Normalizing Trans Voices in Kansas City’s Electronic Music Scene

When the sun goes down, electronic music lovers come out in Kansas City’s vibrant club scene. Of the various clubs and venues in Kansas City that provide electronic music, Niche KC and the Uptown Arts Bar are two of the signature locations that support members of KC’s queer/trans community. It is there that you would likely find Mazzy Mann and her new queer/trans electronic music collective, UN/TUCK. Founded by Lorelei Davis, Mazzy Mann and Zoey Shopmaker, UN/TUCK looks to create more opportunities for queer/trans and femme DJs, open the genre of electronic music expectations in clubs, and continue to build upon the visibility of the KC queer/trans community. The collective is heavily influenced by the crew at Intelligent Sound, as the two groups are looking to collaborate for more electronic events well into 2018.

(Dylan Freeman, 2018, Niche KC)

The following interview is with one of the founders of UN/TUCK, transfemme artist Mazzy Mann, as we learn about her upcoming album, the origin of UN/TUCK and how her daily queer/trans experiences have influenced her art.

Mazzy Mann is a Kansas City-based performance artist whose work explores the loss of identity through themes of existential horror, film noir, vaudeville, old soul, jazz, and folklore. Through combining archetypes of the 1950s and 60s American horror genres and existential ideologies with the modern transgender experience, Mazzy aims to address the trans perspectives of dysphoria, dysmorphia, isolation, trauma, and abuse. You can follow Mazzy Mann on Instagram at @mx.mrs.

MK: Before we get started with talking about your work specifically, with UN/TUCK Collective and other projects, we can start with you as a person and your history. You are a Kansas City artist. How long have you been working and living in Kansas City?

MM: I was born in raised in KC, Independence specifically. My work started with me getting my grandpa’s tape-recorded when he passed away. I started to record different sounds and I learned how to splice them. That was kind of the beginning with production and music, while writing and theater culminated through that. I have had various extracurricular activities growing up. I have been doing theater and production since I was a young teenager. I would say since I was a preteen and for the last 20 years?

MK: To bring that full circle, what kind of projects are you currently working on and what kind of mediums are you working through?

mazzy_mann_kcMM: I specifically work through DAWs (digital audio workstations) that are more centered around post-production which is different than a lot of my peers who actually use programs like Ableton. But that is conducive to projects such as the more commercial-minded album that I am putting out this spring. I also work pretty tightly as one of the founders of the queer-trans collective called UN/TUCK, which centers around electronic music. I help promote and organize events for that. I typically organize events in which I will be on the bill and incorporate whatever theme the event is for that night. Recently we had the Dreamscape show which centered around ambient sound art with performance intertwined into that. I headlined that show.

MK: What kind of themes do you usually see yourself usually channeling or working on consistently? Is there a consistent theme we can find in Mazzy Mann’s work whether it be through your music or spoken word performances?

MM: Yeah, I definitely have a penchant for Weimar culture, I have always been really inspired by cabaret, vaudeville, the origins of the circus and the clown. I am also hugely inspired by 1940s and 50s noir, specifically Hitchcock-ian themes and the adaptions of that through David Lynch and Lynchian themes, like gothic surrealism. All of those are strong elements in my work. Paralleling those aesthetics within the everyday reality of queers, specifically the transfemme individual. I think that a lot of the culture that we see surrounding the gay, queer and trans community is centered around pop music, dance scenes, and more beat-forward, up-tempo music over the last 40 to 50 years. I think if you look at the queer underground, you see a shift that I definitely fit with those themes.

MK: When did your fascination with these themes really begin? Have you always had a fascination with these themes as a kid or did you pick up on these recently?

MM: It was actually kind of interesting because it was unbeknownst to me. I used to be into a kind of like soft rock, piano music. When I was maybe 14 or 15 years old, my friend had a Walkman and he put an earbud in my ear and it was Dresden Dolls. That kind of changed my world forever. Specifically, when you are talking about the vaudeville themes, I always had a fascination with the bizarre, kind of off-kilter, and slightly to the left, while still incorporating pop structures. I do love making ambient music and I do love making experimental music but it is not sound art. It still has some sort of mechanism in structure and patterns that are similar to what we think of pop music.

MK: This goes back to one of my earlier conversations that I have had with you when we first met. I remember your fascination with noir on multiple different levels. You told me about trans noir, with the idea of putting trans identities and themes in an already existing structure (like noir). Can you explain how those two fit and coincide with other? How they fit and work well with each other in some areas or maybe not in other areas?

mazzy_mann_kcMM: You know I actually do not have any reference besides my own experiences with this. I grew up specifically being really into Twilight Zone and Hitchcock films because my dad was such a huge film buff. I am only referencing to my own specific studies and philosophy with trans noir because there is not really a lot of documentation on queer realities paralleling with noir realities. There just really is not. You have to remember that the visible transfemme is a new, millennial kind of experience. When you are talking about the trans experience in the community, trans peoples have been so deeply embedded into the underground that people do not realize how simultaneously they have been embedded into the culture that we eat, drink and sleep in. Often times, those trans people are so far into the underground that we really only see them as jokes. That is the horror of the queer/trans experience, especially for transfemme people who do not “pass” in the cis aesthetic.

