Welcome everyone to my new queer music blog The Sonic City for theBuzzMag.ca.  Drawing on my past experience with musicology and LGBTQ issues, this column will explore the queer musical landscape around the globe, illuminating its vast spectrum of artists from common names we know, to those those who are underground or recently emerging.  From Toronto, to cities and scenes we are just learning of, this blog will aim to be inclusive of all that’s creating a buzz!

I recently spoke with Marilyn Roxie; synth musician, designer of the genderqueer flag, creator of GenderQueerID.com, and founder of the netlabel Vulpiano Records. 

Casey: Welcome Marilyn!  I’m very excited to have you join me on The Sonic City.  There’s so much that you’ve accomplished at such a young age; I’m not quite sure where to start, but I think we’ll begin with the genderqueer flag.  Tell us a little bit about it, and how you came to design it.

Marilyn: I’m excited too! About the flag – it has three colors to represent some common understandings of the meaning of genderqueer identity. Lavender is at the top, a color that has long been seen as queer in itself. It also happens to be a mix of pink and blue, stereotypical girls’ and boys’ colors, so I’ve used it here to represent a blending of boyishness and girlishness as well. White is in the middle and represents an a gender (without gender) or neutral gender identity. At the bottom is green, the inverse of lavender, the representation of identities beyond and without reference to the binary two. It is not to say that androgynes are the “opposite” of any other genders any more than women are the opposite of men in some way – just showing different shades of identity in a combination I found harmonious.

I had been struggling with my identity a lot and wanted to create a flag when I realized there wasn’t one. I started with thinking about lavender and went from there. It went through a few versions with lettering and then different colour arrangements, but I am happy with its appearance now.

Genderqueer and Non-Binary Pride Flag (Final Design by Marilyn Roxie in 2011).

Genderqueer and Non-Binary Pride Flag (Final Design by Marilyn Roxie in 2011).

Casey: I think it’s a great design!  I was also very impressed by your website GendeQueerID.com.  I wish that such a resource was available many years back!  Tell us about how you came to develop this very informative website.

Marilyn: I first set it up as a place to hold my flag designs and other symbols of gender identity I was finding. Then I started to get questions from people about what different identities meant or how to come out and so on, plus I was working on a paper on genderqueer history and identities for one of my college classes, so it was a place to hold my research too. I just noticed a lot of gaps in tracing how identity terms and concepts had been used over time and wanted to bring everything I found in one place.

Casey: In my experiences here in the Toronto area, I’ve found that while there has been a notable increase in awareness towards LGBT issues in recent years, I often find that the topic of genderqueer and non-binary identities is still greatly in need of more education, even within the LGBTQ community.  Living in San Francisco, which is also viewed as a leading LGBTQ city, do you find similar challenges?

Marilyn: San Francisco is indeed great for being able to readily encounter some people that are genderqueer and non-binary, or at least know and respect what that means and events that are welcoming or even focused on the topic, but there are still definitely plenty of obstacles in education, even from trans men and women as well as cisgender people who aren’t trans. There is sometimes a dismissiveness around the pronoun set they/them/their, which is one of the most common preferences that people have, where people think it is grammatically incorrect to use that set to refer to one person at a time. Not only is it not incorrect, but people use you/your/yours in the singular all the time! It’s an easy escape from having to just respect someone’s wishes.

I don’t think this is malicious, but is rather born out of confusion and thinking someone else is wanting some kind of special treatment. It seems special because it is new for a lot of people, but identities other than man or woman have been around for a very long time.

Casey: So true!  Tell us now about your own music, and your influences.

Marilyn: I released my last album in 2009 so it feels curious to talk about my music. I still record frequently enough, I’ve just kept everything hidden for now until I’m satisfied with a complete work to put out. I played the keyboard from age 4, just trying to copy video game music I liked and then gradually coming up with my own compositions. I taught a piano class at my former high school for a while after I learned sheet music, but after I had left I gave it up entirely again. I realize its usefulness, I just like to drift around and improvise a lot.

I spent a lot of time on the Video Game Music Archive when I was younger and loved Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu especially. Even though my parents liked a broad variety of music, for the most part I was glued to Japanese video game music until I was a teenager. Then I started listening to all of my parents’ CDs systematically, using Last.fm, reading up on music blogs, just going on more of a concentrated quest of what I really liked the most. I even spent a few years going through 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. The end result was liking post-punk and 80s electronic music perhaps most of all. I have a Spotify playlist of some of my most important musical influences if anyone wants to check it out. I’m kind of surprised at the stuff that seems to influence me most – The Fall and the Manic Street Preachers are my two most favorite bands of all, but I don’t think their influence is really detectable in my music.

