On Point With: Jade Elektra (DJ Relentless)

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Having one of the most extensive released collections of Ball scene-era drag queen bitch tracks in existence,

Alphonso King, Jr. aka DJ Relentless is a vital curator of nightlife history. As both a DJ and as his drag alter ego Jade Elektra of the House of LaBeija, he / she has contributed to quite a bit of that fabulous history as well.nd now with a brand new, hilarious and fierce bitch track of her own on Aviance Records, Jade continues to make us gag.


Thotyssey: Thanks for talking to us, Jade! So, where is your home base these days?

Jade Elektra: Toronto….I moved here at the end of 2009 when my now husband proposed we get married.

As DJ Relentless, I see you come through the city every so often and spin at places like the Hangar. It’s kind of difficult to describe the state of NYC nightlife today, whether it’s thriving or struggling, but the scene has never been easy here. What do you observe is the state of NYC nightlife today?

Believe it or not, the problem of struggling nightlife is in most major cities today. For NYC, after 9/11 the city started changing because a lot of the creative people left. Bars and clubs started hiring non-DJs who really didn’t know how to mix, but were visual characters that worked for cheaper than the experienced ones. Drag performers lusting to be on Drag Race worked for less, so the venues started stock-piling them instead of paying the legends who built the scene.

And this is happening in all major cities right now. Pride comes around, and places like Toronto import big names and forget the locals. Drag queens can’t get work if they aren’t associated with Drag Race. As the LGBT is moving into pop culture, we are losing our actual culture and gentrification is stealing our gaybor-hoods.

As for my DJ history in NYC: I lived there from 1992 to 2009. I was a resident at The Hangar, Sally’s II in Times Square, The Monster, The Break, The Works, View Bar, Barracuda, Therapy, Posh and of course Harmonica Sunbeam’s Tea Dance at Escuelita. I occasionally spun for The Limelight and Palladium. But yes, when I come to town I usually spin at The Hangar for old time’s sake. It is the place where I started my following in NYC.

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How long have you been DJ-ing now, and when did your DJ career begin?

I started DJ-ing at age 13, in 1980, with my uncle on the radio at WMNF 88.5 (Tampa, Florida). After a trip to Chicago in 1983, I became obsessed with learning how to mix. So, I saved up and bought two Radioshack’s Realistic belt-driven turntables and a Realistic mixer. I practiced everyday after school in my bedroom. I got my first DJ residency in 1985 at a small bar called The Northside Lounge and I kinda took off from there. Eventually I moved to the larger bars and clubs in Tampa.

I came to NYC in 1990 to audition for the role of Dil in The Crying Game and fell in love with The Big Apple. I knew that I was going to move there one day. And that day came in March of 1992. Two days after arriving, I got my first residency at  Sally’s–as featured in Paris Is Burning–where I met Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija and Dorian Corey. And I guess the rest is history…as they say.

You made your name in the ball scene, which has been so vital to queer culture. So much creative innovation and long lasting family ties were born from that scene, but I’ve spoken to a number of people also who had to walk away because the drama there was too much. How did that scene shape you as a DJ and performer?

I was adopted into the House of LaBeija by Pepper herself. I walked a few balls and won “Fresh Face” and “First Time In Drag At A Ball,” but only because no one knew me and that I had been doing drag since 1985. I was just new on the scene. But I didn’t stay in the House or in the scene for very long, because I started getting small parts in movies and television shows.

While Paris Is Burning was one of the reasons I moved to the city, I quickly saw the drama and decided that it wasn’t worth it. I would later go on to start recording tracks for the Ballroom scene, but I did so more as a spectator than a participant. I loved that the Houses were like families, but I have always been more of an independent person and a loner. So, I chose to step away and concentrate on doing small roles in Too Wong Foo and TV shows like New York Undercover. And let’s not forget the countless Talk Show appearances on Maury and The Richard Bey Show.

