RAS Day, the annual east side festival hosted by husband/wife hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm, has always been about more than just music. It’s a coming together of families, a celebration of community, a daylong, mind-body exploration carefully crafted to nurture the soul.
In our Sound Style series, we talk to artists about how the idea of image plays into their work. For the latest installment we caught up with Madeline Casas and Shavone Otero from Chulita Vinyl Club, who schooled us on the way modern Chicanas are incorporating elements of pachuca fashion into their style.
The pachucas were the female counterparts to zoot suit-wearing pachucos, part of a Mexican American rebel subculture that emerged in Los Angeles and the Southwestern United States in the 1940s. They were derided in the mainstream press at the time as gangsters and criminals, but the movement was deeper than that, says Otero, who moved to Austin from Albuquerque, N.M., to attend grad school in 2014: “It was really focused on reclaiming Mexican heritage and identity.”
Chulita Vinyl Club performs at the inaugural Chingona Fest at Hops and Grain in East Austin Saturday.
“Chingona is like a badass chick. She’s just down with herself and is strong and is like la firme woman, a strong woman … no apologies,” says Otero.
“It was like a bad word, but we’ve definitely reclaimed it,” adds Casas.
Our favorite Selena tribute act, Bidi Bidi Banda will also perform at the event, and promoters take note: there’s clearly strong demand in Austin for events featuring powerful Latina women, as Chingona Fest is sold out.
We caught up with her down by the river on Thursday. She was thoughtful and down to earth, graciously pausing to accommodate a group of starstruck tweens who ran up for a photo op while we talked about her music, her laid-back street style and the pressures of growing up in the public eye.
Sengupta Stith: In this series I talk to artists about how the idea of image plays into their art, and I’m so interested in talking to you because you’ve been dealing with people scrutinizing your image your whole life. What was that like for you growing up? I mean, you get a haircut and some blogger in the Midwest has an opinion about it.
Noah Cyrus: Usually that blogger would have been Perez Hilton. He always has something to say about me, but I’m not going to point fingers at just him because I hate when he does that to me. A lot of people would have something to say especially when I was a young girl. I felt like that was unfair and I still feel like that’s unfair.
You’re still so young.
I mean it was like, I had braces young. And my first bang haircut and stuff like that. People … they felt like they could just say whatever they wanted about me and about my appearance when I was only like 12 years old or 8 years old. It was crazy. People always had something to say about me. … They would comment things about me on Instagram at 12 and 13 years old, when I’m not even comfortable with my body yet. And they were just adding more discomfort.
How did you learn to deal with that?
Honestly it was just music. Music made my confidence boost a ton and, like, gaining fans. And just learning to have thick skin … forcing myself to have thick skin and that’s when I honestly learned to not give a (expletive) at all.
Does it drive you crazy that people always compare you to your sister?
Not really at all. It comes naturally to people and I get that. It’s a total human response to compare siblings to one another. So that’s not something I can judge people for because that’s human nature. I mean, it’s annoying. Every sibling gets annoyed. Whether you’re compared to your basketball brother or your singing sister.
I always wear like baggy pants and either like a little cropped shirt or like a baggy sweatshirt. So I would say a little more like street style. More comfortable, not very girlie at all. I sometimes like to dress sexier but I don’t think you have to show all of your body to be sexy. One of the artists I love is Billie Eilish. I love that she wears like a baggy shirt and baggy pants and she still looks sexy and beautiful and she’s not trying to show off her body.
I wear bra tops all the time and I do show off my body, because that’s not something I’m ashamed of doing. I don’t try to make it overly sexy … if I’m sexy it’s because I want to be. I’m not trying. … I have a very open style. I’m open to dressing sexy and I’m open to dressing in the baggiest clothes ever and I still feel hot. … I can wear my boyfriend’s sweatshirt and boyfriend’s sweatpants and feel hot.
Kim Kardashian. That’s my No. 1 style icon. It’s funny. My least favorite is when she dresses up. She still looks amazing obviously, but my favorite style is when she’s wearing Yeezy and wearing like a big sweatshirt and sweatpants… or when she just wears a big baggy T-shirt and sneakers. I love that. Honestly, I just like looking at people’s Instagram and getting inspiration … I’ll check different fashion blogs that I like. I like going on the Chanel account. Going on the V Magazine account, the Marc Jacobs account. I like seeing what’s going with fashion.
