Sister Zo has recently released her “Freak Shift” EP on the “3024” label. In support of her release, we asked her to introduce herself.
Who are you?
My name is Zoey Shopmaker. I DJ and produce as Sister Zo. I’m a writer of fiction; a journalist. I co-founded the Kansas City-based queer/trans collective and label UN/TUCK, whose mission is uplifting marginalized voices through electronic music. And in light of what month it is (PRIDE), I’m a queer transexual woman.
Where are you from?
Kansas City, Missouri.
What do you sound like?
I sound like myself, really. I like to think I have a pretty distinct vibe. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is, but I think it’s there. It’s rough, percussive, kind of restless, shapeshifting and definitely kind of dark, although I’ve been exploring some different tones recently.
But I mean, I draw on a wide range of musical influences. Categorically I think you could call it UK Bass. But in terms of a sound palette, I love everything from midwest techno and house to NYC garage, UK dubstep, grime and ballroom. I grew up raving in the midwest, away from Chicago and Detroit. So I think my sound naturally draws from a variety of sources.
Why should we follow what you’re doing?
I’m just here to be as authentically myself as possible, musically, humanly, all of it. No one else can be me, so I might as well give it my all. I’m not interested in selling myself or catering to anyone else’s vision of me.
As an artist, I like to think I can rock a party with the best of ’em. And I’m part of a new class of creators making incredible, thoughtful groundbreaking shit every day, for which I’m really thankful. And I think you should be following all of us.
What have you got coming out in the near future?
Freak Shift was just released on June 17th. Find it exclusively on compact disc. After that, I’ve got some remixes coming, and some more EPs with labels I love and respect.
What or who is your biggest influence and why?
Not to get too cheesy here, but Martyn is honestly one of the most foundational influences in my creative life. Long before we worked together on this release, long before I joined his mentorship program, I was listening to Martyn’s tracks and 3024 tracks, like Mosca’s Dom Perignon EP, and just thinking, “Wow! How do I make this?”. So fast forward to now, it’s just a wild development in my life, for Martyn to ask me to do an EP for 3024. It’s truly beyond the scope of my imagination.
I also absolutely have to cite my dad as a significant influence. He was my first musical guide, the first person to really get me excited about listening to music. He introduced me to stuff like Pink Floyd (my favourite band still), Sly and the Family Stone, ELP and a lot of weird early electronic music, blues, soul, and r&b. I’m thankful for him and what he’s given to me, musically, every day.
Also, I’ve got to shout out my friend, Miah Benton aka adab who is without a doubt one of the best DJs in the world. And a pivotal sonic influence in my life.
What have you released so far? What else have you got coming out in the near future?
I put out my Screw Cheek EP on Scuffed Recordings back in February. I’ve also done a handful of remixes, including one for this Seattle band, Watch Clark. And some one-offs for compilations here and there. Search Sister Zo on Bandcamp and it won’t take long to find everything I’ve put out. (With the exception of an ambient track I released in 2019 under the alias, Student Loan Debt.)
How did you get into DJing/ producing, to begin with?
I’ve been a restless finger tapper from birth, started on drums in middle school, moved on to beat production and rapping in high school and continued to make music throughout my 20s. I dropped out of grad school early in 2016 to pursue writing and music, and music sort of just took centre stage in my life.
In the summer of 2017, I started working with Mazzy Mann (aka MX.MRS) and Lorelei Kretsinger (Floraviolet) on music stuff. We helped Lorelei throw a release party for her incredible EP, “Possession“, and that basically spiralled into us founding UN/TUCK with the help of my dear friend, Peter Anthony (aka Coughman), who was running the KC label and collective, Intelligent Sound.
