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Interview: Venus X on Rihanna's "Ghetto Goth" Look

"GHE20 GOTH1K is extremely political. It’s not about expensive clothes."

In 2009, DJ Venus X, along with her friend Shayne Oliver, the designer of Hood By Air, started GHE20 GOTH1K, an underground party held in NYC turned movement based on freedom of expression. It created a subculture out of a void: "The gay parties [were] corny and the straight parties [had] no gay people. There’s next level shit going on, but converge! We never see them converge,” Venus told FADER, a year into the party.

Lately, Rihanna has adopted GHE20 GOTH1K as her own #ghettogoth hashtag, pairing it with pictures of her darker post-mullet look. See: the tattered Clash shirt she recently wore as a dress with sooty eyes and a choker. (It wouldn't be the first time she appropriated a subculture. Recall her use of seapunk imagery on "Saturday Night Life.") Venus recently vented about Rihanna’s use of #ghettogoth on Twitter and the singer failed to credit its origin, GHE20 GOTH1K. On the eve of the release of "What Now," Rihanna's new "red carpet goth"-themed music video, we reached out to Venus as she was on her way home from touring as M.I.A.'s DJ about Rihanna’s appropriation.

How would you define ghetto goth? GHE20 GOTH1K is lifestyle that was influenced by all of the things I saw growing up, from Missy Elliott to Aaliyah, Vivienne Westwood, Kurt Cobain, Alien Sex Fiend. It encompasses art, fashion, music and nightlife. It’s been connected to Hood by Air for a very long time. Shayne and I grew up together and have been friends for over 10 years. GHE20 GOTH1K was one of the first places that successfully created nightlife around music that was just on the internet, like alternative rap music from gay people and a lot of different club and bass music that didn’t have a home in mainstream, house or disco. It has premiered some of the bigger underground artists that people are familiar with out of New York. It is not a fashion hashtag for Rihanna to use, who doesn’t come to the parties and has no political reference point, that’s for sure. GHE20 GOTH1K is extremely political. It’s not about expensive clothes.

What are the politics? The politics are radical. They’re anti-capitalist and are pro-freedom and democracy—things that we don’t know much about anywhere in the world. I develop the fliers. I curate the parties. And I run the Twitter account.

What is the ghetto goth aesthetic? It’s a combination of what people consider to be very white and very black. There are staples: North Face jackets, Timberlands. And then staples of the traditional punk and goth. We just mix them all together, not because it’s fashion forward but because that’s the life we were living. When I named the party, I was wearing a typical house look but I was Latina. I had on chains and gold earrings but also a sunflower dress and Doc Martens. I looked like I was going to an anarchist house party but I was walking through Uptown, where I was from—that’s the ghetto, and here I am the goth. We’re not flying around the world in private jets Instagramming glasses of champagne. That’s not quite ghetto goth.

How do you feel about street style’s rise in mainstream fashion? I think it’s great that fashion is becoming more in tune with the urban practical, people-of-color aesthetic. But it sucks that there’s no place for the influencers to be involved, and that they're profiting off street culture.

Why do you think that Rihanna is using the phrase? It really upsets me that Rihanna’s exploiting the term so much. It’s hard to tell who really got the fire burning in her about ghetto goth. She’s friends with A$AP Rocky and I’m sure he’s used it around her. Her stylist has known about our party and has been coming to it for a long time. It would be amazing if she was working with the people who started GHE20 GOTH1K and was like, “I’m going to celebrate the premiere of my ghetto goth video at GHE20 GOTH1K.” But she’s too much of a bitch to do that: I saw her recently and invited her to the party and she gave me the nastiest attitude. She was a little bit embarrassed. Maybe whoever told her about ghetto goth didn’t tell her that it’s a real living, breathing thing that we do a lot. So she must have felt pretty stupid being checked on a Saturday night, at an Alexander Wang party, by me. I was like, “Since you want to hashtag it so much, you’re more than welcome to come to the night.” Her response was, “I’ll think about it,” and she rolled her eyes.

She and her team run out of ideas everyday because she’s an Instagram freak and she needs a new post everyday. She’s a parasite—that’s what pop stars are these days. They don’t participate in culture other than to create these religious, vapid experiences for people. If she wants to use the hashtag without referencing the culture, that’s no different from all the other types of appropriation in the music industry, fashion, and art. She thinks it’s just clothes but it’s my life and family. My brother works the door, my sister was running the list, my girlfriend was making the videos, my best friend was DJing, my close friend was bartending. It’s not fashion.

If Rihanna gave a shout-out to GHE20 GOTH1K, would you feel differently? Of course. But instead of doing that, she just tweeted and Instagrammed inflammatory comments and pictures. My ex-girlfriend and I were hanging out with her and I was telling her about the party—and I could tell that they had a little flirtation going on—and we took a picture of ourselves and Instagrammed it at Rihanna with the caption, “I know you feel some type of way,” just as a joke. So what does she do? She takes a picture of herself, or a paparazzi picture, and the next day she tweets, “This bitch I’m wit got you feelin some type o’ way #ghettogoth.” She doesn’t even acknowledge the party and then she blatantly steals my caption. It’s just getting weird.

She’s not a person who can be held accountable for her actions. She thinks that she’s big enough where she can do whatever. If I dare to talk about the scandal, her fans call me crazy names—they call me a seal, they tell me that I’m just trying to get shine off Rihanna. So the reality is that I’m not allowed to defend myself and I’m not allowed to get credit for what I’ve been doing for the past four years. I’m 27. This is not something that’s just going to pass me by, I’m going to wake up, be sitting in an office, and do something else. I’m going to be ghetto goth until I die. At the end of the day, Rihanna doesn’t know what the fuck is going on in the world and she doesn’t care. She’s not addressing the issues. She’s talking about her Navy [Rihanna's name for her fans] as if the U.S. government isn’t oversees killing people everyday who haven’t done anything wrong. Use your money and your power for good. What now? Another hashtag. Great. That’s not going to change the world.

Interview: Venus X on Rihanna's "Ghetto Goth" Look