The Sound of NYC’s Underground Vogue Scene

(ballroom music) (DJ yells) – [Male Narrator] This is ballroom. No, not the classical
dances like waltz and tango. This is an underground scene that’s been a safe space of expression for gay and trans people of color for decades. (DJ yells) It’s kinda like a mix between a dance floor and a cat walk. (strong bass music) And this scene has created a whole new form of music. – Yeah, I’m usually like super afraid of cameras. – [Female Narrator] MikeQ is a touring DJ who has been producing ballroom tracks for more than a decade and is the founder of the record label Qween Beat. – I kinda feel like I’m talking to Diddy. (MikeQ laughs) Like, created the first record
label in ballroom music. So we’re here in New
York to meet the dancers and musicians of the ballroom scene. And this week is special because it marks the 50th anniversary
for the stonewall riots. – [Female Narrator] Which
was a 1969 uprising of gay and trans people
that that took the fight for LGBTQ rights to the mainstream. – [Male Narrator] Since before stonewall, the ballroom scene has provided a place for the most marginalized people in American society could feel a sense of community and explore performances of gender and sexuality. Black and Latino, gay and trans people gather to walk or compete at balls. Contestants strut down makeshift runways wearing glamorous fashions. Voguing with its angular model inspired dance moves became a part of these runway walks in the 80’s. Participants vie for titles like most real, best schoolgirl look, best military look. And sometimes they are part of a house or a family, like House of Ninja, House of LaBeija, or House of Xtravaganza. – [Female Narrator] For
many, a house provides a surrogate family when their real one has disowned them. Each house has a mother and father who provide mentorship for their children. – To be part of a house,
to be part of Xtravaganza, was family and looking out for each other. Looking out for our own. Defending our own. I am honored to even be here today to call myself a father of such
a beautiful organization. Jose Xtravaganza is the father of the House of Xtravaganza. He’s been a part of the ballroom scene since the 1980’s. – I was 16 years old
when first heard about the ballroom scene and waltzed down here, as a matter of fact. And so a whole, like, utopia of world. But see, as fathers when
the voguing comes to play, I go back to where it’s from. Voguing is a feeling, it’s an attitude. It’s self expression as individuals. – [Female Narrator] Vogue is just one part of walking, but it might be the most well known. Named after the fashion magazine, voguing was introduced to the mainstream in 1990 when Madonna
released her track “Vogue”. It was the dance style
that inspired the song, not the other way around. And when Madonna needed
a vogue expert she turned to Jose Xtravaganza who choreographed and appeared in the
music video for the song. – [Jose Xtravaganza] It was
a dance that was created on hope and dreams for
the community, you know? It was a dance that, you know,
no technique was necessary. You didn’t have to study it at a school like other art forms of dance, you know? – [Female Narrator] At first, voguing was all about locking the body into perfectly straight lines and awkward but visually stunning positions. Kind of like the models in Vogue magazine. Back then, this was done
to disco or house music. So as a classical musician and just a music appreciator in general, I can, after hearing some ballroom tracks, I can recognize the similarity. The kinda vibe, the culture behind it. But I can’t quite put my
finger on what exactly are the musical ingredients that go into creating a ballroom track. – [Male Narrator] A ballroom track. – Could you break it down
and in your own words, what is essential? – The music started out
with just house music that was adapted into ballroom before we got our own music. – [Female Narrator] The
most famous vogue track of the 1980s was “Love
Is The Message” by MFSB. But in the 1990s, “The Ha Dance” by Masters at Work emerged
as a quintessential vogue track and it’s had
the ultimate sting power. – That track itself is just important. Like I said, it’s just
music that was regular house music that was
brought into ballroom. – [Female Narrator]
MikeQ has said that 90% of the tracks he’s produced
have been Ha-ly mixes. It’s still considered the voguing song. – This came out in what 1991? – The Ha dance includes a few things that make it so iconic, vogue worthy, and representative of the genre. Minimal lyrics that allow the commentator to preside over all ball’s proceedings. Calling out categories
and pumping up the crowd. (commentator yelling) A cymbal crash on every fourth beat that tells dancers when
to dip to the floor. And of course, the samples. – They were able to
catch that fourth beat, that sound, which we call the Ha Crash. – Okay. – Can you explain that further? (Ha music playing) – So, you hear it? One, two, three, four,
one, two, three, four. – [Male Narrator] That
sample you hear throughout the Ha Dance that iconic Ha
comes from “Trading Places”. A 1983 movie starring Eddy
Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. (singing along to Ha music) The film doesn’t hold up
under modern scrutiny. Aykroyd is in black face in this scene, but the song immortalized and transformed that moment into something for gay and trans people of color. – Though a lot of people think, oh you know sample the Ha, and there’s just a Ha crash in there
and there’s ballroom. But that’s not it,
there’s still that feeling that it has to embody
and I think you can only get that from visiting a ball and being, you know,
immersed in the culture and seeing how it is and feeling it. (car engine sound) – [Female Narrator]
MikeQ invited us to his monthly party House of
Vogue, so that we could experience the ballroom scene ourselves. We wanted to learn how
ballroom music has evolved from the early disco tracks
and when we got there, they were pretty excited to
have PBS in the building. (ballroom music playing) – PBS kids, got art? PBS kids, got art? Ladies and gentlemen, PBS
is in the mother building. (audience cheers) Got art? PBS kids, got art? I’m being interviewed by
the legendary iconic PBS. (laughing) (bass heavy music) – If you’d to pinpoint the hallmark sounds of ballroom music,