Casey: We’ll definitely have to check those out!  What type of equipment do you prefer to use?

Marilyn: I have a Korg Triton but I seem to often just like using the Propellerhead Reason software with a basic MIDI controller, plus these are portable and the Korg is huge.

Casey: That setup definitely has its advantages.  Full-size Synthesizers can be quite cumbersome to lug around at times!  What type of recording setup do you work with?

Marilyn: Live-recording what I’m playing with Propellerhead Reason and then adding layers and making edits, post-processing it in Adobe Audition.

Casey: Are there any upcoming artists that you enjoy that we should keep an eye (or ear) out for?

Marilyn: Dreamcrusher, who makes great noisy music, described as “NIHILIST QUEER REVOLT MUSIK” on their Bandcamp, is a current favorite.

Casey: Love that description!  The netlabel you founded which centers around free, Creative Commons-licensed singles is also a really interesting concept.  Tell us about Vulpiano Records, how it works, and the type of artists it supports.

VulpianoRecords.com

Image from VulpianoRecords.com

Marilyn: I started Vulpiano not long after working on a music blog and noticing all these cool unsigned artists contacting me about their music, but with no platform to collect it all together or elevate them a little bit so others could find them more easily. All that the label requires after I’ve been contacted by an artist putting out a release and I’m interested in them being a part of the label is a single, EP, or album released into Creative Commons with an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license. Creative Commons licenses are tools to modify copyright to allow for ease of sharing or declaration of whether people are permitted to use works commercially or make remixes of them.

Many of the artists so far have been acoustic guitar-based or electronic-based, but this is perhaps the nature of home recording and unsigned artists that causes this. One of my favorite bands, Natural Snow Buildings, had contacted me not long after I interviewed them to put out a digital-exclusive release. They put out a digital version of another album they had in a super-limited run previously as well, The Night Country. Their music is mystical and beautiful and ancient-sounding. Another recent artist on the label is J.G. Hackett, who has just put out a very Tears For Fears-influenced album called The Sins of Science that is just astounding in terms of the clarity of sound and vision for an unsigned artist…it feels funny saying ‘unsigned’ when Vulpiano is a netlabel, but it is more of a gathering place and none of the artists are tied to the platform. It is a fluid place for expression.

Casey: As someone with an extensive background and knowledge of LGBTQ issues, what would you say is the greatest challenge that genderqueer and non-binary artists face today.

Marilyn: The basic issues of education are still at play here (using the pronouns someone wants people to use, what their particular identity even means). Not everyone is going to go out and do what I did and pursue gender and sexuality studies…for many people, and even still for me despite my focus, their gender or sexuality is but one part of their identity and it may not be as significant as other things in their life, if not for the amount of debating and explaining needing to be done to help people understand what their identity means and fighting for rights. Queer artists are often mentioned in reference to their queerness, which is of course important as well as the intersection of identity and their artistry, but I would suggest that the media and their fans not reduce them to one component instead of looking at the whole.

Casey: I totally agree on that.  Any advice for young aspiring artists who are reading this interview?

Marilyn: Network with other people who seem to be on the save wavelength as you are musically and otherwise and don’t neglect to utilize the internet to find them if you’re not around people like that locally. This is about other musicians, music writers, and fans alike. You can really help each other out and collaborate on projects.

Casey: Great advice!  Anything else to add for our readers?

Marilyn: Thank you so much for reading! I’m glad my music and gender-related endeavors are of interest.

Casey: Thank you for taking the time to join me on The Sonic City, Marilyn.  It’s been a great honour and privilege!  For all of our readers at theBuzzMag.ca, be sure to check out Marylin’s projects at MarilynRoxie.com, GenderQueerID.com, and Vulpiano Records!

About the Author

Casey Robertson is a genderqueer human rights activist, musician ,composer, and graduate student researching musicology and cultural theory. In recent years he has been involved with the committees of LGBTQA projects such as the Durham Pride Prom, Allies for Equality, and Queerstock Canada. He also served as a member of the board of directors for PFLAG Durham Region from 2012-2014, where he was a member of the peer2peer support team and a facilitator for monthly sharing evenings.

Casey currently resides in the Church-Wellesley Village of Toronto and enjoys spending his free time scoring independent film projects and playing with his band Liberty Street, while on the constant search to discover new artists of all expressive forms. Follow Casey on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at CaseyRobertson.net