We threw parties, put out our own music, and platformed trans women and queer artists first and foremost. At the time I was playing live beat sets on my SP-404 and going by Btrfly. It was a whole moment. In December 2017, my friend, DJ/producer Trae Mayberry came to me and was like, “I’m teaching you how to DJ. Download this program (Rekordbox). I’ll be over tomorrow with my decks.” I played my first set in a freezing cold warehouse at midnight on New Year’s Eve to like 100 queer art kids with hand warmers in their socks.
I took to DJing really quickly. I just loved the art of it and getting to play all my favourite tunes to people. And then I started learning about the history of DJing, the queer, black roots of house music and techno, with much help from Peter. He really took me in and showed me the ropes at a time when I was hungry for it.
Also, UN/TUCK brought out Octo Octa in January 2018 to play a live set for our Wendy Carlos tribute party. And that was really the first time I’d ever seen house and techno in that queer context before. There really was nowhere to find that where I was growing up. We had to build it ourselves. And we welcomed this absolute legend and radiant goddess to play in our club, Niche (which had the best sound system in the city, the Meta HiFi.) And Maya (Octo Octa) just took absolute ecstatic control over the room. I’d never seen a trans woman artist do anything like it; she was fully in her power, making everyone lose it. I remember nothing of her set, but to this day I see that night as a turning point in my life.
What are three things on your studio shopping list?
The first thing is the Pērkons HD-01 hybrid drum machine. I’m obsessed with it but it’s so expensive and I use samples so much that I fear it would just sit in my studio collecting dust. That’s honestly my problem with most hardware. But I’ve got my eye on some software stuff. I think about buying Komplete Ultimate every day too. I really like Native Instruments stuff. Maybe they’ll see this and sponsor me (◕‿◕✿).
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
Damn, Um, tough question. I don’t feel I’ve sacrificed any person for my art. Thankfully I’ve maintained good relationships with my friends in Kansas City. We still talk often. We still collaborate on music. We still plan releases and future parties. So that’s still there, albeit in a different form than it used to be.
So much of my art has been informed by the creative community I came up with in Kansas City. The Uptown Arts Bar. Niche. These were foundational spaces in my life that helped me find myself as an artist and find people like me. I am nothing without these friendships and the communities that swirled through these spaces. I am nothing without the empty bar nights with Coughman and Btrfly at Minibar, where I learned how to spin house music for the first time.
But, that being said, I am living in New York City now. I haven’t thrown a party of my own in Kansas City since 2019. UN/TUCK has put out one release in nearly three years. So those things have fallen by the wayside as I’ve sought to pursue my own career as an artist, a producer and a DJ. But it is my hope that I can become established enough that I can return to those endeavours eventually with greater perspective, and more importantly greater resources to uplift the community that has and continues to uplift and support me.
What’s been your favourite place to play so far?
I opened for Leeon and the Majorettes in the Bad Room for the Bunker’s 19th-anniversary party in January of this year. That was maybe the most special night ever for me. But I also played Gag Reflex’s Bloom party in Seattle in October 2019, and that was my first out-of-state gig. Queer as fuck. So many cuties in the tiny timbre Room. I’m going back to play Kremwerk Pride on June 25th and couldn’t be more excited.
Where can we hear your music?
You can preorder “Freak Shift” now on my Bandcamp. And my music is available on all streaming platforms as well.
What one song would feature on the soundtrack to your life?
Pink Floyd – “Time”.
What motivates you?
My friends, my community, my peers and all the incredible artists putting out top-tier music around the world every day. And of course the gnawing sensation of needing to create something that is deeply authentic and soul-satiating.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself
I play basketball, I’m very good at FIFA, and I have two unfinished novels with 300+ pages that I’ve been working on for a decade.
Complete this sentence: At heart, I’m just a…
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received?
“Give yourself fully to what you love with zero expectation of the outcome.”
Where will you be in five years’ time?
Touring the world playing clubs and festivals, putting out records for labels I admire and respect, running a label of my own, and finishing those fucking novels.
Sister Zo’s “Freak Shift” EP is available to buy and stream on Bandcamp.
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