Keeping track of a conversation with quest?onmarc can be a difficult task. In London for a short stint, we’ve managed to catch a flash of time with the busy DJ, producer, vogue dancer and member of Mike Q’s Qween Beat collective. During our conversation, they drifts off into tangents, talking loosely in concepts, allegories and metaphors before catching themselves and returning to the question at hand. Arriving today in a London dandy inspired outfit which they feel reflects all the aspects of his personality – Nike Air Max 95 trainers, Etro jacquard trousers and a signature question mark jumper – it’s a visual representation of the mish-mash of influences they’ve absorbed during their lifetime.
Originally from Queens in New York, the city they still live in now, quest?onmarc has always had music and dancing in their life (“My parents have these really cheesy videos of me dancing to Michael Jackson – just being really animated and wild”) and both continue to be essential to their makeup. quest?onmarc’s life in the city allowed them to take in diverse influences and sounds from all over – thanks to chance encounters with other enthusiasts and varied scenes as they explored everything from the sounds of bhangra to progressive house, trance, hardstyle, early techno and acid. As they grew with their influences, that love for music shifted to a teenage obsession with rave culture and electronic music – the first time the young New Yorker really fixated on one specific sound.“Rave culture was always the thing that held my attention for the longest. Anything over 140 sends me – still to this today,” they declare. After that initial introduction to electronic music and the rave scene, quest?onmarc initially dabbled in the world of US EDM – a space they never felt truly comfortable in – before discovering the world of ballroom and voguing, meeting Fade to Mind/Qween Beat’s MikeQ around 2012. They instantly felt at home in the world created by the opportunity to show up first for the weekly "Vogue Knights" parties then helmed by Mike as well as the underground raves he'd play in Brooklyn. The essence and context of these early experiences have been the foundation for how quest?onmarc marries unexpected sonic influences through ballroom. "At long last, I'd found a scene that allowed me to articulate this yearning for freedom through sound and movement... Really different music" Since then, quest?onmarc has been inhabiting multiple worlds: as vast and polar as ballroom, after hour raves and international club nights, in addition to producing their own unique and wonderful music. And they’re garnering attention across all three. Their recent twisted club edit of Burial’s “Archangel” – an homage to Untrue, one of the DJ’s and dancer’s favourite records, caused a huge stir online, racking up thousands of plays and they’re working with the likes of L-Vis 1990 as well as being booked to play internationally. Ahead of their appearance at the Radar weekly this Thursday, we spent some time getting to know quest?ionmarc.
Do you remember going to your first rave?
quest?onmarc: Do I remember my first rave? Absolutely. This one was actually in a park outdoors with a guerrilla sound system. We were in the Bronx just shy of this bridge and it was just wild, like kids everywhere all along the water. I remember going by the dugout and the music was just so loud and there were kids moshing in the baseball diamond – it looked insane. I'll never forget that imagery. It’s ingrained on my mind.
When did you first starting getting into making your own music and DJing?
quest?onmarc: That’s all come very recently. But I feel like the curation has always been there. I used to do this fashion blog and my big thing was always integrating the music that gave me that, ‘Boom bitch’ confidence. Like, ‘I'm here bitch. Let’s go.’ That eventually gave way to, ‘Oh shit. I can actually control this.’ I realised I could do this and bring all of the sounds that have danced in my head for years together and make other people dance. It seems like people are enjoying what I've enjoyed so it’s pretty neat. I got into DJing maybe three and a half year ago now. At the time I was really more into dancing before I started producing and mixing. I discovered ballroom and voguing around 2012 – this was when I was making my exit from the American EDM ravy thing, which changed with the introduction of dubstep, it totally went left. Often in those situations and social climates, I was one of the few black people, let alone being openly gay. I didn't even notice it before but classic house music always made me kind of vogue without even knowing, and then when I discovered ballroom through being so uncomfortable in those spaces – it felt so authentic to me. Voguing has been so intrinsic to stimulating my growth. I love the community – it's just so wonderful. I'm so grateful to be able to put myself on a plane and book myself to come over here. Not everyone can do that, so just seeing how it's being enjoyed is really gratifying.
What was your first experience of voguing?
quest?onmarc: I remember being dizzy from spinning, which doesn't happen to me anymore because I guess I learned to spot my spins. I was just thrown on the spot because it definitely said it was a costume contest before, not a dancing contest. So I had went out and found what the fuck I needed – I sewed the sweater that I wore – but then I had to kind of react and be present in the moment, which was very uncomfortable. But, I do feel like being uncomfortable and doing things that make me uncomfortable also pushes me to be my best. It’s the same in those moments where I’m DJing and being in front of a crowd – to be honest with you, that’s why I wear the mask when I play. It helps me to not be so anxious but I mean that's whatever – as long as everyone's having fun I don't mind it so much.
What is the relationship like for you between making music, DJing and dancing?
quest?onmarc: I guess the experience of creation, for me, in those initial moments, I might not always get up and dance – that's really rare. In fact, I feel like I've made so many tracks in my bed. But, I can always visualise myself and I can see movement – rhythms and such just kind of come to me. I suppose it’s due to years of training my ear by absorbing so many different points of reference and being able to articulate those movements with my body – it’s just another way to tell my story. So dancing feels like production feels like mixing feels like going up with the room when I see they're enjoying the blend. The production and mixing process for me, I feel like in the way that I've become more comfortable DJing and being able to manipulate things a bit quicker – it's just a constant synergy. If I go out for a night when I'm not DJing and take that in then that's all creative stimulus for me – and then, of course, I'll DJ and that's lots of juice, too. It's just about being able to bounce off everything and having synergy between movement and production and mixing. It's about me being conscious of what I can do to a room.
How often do you DJ now?
quest?onmarc: I'm doing it weekly now – it's getting a bit more consistent, but the scene is deteriorating in New York. Club nights now don't feel as eventful as they did and a lot of iconic spots have closed down due to regulations. I was actually waiting once for Mike to play – he was literally about to play and they shut the party down right in our faces. That was heartbreaking. That moment made me gag because I wanted to play there one day but also Mike was about to go on and it was becoming one of my favourite new spots. When I do go out now it doesn't feel the same but the enthusiasm is still there, it's just shifted. But that's the way regulation affects what we do and what I try to give to people, which is that feeling of escape. It's all about escapism and reality – this whole journey is just interesting. That's all I can say.
Catch quest?ionmarc playing Radar's weekly at East Bloc this Thursday, March 28. RSVP here.