Interview: Kosmetik

It’s a cold February Wednesday. I was invited to Kosmetik by my friend Pamela aka Haustier, who was spinning that night. Arriving at The Stud I noticed a few music heads I see around town. The atmosphere was mysterious and relaxing at the same time thanks to the club’s red lighting. Pam’s set was a cinematic darkwave interlude – perfect for the occasion. Slowly but surely, the familiar faces joined in on the dance floor. One of the residents, Matthew Paul, went on after Pam and despite my original plan to go home early, I stayed. Every Kosmetik seemed to have an element of surprise; guest DJs and residents always made me want to dance and it felt inclusive. In Experimental Housewife’s words, “there is something to say about a night like Kosmetik and their ability to be performance and community driven, not hype driven.”

When I heard the sad and surprising news that the weekly was coming to an end, I wondered why it couldn’t go on. I reached out to the crew, Jordee Akerley and Matthew Paul, to see if they could chat about the night and tell me a bit about its history. Here’s our conversation.

kosmetik crew

1. How and when was the idea of Kosmetik born?

J: In January, 2017 I was in Berlin to see Doc Sleep play at Berghain. After that late night, I was inspired and wondering how to activate something more in the Bay. I was wandering Neukölln and passed by a Kosmetik shop and the name held. The focal point here was the music and cultivating a space. The Stud had recently become a collective and struck us as the obvious choice of venue to support and host the community.

MP: I remember this trip and getting a text from Jordee with a photo of the shop’s window graphic. The Kosmetik name sounded both extraterrestrial and queer, so it just stuck. If you go waaaay back to our first three posters you’ll notice I had been misspelling our name!

2. What made you want to collaborate with people who became the residents?

J: I’m a relatively private person and collaborating on a creative project and sharing music is like broadcasting a vulnerable act. Matt and I didn’t know each other well, but he’d struck me as having a sincere investment in music and community and open to communicating about the dynamics of building something together.

MP: Jordee was the person who I’d always find at the front left next to the DJ booth trying to figure out whatever the hell the DJ was doing. The whole club scene was pretty new to me, beginning in 2012, and, thanks to the local crews here like Honey Soundsystem, Sunset, Icee Hot, etc., there always seemed to be a master wizard behind the decks. We were both at these parties studying the whole space and talking about what worked, what didn’t, and what environment we’d want to create for ourselves and our friends.

J: Over time Nick Moss joined as resident, and in the final six months of the event, Sis Girl. There are points of intersection in the genres we play, but the of exploration and expansive elements in each person’s approach held my attention and motivated my work.

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3. Doing a weekly soiree with a guest or two can’t be easy. Did you have experience running an ongoing event before? What does it take to be the party hosts of such frequency?

J: Running a weekly was new terrain for us. The excitement and energy of each guest’s set coupled with the inspiration from Matt’s decor and flyers helped to keep me charged up. When Nick Moss joined us as a resident, we were fortunate to gain his keen eye for design and social media. There are a fair number of logistics to navigate with a weekly, and while we dialed things in pretty quickly, the physical and emotional energy required is the wild card. I looked forward to each Wednesday, but as an introvert who works in direct social service by day, a late night with 6-7 hours of hosting required planning and best hopes for a gentle Thursday morning. I learned to honestly appraise what I could offer and set better boundaries which led me to shift my self-care in ways that helped sustain me in the long-term.

MP: The most important consideration for running a weekly is team building. Sustaining an on-going event requires task designations so you don’t burn out immediately. We were lucky to have Oscar P and Siobhan Aluvalot help us get started, as well as Nick Moss who was a constant source of encouragement (and the cutest lil party host), and before we knew it, the weekly became smoother sailing.

4. Kosmetik featured various DJs and performers in the last two and a half years. Some local, some of international fame, some less known, some more. How did you decide whom to invite?

J: We hatched Kosmetik as a monthly Wednesday, but were asked by The Stud to join as a weekly. At the outset we wondered if we might run out of guests artists, but quickly realized that there’s an incredible reservoir of local talent in the Bay. At the time we ended, there were still many folks we hadn’t had an opportunity to book.

MP: Ya, it’s pretty wild to look back at all the talent we’ve had come through. We were lucky to have early support from some serious selectors, like Doc Sleep, Bezier, Mozghan, Carlos Souffront and the Squirrels On Film crew - they really set the direction of what sounds we were wanting to hear.

J: Initially, we approached artists who were friends whose sound and community work we admired. Workhorses who were comfortable playing a weekly that could have a dance floor of 5 to 50 people. Kosmetik has been a passion project and held space for sounds and experemintation for queer people and fringe music heads who want to commune in a space that still holds an edge. Along the way, our broader community of friends shared with their networks and we were lucky to host some incredible artists and community-makers. This is at the heart of my interest with bookings; to create space for generative artists-makers, newcomers and locals developing their sound. To name a few examples, Monster (Oramics, Poland), Luz (Room 4 Resistance, Berlin), Mx. Silkman (In Training, PGH), and locals like Chuck Gunn, wmwood, Topazu (Infinite Beat, Radio Valencia), and Rich King. Crew takeovers, live sets, and drag performances added spice along the way.

5. I think local and underground talent was what made it special. Can you speak to your values in regard to supporting local Bay Area local performers, specifically?

