the gentlewoman

The Calling

Marea Stamper is the DJ and music producer known as The Black Madonna, adored by masses for her idiosyncratic and subversive musical stylings that fuse everything from disco to techno. As enterprising as she is popular, Marea is currently on a juggernaut European tour, bringing her wild street party We Still Believe to the dance-music faithful from Marrakech to Manchester – preach it! Here, she takes time out to answer The Calling.

Marea Stamper

Richard: Marea, how do you start your day?

Marea: Well, I’m a morning person, which is odd for a DJ, right? Even when I’m on the road or I’ve been working late, I’m usually right up early the next day. Generally, I’m dashing to an airport, on to the next gig. I’m a total news junkie so typically I’ll listen to American broadcasts; by the time I get to my flight, I’ll switch to music.

R: What’s on your playlist currently?

M: I can’t get enough of the new Pusha T album, Daytona.

R: You have an album of your own coming soon, right?

M: Yes, indeed. I've just finished the first complete demo of it and, until last week, between tour dates, I was in 12-hour daily sessions with my engineer Rupert Murray.

R: That’s a heavy schedule.

M: I try to do as little as possible on my days off, but it doesn't pan out that way – I don’t deal with time off very well.

R: You're a compulsive worker?

M: Well, if you like what you do then there’s always something to get into. I’m just not very good at stillness. I’m working on it. I bought a meditation cushion and I'm trying to tame my brain.

R: What was your first experience of DJing?

M: I got started at my college radio station – I was an English major at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. The station had turntables and I slowly figured it out. Once I got the knack of it I was completely obsessed. I’d just spend hours and hours a day at it. But I’d been going to raves since I was about 14. I started working at them when I was 15.

R: Doing what exactly?

M: I used to sell mixtapes. My friends at the time were a motley crew, aged somewhere between 19 and 25, involved in those early, reckless, but really fun days of the Midwestern rave game. We were cowboys! When you’re doing a job that doesn’t really exist, you have to make your own way. I mean, nobody goes to business school to learn how to hustle mixtapes. But there’s a real value in that wheeling and dealing; it teaches you a confidence and directness that can’t be learned at school.

R: What were your ambitions, growing up?

M: For a little while I wanted to be a nun – I had a nun friend that I loved so much. Then I realised that wasn’t going to work because I was way too into pop music. So I did musical theatre for a while – I auditioned for the Mickey Mouse Club! I didn’t even get close.

R: Probably for the best – look what happened to Britney. What would you say has been your biggest achievement?

M: Being able to help my family if they need it. I was always the least solvent family member. It took me a long time to have enough money just to live properly. I’m from Eastern Kentucky, which is the poorest part of the United States, and I come from generational poverty so being able to put money in the mailbox home feels like a real measure of success.

R: Is it fair to assume that money’s important to you then?

M: Absolutely. I don’t ever want to be poor again. And I certainly don’t have romantic notions about poverty being some kind of “pure” thing. Money won’t solve all of your problems, but a lack of it will cause a hell of a lot of them. I’m about prosperity for everybody. I’m more than willing to pay my fair share in taxes to ensure that everybody can have a chance at it.

R: Right on! It’s been a difficult few years for club culture here in Europe and in the United States – are you hopeful?

M: Dance music is so global that you might go to a place where you’d think nobody is doing anything, and there will be 20,000 kids in some tiny French town just turn the fuck up. I’m constantly and happily surprised by the joy people take from dancing. Clubs have always been places of activism. During the Aids crisis in the ’80s, think how important spaces like Jewel’s in Los Angeles or Heaven in London were. It’s no different now. Look at how the techno community in Berlin responded to the fascist demonstrations there. Or in Georgia, at Bassiani, and their response to the far right’s crackdown on clubbing. I’m heartened to see dance music step up and be a movement, not just of pleasure, but of resistance.

August 2018. Interview by Richard O’Mahony. Portrait by Aldo Paredes, courtesy of Marea Stamper.