Seattle’s 12th annual Decibel Festival is Sept. 23-27, with electronic dance music artists including The Black Madonna, aka Marea Stamper.
Always check your spam folder. That’s the lesson Marea Stamper got in 2013, when she spied an email message from a booking agent asking her if she had any plans to go to Europe.
Though she’d been DJing around Chicago and the Midwest for about a decade under the moniker The Black Madonna (an homage to her mother’s favorite Catholic saint), scraping by writing copy about underwear for an online retailer, her career had only recently launched into second gear.
In Europe, an EP Stamper had released, “Lady of Sorrows,” was getting lots of play in clubs. One of them, arguably the most famous and influential dance club in the world, Berlin’s Berghain, and the smaller space inside, Panorama Bar, wanted to book her in part because of that record. She got the news the day after she’d been promoted as the talent buyer at the estimable Chicago dance club Smart Bar.
Wednesday-Sunday, (Sept. 23- 27), various Seattle locations including Re-Bar, Crocodile, Q Nightclub, Showbox and Neumos; tickets for individual shows vary, event pass is $250 (dbfestival.com).
The Black Madonna
With Daniel Avery, Nark. 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, The Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., Seattle; $20 (206-441-4618; thecrocodile.com).
“Panorama is amazing because they often take chances on new artists. There are a lot of people who’ve made their European debuts there, which is pretty astounding when you consider their size and import,” she said.
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“It’s such an international club that however many people walk in and out of the room when you are playing there, they are from all over the world, and so they go home and know who you are and take that message back to wherever it is that they are from.”
And thus, a career was ignited like a rocket ship. Since then, Stamper has accumulated accolades given to a select few on the underground side of the electronic-music spectrum: a profile in Resident Advisor, dance music’s online bible; write-ups in the Guardian; gigs in New York City, London and, next week, at Decibel, in Seattle. Meanwhile at her day job, she’s risen up to music director, working on big-picture stuff for the club.
“It was a very shocking, and in some ways it still is disorientating,” she said of her sudden success. “I definitely feel very disorientated.”
She’s used her newly acquired platform to speak out about feminist issues in club culture (ranging from topics like equal pay to juggling motherhood and DJing) and the whitewashing of the electronic-dance music in the more commercial side of the genre (known as EDM).
That world, one where Dutch DJs with square jaws — men like Hardwell, Armin Van Buuren and Tiësto — reign supreme, is a complete about-face from dance music’s origins; much of house and techno was created and played by gay or transgender people and people of color from Detroit and Chicago.
“These issues should not even be considered political,” she said. “Talking about making places safer, talking about income equality, talking about the safety of everybody in a club, talking about these issues should be the price of admission for being in dance music, which is explicitly, at least house music is explicitly a thing that comes from black, and Hispanic, and queer and trans people.”
Her musical style is as unorthodox as her interviews. Her sets are roller coasters, careening around old-school Chicago house tracks (Ron Hardy), new-wave ’80s records (Yello) and techno classics (Plastikman’s “Spastik”). She’s as likely to spin sleazy disco as she is to play hard, banging techno. A frantic drum’n’bass tune slowed down to 33 and 1/3 might make an appearance, too.
“There’s two poles,” she said of dance-floor trends. “On one hand you have EDM, which is all about these enormous moments and drops and this kind of permanent orgasmic explosion. And on the other hand, you have this movement toward this fixed, mindless smoothness,” she said. “Both of them bore me to death.”
Her own tunes, most notably “Exodus” and “Stay,” are also uncompromising lessons in genre-jumping: They are a fusion of slick and rough, a daft sprinkling of Detroit techno’s quickness in Chicago’s deep house smooth grooves. They are, above all, musical and surprising — attributes that can be hard to find in dance music, a format that can sometimes be monotonous.
“It probably hurt me for a long time,” she said of her varied sound. “They love to be able to say for the purpose of buying or selling an artist that someone fits neatly into a movement of the moment, and I certainly have not ever been on trend,” she said. “And I never will be.”