As the country falls back into a haze of conservatism, new styles are forming along cultural faultlines.
It’s a scene devoted to centering feminism, punk, queerness, Blackness, POC-ness, anti-assimilation, and (perhaps most importantly) partying with friends because it feels good. What feels even better is witnessing a devotee of said happenings in action: young Jade Ariana.
It’s around 3:10 p.m. in a backyard in Oakland, and Ariana arrives to the interview about 10 minutes behind schedule. A quick look from head to toe, and one would certainly see why this young sister has every right in the world to arrive fashionably late.
She pushes through the door — bike in hand — and offers a quick “Hey dude, what’s up?” before she removes her coat to reveal that she is serving a delicious blend of style: ripped jeans, a brown crop top with gold symbols, black platform boots, hoop earrings for days, and a moptop-style bob of cinnamon- and blond-tipped dreads. It’s all very East-Bay-punk-meets-Soul-Rebel — a direct (and one could add visually pleasing) combination of Gwen Stefani, Erykah Badu, and around-the-way girl. Her vocal inflection has the same cadence of the aforementioned mix.
“Wait, you want me to, like, say my full name, like everything?” she says coyly, rolling her eyes a little bit in this “Sure, dude, whatever” tone before plopping down in a vintage movie-house chair that some member of the house rescued to be a backyard seat.
The backyard is positioned right next to the freeway, and Ariana’s voice does have a soft tone, so that she immediately has to sit up again to get close enough to the recorder mike so that no precious information about her emerging rock ‘n’ roll mythology is lost, God forbid.
Fun facts about Ariana: She’s 24, and moved to the Bay Area three years ago from L.A. (“Inglewood more specifically,” she declares.) She’s lived in Portland and New York, too. She is a Sagittarius, a visual artist, a drummer for the Oakland noise-punk outfit Earthbound, and recently became the upcoming artist in residency for the Center for AfroFuturist Studies. Today, she is three hours away from hopping in a van to roadie for the Oakland band Ugly — also a noise-punk outfit consisting of predominantly Black women — because she wanted to accompany them on their way to Humboldt.
When asked how she got involved in noise rock, an offshoot punk scene that could arguably be seen as mostly male and mostly White, she merely says, “I had always liked industrial music, and that’s kind of what made me get into noise more.”
Ariana also explains the element of community that supports her artistic insistence.
“I just think of my women-of-color friends who are maybe a couple of years older than me who are like freaky, just like Ogun with the machete, just like chopping though bullshit. You just have to be that fierce to make shit happen,” she says. “It’s really changed my life, playing music, I know it sounds corny as fuck, but it’s true.”
Ariana is not alone. All through the East Bay, there is a notable queer POC scene with a leaning toward this new style, with the minimalist groove-punk leanings of Tropic Cancer, the sonic fury of Ugly, and the vocal house-music melodies of Maya Songbird. Though all very different, each project is cut from the shared cloth of punk, New Wave, No Wave, electronic music, Afro-Punk, and Afrofuturism.
“I don’t know if there’s a scene or if it’s just me,” she says, naming a couple of other women. “We’re just taking up a lot of space.”
Considering the void these women are filling, it can be safe to say that no one’s bummed about it. In fact, quite the opposite. There are things to suggest that the art world is taking notice.
The Center for AfroFuturist Studies — located, strangely enough, in Iowa City, Iowa — recently chose Ariana to be the third recipient of its artist-in-residency program, equipping her with access to a printmaking studio and where she will have her own gallery, as well as an artist stipend and space to teach workshops for youth and adults alike. Historically, access seems to be the thing that can make or break an artist on a budget, so this six-week residency, which starts this time next year, comes with a great hope for Ariana, who will be doing a series of paintings dealing with the Black female form in both Western art and beyond.
“I feel like I’m just like this Valley Girl from L.A.,” she says. “Like, why are people even paying attention?” Her self-aware giggle suggests that she already knows the answer.
Brontez Purnell has been publishing, performing, and curating in the Bay Area for more than 10 years. He is the author of Johnny Would You Love Me … (If My Dick Were Bigger)? (Rudos and Rubes, 2015). Follow him on Twitter at @youngerlovers and on Instagram at @brontezpurnell.