MK: I noticed you use quotations with the term “pass.” Can you explain what consists of “passing” to those who might understand or seek to know more about what it means?

MM: Sure, “passing” specifically means that in the identity of the cis world, “cis” means that you identify with the gender you were originally assigned with. Particularly when someone starts transitioning into a different gender from what they were assigned as, there is a sense of dysphoria and loathing of their body because of the way the public reacts or projects their own fears or insecurities onto said trans person. Therefore, trans people have a longing to meet that certain standard of beauty aesthetic, which is harder to achieve as a feminine being because we know feminine people in the western world have so much on them. They are literally considered a secondary person to male culture.

MK: [Feminine identity] is also a lot more heavily commercialized in that culture, as there are a lot more time and resources that are required to fit within the expectations of feminine gender structure. Sometimes people don’t have access to those resources and time. How do you encompass your everyday experiences through your work?

MM: I will approach it from the themes that I have been working on currently because that is where my head has been with analyzing my own experience. Interestingly enough, a lot of the scenes [in my album] have turned into the effects or vulnerability of these experiences, as opposed to say, “Look at me, I am queer,’ but instead I’m saying, “I am alone in my room and I am looking out the window wondering if I will ever be normal.” This has a much a harder and heavier emotional impact because that is universal to any kind of queerness. This is whether you got laughed at work, or you didn’t fit in with someone else…there is a certain queerness that is universal. I am now focusing on the validation of male culture. I say this specifically because I constantly reference in my album about my past self, the self I had transitioned from, as a man or a ghost that haunts me. This is the same kind of man that I feel I need to be validated by. That man can be anything from a sexual partner, a friend, a fatherly figure or even a god.

The former version of myself is now a ghost and I had a line written down which is the theme of my album, “There is a ghost in my closet calling my dead name,” which has so many parallel references within the queer community. This feels very haunting. There is this idea that you have to validate your own past existence to grow from it which is something I don’t think I have done. That is why the album is kind of therapeutic in that way. I look to cis men, whether it is with casual dating, the sexual world, friends or even a fatherly role, for validation. I am just trying to learn that the validation comes from within and that is one of the themes that this album touches upon.

MK: So there are themes about validation internally as well in this album?

mazzy_mann_untuckMM: There are songs that cover both forms of validation. If you can imagine a scenario set up where the song is about a one-night stand but as the lyrics unfold you start to realize this might be more layered. Often times as a queer person, it is really easy to feel defeated by cis men, specifically in the dating world because a lot of the men I have talked to only want to validate me as a secret. Therefore, my existence and visibility become a commodity for men. I have to validate a certain part of myself and become clear with myself and realize that the male parts of me, whether projected from society or as features from the mirror, are all illusionary, which is just like how gender is. The [previously mentioned] ghost is the male version of myself. I say “version” because I believe I will probably transition again multiple times in my life, just like how we all do. Just like how you can nostalgically see yourself as a little boy but you realize that you are not a little boy. It is almost as if the boy is a foreign character like someone had died or it was someone you used to know.

I don’t know if this is conducive to just me, I am sure it is not. But it is like when you see somebody, a child or an adult, who has a striking resemblance to someone in your past who you kind of miss but do not realize you miss them. You talk to them and the more you talk, you get this weird anxiety in your gut. It is kind of like where the noir aspect comes into play with the erasure of identity. It is like walking around with a blank mask on your face because I feel there is a whole part of my past that has literally been erased. This includes large groups of people who I used to be close with and it is bizarre.

MK: Previously you were talking about how you have not done well for yourself in terms of validating your previous experiences, identities, and versions of yourself. How does this fit in with the erasure of your past? I feel people validate themselves through different ways and unfortunately, there isn’t a textbook way to validate a certain identity and apply it to all people of similar characteristics.

MM: [We] have to remember that there are such limited spaces and such a limited demographic of people who can feel comfortable in these spaces. The best I have found so far to validate myself is through performance. If I perform onstage with these same topics in more of an artistic way, sometimes I get off stage to find someone crying or talking to someone who is not even out yet. When they tell me that they are trans that is validation for me. Because I realize that the path is dark, ever winding, full of complications, hard surfaces, and tricky corners. The trailblazers always have to light that path. They can tell the people coming to watch their step and tell them that this has been experienced before and that it will be okay.