J: There is a tremendous amount of talent right here in the Bay. Locals often get tapped for support roles and opening slots. I understand the utility and value in that, and I can also relate to the desire to get booked for a slot that justifies bringing out a heavier set. Kosmetik gave us a crack at hosting locals in that block. To match that we were lucky to have a flow of dancers who adapted to the depth our guests showcased. I’d like to see more Bay Area promoters flout the trend toward doubling down on headliners and let locals cut their teeth with a full dance floor.

6. What are the music genres YOU love to listen to? What do you like to play for a crowd?

J: This is ever-changing for me. Currently I have an ear toward escapist soundtracking that trends toward downtempo, dub, experimental, broken, and sluggish acid lines. To play out, it depends on the event. I gravitate toward trippy twists on house sounds, though lately I’ve been itching to play techno. When it comes to playing out, I have the privilege of a day job and my perspective has changed in the past couple years. For me, it’s important to decline gigs when I don’t have the capacity to be my best and when the event doesn’t have creative or ideological resonance.

MP: I’m pretty bad when pinpointing my genre taste, especially because it’s always changing or is tailored for a specific gig. My selections come from an intersection of influences: west coast psychedelia, post punk, krautrock, LSD, balearic, italo, wave, and some rave records sprinkled throughout.

Check out Matthew’s Fault Radio performance here.

kosmetik snapshot

7. I love your creative and psychedelic flyers. Who is behind the designs?

J: All the credit goes to Matt for turning out these stunning designs.

MP: Designing the flyers came from necessity. We couldn’t afford paying somebody to do all of the design work and I had a lot of experience making flyers and zines. The flyers were a mixture of original design and adaptations from influential artists or magazines. To be honest, I’m surprised people liked them as much as they did!

8. The Stud attracted bigger numbers of electronic music lovers in the past few years. Can you tell us more about your experience with the place, people who run it and patrons of this legendary establishment?

J: I feel that The Stud has become a pillar for the dance music community. They took on Kosmetik and were unwavering in their support. Siobhan Aluvalot wrangled details and signal boosted our social media. Having Oscar P. behind the bar (and contributing many a DJ set) provided consistency and made Wednesday feel like a family affair. There’s a tremendous amount of energy being channeled into The Stud as a community-driven venture. Artists want to play The Stud because of the environment created by the collective members, promoters, performers, and dancers. If I could drive home anything here, it’s that The Stud is a resource, not an amenity. The Stud is a site of resistance in a radically transformed San Francisco. It’s the responsibility of the community to continue to support in order to preserve and expand the possibilities it represents for the community.

MP: I feel incredibly lucky to have had a small role within The Stud legacy. This bar is really silly; I only have one memory that doesn’t put a stupid grin on my face and that’s all due to the hilarious conversations with staff and experiences with oddball characters. Favorite memories include:

  • Magnolia, a trans elder who embodies old hollywood glamour, endlessly gazes into the dancefloor mirrors while posing, isn’t afraid to yell “PLAY THE NEXT SONG,” and every so often comes to the stage for me to kiss her hand. I haven’t seen her in a while and I hope she’s O.K.
  • Asking a 60+ year old gay man why he was tearing apart the stage one night only for him to reply, “I’M LOOKING FOR A BIG FAT COCK.” And him showing me a photo of the biggest dildo I’ve ever seen.
  • The public jerker who left the bathroom door unlocked and nutted when he was discovered. Maybe my favorite memory is a bartender forcing him to clean up his own jizz from the floor before kicking him out! If you’re lucky he’ll still serenade you with a song while smoking out front!

But, everything Jordee said is true. The Stud has fostered cultural revolution since it opened in ‘66. It was the birthplace of the gay hippie movement and was a community space for queer artists, intellectuals and druggies, and still is! Everytime I’m in The Stud I feel a lot of the same energy in the present incarnation of the bar as I do when I’m reading transcribed anecdotes or hearing first-hand accounts of when it first opened. I believe The Stud is the last vestige of soul in San Francisco.

kosmetik flier 1

9. What did you learn from running Kosmetik? Why did it end?

J: I soaked up a lot of beat literature in high school and the Merry Pranksters' “nothing lasts” came up for me as Matt and I wondered about Kosmetik. It’s tempting to hold tight to an idea and let it firm into a mold. I’m really proud of Kosmetik and the way that we articulated our ideas over 2.5 years. And with that, we’ve all grown and want to take pause, stretch out into new formats and iterate. A weekly requires a lot of maintenance. Personally, ending Kosmetik has provided space for me to undertake restorative work, incubate future projects, and more concretely, dive into work on the Pool Stage for Gays Hate Techno.

Check out Jordee’s Gays Hate Techno poolside set here.

10. Can we expect to hear your selections out and about in the near future? What’s next?

J: You can catch Kosmetik’s radio show on SutroFM from 8-9pm on 2nd Tuesdays. More from me coming soon.

MP: I have another party series called Mr. Drummer ‘79 that’s split between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The party celebrates the history of a by-gone era of cruise bars and the men lost to AIDS. You’ll just have to stay tuned for event info.

It's not too late to follow Kosmetik crew. If you haven't already, follow Jordee and Matthew Paul.

Irina Chuyko is a San Francisco hairstylist and educator. She is a fan of various musical genres, participates in subculture, and loves to make friends on the dance floor.
Independent radio based in San Francisco, CA