Hailing from the Bay Area, FOOZOOL and 8ULENTINA established a regular performance space for local interdisciplinary artists working beyond the paradigms of genres and unilateral approaches to sound through their night, Club Chai. Now, Club Chai has expanded into a greater operation including radio shows, guest mixes, workshops, art shows plus a label arm featuring the staggering Club Chai Vol. 1 crew compilation released earlier this year. Whichever medium they convey it through, their message is as ambitious and vital as ever: visibility and opportunity for non-Western artists to present their own narratives, unconstrained by the tradition and linearity of the sociocultural, historical and artistic status quo, prioritising diasporic, femme, queer and trans voices. For FOOZOOL, this involves her Armenian heritage as a core part of her sound practises alongside filmmaking and creative production, while 8ULENTINA has elaborated on their focus on “diasporic fantasy” across sound and installation art featuring fashion and crafts in a previous interview with us.
There’s a constant sense of interdisciplinary inspiration and fluid storytelling throughout their individual DJing practises as well as their own productions. Having hosted 8ULENTINA’s excellent Truancy Volume last year, we’re extremely thrilled to be able to present a joint mix from FOOZOOL and 8ULENTINA – a rarely recorded collaboration usually reserved for the parties themselves. Ahead of their UK tour next month, the Club Chai duo serve up a tantalising taste with Truancy Volume 184, packing riddims from across the globe along with a moment to remember for all you Whitney fans out there.
As artists, you’ve both been refreshingly open about the themes, contexts and motivations surrounding your music as well as your collaborative backstory in interviews. It’s wonderful that you initially bonded with each other over an appreciation of video before you even explored sound together, but where exactly did each of your loves for music begin? 8ULENTINA: “Music has always been a part of my life but I became fully obsessed with music when I first learned how to DJ on turntables around age 15/16. I was surrounded by pretty boring radio stations so It felt really liberating to be able to mix my own selections.”
FOOZOOL: “There definitely have been a few different stand out moments. Earliest memories are secretly enjoying singing in our Armenian choir in elementary/middle school but was very shy about it. Then I clearly remember that feeling of excitement for music and *independence* by going to Border’s and Tower Records in 7th grade and getting My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge and System of a Down’s Mezmerize/Hypnotize and burning copies of them lol. Then another moment I had was in high school when I downloaded Mixcraft on mom’s desktop and started making very bad techno and psych-trance but still clearly remember that thought to myself ‘wow this is fun I wish I can do this music making thing forever’. I started drumming in a band a little after that and became obsessed with paying attention to only the drum parts in tracks.”
Telling your own stories is a prime intention of your respective works, whether they’re sound, video, A/V, physical exhibitions or even press interviews. In their recent essay for the East Bay Express, 8ULENTINA emphasised resisting assimilation and retaining the means to relay non-linear narratives as an essential aspect of their efforts. Why is it so crucial for you both to tell these stories through your artistic practices? “Our interest in storytelling through our artistic practices comes from a place of wanting to create visibility for non-Western artists. Non-traditional and experimental forms of storytelling leave room for narratives that have been intentionally ignored or left out especially in the West.”
Archiving through art often feels like an understated act, as if it’s almost seen as mechanical. Can you elaborate on the creativity that bridges archival sound to the new narratives you establish in your music? “For both of us DJing and sound/music production are inherently archival processes where you get to generate a new narrative out of old and new source material. We are personally not fans of romanticizing nostalgia or trying to make something sound ‘old’. We try to create contemporary narratives and processes within our archives that acknowledge our current identities. We like to acknowledge our histories while staying away from recreating tradition which has often held us back. While we do honor and sample traditional instruments and sounds from our heritages, our CDJs, digital and analog sound production gear is our main instrument.”
How has Club Chai developed and transformed over the course of its life, now that it’s one-and-a-half years old? “Club Chai started as a warehouse party in Oakland, CA in January 2016. We wanted to have a physical space where local artists can gather, perform at and have an exchange. Bay Area based artists who primarily use music and sound from a wide range of genres and processes, yet come from interdisciplinary artistic practices as well. We’ve expanded as an interdisciplinary project this year with our first release as a label, Club Chai Vol. 1, a curated group art show in San Francisco at Et al gallery, CDJ and sound production workshops and our monthly radio show on Radar Radio.”
