Abigail Grohmann is our newest Manifest resident. She’s a multidisciplinary artist hailing from Chicago, Illinois. Abigail has appeared in the pages of Vogue, ID Vice and more.
She’s worked as a strategist and producer for artists from Nonotak to Virgil Abloh & Kanye West. We sat down with Abigail in advance of her Smartbar debut (3/7) to find out what makes her tick…
You’re a creator that works in a number of different mediums and disciplines... How does DJing fit into that holistic picture?
I am the type of person that wants to self-express in different ways. Playing music has always been very important to me; I played instruments all throughout my childhood. I was a keyboardist in an indie rock band in highschool, which gave me an appreciation for playing live music for a crowd. In college, I would try something new (like dance or photography) to see if it was an outlet that made sense for me... then continue on to the next thing. For years, DJing was a skill I was eager to learn. When I finally did, I felt I found a huge puzzle piece that had been missing from my life. I threw myself at it pretty aggressively in the first couple of months and after that it was stuck. I felt like I was opening a door into a fantasy world of different genres, artists, cultures and communities. I guess I did some unintentional soul-searching at the same time because I found such a sense of belonging in the dance music community.
I typically come up with artistic concepts after listening to the music I love. Playing a song or an album that resonated (on repeat) will start this creative chain reaction and the vision will come together in one of those invigorating ah-ha! moments. Whether I’m modeling or producing or taking pictures of my own, I am typically pulled in an aesthetic direction that has been influenced by my love of electronic music over the years. Rave spaces can have a darkness, a sex appeal, and an energy that I am drawn to in environments. Dance music always resonated so deeply with me as a listener, but it never really became tangible until I started DJing. You’re forced to become so acquainted with the music you play as a DJ. It’s a practice which has made me closer to the other mediums I work with in a very spiritual and transcendent way. I suppose I’ve always been drawn to that romantic relationship people can form with things that are bit darker and moodier. So learning how to DJ techno and deep house, and getting to enter rave spaces more often, really helped me to explore that side of myself in a powerful way. And in that way, for me, it all made sense.
What are some of the misconceptions and expectations you have encountered while moving into dance music? Especially after being known primarily as a model online?
It’s become pretty fun to debunk the myths people have about me. I get a lot of surprised reactions when I tell people that I am a techno DJ. It can either be that some people think based on the way I look, people assume the music that I like to play would maybe fall on a more commercial side of the spectrum, or that the music I play is the new “death metal”. Neither are true. I think that the former can be true for many female DJs, lest we forget there is this classic narrative that women can’t play harder, take as many risks, or play for hours at a time like men can. I’ve only played a couple sets so far, which is pretty lucky considering I’ve been djing for about a year, and I already have experienced backlash and ridicule, accusations that I don’t actually know what I am doing. I don’t know if it’s the photos they’ve seen of me, or the fact that I like fashion and to dress up, but as soon as someone starts to judge based off my appearance I get eager to say: “just shut up, get comfortable, and listen… we’ll be here a while.” I’m not necessary moving away from modeling either, but I am trying to put more love and energy towards my other interests.
I like to record videos of myself mixing so that I can play it back and hear/see myself work. When I feel really good about a certain part of my mixing, I’ll post it as a story on Instagram, where I get to hear feedback from people in the art and music community. I feel like it holds me accountable to the people that are really encouraging me, and have been from the start. Plus it’s a great way to connect with people who also love techno and house music, which can be an acquired taste. Some people respond with an “I had no idea you did stuff like that” curiosity, while other people think it’s really awesome that I’m starting to showcase the other parts of myself. I’ll always love modeling and will do it for as long as I can, but I think that singular narrative has become a bit boring for me.
Why is environment so vital to the work you do?
I think it has a lot to do with memory. The peculiar typically sticks out in our memories, they are the memories that we can recall more vividly than others. I want space, atmosphere, decor, etc. to be somewhat novel yet somewhat familiar. To make the memory of an event or show last forever. I appreciate artists like Karl Lagerfeld, Bill Viola, Es Devlin, and Lee Alexander McQueen, for example, for doing work like this. The visions Karl has for his runway shows become so iconic because he takes a familiar situation like a grocery store or an airport and turns it into not only a stage for viewing art, but an art installation in and of itself.
To me, this is a fun approach to the techno/house music scene. There may be a party where someone attends mainly for the visual art on display, but discovers they are really resonating with the music the DJ is playing. Or vice versa, a seasoned raver finds an appreciation for other art forms when they originally just came to see a DJ.
Whether I am producing an event, playing a set, or conceptualizing/developing a show idea, I first consider where the art lives and how the environment itself is & can be art. I think when a viewer can be immersed in experiential art for the entirety of an event or show - that’s when it gets really special.
What visions would you like to see realized as you continue your artistic journey?
I definitely want to continue developing my skills as a DJ and play for as many people as I can. I also want to work with other artists in the community to make the scene more female and femme friendly. Ever since I entered the dance music community, I’ve noticed that there are always more men than women at clubs. There have been times where I have been the only woman on the dancefloor at a show. I want to cultivate a more female/femme-oriented party series and cater to the preferences women have in the nightlife community. The goal being to make it so that women, femme, and nonbinary people can feel safe, be empowered, and have their needs understood. Techno and house music is very spiritual and transcendent for me, and I utilize rave spaces and clubs as a radical act of self love and care, similar to practicing meditation or getting a massage. Maybe in 2019 I’ll start bringing face masks to the club.
I also want to collaborate with as many artists as I can, across as many mediums as possible, to help grow and influence the artistic culture from within Chicago and beyond. A value that Manifest has that deeply resonates with me is the act of spreading and creating loving community through the act of self expression and transcendent experiences. This feels really universally urgent to me, and I feel really lucky to grow up in a day and age where dreams like this can be a more easily realized thanks to the rapid spread of information. I hope more than ever to be a part of this culture and to be a positive vehicle for change, growth, and nourishment.