My name is Jené Etheridge, also known as DJ Black Daria. I was born in the Kaiser Hospital that's now Adidas headquarters. I grew up in Vancouver, Washington, across the river from Portland. My mom immigrated from Mexico City when she was 13, and my dad grew up in northeast Portland. They met at a club in Portland. That kind of informs my career choices.
People have told me I have a monotone voice like the TV character Daria. She’s from an animated show about a girl named Daria in high school. It’s about her life being in the alternative crowd. It was created in a very politically mature way for its time. Some of the topics that the show covered were pretty serious for an animated TV show. She was very deadpan. Her voice was very monotone. She didn't have any inflection and her voice or anything like that. As a Black woman, I've been told I need to smile more, and I need to be more presentable. Naming myself after Daria is an "FU" to everyone who said I needed to perform a certain way to meet their standards. Daria was a show on MTV in early 2000, I believe. I'm taking something that people try to tweak about me and saying, this is the way I am. Take it or leave it.
With DJing, you have freedom to play. I play what I want, mess with genres and tempos, and all that. It feels nice to embody play.
I had a religious, sheltered upbringing. As I get older, it's been nice to explore my identity and different cultures, and things about Black and Latinx and brown artists that I didn't know about until college or after college. Right now, it is celebrating the Black diaspora. People focus on Black American identity. I'm interested in how Black culture informs different types of art, cuisine, and everything. That's been informing my art more and more as I get older and learn more.
Though it's rare to find Black artists from Portland, Oregon, I look up to them. I like Khaleel Joseph, one of the founders of the underground Museum in LA. He does more mixed media experimental, visual collaging, which I love. He has a project called Black News. The first time I saw that I was, "I need to watch this whole thing through, I can't do anything else."
I admire Emory Douglas, who was the designer for the Black Panthers. Tons of DJs. I mean, DJ Ben Bona, she's from New York. She's a Black Latina DJ.
I'm using visuals and audio to heal. Lately, we've seen visuals and sound used to talk about or create or spread trauma, especially for Black folks. That's my main intention, is healing and normalizing Black and brown folks doing fun, normal stuff. Not for any clout or to make some new meme. I want to see people dancing or having a good time.
Another thing that informs my work is being in club culture. Portland, it's a little different, because we're a pretty mellow city. Being able to have Black and brown bodies in a safe space can change the mood. When you don't have to worry about if your drink's going to get roofied or if the security guard is going to kick out your friend (which has happened to me before), it changes the energy.
I'm in Noche Libre, an all Latinx DJ collective based in Portland. We were doing monthly dance parties where we played all kinds of music from our childhoods: new Reggaeton, Old Cumbia, 90s Reggaeton, Dancehall, all sorts of genres. That's been an excellent way to channel all those different diasporic types of art through music. We're all queer women of color or people of color. People who go dance want to see the DJ reflected in them. They want to go dancing and see, "Oh, that person looks like me. I'm more comfortable". At least that's how I am. I barely ever see Black woman DJ in Portland. I want to see more producers diversifying the DJ lineup. Think about where you're promoting your events. Have a good relationship with the venue owner or manager. Have trust in them. I've had jobs where I know the security guard has our back, and if we say a person is misbehaving, they'll kick that person out with no questions asked.
I want to shout out some other club cultures in particular that are making safe spaces in Portland. There's the UWU DJ collective, it's U-W-U, but it's all queer, trans or non-binary people of color, who DJ. They seem to have the best time. Those are the spaces that people should be paying them to go DJ at those events because those are hard to come by.
We also have DJ Anjali, a DJ Auntie to people I know in Portland., She's been around for longer than us. She has been holding it down for the Indian and South Asian communities, and their parties are always enjoyable.
I was reading an interview with Arthur Java, who I became familiar with. In the conversation, they said, "If you take Black folk's race and history and oppression away, what is left in our art?" about that. I'm, "Okay, well, what art am I showing if all of that doesn't exist?" In my lifetime, that's never going to be a reality, that's not going to happen.
I think about how art can inspire quieter people. Maybe they don't have the capacity or the ability to do things like go to a protest. Perhaps they are taking care of an elder, or they have past trauma from big crowds or don't have the physical ability to go. For those people, art is a great way to send a message or share your voice, especially street art.
There's an artist in New York, her name is Tatiana; she's Black and Iranian. She does these giant pieces in New York that are kind of—it's usually an illustrated portrait of a Black woman. It'll have a text that says, "Stop telling Black women to smile," or, you know, "I'm not here for your consumption," something that, and their displays are huge. They're massive. So if you can't be at the protest, you can be creative in other ways and have a voice.
I hope that in the future, art is more accessible. When I grew up, there was not much art education at all. It wasn't anything I'd ever considered; same for my family. Organizations the Regional Arts and Culture Council, Open Signal, S1, they're all bridging that gap for people, which is amazing. I've been thinking more about the power of media and accessibility.
I use YouTube to find ancient, deep cuts, you can't find the song anywhere else besides on YouTube. I find joy in YouTube, and public media, seeing what's out there and compiling things. I realize that my deep Black holes where I'm looking through, all of these older house 45s from the 80s are different than some other folks. I haven't thought about that more. I was in my own bubble of music and 90s R & B music videos — not thinking about all the other stuff out there.
Seek out artists who don't look you. I need to work on this more, because I get stuck in my world, but thinking about the other types of diasporas out there.
I took a social media break; I was off of it for a month. I recommend it! I was calmer in general, less stressed out, and less frustrated. I was focused more on projects finding music or making mixes or learning music production. It was helpful. I didn't realize it until I got back on social media. I was way more distracted, continually rechecking channels. I thought my addiction was gone, but it's not at all. I'm already looking forward to taking another social media break. I know it's hard, but it was a game-changer for me. Social media can be a place for people to let go and be distracted, but also to experience new trauma all the time. We think it's normal.
I recommend constantly sharing whatever your art is, or whatever craft you're interested in with someone who appreciates it and can return it. Find and follow artists who inspire you, especially artists who are alive today because people are dropping knowledge all the time, but we romanticize people who aren't here anymore. Find artists who are active that you could communicate with.
I didn't consider myself an artist until recently. "I'm a curator. I'm a playlist maker." I didn't call myself an artist and it wasn't in my upbringing. I didn't grow up around a super musical family. It's not that I started playing piano when I was six years old or something that. I would say, keep creating for yourself. If you don't think you're an artist, but you love whatever your art is, create it for yourself, and then eventually it'll kind of transform and grow and evolve without you even knowing. Sometimes you have to take a break to get there.
My advice for Black and brown artists is to double your rate. That's it. They have money. We focus on one Black person dying at a time. A lot of stuff doesn't make the news, even. If you don't know who Breonna Taylor is, you should look her up. It's okay to be uncomfortable and have hard conversations. I've been having them lately. As a Black woman, I'm still learning. If you're White, know that it's okay to be uncomfortable. As long as you're open to learning and taking criticism and being open to changing your mind about things or changing your opinion about something, then yeah, I mean, do the work, do the hard work.
See more of her work here: https://www.instagram.com/djblackdaria