You’re both about to embark on a UK tour. Is this a first for the Club Chai collaboration and what expectations do you have of the Club Chai experience beyond the West Coast? “Our first time in the U.K. was November 2016 in London. We threw a Club Chai x Tobago Tracks party at The Yard Theatre with Nkisi, Manara, Organ Tapes, 8ULENTINA and FOOZOOL. We are really excited to get the opportunity to travel in the U.K. beyond London and connect with parties we’ve been admiring from afar.”
Club Chai partnered with Boiler Room recently and it felt like a huge deal not just for the livestreamed showcase of artists but for the fact that you were running two separate music workshops. Can you tell us how the series came about, why it was important to you and how you felt it went in the end? “Boiler Room approached us about wanting to collaborate beyond a livestream event. We decided to host two workshops and have local peers and artists involved as facilitators. It’s important to us that our workshops focus on centering to diasporic, femme, queer and trans artists in the Bay. Our first workshop was a DJing as Storytelling (CDJ workshop) facilitated by us and the second was a Components of a Live Set workshop at the Vintage Synthesizer Museum facilitated by Fanciulla, Russell E.L. Butler, and Nihar Bhatt. The workshops took a lot of organizing but in the end it was really exciting to see how comfortable the spaces were for people to share skills and knowledge.
“We ended the month with our Boiler Room x Club Chai live broadcast event with 8ULENTINA, FOOZOOL, Jasmine Infiniti, Russell E.L. Butler, The Creatrix and FELA KUTCHii on the lineup. Our intention was to showcase the local artists who are a big part of our Club Chai family and a huge contribution to Oakland, San Francisco and the Bay Area’s electronic, music and arts communities. The night was a total reflection of our crowd, an intergenerational audience and people who are involved with Club Chai. It was a reflection of the range of small scenes across all genres in the Bay and the same people supporting the different scenes and genres.”
Beyond the Club Chai events, bookings, mixes, radio slots, compilations and now art shows, it feels like you’re both continually open to working with and forming new relationships with people. For example, 8ULENTINA’s curation around DISMISS U and FOOZOOL remixing Superficie on Salviatek. Do you each have ideologies around collaboration as a concept itself? What is it that draws you to create art and experiences with someone? “Collaboration is hugely important to Club Chai. Without the collaborative relationships we’ve developed over time Club Chai probably wouldn’t exist or be sustainable. We both focus on developing relationships of trust between our friends, artists and people who support us. We are usually drawn to these people because of mutual frustrations in the electronic music scene and our ideas around how we can shift our frustrations into spaces we actually want to participate in. Our friendship with Tobago Tracks is a great example of how long term relationships of trust can help facilitate projects that are much harder reach on our own.”
Can you tell us about any people, places or things (physical or digital, tangible or abstract) that help you find inspiration to create? 8ULENTINA: “My friends/Club Chai fam definitely inspire me to create. I’m lucky to be surrounded by so many creative people who make extremely different work from each other which keeps me interested and excited. Oakland music scene is packed with so many genres and isn’t really focused on club music and I appreciate that.”
FOOZOOL: “I’m always inspired by artists in the Bay who don’t constrain themselves to one process of working within sound/music production and take risks in their approaches. Also the ones who work with both visual art + sound and crossover influences from both and feed them into each other.
“I’ve been watching a lot of Soviet-era Armenian films lately and their film scores and sound design is incredible. I’ve been saving some clips from them hoping to sample in my production. But it’s not entirely the sound itself that i’m looking to use, but the quality of the visuals combined with it that gives me an idea of what to look for/create and sonically make another scene.”
Expressing ideas through so many disciplines, you must have had to work with new approaches and technologies across each of them. Do you have any advice or philosophies on learning that you would like to share? 8ULENTINA: “Work with what you have and don’t feel held back by expensive technology even though it can definitely feel like a barrier in electronic music. If you have gear or resources that people don’t have access to, share your access. I started making sound art and music partially because of a lack of access to space and materials to make visual art. I had a computer and still needed to make something. The artists that inspire me the most work with limited access to technology and materials. I’ve learned a lot because of people who have lended me gear. Don’t be a gatekeeper, create spaces to share creative knowledge and give each other feedback.”
FOOZOOL: “I started delving more into sound production when I sold my camera and had a hiatus from filming for a bit. It felt like a natural transition; I wasn’t out filming with a crew or editing videos on a regular basis, but instead transferred those skills over to making music, my editing process and how I was still able create atmospheres and scenes within sound all with my laptop. It felt way more accessible at the moment. Sometimes having limited tools can give you crazier ideas and push you to use the tool in other ways outside of what it was made to be.”