what would that be? – The hallmark sounds in ballroom music. I would have to say the
number one is the crash. – It’s not like a regular drum crash. They like warp them, amplify them. It’s like (makes crashing noise). You’re like, whoa! – It’s extra. – It sound like the matrix. – Wait, wait, wait, wait. (loud bass beating) Are you the sample? This is cool! – And wait till the crash come in. (singing along to song) That’s that Jersey club I’m all about. (ballroom music) – [Male Narrator] Today’s
ballroom tracks are a mixture of disco, funk,
hip hop, house, R&B, and electronic music. – [MikeQ] DJ Vjuan Allur, he came up and started making remixes,
like actual remixes. So he would take from all
those older house tracks and what not, and put into his remixes. So that’s kinda where the formula started. – [Male Narrator] The repetitive
bass beats and the cymbal crashes tell dancers when to strike a pose or hit the floor. (ballroom music) – [Male Narrator]
There’s something special about the collaboration
with you and MikeQ, can you talk about that? – He’s a genius, like honestly this has not been in ballroom, like there’s not too many DJs that can connect with a performer. Like, you can put anything hot out there. You can vogue to it, but if the beat don’t connect to what you’re giving, you’re not gonna get that cool story. – [Male Narrator] I was gonna ask you if you could like show us
where you get your sounds from. Your favorite 808’s, this and then other. I only ask this so I can
steal your techniques so. (repetitive sounds) – So what I do first is,
because I have a long process the way that I do stuff. So I will create loops at first, and fruity loops here. – [Male Narrator] Okay, so you plug in. Okay, okay. – [MikeQ] Yeah, I get my
samples and I plug them in. Just this way. – [Male Narrator] So
they’re in increments, it’s like 16th notes. One and a two and a three, across the top. You know what I’m saying,
like in groups of four? One and a two and a three and a four. So each of these instruments is triggered at different 16th. – Oh. – You see what I’m saying? – I’ve never seen something like this. – After that, just start adding. You know, I’ll just add little elements whatever I hear, like in my head, I’ll picture people voguing a lot. – [Male Narrator] Work, yeah, yeah. – Or just like through the art of voguing or being at a ball, that’s
what I’m thinking about when I’m making tracks. (ballroom music) – One word that we kinda
agreed on in the car is ballroom music has
an unmatched attitude. If there was a big word,
I would just say attitude. – [MikeQ] Okay, I like that. – [Male Narrator] I would say attitude. – [Female Narrator] Attitude, very catchy, very fun, and relaxed but intense. – Ballroom tracks are meant
to inspire competition. They’re meant to make you feel
fierce when you hear them. Like you’re about to do a
battle on the dance floor. That’s because voguing
started as a way to work out differences between rivals. In “Paris Is Burning”
Willi Ninja, known as the godfather of voguing,
says that when two or more people are voguing on the dance floor, whoever had the best moves
was throwing the best shade. – Sometimes people throw
shade just by voguing, like say you’re at LSS if I call out LA that LA come out and show who he is and you just pop up like, oh! (laughs) – Okay! – Like, bye! That’s throwing shade. – That’s shade! – [Female Narrator] And when
you throw shade is that always a negative thing or is
that kind of a sign? – [Ash B] You know what I
had to learn in the ballroom I had to grow tough skin
because I’m from the hood, so people throwing shade
to me kinda feel like, yo you coming at me? It’s like, yo why you coming at me? But I realized it’s
really like sportsmanship. It’s like playing basketball
and somebody smack you on the butt, like it
comes with the territory. – The tracks are also meant
to encourage and celebrate trans femininity. Some of the most classic
ballroom tracks include samples that have phrases and words in them that might be offensive
to the average listener, but at a ball it’s high praise. Music is a reminder of the
enduring length between the dance form and the
performance of femininity. – I want you to explain
the word (meowing). – You, you look masculine as hell. But if you go to vogue and
you so soft and elegant with it, it’s like who
she’s feeling (meowing). You know, it’s like she is. It’s because you’re
feeling your femininity. – So usually when I say (meowing) it’s usually just pertaining to the vogue. Or, oh I’m feeling like,
use it as a, you know, kinda like a feeling. – Oh she’s (meowing) that means… – You’re Michael Jordan. – Yo, no it don’t even mean, it means yeah you could say Michael Jordan. But no, we’re gonna say you’re like RuPaul and Dennis Rodman. – Wooh! (ballroom music) – [Male Narrator] Ballroom may still be an underground, underappreciated subculture, but we see it’s influence everywhere. In fashion, to movies, to TV. Even the way we talk. – Yas, queen! Yas, queen! – The shade, the shade! – [Female Narrator] What
about some things that you could think of that people
commonly misunderstand or, yeah, just misunderstand
about ballroom? – Okay, so the number
one thing, the thing that popped in my head, is like everyone they like to call the dip
they call that the death drop. The death drop or the shablam,
which I don’t know where they got that from. Yeah that’s like one big thing
that we have a problem with. – So it’s no shablam? Okay, so it’s called the dip. – It’s called the dip. – Not the death drop, okay? You heard it from MikeQ here first. Let’s get it. – It’s not called the death
drop it’s called the dip. (ballroom music) – [Male Narrator] While the scene becomes part of pop culture, these
artists are making sure ballroom stays true to it’s origins. A celebration of gay and
trans people of color by creating music that is
distinctively their own. – [MikeQ] I just don’t
want to be exploited in such a way where
everyone’s like so into it all at one time and then
next year no one cares. – [Male Narrator] Right,
like a trend or fad or something? – [MikeQ] Yeah, but it’s
not that because it’s like so many people put their
like lives into this and you know, it’s like
everything for some people including myself.

