Young Black & Gay

By Niall Connolly

As is tradition here at Dalston Superstore, we like to get the lowdown on acts we have coming up here (or at Dance Tunnel) with an interview or some kind of feature/article for the website. However, this time we decided to flip the script. I’m the special guest at this Saturday’s Body Talk party,DJing house and ballroom under my CVNT TRAXXX guise, and as a regular contributor to the DSS website, I have already been interviewed here

So instead I’ve turned the tables and interviewed Body Talk’s own resident DJ Rokk, who has just released the director’s cut video for his own track YBG (Young Black & Gay) as Rokk with Dean Atta. The track features a spoken word vocal from Atta about the tribulations of being, yes, young, black and gay, so I took the chance to quiz Rokk about the new video edit and the message behind the music. 

Rokk feat Dean Atta – Y.B.G. (The Directors Cut) from Rokk on Vimeo.

What was the inspiration for the video? 
Visually I wanted to keep it simple and respect the lyrical content to ensure the message was delivered loud and clear. Late ’80s, early ’90s videos by C&C Music factory, The Cookie Crew’s Gotta Keep On and Wee Papa Girl Rappers Heat It Up all featured a freestyle dancing that I wanted to capture and they all had a certain attitude. It was important to for me make sure it was enjoyable to watch, that it had atmosphere, free from product placement and sexualised imagery and that it contained people who were actually affected by Dean’s poem. 

It looks great – was it a long shoot/edit process? 

We shot the majority of the footage in one day and any bits that we missed I shot in my flat mates bedroom. Everyone in the video gave their time freely and so with that comes a very hectic schedule, time management is key. Some people could commit to a whole day others to just an hour or so, so it was a challenge to make the most of everyone within their individual time frames. The edit took a while and was unfortunately delayed due to a few shall we say differences of opinion from the label that resulted in me feeling a bit disillusioned. so I insisted that we released a directors cut if I had to compromise. I wouldn’t say that I’m an editor but I do edit and I enjoy it. They wanted a ‘Music Video’ whatever that meant and I wanted it to be anything but that. In hindsight it was worth it because I now have an edit that I’m 100% happy with. 

Where did you film it and where was it edited?

We shot the footage at The Oval in Bethnal Green, just before it started to take off as an event space in February 2011. It was a very cold day too. Thankfully we’d brought some extra heating and some hot food to keep us warm. By the end of the shoot the ground outside was covered in a thick layer of snow. We shot the video with an edit in mind which made it easier to edit and I finished it at home.

How about the song itself, what was the inspiration for the track? 

Dean Atta’s poem is the inspiration for the song. He sent me his album which included an acapella track called Young, Black & Gay and at the time I was working on a photography project about people of colour who defined themselves as gay, so I was particularly in sync with his bold statement. I must have listened to it 20 times on first hearing it. I was extremely moved by his honesty and fearlessness and that encouraged me to do something. 

The weight of his words needed to be presented to a much wider audience and so I thought the easiest way to do that was to put it to music. So I just started to play about with the vocal over some beats and it evolved quite quickly. I wanted to let the words speak for themselves so the music had to be stripped back just enough to sonically support his statement without the message getting lost. Musically, my inspiration came from the early days of dance music, namely house and disco when people would create music to send messages of love and unity to people who were not considered part of mainstream society, specifically other than white and other than heterosexual. It was and is about spreading love and empowerment through music. 

Have you had any strong positive reactions to the track and its message?

Everyone that’s heard it loves it, the response has been amazing and so I’m happy. I was less than pleased but not that surprised at the lack of interest from the mainstream gay press. Out of fifteen gay publications only one reviewed it. But that’s another issue. 

Do you think it is easier or harder now for young black gay people than it was, say, 20 years ago? 

I think it depends on where in the world you are and what your particular circumstances are. In this country we still have an uncomfortable bed of institutionalised racism that hampers a lot of progress and surprisingly within our own community, if we actually have one anymore. And there is the sexual appropriation of people of colour to deal with and many cultural stereotypes still to dismantle. Religion also plays a big part for some and often creates a familiar ostracization which continually makes desert islands out of us. Being anything other than the norm these days is difficult and I think always will be, but as Dean states  “We ain’t there yet but we’re gonna be.”
What can we expect from your set at Body Talk?  

Some good shit!! Haha, I play what I feel so I don’t know yet? Erm, I will be playing vinyl and there will be no Gaga.

Join Rokk and Niall aka CVNT TRAXXX at Body Talk this Saturday 19th October at Dalston Superstore from 9pm – 3am.

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