Homophobia will hopefully be on the back burner soon enough if acts like Zebra Katz continue to bubble up as quickly and successfully as he did in 2011 & 2012 (with help from Njena Redfoxxx the other MC for ZK). "It's great to see where a song can lead you based on your gender identity. I think the industry uses it as a tool and you have to use it as a tool as well." This insightful quote comes from Ojay Morgan the genius behind Zebra Katz, who was still a caterer in New York (doing his music thing on the side) when he found out Rick Owens used 'Ima Read' for his runway show. In the months following it's release ‘Ima Read’ was played at New York / Paris + London fashion weeks about as often as levels gets played at shitty top 30 clubs.
Along with positive feedback from the fashion community ‘Ima Read’ sparked the attention of gay icon Ru-Paul, Quest Love of The Roots & Diplo who recently signed Zebra Katz to his side label Jefree's. Obvious support from New York’s underground scene helped boost ZK to be one of the most hyped artists to see live / book this year. Although Zebra Katz have tons of support, being signed to a big label (Mad Decent / Jefree’s) has caused some controversy over whether ball culture is just another cash cow for big producers / labels to profit off. "I would never work with Diplo because he's a heteronormative piece of shit. I would never put gay music on that label. He will just capitalise on whatever is hot at the moment. And being gay is not a question of 'hot', it's just being gay." A strong yet valid quote from DJ and current NYC underground staple Venus X, who is known for her twitter rants and aggressive opinions, and opening shows for other established New York artists like Zebra Katz, Brenmar and DJ HOODCORE.
During Toronto’s annual NXNE fest I got the chance to see Zebra Katz perform live alongside Mike Q from one of my favourite labels Fade to Mind, and the resident DJ of The (vogue) House of Monroe DJ Blackcat. Before I finished writing this article I watched Paris Is Burning, which is referenced in tons of articles on Zebra Katz and the current ballroom / voguing comeback. Without getting into detail about the movie, New York’s ball scene was a lot different in the late 80’s early 90’s compared to now, but fortunately the live show lived up to the blatant realness and grittiness of original ball culture.
Toronto based event team Mansion have already thrown parties in dim sum restaurants, churches, lofts and aim to avoid regular cool guy bars to create that unexplainable feeling that can make a party either terrifying and sloppy or un-forgettable and perfectly chaotic. "Vogue" was thrown in the basement of The Great Hall, a 4 storey 30,000 sq ft building. The appropriately named Black Box Theatre is covered in black paint along with makeshift bleachers and a 2nd storey balcony that wrapped around the entire venue, which is usually used for theatre performances. Even though the party had its to be expected elements like a babe loaded dance floor and crowd pleasing dj sets all around, the second Zebra Katz took the stage the dramatic and theatrical aspect of the night quickly shifted to the stage and resonated for the rest of the event. When you see an amazing live performance it out shadows any dj set you’ve ever seen which was made clear for Zebra Katz’ powerful 30 minute set. The entire place crowded around the front of stage at every angle to get a glimpse at Ojay + Redfoxxx death drop + twerk onstage while Mike Q chopped and sampled original Zebra Katz tunes with his own.
Ima Read was performed several times due to the insane response from the crowd. You could tell a lot of people attending hadn't seen a live performance that intense before, every thirty seconds or so the crowd would go nuts screaming at Njenas rhymes and Ojays cut throat stage presence and dance moves. There were even some vogue offs throughout the night between some members of the House Of Monroe, Mansion residents Yes Yes Y’all and party regulars, werking it out on the dance floor to the likes of Beyonce, Kanye and A LOT of footwork and ballroom tunes. The show was on one of the first hot nights of the summer, which made the ceiling of the venue drip from body heat which made the venue sweaty enough for the toplessness (of girls and boys) acceptable. A high energy and unfamilliar vibe carried throughout the night, and from the dozens of mansion events I’ve attended one of the most responsive crowds they’ve seen to date (dudes were literally swinging shirts on rafters during Mike Q / Zebra Katz’ sets). Vogue was definitely a highlight of NXNE, although it was not a official event. Zebra Katz are a breed of their own, full of immense power and genuine individuality that only comes around once in awhile. Rarely you see a live act that can only be explained properly by people who were there, this show definitely being one of them.
Check out videos + photos from Vogue below!