Noncompliant on Maximum Pressure and feminism

Midwest rave veteran and outspoken activist Lisa Smith, aka Noncompliant, is finally getting the international recognition she deserves

Feature by Claire Francis | 11 Oct 2018
  • Noncompliant

Lisa Smith made her Scottish debut at Glasgow's La Cheetah Club back in March, a performance that still stands as one of the most powerful and impressive we've seen all year. Hailing from small-town Indiana, Smith, who also DJs under the moniker DJ Shiva, has been described by friend and fellow artist The Black Madonna as 'one of the most exciting producers in techno'. And yet Smith's reputation internationally has been, until now, inexplicably understated.

After picking up shows with the Berlin-based queer femme-forward DJ collective Room 4 Resistance, her incredible take-no-prisoners techno sets have started to turn heads in Europe, and this month she returns to Glasgow to play at Slam's Maximum Pressure Halloween event. Ahead of the show, we ask her to share her thoughts on some of her favourite topics, from feminism and politics, to techno and cats.

The Skinny: Firstly, we’re really looking forward to seeing you play again, this time at Maximum Pressure. What are you most looking forward to about this event?

Noncompliant: My first gig in Glasgow was for Missing Persons Club and it was a sweaty, fun, good time after a horrific travel experience. The people were absolutely lovely and really put me in a great mood after dealing with a highly stressful 24 hours. I am really looking forward to seeing some of my old school techno heroes, notably Slam and Dave Clarke, as well as newer favorites like Blawan and Nightwave (please Universe, let me have gotten some sleep so I can catch them all playing). And of course, personally giving the sound system a good workout.

You’ve been DJing for years but have only recently become widely recognised internationally. You must be pleased to finally be experiencing this long overdue breakthrough? At the same time, does it frustrate you to have been underestimated for so long? It suggests that ‘success’ in this industry can be very fickle...

It’s nice that more folks are finally digging what I’m doing, for sure. I’ve always known that it would be hard being from a place (Indiana) not known for techno (even though a fair number of techno folks whose names you might know are from here), but I am very persistent and my love for techno kept me going – and now here we are. And yes, the industry may be fickle, but I have no control over that so it’s a waste of energy to worry about it. My theory is just “be more awesome” and if success happens, it happens.  

Do I wish it had happened when I was 10 or 15 years younger? Well, my body certainly does. But honestly, to have things happen now is a gift, and because of that, I don’t take any of it for granted. Some people never get the chance at all, so I am grateful for every opportunity I’ve gotten. I’m gonna ride it ‘til the wheels fall off! No regrets.

Following on from that concept of ‘newfound fame’, what have been the biggest upsides, and downsides, to your increased profile as a DJ?

I have wanted to travel to different countries my entire life, but was too poor. To have the opportunity now is amazing. I can’t even describe what it feels like. Ten years ago I was basically homeless. Now I get to fly to Europe semi-regularly? Am I dreaming? Seriously. 

Downsides: I work a full time job and I get to play gigs fairly regularly on weekends. What is free time? What is sleep?

Your new DJ name Noncompliant references the feminist comic book Bitch Planet. What does feminism in 2018 mean to you?

Women speaking out, stepping up, and not putting up with shit from anyone.

What are the biggest obstacles and challenges for women in the dance music industry, in your eyes?

The same ones women face in ANY industry, to be honest: people listening and respecting us when we speak about our own experiences or our abilities. The constant infantilization of women means so many are treated like we have no idea what we’re talking about when the subject is our lives or our expertise in our field. We’re not stupid, we understand how things work, and we’re capable of learning and doing things as much as any other person. 

I mean, I once had a guy express wide-eyed incredulity at the fact that I, a grown woman, could plug turntables into a mixer. If I can plug in a lamp I can plug things into a mixer, for fuck’s sake. That’s a shockingly ridiculous mentality, but it persists, despite all evidence to the contrary, because it makes it easier to rationalise the absence of women in professional spaces, while simultaneously making them feel like they don’t belong. If you think women are incapable and that’s why they don’t succeed, you never have to face that they’ve been set up to fail by people who don’t want to have to compete with them.

Do you think politics is inseparable from the dancefloor? With topics like Palestine and the resulting debate between Room 4 Resistance and [Berlin club] About Blank, for example, do you think DJs/performers have an obligation to be vocal about their ethics and political views?

I do think it’s inseparable, because politics affects all of our lives whether we realise it or not. It affects us in the obvious ways, especially women, queer people, people of color, poor people, and all the usual folks for whom laws tend to work differently. Sometimes it affects the dance floor in very direct ways, thinking of things like New York’s now defunct cabaret laws or the UK’s 1994 Criminal Justice Act, or the 2003 RAVE (Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstacy) Act in the US that literally and legally connected the use of ecstacy with “repetitive beats.

As far as an obligation, I think that’s always a very personal thing. I was a feminist and an activist long before I was ever a DJ. That’s just who I am. But I’ve said before that being vocal, especially for marginalized people, comes with its own set of obstacles and dangers. I’m not going to tell anyone else how to navigate those.

Would I prefer that people stand up when necessary? Of course I would. We always have to work (and sometimes fight) to make things better. Progress is neither the simple product of time moving forward nor is it accidental. It is always the product of the hard work of good people who want a better world for everyone in it. And of course, some people do the work in other, quieter ways, too. There’s no one perfect way to positively affect the world. It’s important to remember that.

How would you best describe your affinity with techno?

I have always liked music with lots of energy, a smidge of aggression, and really synthetic sounds. I liked a lot of synthy pop, punk rock, and industrial when I was younger. Techno is kind of like all of those things mashed together in a way that also encourages booty shaking. My ample booty approves.

Who are the DJs and producers who most inspire you?

I could name a bunch of big names whose music I love, but I’ve done that before. Right now what inspires me is the massive uptick of queer and trans producers and DJs who are really building up these tiny scenes in cities all over the world, and building spaces where we can all find our queer family and also listen to fantastic techno and house music. It’s something I have wanted but never had and it’s refreshing and feels like home everywhere I find it.

Finally, what makes you happy, and what makes you laugh?

Cats, because they are funny, furry, lovable weirdos.

Noncompliant plays Maximum Pressure Halloween 2018, SWG3 Glasgow, 27 Oct