Huxtable is also a multidisciplinary artist, author and DJ. She has performed and exhibited at MoMA, remixed Björk, collaborated with Grammy Award winner SOPHIE and DJed on five continents. Despite this impressive list of achievements (which could go on), banal media tropes are never far behind, leaving Huxtable a little reticent about interviews. "I've found myself in situations where I would agree to do something or let someone lift a quote from something and then it was just this meaningless regurgitation of the fact that I exist in the world."
Huxtable is a real tour de force. Her crisp insight and sardonic wit are easy on the ear. As a DJ, she's built a faithful audience over the years, taking inspiration from experimental rock, free jazz and all things industrial. Raised in a conservative Baptist household in Bryan-College Station, Texas, Huxtable, who takes her name from Bill Cosby's fictional TV family, found solace in online counterculture at a young age. "I'm a computer baby, you know?" she says. It's striking how casually Huxtable drops words like "format", "backend," and "interface" during the conversation.
"Both of my parents are tech people," she says. "My mom worked in database engineering, my dad is a polymer engineer, so we were always immersed in all the newest gadgets." The PC, a medium through which Huxtable both consumes and creates, nurtured her early artistic instincts. She notes the parallels between digital culture and the role of a DJ.
"There's a collapsed distinction between cultural producers and cultural consumers in the digital world and DJing to me is almost the peak embodiment of that kind of relationship," she explains. "The joy, for me, is to reach a kind of ecstatic cutting, chopping, looping and mixing of multiple tracks. If I were to just sit there while the track plays for two minutes I would lose my mind. I need to be doing something constantly and I think that creates a certain energy that people who really like my music feel and can tap into."
Her Dekmantel Mix is a great example. Dense, disharmonious sounds clash throughout. In the first four minutes, abstracted voices and shotguns layer over CoH's "Crazy," until they all transmute into something more rhythmic hovering at around 134 BPM. Twenty minutes in and the mix has pushed the 140 BPM mark and collapsed into a new phase. The set mellows, offering a moment of light relief, before another aggressive round. The bombardment is constant, warlike. It's thoroughly enjoyable.
Huxtable lived and breathed nightlife before she stepped into the booth. As a Bard undergrad, she threw parties throughout the college year, often booking NY DJs to perform upstate, and blogged often about new mixes and track releases. "I was always obsessed with club culture and music at large, but it was more about being a part of that than specifically DJing. I was like the house party laptop DJ, but I never thought about it as a career path."
Her first official gig was in 2013 at a magazine launch she organized. The event budget didn't cover an opening DJ so she got her computer and downloaded Virtual DJ. The set was impressive enough that bookers were handing Huxtable their cards by the evening's end, which got her thinking. "I wouldn't say that I was good at all, but I was able to give the impression to enough people that it was something that I already did and I thought, well maybe there's something to this."
A weekly residency soon followed where Huxtable went back-to-back with long-time DJ collaborator and friend Anthony Dicap. She graduated to CDJs after an intervention by one of her favourite New York selectors—a game-changer in her career. "Anthony and I used to DJ at The Cock and Nita Aviance from The Carry Nation came up to me one time and he was like 'OK, we need to teach you how to really DJ. You have to get off the computer.' So I went to his house and he kind of took me under his wing. I call him my DJ dad."
Going from playing four things at once on a computer to the fundamentals of beat matching was frustrating at first, especially given the older equipment Huxtable was learning on. "Nita's CDJs had no sync function or waveform to follow, so I learned to mix by ear." She later found a pair of CDJ-200s on Craigslist and swears by their treachery. "You can't trust the BPM reader on those things, it's totally off."
Technological issues aside, Huxtable came to appreciate the perfectly expressed merging of the digital and physical worlds, something unattainable on a laptop. "For me, what's exciting is to use all found information as an opportunity to chop, sample, mix, add an effect. I love CDJs because you have a tactile and physical relationship to music, even if that music happens to be in a digital format."
Shock Value, a gender-diverse club night, was Huxtable's first New York party, what she calls a "continuation of this urge to have a more backend participation in nightlife." Building a theme, a sound and an audience with a collective was something Huxtable had experience in, but she wanted something more than just another party. She was trying to fill a gap.
"It was a time in New York when things were just starting to bloom again. I enjoyed playing at a lot of parties, but none really felt like a complete vision of what I would like to build. And I felt that both musically and socially, in terms of the composite of the crowd." The Shock Value crowd covered the full array of the LGBT community and allowed Huxtable to curate a sound more aligned to her artistic sensibilities.
"Because New York nightlife wasn't so populated, with Shock Value, it really felt like the social need was as important as the music." And now? "Now it's more its own thing. Nightlife has evolved and found new structures of support. From 2012 to now, it's a completely different landscape."
I ask Huxtable what Shock Value will look like in a post-covid world. "The party is an opportunity for me to experiment in how to produce socially complex experiences," she says. "It's always evolving and I hope it continues to do that."