Joey LaBeija of the House of LaBeija

Joey LaBeija is a DJ, electronic music producer and member of one of the most prestigious ballroom  culture families: the House of Labeija. He has been playing for 10 years and has released two LPs. He creates music to channel his feelings and vital moments, and is considered a visionary of sounds, artistic structures and trends. We took advantage of Joey’s time in Barcelona to participate in an event organised by the Loom collective during the Pride Barcelona (2019). Here we talked to him about his particular ecosystem and his relationship with the culture that saw him born: clubbing. 

What has it been like to return to Barcelona?

When I came here 7 years ago I was starting to play, and although it was a lot of fun, now after having played all over the world it has definitely been much better. Being an adult is more cool.

You have two albums published, do you enjoy playing them more or playing other songs?

DJing is my natural habitat, I could do it with my eyes closed, it’s like the lights go out and I do it just for myself. Working with my songs is still difficult for me because I am shy. One of the things I like most about playing is that you don’t have to interact with people. Playing is exciting but strange. I show a part of me. I don’t have stage fright, it’s just uncomfortable, but it stimulates me, I do it to improve. To get out of my comfort zone.

You’ve seen a lot of micro scenes playing in underground venues, what do you think makes your city, New York, special?

Sometimes I wonder if I would have appreciated the club culture if I wasn’t born in New York. I started out very young and in few places have I felt so free. At this point I’m having a much better time in other parts of the world. The way Americans go out is super different from other places. In Europe they go out with energy and to have a good time, not just thinking about whether they’re going monkeys. There being in a club is more of a social moment than an experience. It’s like you’re actually in Instagram. 

That’s something anyone who lives in a capital city could tell you.

Right. (chuckles) What really makes New York unique is that you can become anything you want if you really try. There are other places where there aren’t as many opportunities. The interesting thing about subcultures everywhere you go is that when you don’t have opportunities, they create them. It makes it much more interesting. By traveling so much, I value the opportunities I’ve had in my city.

Coming to Barcelona for the second time, what do you think makes here special in that way?

It’s a city full of love, people are very passionate about everything, starting with their friendships. When you see them enjoying the music like in my session you think: ‘Wow, this is what it should be like to party’. Total freedom. It’s very curious how passionate Spanish people are, even in a normal conversation. I come from a place where being cold is almost equivalent to being nice. Here everyone is eager to meet and friendly. Being at home I think if I do the right thing, but then I experience a weekend like the one in Barcelona, and it makes me doubt less.

You are a visionary, how does it feel to see that things you were once interested in are now massive?

(Sighing) It’s happened to me so many times, starting something and a year later it’s become fashionable, and people think I follow it because of the trend, and suddenly I’m part of a moodboard. If you ask me how I live it, it’s just something that naturally keeps me in the loop. I’ve seen ideas stolen from a friend. You can’t avoid it, you have to be alert, and keep innovating by being original, looking ahead. A lot of time is wasted saying that you were the first, that the idea is stolen, but it’s all made up and can be stolen. One of my goals is to make money by being on those moodboards (laughs).

With what you like to experiment with, what sounds would you like to do it with?

The truth is that since you can’t see it in my sound yet, I’d like to explore my Latin side more. I’d like to experiment more in the kind of song structures, rather than in types of sounds. I don’t want to be linear and want to try out shapes.

How should culture and entertainment evolve to make you go out more?

Wanting to know what the perception of my music is like has encouraged me to get out more. Even if you don’t realize it, or take notes, your brain absorbs ideas. When you are creative, you store it unconsciously. When I start making music again, I’ll get things I’ve experienced in Barcelona. You can’t wait for inspiration to come to your home, as much as I love it there, and it’s my creative home. Even if my city doesn’t drive me crazy, something tells me that I have to keep roaming around it to find rough diamonds.

What does an event or festival have to have for you to want to go, besides the content?

An experience is what I want. I like it when energy has been invested in creating an enveloping space, which remains engraved in your memory, and not simply a line up. A good poster can be made by anyone, and can be repeated every edition. When you go to a good show, you never forget it. For example, I still watch Lady Gaga concerts and remember it as if it were yesterday, and it was seven years ago. Always looking for new experiences, which in a small way make a difference.

Changing the subject, what does it really mean to be part of a house in New York?

It’s being part of a family. When I entered the House of Labeija without being a voguing dancer, I took the house out for a walk and made it visible. For example, right when I entered the house, I did the loud campaign for Diesel and my face came out all over New York. This took our house out of the context of the ballroom culture.

Did you like that?

Some people did, and some didn’t, in and out of my house. If I was invited to be part of it by people who are considered living legends, it’s because of something. That’s all I care about.

What would you say to those purists who have made ballroom culture so closed to evolution?

Pufff, for being a white man I was accused of cultural appropriation. Even though we live in the age where everything is done, those closed minds cause everything to slow down. Although my intentions were never those, after a lot of criticism I almost changed my name, I thought it over and said: ‘Fuck it, I’ve worked hard for that’. When they ask you if you are from the House of Labeija, it is rewarding, like being part of the royalty. Even though I have my own identity and I don’t see them as often as I used to, having that ‘last name’ makes me proud to represent them in the best way.

Finally, what do you plan to do with your material these days?

Honestly, to make a lot of money with live shows to invest in the next tour, and that is not only to get a microphone and toys to make music, but to create an experience. I want to take it to another level. I was in Europe during June and something tells me I have to keep going here. I feel, however small, a focus on my work, and that I belong more here than there, especially in England. Above all, to make my live shows evolve and become the best I can.

I want them to be what I have in mind, there is the need to invest means to make it possible. When I create music there is already in my mind a concrete way to bring it to the stage. Most importantly, I just want to earn the money for my art to evolve. Sometimes I forget that music provokes reactions in people and that makes me want to improve my work. Here is my latest LP is “TEARS IN MY HENNESSY” on youtube and other platforms. (of)

Photos & Co-editor: Jordi Chicletol @chicletol