For Kumi James, aka DJ BAE BAE, the deliverance happens on the dance floor. Not just any LA dance floor but a living underground dance floor, run by – and focused on – black women and freaks. Hood Rave is a place where the DJs can organically transition from the bass music performed by an Angolan immigrant in Portugal to Rick Ross’ beloved but borderline problem, to the soundtrack. It’s warm, buzzing from ’90s Chicago, and the crowds won’t skip a beat. Here, dancing not only brings a sense of freedom and joy, but also has deep ancestral roots.
A multidisciplinary artist, music producer, and filmmaker, James has been DJing around the world and throwing parties in LA for nearly a decade. Arlington Heights natives have consistently used their work as a means to uplift black and gay women. Their Instagram archive, Negress, takes its name from artist Kara Walker’s landmark work, which aims to draw attention to black women and women’s identities – “because it’s unique” , James said. They also have a monthly radio show on dublab of the same name, providing a platform for emerging DJs and artists, along with a monthly show on NTS called “Baexploitation.” They say, “My practice is very communal. “It always involves others and supports their work. It’s not just me, ever. A lot of it is curated. ”
James founded Hood Rave in 2020 and now collaborates with their close friend, Kita Clarke, a DJ from the South Central Coast. With Hood Rave, James and Clarke are building an alternative space – one that not only brings dance music and rave culture back to Black roots, but also envisions a new future for dancers. Black public in the underground of LA. Prior to June 13, James spoke to Image about the potential of raving and the spiritual transcendence that occurs when you gather 500 Blacks on a South Central dance floor.
That’s what it feels like to be with so many Negroes. It has a spiritual energy in itself and is potentially revolutionary.
Hood Rave is a party. But it’s also a political project – creating subterranean spaces centered on Black women and Negroes. We’re growing, but last time we had about 500 people and 75% were Black, which is pretty significant. Historically, there has always been a Black underground or Black club culture. We’ve always needed space, but LA is challenging because Blacks are controlled when they’re on the team. We have to go underground.
Most DJs are black female or gay. With just that, people get wild and dance hard. It’s just one of the most beautiful things.
Two black women run the party – me and my best friend Kita. Hood Rave symbolizes the relationship I have with her. Kita is Hood Rave’s “Hood”. She knows everything about underground and emerging hip-hop. Then I know all the rave genres, like drums and bass, techno, house – it really extends beyond that – but we come together and bring people to DJs who mix these things in a really experimental way, people will lose their minds. They’ll hear a piece of music they know, then it’s like it’s completely reversed.
As a DJ at Hood Rave, I don’t have to coax an audience or kiss their ass. Everything was geared towards their tastes. I grew up in Arlington Heights about hip-hop and R&B. I bring those musical influences in and then mix it with club music and genres from around the world. And the dancers in the crowd were open to it. That makes me feel free.
There are other types of spaces, such as non-relative and Black, or commercial and Black, where the values can be different. At Hood Rave, we have clear values and we post them everywhere. This is a consent-centered space. I always give speeches because I want people to know: Ask for consent. No harassment. There is no fear of people. There is a list of things.
Put those values at the forefront of the space and all these people are mostly Black – it’s kind of a clear, alternative world we’re trying to build, where we really love and respect each other and not intentionally harm each other. It is a process. It’s not perfect. But the fact that those things are guiding the space and creating a culture in the space, I think that’s what makes it feel radical, liberal or liberating. Having that container allows people to comfortably get out. It’s so beautiful. I don’t always use the word “safe space” because we can’t guarantee it – but it is safer space.
The name makes a lot of sense because I’ve been throwing parties for eight years or so, and I’ve never really found the right name for what I’m doing – which is usually on the ground, at bars and clubs. But we found that we don’t have much control over the space. With Hood Rave, we hire everyone from top to bottom and mostly black community or employees. We hire bartenders. We have safety supervision. These are all our friends. We create this infrastructure. It goes up for one night and then goes down, but it’s really another world, a whole different vision of what it could be.
I feel most liberated when I am in community with other Blacks and feel a shared responsibility. I helped create this space, but others in the space are taking care of it I. It’s an exchange: Care goes both ways. When I’m dancing, I feel really free; it also feels ancestral – like we’re mining something deeply rooted.
https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/image/story/2022-06-16/hood-rave-l-a-black-queer-underground-party-dj-bae-bae-on-liberation-freedom Inside Hood Rave, L.A.’s Black, queer, underground party