100 thoughts on “The Sound of NYC’s Underground Vogue Scene

  1. Thanks for watching and thanks for all the love in the comments! We had so much fun making this episode over many many late nights. If you like what you see, you should go support the artists featured here. You can find them all on instagram and soundcloud. Go let them know we sent you too <3 @theonlymikeq @jose.xtravaganza @iamleggoh @ashb4sure @divo_couture

  2. great video. and very entertaining in the days of Sound Factory nightclub on 27th street in NYC back in the 90's.

  3. I have been following Ballroom for 8 years and never knew where "The HA" came from! So thank you for that! Would love for you to feature the
    Commentators that merge with the music & get the kids UP! Like
    Kevin JV Prodigy, Selvin, Jack and a few more.

  4. That's why I like old school music. I never knew "love is the message" was a gay ppl song. When i was a lil kid in philly everybody played that song. Back then there was no black/white/gay/straight music….good music was good music.

  5. Sometimes I don’t understand YouTube recommendations but when they get it right, they get it right it RIGHT!!

  6. I remember voguing as far back as the piers in the west village. Wonderful seeing this gain international attention.

  7. OMG this video helped me so much. I've been trying to make my own Vogue tracks but I can never figure out the formula. Love MikeQ!!!

  8. LOVED hearing the Art of Noise! I would say they tacitly slipped the crash and the vibe to apprecaite the ball into mainstream (not exclusively of course). Loved Moments in Love!

