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Rewind: DJ Gemma & Seymour Butz interview from 1996

by Seb Chan on February 25th, 2007

This is an interview I conducted with DJ Gemma and Seynmour Butz for UNSW’s Tharunka student newspaper back in 1996. I was one of the editors in 1995 with Dale and Dale kept on taking over as Media Director in 1996 with some of the old crew. In 1995 I had a section called Sashimi which was an excuse to cover leftfield music and generally provoke people.

I interviewed DJ Gemma last week for Cyclic Defrost Issue 16 which will be out in two weeks time. Interestingly not much has changed. This was written back in 1996 when Club Kooky was one year old. Frigid had just started at Kinselas.

Club Kooky was evicted from Club77 two weeks ago and is in search of a new home.

“When you are not going to be supporting any children it does give you a good dancefloor life” – an interview with Seymour Butz and DJ Gemma

Last year a music editor told me that the Pet Shop Boys were “obviously gay music”. I disagreed. Surely it would be playing into the hands of the record executives, not to mention the Moral Minority, to classify music on grounds of sexuality? But a quick survey of attitudes reveals, not surprisingly, that the music editor was not alone, associating high energy souped up disco numbers and a steady diet of saccharine sweet chart pap with men who make love with other men, and ‘reality’ folk music with women who make love with other women. Represented by intelligent track names like “Just Lick It” and “His Dick Is So Good” filling up big selling titles like “Gay Anthems”, the state of play at the more sedate end of the record shelves, “classic oldies” from the Seventies’ disco era coupled with ‘obvious’ Pet Shop Boys and Kylie on the latest Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras ceedee is little different. This makes for a incredibly conservative musical agenda. An agenda reinforced by people, gay, lesbian and otherwise, who continue to buy such products or associate them with a monocultural homosexuality. Diversity is lost in a culture that, one would think, has the most to benefit from it. Out on the edge since the 1980s, accompanied by a host of like minds, are Sydney deejays, radio personalities and promoters, Gemma and Seymour Butz, are dedicated to expanding musical horizons beyond the narrow confines of sexuality-based marketing scams.

Music historically has been closely linked with liberation. Dancing has been consistently suppressed and regulated first by the Church and later the State, especially in the West. American academic Walter Hughes has argued that in the 1970s disco allowed gay men the opportunity to explode the rigid identities of mainstream straight, White culture through a submission to the mechanised beat overlaid with Black female vocals. But maybe in the 1990s, the legacy of disco has been distorted and poorly reproduced, its close links with Black soul music and funk cleansed and stripped away.

Gemma : “Soul music is very important but it’s been really turned into screaming ugly vocals and really fast non-funky music – a sped up cliché . . . . musically what I’ve witnessed is that there is a lot of fear of connecting [with anyone who isn’t gay or lesbian] so the mainstream music can become very insidious. When you start playing music in mainstream gay places which does force a connection, music from around the world, and you get slammed for it, that’s where the racism starts creeping in . . . a lot of people in the community, just like any other community have been completely sucked in by the mass media and there is the particular idea of what it is like to be gay . . . . I don’t find that very healthy for me and musically, I like music from all over the planet and that automatically opens me up to all sorts of people . . . . there’s a definite mainstream gay community which gives me the impression that it wants to become a part of mainstream middle Australia. Its something I find very scary and I don’t think they realise just how much of a product they have become . . . .who wants to fit into the society the way it has been presented? I think that you have to question everything, and I often feel that the mainstream gay community doesn’t question things that are close to it”. This has had other effects including a creeping class bias, a hatred of poverty, and, as Gemma says, “a desire to be clean”.

Seymour Butz : “sexuality and dancing have been put together by the record companies and the powers-that-be quite successfully because it revolves on marketing an ‘underground’ sound which makes it attractive but what is so offensive about it is that the music is completely manufactured and there is no funk or soul in it . . . . disco has its roots in gay culture in the Seventies and if you look at a seminal track like Donna Summer’s Love To Love You Baby you find that there are a lot of different movements in that one track but some people just focus in on the high energy piano part of it and have since turned it into a whole musical style. Whereas I can find some really dubby elements and slow funky bits in the exact same song which are almost forgotten about. There has always been a wide mixture of sounds in gay culture but once people could put a name to it, market it and sell it, it would always be limited and now you get these one-dimensional tracks coming out of Italy with the record companies calling it ‘gay music’ and the consumer, unfortunately, being sucked in . . . Personally as a gay man, that kind of music doesn’t arouse me sexually, and I’m not alone in that but because of the conservatism of venues your average gay punter who has been weaned on Oxford St sounds has not had a lot of opportunity to hear anything else. Similarly the Mardi Gras parties of the last ten years have remained extremely conservative playing only the sounds that they deem appropriate to a gay audience”.

Musically the gay community went quiet around 1990. HIV ravaged the community, and elsewhere heterosexual youngsters colonised the dance party scene with the early raves introducing newer, fresher music.

Seymour : “Around 1990 there was a real crisis in the form of HIV that was almost like a genocide of a whole generation of party-goers, especially in New South Wales, with a concentrated gay community. Venues got closed down, venues that once had packed dancefloors seven nights a week were lucky to have it go off one night a week, and a lot of people stopped going out because they had lost all inspiration . . . losing a lot of people to the virus, and sadly, a lot of the really creative people behind the events, there was a lull. Now, finally, people seem ready to go back out and experience new sounds”. Gemma agrees; “There’s a lot of new attitudes coming out and it feels a bit like the best of the energy that was around ten years ago . . . so many different elements are coming together and barriers are breaking down. We’ve gone through a period of separatism and now all types of people are meeting up and coming together.”

Seymour : “The beauty of 1996 is the slow deterioration of that bangin’ high-energy aerobic vibe that was really strong in the late Eighties. It was totally linked to the consumerism of the time – go to the gym, consume, spend all your money on yourself – and that ended up being reflected in a lot of people’s musical tastes. Those aerobic beats became like a soundtrack for their lives and I saw gym culture become synonymous with club culture and everyone was going out in $100 lycra dancing outfits and listening to monotonous 4/4 sped up vocals. Fortunately people have tired of that and it has allowed a greater exploration of sounds on dancefloors . . . With anything fresh and dynamic you will get a host of people with open minds who will want to learn, share and experience, and at these times I don’t think sexuality even comes into it because when you get a group of people who are sharing a collective spirit that’s what’s important. When you’ve got a group of people dancing to really wild rhythms, not chart hits, you have this tremendous energy which isn’t a sexual thing at all . . . . my main concern is to make people happy and with my music I want to take people on some sort of journey. You can transport someone along with beats hopefully to a better place than the song they heard on 2Day-FM in the traffic jam on their way to work that morning”.

Sebastian Chan 1996 (as Yellow Peril)

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