I’m kind of moody. So I wear dark colors most of the time. I feel like my outfits are pretty moody, like my personality. My music definitely gets a lot of that. Songs like “Make Me” and “Again” and many more coming are a little more ballad, or a little darker, gloomier. But I also have a contrast with other things, like my new single “We Are.”
I like that single a lot.
Since we’re talking about women in music, I think it really stands up for women in a way, saying “We are (expletive). These days we only follow and these days we’re feeling hollow.” I think women are feeling very hollow at the moment, feeling very not listened to, or not heard. I definitely do, as a young woman in music. I sometimes feel a little underestimated, being 18 and a female.
Mallrat a.k.a. Grace Shaw is a 19-year-old artist from Australia who layers witty lyricism with upbeat electro grooves. We caught up with her on Tuesday at the Sounds of Australia day party, where she charmed the crowd while rocking a massive Office Depot jacket. No, they don’t have Office Depots in Australia. She picked up the jacket on a trip to Japan. She was attracted to it because of its size.
We sat down and talked to her about how she crafts her quirky style.
Austin360: How would you describe your personal style?
I like mostly big, over-sized stuff. I really love ’90s fashion as well….I love to watch ‘90s movies and kind of just stalk their look a little bit. I love high fashion from the ’90s as well, how over the top Versace and stuff were, like the pin striped dresses and all the diamantés and everything. I love it.
You said you got this jacket in Japan, does Japanese fashion influence you?
I love street style and Japanese street style is on another level in general, not just Harajuku style, but just the general fashion sense. It’s just so cool. And same with Korea. I feel like they’re really killing it in street fashion at the moment. It’s really like from the future on another level.
Who are your style icons?
I really love Rihanna, her confidence to pull off whatever she likes. Like I said, a lot of ’90s stuff inspires me I draw from lots of little subcultures, I think.
Do you have a tomboy thing going on?
You caught me on a tomboy day, but I also like to dress very feminine sometimes. Like I wear a lot of vintage floral dresses. But if I do, I like to wear boots with it, so I kind of mix it up. Not too feminine.
How do you think of image in relation to your art?
I think it’s just a reflection of me. I don’t think it’s necessarily tied to my music, but they’re both tied to me.
Today, we launch a new music and fashion series called Sound Style, with a story about Lesli Sparkman-Williams, who performs as DJ Mahealani. The series explores the way artists approach image. How does an artist’s look, how they style themselves, affect the way they think about their performance? Is the image part of the art or an afterthought? Is there ever any pressure around fan expectations and, if so, how do they manage it?
Sparkman-Williams is a thrift store queen with a knack for spotting unique pieces that she combines in ways that are unexpected and delightful. She describes her basic style as “either all black or kind of a barfing rainbow. … The more patterns and colors, the better.”
She’s also an unabashed rule breaker. A few years back, she read an article that said women over 40 shouldn’t wear hoop earrings. Instead of retiring a significant section of her jewelry box, she doubled down, making giant hoops (along with red lipstick) part of her signature look.
In addition to her dual life as a DJ and evening child care coordinator at the Austin Community College children’s lab school on the Eastview campus, Sparkman-Williams is an artist. In talking about music and fashion, our conversations drifted to the therapeutic value of art and she told this powerful story.
The healing power of art
“I remember when I found out what collage meant in fourth grade; it was like this magic word to me,” Sparkman-Williams says.
Scissors, magazines and glue sticks — it was a form of art that was cheap and easy to create. Throughout junior high and high school, she’d make “funny collages” with her friends, gluing photos of their heads onto pictures of each other’s bodies. When she was in college, she began to develop an aesthetic. She created images she thought were pretty.
“And then as I kind of got older and life kicks your ass, I realized how therapeutic they were for me,” she says.
She was 27 years old and living in Hawaii when she was raped. He was someone she knew. She thought he was a friend. Shortly after it happened, she moved back to Austin to live with her long-distance boyfriend, now husband, Lauritz Williams, an emcee who performs in the group Afrofreque.
In a piece she created to help process the violation, a woman lies nude in a field of flowers while assorted planets and an errant fish loom overhead. A white gardenia blossom in the foreground unfurls between her thighs while a figurine of a man blissfully embracing his female partner nestles between her splayed calves.
“I really love the woman and the man’s face,” she says. “I was trying really hard to get that tenderness back because I was scared. … I remember staring at that for a long time. And there was just something. It helped me feel like I could get that back again.”