    So happy to hear the names House of Extravaganza and LaBejia. When I first saw Paris is Burning I never thought I would end up in NYC after college or having the blessing of being on the dance floor with Willi Ninja!

  9. #Namaste from #BollyWood #BollyWoodBallRoom #BallRoomBollywood #BallRoomBootCamp #BollyWoodBootCamp #BollywoodBallRoomBootCamp Hope you like it #WeVogue #Vogueing #BollyWoodBallRoomVogueing #Love #Respect #BreakALeg #BurnTheVinyl #Respect 🙏 @TheOnlyMikeQ

  10. Umm, Deee-Lite made this sound and visual style, mainstream, a long time ago, upon a foundation of works from lesser known DJs and MCs.

    These guys can just go ahead and thank Lady Miss Kier, Towa Tei, DJ Dmitry and DJ Ani for streamlining and prepackaging it for them.

  11. Do a video on footwork (juke)!! this video reminded me a bit of it. It’s both a music genre and a dance from chicago and people battle to which can dance the craziest and the music is tailored for it

  12. 8:00 No matter what style of electronic music, you're going to find a sample from The Art of Noise! (Moments in Love)

  13. Love the sincere parting message, hope the music doesn't get exploited, these folks are wise they've seen how electronic dance culture gets used and thrown aside like how ghettotech and footwork was flavour of the month once upon a time.

  14. It's funny how I have been collecting vogue tracks since way back when and now it's all the rave. I am grateful to see the representation, familiarity, and joy exhibited in this coverage! Thank you PBS, this and Say It Loud are really IT!

  15. Fruity Loop Studio tried to distance itself from being ridiculed by shortening the name to FL Studio, still it found itself being featured in vogue documentary, lol.

  16. Sooo…Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd were the Godfathers behind the biggest ballroom track ever😁interesting and hilarious 🤔😂🤣I love it!!!

  17. I am a homosexual woman and I remember my first ball in Philadelphia in 2003. Love at first sight😍😍😍 I had on a khaki cargo skirt, a tied dyed crop top, and white kitten flip flop sandals… Shaved head and natural face. I was a fashion design student at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and learned how to "walk" from my Queens. The use to Vogue on 13th and Locust at midnight. They host still told me to "come back next year sweetie" GASP😭😂🤷😌 I LOVE IT 🙌 Best Underground Culture EVERRR👠

  18. vogue has changed so much…I don't like that whole tossing yourself on the floor looking like your having a spasm…I like the old school way where it is more fluid, angular,more of a confrontation. In my humble opinion now they look like they are having aa seizure. The music is too fast now too….

  19. QWEEN BEATS!!!! I get ready for all of my super fun events while listening to your music, extra loud!!! It's OVAHHHHHH!!!! THANK YOU FOR YOUR Artistry!!!

  20. I'm a house head from the 80s-90s I'm FEELIN THIS . I recognize the beatz. Ayye! 🎵🎶🎵🎶🎧🔊 that cut at around 9:20 is from fast Eddie -LETS GO(DONT YOU WANT SOME MORE)

  21. It blows my mind how so many people (even in these comments' sections!) are so dogmatic about "their" genre of music being such an exclusive thing that it needs to be protected from people outside the clique trying to create in its style or borrow from it. Mimicry and inspiration aren't disrespect. They're how music lives and evolves. It's also how this genre was started – borrowing from an instance of someone borrowing from someone who borrowed their ideas. No one can change the music that exists – we can only build on it going forward – and new music inspired by a genre that that genre's old fans don't enjoy does absolutely nothing to detract from the original music. It's either that or it dies and just about no one listens to or cares about it a generation from now.

  22. Warning, unpopular opinion. Food for thought. While I can not deny that voguing and the LGTB community seems fun and care free, it comes with a high price. We all have free will but at what cost? I want to point out that every last person in this video was not created solely for entertainment and meaningless fun. Your lives have purpose. You were created for such much more than to live, have fun, and died. In this lifestyle your legacy ends with you. When you died, that's it. It's no one else to carry on your family name. Man, we are soo fooled in this day and age. What would our ancestors say? I'm not saying you can't choose my question is, is it worth it? Just let it marinate.

  23. brilliant piece!, but Malcolm McClaren's "Deep in Vogue" introduced Voguing to the mainstream and pre-dates Madonna.

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