What can you tell us about the Truancy Volume you’ve put together for us? “We usually only DJ back to back for our Club Chai parties, it’s rare that we record them. This mix is a taste of what we will be bringing to our U.K. shows and a peek into what Club Chai parties are like.”
What do we have to look forward to from you in the months ahead? “Right now we’re prepping to release Thoom’s first EP through Club Chai (out in September). She’s a producer and DJ from Beirut who’s been on our radar the past year and are so excited to share her first release on our platform. Also, 8ULENTINA will be releasing their first EP with Tobago Tracks early 2018.”
Any creations you’re feeling in particular at the moment, or any shoutouts you’d like to make? 8ULENTINA: “I keep going back to 5 Sad Songs EP by Larry B and Serpent Music by Yves Tumor. Both of those releases really shifted the way I think about a body of work and how it can exist both sonically and visually. I’m really excited about Oakland based artist Sahar Khoury’s sculptural work. Me and Lara [FOOZOOL] met Sahar through a studio visit with her after looking for artists for the Club Chai art show we curated, LIMB II.
“Shout out to all my brilliant and inspiring friends keep an eye on their work! Fela Kutchii, Obstac, Russell E.L. Butler, lak, Namaste Shawty, Jasmine Infiniti, The Creatrix, Nihar Bhatt, Bored Lord, SPELLLING, XUXA SANTAMARIA, tr4vi3za, Turbo Sonidero and all of the organizers of The Universe is Lit Bay Area Black and Brown Punk Fest, pay more attention to the Bay Area, California in general!!”
FOOZOOL: “Ditto to the list of friends 8ULENTINA has up here, they’re all constant inspirations, support and mentor figures for us and have been at it in the Bay for a long time. Also a shoutout to filmmaker/musician Nadia Shihab in Oakland. I first became familiar with her work through her experimental electric violin pieces and music. The way her live performances create an alternate atmosphere is super trans-sensorial and magical, and it’s something I think about often when producing music.
“I recently came across Levon Kafafian after I saw his following of our work. He’s an Armenian-American multi-media artist and educator based in Detroit who primarily uses weaving and textile in combination with video, sound, and performance. I rarely see artists combining all three and he does it in such a beautiful and unique way.”
Lastly, can you tell us about the last thing that made you burst into laughter or at least brought a big smile to your face? FOOZOOL: “We were recently working with a big venue in SF that had visuals playing in the background and had sent them our Club Chai logo for it. It was the beginning of the night and I was sitting on the couch chatting with a friend of mine when I suddenly see a Sheikh riding a camel in a desert rolling behind the Club Chai logo. I’ve never sprinted so fast in the club lol, ran over to the visuals guy like ‘hey can we cut the camels and bring back the geometric shapes y’all were playing before – thanks!’. Obviously was super orientalist and messed up, but 8ULENTINA and I were bursting into laughter because this isn’t the first time someone’s weird camel obsession has popped up in relation to us and our work. 😂”
ABOsahar aka Trobby music – Just Sad Abosahar
Nkisi – WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
Yves Tumor – The Feeling When You Walk Away
??? – Instrumental – Armenian – Style – Beats
Goro – Nagina
Tzusing – 得意先生 (unreleased, Bedouin)
HoodCelebrityy – Cut Them Off
Santa Muerte – Syngian ft. TenTwentySeven
Oroshy – Funk You
Ynfynyt Scroll – Fly W U
DJ bwin – Herodot [Hundert]
Leonce – SZA – The Weekend (Leonce Bounce Mix)
Hisham Abbas – Habibi Dah (Nari Narain)
DJ IBRAHIM – Yeni Super
DJ LAG – Khonkolo
Oroshy – Funkarabik
DON SININI – Fake Love Ting
Dehousy – Akaneka
Olive – ITS NOT RIGHT SHMURDA
QUEST?ONMARC – Lightspeed Coverage Cunt
Said Mrad – Dabke in the House
Nkisi – XXX
Chav Boyz ft. MC Marcely – Senta no Tambor (M SHAVOZO & Pitorsko VIP Edit)
Bad Zu – See No Badman
Deke Soto – Rhyonon
Voices of Artsakh – Tiramor govk ( Տիրամոր գովք)
Dj Yirvin – Toca La Boca (Pacheko Remix)
Club Chai’s FOOZOOL and 8ULENTINA will be touring the UK throughout September 2017 – details here.
Photo: Sasha Kelley.