I would say the Ballroom scene deeply influenced my recording career, and by the time Harmonica and I started the Tea Dance at Escuelita in 1998 it would be a major part of building “Sunbeam Sundays” because we featured many of the legends in our show and also hosted mini-balls as well.

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Was Madonna’s “Vogue” a nice ode to the scene that maybe elevated its profile, or was it just a complete cultural appropriating rip-off? Or somewhere in between?

That’s a hard one. Probably because it takes a huge name to really introduce the world to something. But I don’t think that it would have exploded without Madonna. Remember, Malcolm McLaren had already done “Deep In Vogue” the year before. This was the same guy who introduced the world to The Sex Pistols and the UK Punk scene. So, obviously he recognized the next big thing and culture. But he didn’t have the star power that Madonna did to really shove Ballroom Culture into the mainstream.

Jenny Livingston’s Paris Is Burning documentary opened the door and many love or hate her for it, but a huge debt is owed to her because without that white female film student the Ballroom scene would have stayed underground. So, Madonna may have exploited the scene for a couple of years with her “Blonde Ambition Tour” but she forced it into the spotlight and the world was changed forever.

But sadly comes the real cultural appropriators like RuPaul and The Scissor Sisters, who never were part of the Ballroom scene but somehow have made money off using its lingo. At least Madonna hired the Xtravaganzas to teach the other dancers and be a part of that tour.

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You’re well-known as the curator and distributor of the Relentlessly Cunty bitch track mixes, which compile so many of the diss tracks dropped by drag queens from that era. Like many aspects of Ball culture, RuPaul and Drag Race have paid homage to (or ripped off, maybe, like you said) and renewed public interest in the genre. Do you have an all-time favorite bitch track?

I would have say my all time favorite is a very underrated track by Ride Committee featuring Roxy called “Accident”. Roxy Michaels’ vocals are just sublime, and crack me up every time I hear them. She’s the reason I wanted to do Bitch Tracks. Legends like her, Moi Rene, Miss Tony, Kevin Aviance and Franklin Fuentes really understood the power of a good read and delivery when it comes to recording a great Bitch Track.

I listen to a lot of the gyrls today and a few think that anyone can just get on a mic and say whatever and it’s a Bitch Track. Not so. There is a talent to it, and you have to have character in your voice. Without the names I just mentioned I don’t think there would be a recording artist named Jade Elektra. I often joke that Jade’s voice is a combination between “Tony The Tiger” and Tim Curry.

When I put together the first Relentlessly Cunty CD it was really to educate the Rebel Rebel record store owner about what this music was. He ended up playing it in the store and people started asking for it. So, I made some copies and he kept selling out of them. And eventually it became a series with five volumes.

I had no idea that these would become staples in documenting Ballroom Culture. I just loved the music and artistry. My husband describes these tracks as Urban Gay Folk Music because it is the last frontier of African-American Black LGBT Culture. Another example of what oppressed people in the United States created and should be credited for. I’m proud to be a part of it.

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Nowadays, the bitch track has kinda given way to the social media rant, as far as how queens read each other. Some of those posts are pure magical ice, but for the most part it’s kind of a lame, less creative way to Hate, isn’t it?

I blame Kim Kardashian and her whole clan for that. Social media is a lie. From the keyboard activists to the shady bitch hiding behind a fake profile trolling Leslie Jones. The internet is why our youth today can’t look you in the eyes…don’t know how to hold a conversation or even spell for that matter. And I say, if you cannot say it to a person’s face then it shouldn’t be said.

I always stand by whatever I say, and would definitely read a bitch to huh face if need be. But I guess I mainly take my angst and anger to my tracks and turn them into what I consider to be art. The turn of a phrase and a sharp delivery on a Bitch Track will always be more powerful than “yesterday’s tweet.”

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One well-known bitch track queen is none other than Jade Elektra herself! How and when did you start performing as Jade?

