The festival experience can often feel static and uninspired, sort of like screaming into the void if the void was a bunch of people waiting until it’s socially appropriate to grab their next drink while staring at the stage through their Instagram video screen. But Day For Night felt a little different in that regard, like most of the attendees were actually open to having their mind blown by the music that was playing, and the Sunday afternoon collaborative performance from Rabit and House Of Kenzo certainly delivered.
The multidisciplinary art collective brought the spirit of the club into a festival setting, and their whirlwind 30-minute set was a mix of performance art, drag show, and hype machinery. This was all soundtracked by a grotesquely beautiful horror score from the electronic producer Rabit, who fused the orchestral intensity of his recently-released album, Les Fleurs Du Mal, with intimidating reworks of tracks more suited to a party atmosphere. (The set opened with a remix of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” that was mixed with ominous Soviet-era warning messages.) House Of Kenzo are all about expressing freedom through movement, and what better way to test out the limits and potentiality of that freedom than at a festival in their home state.
In a conversation the day before their set at Day For Night, Rabit and Roxy from House Of Kenzo talked about how organic their collaboration has felt from the beginning. Their first performance together was in Houston, too, at a place called Walter’s Downtown that Rabit’s Eric Burton describes as “an old venue that’s basically just a room and sound.” Both House Of Kenzo and Burton are part of a larger network of experimental music and art that stretches throughout this side of Texas, from Houston to San Antonio to Austin. Rabit has been in Houston for over a decade, and HOK is based out of San Antonio, and they wanted their performance to reflect their Texan roots. “San Antoino is super fucking insane,” Roxy explains. “It’s super old and super colonized and super ancient. I think there’s this red movement in all of us, where we all have to get closer to the ground and kind of just listen. And just get closer and closer as we’re dancing. Hopefully, everyone can just lay on the ground by the end of our show.”
The set felt like a celebration, not only of individuality and a condemnation of the status quo but of the work that both artists have been putting in. “It’s the end of a huge era. Everyone has been thinking of the past three years, and everything that’s happened in the past three years is all coming to fruition now,” Roxy says. “I think it’s a moment for the collective sissy consciousness. I think all of the sissies in the world have been experiencing a moment, and it’s all crescendoed right around now. Our performance is about capturing that energy. I hope that it’s going to be extremely harmonizing for the next three years. It’s a huge breakthrough.”
On stage, Rabit and House Of Kenzo’s collaborative performance feels like a free-for-all. It’s complete sensory overload, a mess of bodies where everyone is doing something different and your eyes are darting around in your head trying to keep up with it all. There’s voguing and other impressively-choreographed dancing; at one point, one of the collective’s members, Breezy, climbed up onto the stage’s scaffolding and started twerking. Over Rabit’s blasts of noise and ambient body horror, the collective repeated fired-up mantras into the audience: “If you’re not sweating, you’re not learning”; “Let’s activate this portal, Houston”; “You better shoot down them walls/ You better recognize the real shit.” Towards the end of their set, someone went from the stage and into the pit to start a mini-mosh while everyone chanted “Is she fit for the pit?” It’s a thrilling energy that feels both improvisational and entirely intuitive.
The last words that the collective spoke before exiting the stage were meant to linger, chanted in unison: “What does it mean to be a girl? What does it mean to be a cunt?” Rabit and House Of Kenzo’s shows are meant to be a safe space from the outside world, and their music is meant to be encourage freedom of expression. It’s unabashedly queer and antagonistic, and it’s also intensely cathartic. But its aims and scope are even broader than that.
Roxy talks about how their goals are open-mindedness moreso than anything exclusively queer: “I think that in every city you have surface gay culture,” she says. “In San Antonio, it’s very fresa… not elitist, but it’s very traditional gay culture. Everyone wants to dance to Beyoncé and that’s really fun, but when you introduce new music, a lot of the people aren’t as open. So it’s more an intuitive thing — to follow the music more than the queerness itself. We’re on to some crazy shit, and it’s not necessarily queer. But we are always going to fuck with the queer frequency because queer people will always be challenging the status quo. It’s always going to be next level culture.”
There’s a difference between dancing at a bar to a pop star and having a transformative experience with music that really challenges you to question society in a visceral way. Rabit and House Of Kenzo’s art aims to do that. “It’s about being able to be a cunt about any music,” Roxy says. “It’s like, OK, I can fuck it up to anything at anytime. And really not accepting the surface culture. This is what they want you to listen to, these are the icons that they want for you — it’s so easy to fall into that. I love Britney, I love Beyoncé, and we’re all going to die some day. I think that we have to continue to break ourselves and be very flexible. Because the flexible ones, they will break. You just have to be very flexible to keep up with the music.”