Interview w/ Winston Scarlett, Slackgaze
Black Congo: For those who are not familiar with the DIY scene, could you tell us a little about what you do and how your movement differs from those in and around Williamsburg?
I primarily consider myself a curator. I curate shows and artists that fit a slacker aesthetic that’s resurfaced in our generations fascination with 90’s kitsch. My showcases, studio, and zine are incubators and archives of these moments. I recently dropped out of graduate school in Library Sciences. I think that career path is very telling of my personality: it’s for those who are anti-capitalist, category & genre freak, and hardwired to share. Archiving and cultural heritage has always been a professional interest of mine. In this way, I could say I’m different from what others in Williamsburg/Bushwick are doing. But I don’t like to put myself in a us/them dichotomy. It’s counterproductive to building community and getting really radical work accomplished. I grew up in a Jamaican household where the phrase “nuh watch nuh face” was thrown around a lot. It basically means don’t worry about what other people are doing, or how they perceive you” just keep doing. This mantra has provided solace on times where I feel disappointed in myself and accomplishments. It’s help me embrace slackerdom in a culture where failure is stigmatized and overachieving is lauded. I would never identify myself as show promoter/booker. Their concerns aren’t my own. I could care less if Slackgaze packed a venue, made money at doors/bar, or became hyped as the next big thing in a PR fueled machine, or the elitism that follows. My concerns are artistic. When I put together shows, its because I believe in the artists and I think my audience will too. I originally started the Slackgaze blog two years ago when I spent some time in the band SURFING. I was sort of a fill-in bassist that joined them on tour. When I went down to to play a couple of shows with them in Harrisonburg, Virginia, I was inspired by the youth culture there. My first night in town, I went to two separate DIY show houses and saw some of the coolest bands rip up basements and living rooms. I was nostalgic of times when art could exist in spaces without having to worry about overhead and admin. It’s hard to come by that vibe in Brooklyn. I started documenting, and throwing out the term slackgaze. By the time we hit Richmond, Virginia the blog started to gain a following. All of this came from a portmanteau. But that’s a part of being a curator/archivist –putting things together.
Back to Brooklyn. I never really thought I could make the Slackgaze culture happen here. Due to gentrification, cost-of-living, and general apathy towards art/artists it just seemed like the climate wasn’t apt for a vibe-based movement. I didn’t really start booking showcases until I lived in Newark, NJ for year. It was there I got my footing with a super inspiring group of young artists and curators like the folks at Index Art Center, Newark Print Shop, City Without Walls Gallery, and Lincoln Continental in Union City (R.I.P). The art community in North Jersey is extremely active and accepting. Money was never an issue when I started booking showcases is galleries, basements of chop shops, and huge warehouses. Everyone seemed to run on collaboration instead of competition. It’s a refreshing place to get a start as an artist, or to call home. I’d highly recommend checking out Newark if you have a dream of living in what people conjure when they think of 1980’s New York. But now I’m back in Brooklyn and it’s hard to juggle being a member of the NJ community and living here. I knew that if I wanted to be successful at creating a Slackgaze culture, I would have to create a space for it. I’d never book showcases at bars, only DIY spaces like Silent Barn (a major inspiration of mine). There are tons of new venues popping up, like Baby’s All Right, and Bushwick Radio, but there’s something sinister to seeing my friends play them. I appreciate the work they put into making it in the industry, and I praise them for their accomplishments. But I know commercial success –success tied to the capitalist commodification of culture –is totally out of touch with what I want Slackgaze to be.
So I decided to cut out the middleman and started looking for my own space. When I found my studio, I had already hand a team of friends, fellow artists, and bandmates to help me build it. I didn’t have any outside capital to help, my mom isn’t financing my pet project. I pretty much took a risk and emptied my savings account on an idea. But yeah, if you build it, they will come.
BC: As a musician, what can you say about the local scene here in Williamsburg, particularly in relation to the kind of diversity in sound that the neighborhood may lack?
