fi…
“And then...it just kind of went away,” Jarreau says.
Jarreau says gentrification, high rents, and trouble finding work have pushed out a lot of people who organized and attended these dance nights.
“Either we were moving out of Seattle, or we were just going into survival mode. And as I found out myself, it's very hard to throw parties when you're in survival mode,” Jarreau says.
The DJs and artists who are part of BabexHouse feel shut out — by gentrification, and by the music industry itself. And for good reason. Electronic dance music has a white dude problem. On average, EDM festivals book lineups that are 80% white, male DJs. And you’ll often see guys like Skrillex and Diplo headlining… both white. But it wasn’t always that way.
Sarah Raymore is a DJ and co-founder for BabexHouse. She hails from Detroit and counts House and Techno as major influences — genres that were born in the underground warehouses there and in Chicago.
It was the late '70s and DJs were using synths and beat makers to make a new sound for party-goers who were often Black and Latino gay, gender nonconforming, and transgender youth. And these DJ took a lot of their samples from disco.
“The disco scene back in the day was a big influence to drag queen culture and queer culture,” Raymore says.
Raymore says music meant connection back in Detroit. When she moved to Seattle two years ago, she didn’t feel that same sense of community and the scene looked a lot different than it did back home.
“I pretty much recognized it off rip once I got here,” Raymore says. “I noticed pretty much every bar that I went to for a while was white males, you know, either it was at a straight bar or gay bar, it was usually a white male deejaying. And when I did see a POC deejay, I'm like, oh that's surprising, because I didn't know that was like that here.”
Renee Carla Jarreau, DJ Reverend Dollars, felt it too. She found the lack of diversity in Seattle nightlife exasperating — especially when it came to getting DJ gigs.
“It is very frustrating,” Jarreau says. “If I go to a party and hear some white deejay playing music I've been playing for years, and I'm just like well, why did they get booked for this and not me?”
So, about four years ago, Jarreau and her community of QTPOC friends and allies started organizing dance nights and spaces for themselves, where they could feel supported and safe. Because they didn’t really feel that way — even at gay bars and clubs around the city.
Once, Jarreau saw what she said was an anti-black drag performance at the gay club Neighbors. And in 2014, two young, Black, gay men — Ahmed Said and Dwone Anderson-Young — were murdered in a hate crime after meeting their killer at R Place, a gay bar on Capitol Hill.
“It was just kind of like, a number of things happening at that time that were kind of making it real plain and clear that there wasn't this kind of safe space for us,” Jarreau says.
"Creating a safer space is always a process. You can't just slap a sign on the wall that says, ‘this is a safe space,’ and expect it to be that. You have to always be actively working towards that..."
But Jarreau says “safe spaces” don’t just happen.
“Creating a safer space is always a process. You can't just slap a sign on the wall that says, ‘this is a safe space,’ and expect it to be that. You have to always be actively working towards that,” Jarreau says.
For example, BabexHouse co-founder Sarah Raymore carefully vets the people she invites into her community.
“It's mostly like, if they are non-POC, and if they're white, if I consider them a white ally meeting them the first time, then I give them the introduction of BabexHouse, and I, you know, send them the invite,” Raymore says.
Raymore says she’s not trying to be exclusive — BabexHouse wants the support — and needs it from everyone. But she wants people who show up to understand the reasoning behind the space.
“It's us being able to provide ourselves the opportunity to express ourselves through music, and through dance, and through conversations. And if you're invited to the conversation, join in! But be careful of the boundaries that you step over so that’s why you have to check yourself every time, and know when to limit yourself in a queer POC space,” Raymore says.
Beau Larsen is the other co-founder of BabexHouse (and Raymore’s roommate). As a white, queer-identifying person, Larsen says they often think about how their presence affects others in a mostly POC-centered space.
“So, for example, one time I was describing how much I love to be loud and huge and performative on the dance floor. And one of my queer of color friends was like: ‘Watch it, you might scuff my Tims’ like my Timberland boots, right? And I was like, wow, OK. That really put it into perspective. Like, I really need to be aware of if I'm stepping on someone's shoes. You know, I'm saying even if I wasn't, just the importance of understanding that whiteness can hold space, even in ways that we don't intend it to be,” Larsen says.
Larsen says dance floors are political spaces. That’s why it’s important to try giving someone else the floor for a while. And, BabexHouse co-founder Raymore says, trying to give a signal boost to the talented, queer artists of color often overlooked by bookers and venues.
“Adding more black queer artists to your clubs, and to your events, and to your deejay gigs, and to any outlet that you see a white person, you should think about a black person doing it,” Raymore says.
And, like Babexhouse’s DJ Renee Jarreau says, it’s really important to support the communities who originated some of the music that you love dancing to.
“People who have the kinds of platforms to give to deejays, musicians, you know, any sort of artist, like, needs to be booking people who are connected to the root of where the art comes from,” Jarreau says.
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