Jade Elektra was born in 1992. Mind you, I started out in drag back in Tampa as a performer known by “Ebony.” When I moved to New York City, there was already a queen named “Ebony Jet” back then. I was taken in by the legendary “Electrifying Grace” of Midtown 41 fame. So, I considered her my main drag mother. Pepper LaBeija was my House Mother., and Dorian Corey made my first outfits for my new persona. The name Jade Elektra was kind of a homage to Grace. I’ve always loved colors for girl’s names, and I wasn’t going to call myself “The Electrifying Jade,” so it became “Jade Elektra.”

My first performance was at Sally’s for a benefit for Grace. Everyone gagged that night because they only knew me as the DJ and had no idea that I had ever done drag at all. I performed a Millie Jackson track with a monologue. They weren’t ready. That was the night that Pepper saw me and called me over.

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You’ve recorded a lot of different tracks and even a full album as Jade over the years How often does Jade come out as a live presence these days?

Unfortunately, in Toronto not very often. These gyrls are doing 2 and 3 hours shows for $100. Child…I’m a recording artist. I’m not going in killing myself for cab fare and the cost of my makeup. Cain’t do it! ‘Cuz like I tell promoters and club managers, “I can’t squeeze the make up back into the tube.” You gotta pay me, honey.

But I will bring Jade out for causes that I believe in. And my charity of choice these days are HIV/AIDS Organizations like the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation. Many folks think that because of PrEP and the advancements
of the medical cocktails that the epidemic is over. I say “Don’t believe the hype!” These pharmaceutical companies are setting folks up to be future customers. If they got a pill to prevent you from getting HIV, then they got a cure. And being an out HIV+ black man since 1990, I will use my voice to remind everyone that we still have a lot of work to do.

But like Diana Ross said in “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”… “If you need me, call me.” I do take bookings when it’s right. Get me there, get me a hotel room, make it worth my effort and I’ll show up and give you a show (obviously backup dancers are extra, cuz a bitch suffers from Whitney Houston disease–I don’t dance!)

The funny thing is, many know me for my Bitch Track vocals, but have no idea that I actually sing live and have a jazz background. I even do live impersonations of Billie Holiday. Do a YouTube search…you’ll find me.

I’m enjoying Jade’s brand new track “Basic Bitch” produced by Vjuan Allure and remixed by David Ohana Aviance on Aviance Records! I think it’s hilarious that you call out in the song, of all people, Ashlee Simpson! What even made you think of her? I forgot all about that fool!

I just loved that she shuffled off the stage with this hokey-dance when she realized that she had been caught. It made me really laugh, and I tend to always incorporate things that make me personally laugh in my tracks. I love making references to things in Pop Culture or Pop history. If people get it and giggle…great! If they don’t, I ain’t gonna lose any sleep over it.

Do you have any more tracks or other projects on the way?

Well, I’ve been working with Erik Elias as well as The Philthkids, and I think we have enough material to release an album. Erik has been slowly releasing dubs and a couple of singles to test the waters, but I think 2018 will be a big release year for me.

I’m lovin’ that so many are connecting with “Basic Bitch!” David Ohana Aviance and Vjuan Allure did amazing work on this one.

I see that there will be an Aviance Records release party for Basic Bitch at the ARTeteria kiki on Friday, March 23rd at Revel! Both Vjuan and David are gonna be spinning there. Will Jade or Relentless make an appearance?

I wish I could, but It’s coming up too soon and it’s a new party, so there’s a limited budget to pay performers, etc. Hopefully the next time I’m in town I will get to perform it somewhere.

Final question: If you could make a new bitch track about a bitch right now, who might that bitch be?

The obvious would be the idiot in the White House, but I think “Basic Bitch” covers huh. I mean…The Commander and Thief is the biggest “Basic Bitch” I’ve evah seen!

Amen!


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Check Thotyssey’s calendar for any upcoming area appearances from DJ Relentless or Jade Elektra. Follow DJ Relentless on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SoundCloud and MixCloud. Jade Elektra can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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