When cultivating a community, the idea isn’t to just validate my own transness. The idea is about creating spaces in which people can just be who they are. For example, like even with you Mason, you would work your nine-to-five job but then on Friday nights, you could go to a show wearing heels. You can do that where I perform. I think that is so few and far between. A lot of people under the queer umbrella flock to these places because, for me personally, I just want to feel okay and I think everybody wants to feel that way. We want the security of holding a steady job, paying rent, and making art for people. But unfortunately, trans people, and transfemmes specifically, are written off. To create this space and fight against the tide, we have to be upfront and forward about injustice. This can surprise my oppressors because for so long, historically speaking, transwomen have had to be pushed into sex work, pushed into isolation, be submissive to specific ideas, be jailed and even be killed or raped. We live in this new age of visibility. Are trans people becoming more normalized? Yes. Are there still a lot of injustice and a lot of unsafe spaces for transwomen? Definitely. I feel the frontiers of the movement in the west, like Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera looked down upon me, handed me this torch and tool and said, “You better run and ignite the way.”

MK: One thing we haven’t discussed yet is UN/TUCK Collective. Would you like to share and talk about what UN/TUCK is about and what kind of community is supported by this collective?

mazzy_mann_untuck_collectiveMM: UN/TUCK is a queer/trans electronic collective that is centered around uplifting marginalized voices. While this is founded by transwomen, we seek to incorporate femmes (cis or non-cis) in particular because the electronic world has an alarming rate of cis men over femmes.

I had been working at Uptown Arts Bar to do shows for some time. Through this time I had become more acquainted with Niche KC (an underground community in a club above Uptown Arts Bar). There was a collective named Intelligent Sound that played there a lot. It was a dream of mine to work with Intelligent Sound because they were an amazing collective who were left-of-the-field for electronic club collectives when the world is consumed by Top 40 music or the underground, which is more dub-heavy. To hear more downtempo or ambient music is awesome. My sister, a transwoman named Lorelei Kretsinger, wanted to release an album named “Possession” and we worked on releasing it in August. We really wanted to get Intelligent Sound to support it. That was the beginning workings of UN/TUCK and a trifecta of cofounders formed: Lorelei, Zoey Shopmaker and I.

We all realized that something was lacking in the electronic community and that was heightened trans and queer visibility through music. The cool thing about Intelligent Sound is that they incorporate a large umbrella of music. We wanted to take that model and apply it to the trans community.

We did our launch show the second week of October and we sold over 80 tickets for an all local and all trans lineup. Then in January, we had Octo Octa, who is an amazing transfemme, modular, house-techno artist who is signed to 100% Silk, come in for that show. We sold over 100 tickets for that show. For New Year’s, we also performed at Alter Alter which was great. Through all of this, I feel we are pushing the conversation forward and we have so many transwomen coming to our show that I haven’t met before. It is also nice to expose my music to a queer community because I want other queer people to feel that they are not alone and that they are validated through their experiences as well.

Our platform is important and UN/TUCK wouldn’t exist without this hardworking trifecta. With Lorelei and Zoey, we constantly challenge each other and we are challenging ourselves with new ideas. We are always doing things to challenge what UN/TUCK is and we also really appreciate Intelligent Sound and what they have done as well.

MK: If people are interested in learning more about UN/TUCK or seeing a live show, where can they go?

MM: We are on all forms of social media with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We are launching more material online soon, as well as cleaning up our branding. We are building around an album release of mine for this upcoming spring so keep your eye on the ground for that too. As soon as we find our arts concept for UN/TUCK, we plan on releasing that concept around the same time as my album.

MK: When your album finally does release, do you know how you will feel? I imagine you are very emotionally attached to the album making process. What are you aiming to do after that?

MM: I will probably just collapse and die. *Mazzy laughs*

I really hope that this will be a jumping off point for me. These last few months have been incredibly difficult for me. This harkens back to paving our own way. Through UN/TUCK, we want to create more venues and create more spaces that decades from now, people will be able to look at UN/TUCK and know that we made space for them. I would be the happiest if this album reaches a queer kid, alone in their basement and on their computer, maybe mixing music or even secretly wishing they were not queer. I want them to feel empowered and excited. They will know that if Mazzy feels this way then they must not be alone.

A lot of the themes of my album are about being queer, which I believe is universal. The media tries to get you to believe that the queer experience is a minority. But if anybody doesn’t quite fit in for whatever reason, they are queer. I assume people are queer before they are cis. In some little way, I can find intimacy with people who seem relatively ignorant at the first time I meet them. They think, “Oh my gosh, here is this 6’4” being with long hair and makeup. They seem intimidating.” But then there is the warmth in this conversation and then they realize that me as a person and they as a person are not really different. The division is only existent through the projection of media and politics.

When the lights are off, we all feel the same, look the same, and are the same. The reason we have to create this emphasis on visibility between queer and trans artists in the collective is that we have to normalize those voices. If this doesn’t happen, they will never be able to find housing, they will never find a job, they will constantly be berated, forced in sex work, and even forced into suicide or murdered. I mean, the murder rates for transwomen are alarming for as small and invisible the community is. To normalize this community through my album or through UN/TUCK’s activism is so important to me because I want the next queer who comes along to have an easier life.

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