I think the local scene is over saturated with indie rock bands. But this is a really tricky question because I tend to mostly go to indie rock shows. My perspective is biased towards who I create and consume with. There are tons of hip-hop, and avant-garde happenings in Williamsburg. Just the other week I was at the Flat and this group of young rappers opened up a set before a rock group. It was the awesomest thing to see four dudes sitting on a couch passing the mic around on the same stage that was going to hold an all girl punk band the same night. I’m sure if I wanted to see a certain genre of music this week, there will be more than enough options to chose from.That is to say, I don’t think there’s a lack of diversity in Williamsburg music. I do think there is a problem with press and access to exposure. Williamsburg is viewed as being the whitewashed mecca of indie rock, which isn’t wholly true. The media machines that project Williamsburg as a white hipster playground don’t really pay any attention to artists that aren’t in that realm. It goes hand in hand with gentrification, property values rise when a community is portrayed in a certain manner. Not saying they are directly linked, but there is a connection there.
BC: What are some of your plans you would like to accomplish with Slackgaze? I know you mentioned building a space for artists to record music.
I plan to use the studio as a space to record bands and conduct video interviews. I’m inspired by programs on KEXP, NPR, and Breakthrough Radio. I think they are doing an awesome job of building a library of contemporary musicians and their thoughts. I want to do something similar, but I also want to experiment. Somethings I have in mind are bands interviewing each other, and incorporating a rotating cast of residencies and installation artists. If all goes well, we plan to move to bigger space within a year. Perhaps a warehouse.
BC: What are some of your thoughts on the burgeoning Black Arts community in NYC? What’s missing and how could Slackgaze contribute to filling that void of community cohesion and relationship building in this cultural diaspora?
I’m a little torn by the Black Arts community. On one hand I don’t really see a space for indie rock being incorporated in it. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s totally necessary, or should be forced. In high school I clung to my special ordered DVD of Afro-Punk like a treasure, and dreamed to find a community of fellow Black punks, slackers, rockers, etc. When I was old enough to start going to the festivals I was a little disillusioned with the commercial direction it took, but still happy to be at a festival with such amazing black folks around. I don’t think there’s a commons for a indie-minded black arts community outside of the Afro-punk festival. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a commons for black artists. I think the queer black community is pushing these boundaries with parties like Black Weirdo and Bkyln Boihood. But alas, there is still a lack of slackers. I should also offer this caveat, I primarily build and form relationships along the lines of POC, and not just Blackness. I’m guilty of seeking out bands that feature POC members on Facebook, blogs, even OKCupid. I don’t care if it sounds creepy, i’m intentional with my desires. I want to build a community of POC indie rockers so they don’t have to be pigeon-holed. I can’t think of a showcase that I booked without a POC playing in a band. It may sound like I’m tokenizing them, but I’m not. I’m genuinely interested in seeing us become more prominent in the indie-rock world, especially queer women. A lot of this is coming from being politicized by bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins, rather than The Sex Pistols. I think Slackgaze can be community for getting more POC-rockers in the spotlight.
I’m also working on a project that involves researching DIY communities across the country. I’m creating a study that plans to document how people experience microagressions in show spaces. I want to visualize the data in a set of infographics that will be a part of the Slackgaze zine. My goal is to document and visualize race and gender issues in indie rock, and make it shareable. I was inspired by this project. I think the research, and the amount of user contributed data required behind it will be a good conversation starter.
BC: If there exist such a thing, could you speak about the black DIY scene? If there exists no such thing, would you be interested in developing one for people like me who are self-starting and value community building like yourself?
Similar to what I said before, I mostly configure around POC-centered thought. I think there are many people working in DIY across color lines. And I definitely think it’s the future of building communities and movements. One of the earliest moments that got me activated in DIY was meeting with the founder of POC Zine Project, Daniela Capistrano. She opened my mind to working across DIY POC creators and I was totally inspired by the scale of her mission. I think it’s important to find a mentor that is doing something you want to do and collaborate with them. I’m always open to helping other people get started because I’ve received a lot of help and guidance from people a lot smarter than I am. I don’t think there are centers in the DIY scene just a bunch of people moving at once. Sometimes you’re holding hands with them.
BC: Anything else you wanna throw in that I may have overlooked in our lengthy conversion?
Yeah! There’s something I learned from my lifelong friends, and most recently the amazing people I met in my New Jersey life. Don’t let capitalism fool you into thinking you can’t accomplish your dreams. There are thousands of people waiting for you to actualize and want to help you get there. Love and Light.
It was my pleasure to have had the opportunity to sit down for an afternoon and converse with Winston, as I am also excited of the great things Slackgaze and his event space with develop into, especially in terms of the cultural impact it will have in the Williamsburg community. For videos from the Slackgaze venue grand opening show, check out the videos below. Be sure to subscribe to EARFLOAT TV here and support your fellow DIY folk! Enjoy.