DJs change their names all the time.
It’s a practice that goes back decades. Think of the many aliases of Richard James—Aphex Twin being only the most prominent of over a dozen—or, more recently, Paul Rose doing business as Scuba, SCB, and (clever, clever) Abucs. In most cases, a multitude of monikers equals a series of slight musical tweaks, each name promising a new sound.
That’s not quite the case with Indianapolis’s Lisa Smith, who has played techno for more than two decades as DJ Shiva. Earlier this year, shortly after the presidential inauguration, Shiva decided to shift to a different moniker: Noncompliant. Rather than signaling a wholesale directional shift, though, the name—derived from the comic-book series Bitch Planet, in which that term is given to uncooperative, disobedient women who are shunted off to a kind of prison planet—is more like a refocusing.
Shiva isn’t the only one inspired by Bitch Planet; last year feminist geek-culture site The Mary Sue spotlighted a number of fans that have gotten “NC” tattoos in homage to the comic. Moreover, it’s entirely consistent with the DJ’s outspoken activism. “If you care more about a flag than you do about actual humans having the freedoms you say it stands for, fuck you and fuck your flag,” she recently tweeted, and there’s much more where that came from.
And yet, as she puts it in the Q&A that accompanies Noncompliant’s RA.591 (September 25, 2017), the newest offering from the Resident Advisor DJ podcast series, “Of course, I also believe in joy and celebration because life is fucking hard. Sometimes you have to just have fun and not take it all too seriously.” Mission accomplished—the RA mix is both serious-as-your-life and life-should-always-be-this-much-fun. If you want to give it a less file-name-sounding title, call it “The Joys of Analog.”
A big reason for that is the DJ’s proud claim of her region: As Shiva told RBMA Daily this summer, in the Midwest rave scene in which she matriculated, “When it came to DJing, well, if you wanted to get heard at all, you had to be super good.” That doesn’t mean all she plays are Midwestern recordings; one of RA.591’s highlights, around the 24-minute mark, is the Italian producer fnKey’s “Like in the Good Old Days,” released just a few weeks ago. But its overloaded low end, with electro-handclaps and electro-snares filtered till they turn to roughly equal grades of industrial crunch, is an explicit nod to the '90s “warehouse techno” that Shiva (and, it’s true, I) came up on.
That hard-jacking beat—a quick skip coming in right after the one, the two, et cetera, creating a party-ready intensity—is the Midwestern norm, and the base line for inclusion in a Noncompliant set. As ever-larger numbers of people—in and out of the region, as she begins touring worldwide—are discovering, that’s a sensation worth experiencing, whatever the name.
Each Thursday, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set—often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily—and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.