In February 2023, Baltimore artists Jerrod Bronson and Mira (who goes either by her first name only or by DJ Hell-O-Kitty) decided to throw a one-off party at Ottobar, a concert venue in Station North, to celebrate Black History Month. That party, Black Celebration, has evolved into a monthly congregation of people of color who are fans of goth, industrial, punk, darkwave, and other electronic music subcultures. Black Celebration has become a monthly space that celebrates the multiplicity of Black life. I met with the duo behind the platform over Zoom. We discussed their work and how their party establishes a necessary space for people of color to see themselves represented and dance.
TH: Black Celebration operates as an important, beautiful platform. Where did the idea come from?
Jerrod: There were several other Goth nights happening in the city. When I was DJing at other places, there’s always been a limited representation of African Americans in the Goth scene in Baltimore.
We were always there, but we were always just background characters. Other Goths of color were DJing around for a while, but then it became a lack of representation for a long time.
I’ve been working at Ottobar for almost 20 years. One night, Mira was at the bar, and I pulled her aside and said, “Do you want to co-DJ a night as a one-off thing?” It was February and Black History Month. And it worked out so well that we were just looking at each other going, “We have to keep doing this.”
The name comes from a Depeche Mode song, “Black Celebration.”
Mira: I went to Goth nights around the city for years. And he’s right. There were [Black] people here and there that guest DJed at things. I don’t recall anyone of color having a regular event.
I had always been interested in DJing and had some potential opportunities here or there; nothing ever really panned out. This was an opportunity to do something I had always wanted to do and something that I felt could be important for the community.
It really was just supposed to be a one-off thing. I remember a lot of younger people telling me that they were so happy to see something like this.
I remember having people tell me what I was doing meant something to them. That was a big part of why I felt like we have to keep doing this. That didn’t exist for me when I was that age.
There was nobody that I looked at and was like, “That’s a person who looks like me who’s doing this that I want to do.”
Jerrod: Our first Black Celebration, watching so many people come up to Mira especially and saying, “Thank you for doing this, thank you for putting it together,” I realized this has been needed for a long time — unspoken of, but very, very, very needed for those of us who don’t subscribe to the stereotype of what American Black culture is. It’s more hip-hop or more than just one subculture.
We’re not stereotyped or pigeonholed to being like, “Oh, you’re Black, you have to be this.”
No, I can be a person that likes this and that as a person of color. Look at the roots of all music. It’s ours anyway! So it’s just us being who we are, enjoying the music of different styles, yet still maintaining our independence, spirit, energy, and identity.
What’s the format for the event? Do you ever have guest DJs?
Mira: So far, it’s only been me and Jerrod DJing. We might have guest DJs in the future, but we have not done that yet. We did have a special event with Slings and Arrows, called Black Magick, downstairs at Ottobar. That was Jerrod’s birthday.
Mira: I’m very proud of that because the Ottobar doesn’t really do Goth DJ nights downstairs. I’m extremely proud of getting the opportunity, and it being two [Goth dance party] nights of color coming together to do it. It was one of the biggest things I’ve accomplished, especially because we were only six months in. I remember being so nervous about how that night was going to go and were people going to come. Are people actually interested? And it did so well.
Jerrod: I was more nervous than you were. I was freaking out. I said, “Oh my God, it’s my birthday. No one’s going to be here!”
But at the end of the night, we looked back, and it surpassed our expectations regarding the attendance, the vibe, the love. It really was a magical moment.
Do you have any other stand-out memories from Black Celebration?
Jerrod: Some of my favorite memories are just watching the dance floor as Mira and I will change the mood entirely with a song and watch the crowd go from being chill to wilding out. The thing about Black Celebration is, yes, we have been part of the Goth scene, and we play industrial, EDM, and darkwave, but we flow in other genres of music as well.
I’ll play Cameo after a Covenant song. Adding something that completely throws off the traditionally assumed vibe, and watching people go “Holy shit, this song is being played now!?”, and watching the dance floor fill up. That’s what it’s about — one of the perks of the job.
Mira: We are definitely not a traditional Goth industrial night. We mix in a lot of other stuff, and it’s another thing that sets our night apart from a lot of other nights at the moment. There are more Goth nights happening in Baltimore than I’ve ever seen.
What are your dreams for the future of Black Celebration?
Mira: I definitely would like to do bigger venues. It was so cool being downstairs in Ottobar, and I would like to get us big enough to do something at the Black Cat (in Washington, D.C.) or even Soundstage. I would also like to do more themed special events like how we did Black Magick.
Jerrod: Like Mira said, I’d like to do bigger venues, maybe a tour, but also eventually bring new people into this and have guest DJs. By all means, we want to keep this open. Mira and I do this not only for ourselves but for just the greater community around us. We are here, but we’re setting the space for you guys to come through and help us grow and flourish. This is for everyone.
Mira: People feeling seen [at Black Celebration] is extremely important to me because I know when I was younger in this scene, I absolutely felt invisible. I would get dressed to the nines back in the day. I would be the person in the vinyl skirt and the corset, the whole nine, and would still feel like I might as well not be here.
As a Black woman, you couldn’t help but notice that every Goth model is white. All the imagery is of white girls. It seemed like there was one standard of beauty, and the number one thing is you had to be pale.
I had a lot of issues with that and didn’t feel great about myself for a long time. Now I’m doing something that’s making younger women not feel invisible.
It’s a cliche, but it’s also true that representation matters.
Celebrate Halloween and join the Black Celebration crew as they join forces with Metal Monday and Scum Dungeon, at Mischief Night. Monday, October 30 at 9 p.m. at Ottobar.