Searing techno from a Midwest phenomenon.
After decades of playing as DJ Shiva, Lisa Smith recently switched to a new name: Noncompliant. The choice says a lot about who she is as a person and an artist. It's a reference to a feminist comic book called Bitch Planet, in which women who aren't sufficiently obedient are banished to a bleak prison planet. ("Seemed apropos," she recently said.) This spirit of defiance extends to her music, a searing brand of techno inspired by punk and industrial and honed over the last 20 years at underground raves across the Midwest. The tracks are ferocious, the mixing fierce, the grooves always fresh and kinetic. "Music is cathartic for me and that underlying aggressive, in-your-face drive is very much my thing," she told us. "Of course, I also believe in joy and celebration because life is fucking hard. Sometimes you have to just have fun and not take it all too seriously."
That Smith played her first European gig barely a year ago speaks to the injustice of popularity in dance music. Hailing from Indianapolis, Indiana, she's been an underground hero since the '90s, unleashing her style at raves in barns and bingo halls and on mixes like 1999's Scenes From Dystopia. Now she's enjoying a much overdo breakthrough, with a debut a Panorama Bar earlier this year and her first European tour on the horizon. With RA.591, we get a sense of what we've been missing.
What have you been up to recently?
I had a very fun and joyfully busy summer playing gigs all over the US, with particularly amazing ones at The Stud in San Francisco over Pride weekend and a sweltering but hyped warehouse jam for Into The Woods in LA. I took a gig break this month to work on music, which has ended up being more about reading manuals and learning new gear than anything else.
How and where was the mix recorded?
On a cheapo Serato controller at home in my apartment studio. Sorry, upstairs neighbor!
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
I wanted to do something energetic, bouncy and jacky, but still a little aggro. I play a lot of different varieties of techno, but I find that the more straightforward in-your-face-but-booty-shaking thing is really where I'm personally at my best and having the most fun. I, too, love to shake my booty.
You've been DJing for around 20 years, but you've just started playing gigs abroad in the last 12 months or so. What caused that change? Does it feel weird to suddenly get recognition after all these years of doing your thing?
I had been doing an internet radio show for four years that got a little wider audience and really honed my skills during a pretty dry time for gigs. Then when I finally could save enough to buy a flight to Berlin, I lucked into playing for the best party anywhere: Room 4 Resistance. Some people heard me play there who have been instrumental in getting me some fantastic gigs, and here I am.
Does it feel weird? No, because I've worked my ass off for decades, but yes because I'm 45 and it's kind of amazing to be setting off on new adventures at an age where a lot of people are settling down. If you ever question what you are doing creatively, the answer is: never stop doing what you love.
You've got roots in a scene—'90s Indianapolis—few of us know much about. How would you describe the world you came up in? What were some of your inspirations and formative experiences?
Indiana has always been culturally behind the times, so it was VERY DIY (Do It Yourself). People just found any spaces they could: warehouses, coffee shop basements, abandoned office buildings (or, not actually abandoned, as I found out a few times), bingo halls (usually old out of business box stores in strip malls), anything really (legal, semi-legal, not-at-all legal). We're close enough to Chicago and Detroit that some well-known DJs would drive to Indy to play a party. So I was seeing the best of the best every weekend.
Formative experiences: Mike Dearborn playing blistering acid (while I was on acid). The walls sweating when Traxx DESTROYED a room at that same party. A broken down building with steel beams sticking out of the ceiling where Richie Hawtin showed up to play an unplanned set. Watching Jay Denham at a house party and learning how to hot cue records (drop them in and beat match on-the-fly without listening first). T-1000 dropping Dearborn's "Voice Of God" and flipping out that the entire front row of Indy techno heads was chanting the song back at him. Adam Jay (my techno brother) and I missing our ride to a party in Ohio so we could stay at his house and work out double-copy vinyl tricks on the turntables... there are SO many moments. It's hard to pick just one.
What are you up to next?
I've got some releases coming up in October: a tune on a compilation for Argot and a remix of Ambivalent on Valence. Also, stay tuned for my remix of Cute Heels coming out on Dark Entries in early-ish 2018.
I'm really excited about my first European tour in October! I'll be playing Unsound Krakow, De School, Kaiku, Berghain and a bunch more. And in November, my first South American trip to play in Medellin, Colombia! I couldn't be more excited or more humbled to have these opportunities to play and share music in places I have only ever dreamed of visiting. And when I say it's been a lifetime dream, I mean it.