Artist Profile: Asa Coaxum

Asa Coaxum is a dancer and rapper who lives in Durham, North Carolina. I interviewed her recently and we talked about her new album, how she got her start in the local dance scene, and how Azaelia Banks introduced her to Santeria.

This profile is a collaboration with the Trans Music Podcast. Stream the interview below:

Riley: Hey, I’m Riley for and the Durham Beat, and today I’m here with Asa Coaxum, a local Durham dancer and artist. She just came out with her first EP, Transformations, which I really like. What genre would you call that?

Asa Coaxum: I’d pretty much just put it under alternative, just for the fact that it’s just all around. There’s some very progressive hip-hop tracks on there, like Izwe Lethu, and then there’s some dance tracks, like In the Rings, so alternative just becomes… I really don’t have a bubble yet for it, so I feel like we’re just gonna put it in that category.

Asa’s song Izwe Lethu from her first album, Transformation

Kinda like, a little bit experimental, witchy, dance-y hip-hop.

Yeah, ’cause a lot of it’s experimental, and a lot of the sounds are just experimental sounds that I was just in the studio with the producer Max, Maxville, and he was like, “What kinda sound you want?” And one day I was just like, “Yeah, I want dark, Njongo, mermaid music,” and then he was like, “I got you.” And then, yeah, it was just like, you know.

Where did most of those sounds come from? The sounds that were used in the beats?

The beats, Maxville, who’s a local producer who’s really bomb, actually. He did all the productions for it from scratch, and it was just a process of me being there and saying what kind of sound I wanted that day or how I was feeling that day, and then he would just go at it. And it would take him maybe 15, 30 minutes to make a beat. And then he’ll be like, “How ’bout this?” And I’ll say either yea or nay, and then from there, you know, then I’ll just add some lyrics to it.

Yeah, they’re very unique. And I think that they fit your sound really well; you can tell that they weren’t taken off some random beat website. They’re very cool.

Thank you! I’m gonna tell Max that. Max would appreciate that.

Asa’s In the Rings, produced by Maxville

So this is your first real musical project, but you’ve been an entertainer and dancer for a long time, right? How’d you get into that?

The music or the dancing?

The dancing. I guess entertainment in general.

Yeah, dancing started for me… high school. High school I started dancing and modern dance, and I went to school in Cary, actually, and by the end of high school, I had no training really besides that. But it took to my body so naturally, I was just like “oh shit.” And so by the end of high school, I’d decided I wanted to dance professionally, and so I made a deal with my mom, ’cause my mom originally wanted me to just go to college after school, or try to get into college. But she was like, “Hey, if you can find work within the first two months of school being out, then yeah, go for it. But if not, then you’re gonna have to try to get into school.” Luckily for me, I ended up finding, through my sister, a woman in Durham, actually. She owns a dance studio over by Northgate Mall, and gave me free training in any style that I wanted. And I joined her dance company, and that’s how I started dance professionally.

Wow. So you just became friends with her, and then she was like…

Yeah, my sister was working out of a hair salon in Durham at the time, and she ultimately… Ms. Penn at the time had came in, and they had been talking about Ms. Penn; she used to be an Alvin Ailey dancer. So I guess my sister and her started talking, and then she was like, “Yeah, my sibling, they dance,” this, that, and the other, and then she was just like, “Well, give them my number.” And then from there, she and I got into contact, and then I went to a studio.

Oh my god! So that’s like your family sticking up for you.

Yeah, my sister stuck up for me at that moment in time. It was real. And Ms. Penn actually also teaches at the school of the arts in Winston-Salem, so she was doing that, and also had the studio. So that’s how I started doing my first gigs, and I was doing, like… I did one in the Durham Nutcracker, and then at Lynchburg Dance Theatre, which is a cool dance theatre there.

So this is mostly ballet?

Yeah, so it was mostly modern, contemporary, when I was doing those stage shows like that. But then, I also was trained in hip-hop dance, but I always grew up just naturally being in hip-hop culture, you know, whatever. And I’m from New York, so I just grew up naturally freestyling and doing hip-hop. So I’ve been trained in hip-hop, contemporary, ballet. I’ve done some Bollywood and Capoeira. Some jazz, too; jazz was another one I was really into.

Do you still take lessons?

I haven’t taken a class or a workshop in a year or so, honestly. And there’s actually some dope dance workshop that happens in this area. My second dance mentor, Bernadine Fields, she teaches at Southern High School in Durham, but she also runs a dance workshop called NC Underground. Pretty much, they get choreographers from different areas locally, and from L.A. and stuff, to come out and teach dance workshops to where dancers can come in, and you pay maybe 15, 20 bucks, then you take all three classes from these choreographers. And you’re getting training, professional training, which is really cool, because there’s not a lot of places for adults to go to to get training like that.

Usually you have to start really young.

Bingo, right. So the fact that she has this space and created this space to do that has been awesome. So that’s gonna be one of those workshops that I actually go to soon, ’cause I’m like, I’m ready to get my… With me just doing shows of just backup dancing, and doing my own music, I haven’t made time to actually get back to my craft, and you know…

Grow as an artist?

Yeah, just keep freshening up the skills, because for a dancer, there’s always work that could be done.

So let me get this straight: You go to an arts high school, you’re 18, you’re like, “Mom, I don’t wanna go to college; I wanna be a dancer.” She’s like, “Alright, you have two months.” You managed to find an Alvin Ailey dancer who’s willing to give you free lessons, and then you just immediately hop into it, and you’ve been doing it professionally ever since. That’s a pretty amazing story. Like, we’re not in New York; we’re in Durham, North Carolina right now.

But for a while, I feel like it was kinda hard, actually. Especially as far as there being enough jobs for everybody, you know? Like, finding gigs, consistent gigs, that’s always a struggle, I feel like no matter where you are, is just finding consistent gigs. But the dance scene here is pretty good. Once you get into the network of the dance scene here, then things start to flow, and then you meet people who, you know, they do this or they do that, and they’re like, “Oh hey, you wanna be part of this or that?” So yeah, it was pretty good. But then I ended up teaching, too, ’cause I ended up stopping and doing more so teaching. I did maybe four years professionally, two or three years teaching, and then from there I was just doing other random stuff in between there, yeah. Just kind of finding my way.

That’s so cool. That just made me think of, you know, I’m a photographer, and I know that models here… There’s way more models than there are jobs. There just really are. I mean, dancing has a little bit of a higher barrier of entry, like usually people have put more years into it, so they I guess get filtered out a little bit more, but yeah. That’s what I hear from models, is there’s just a lot of…

Oh yeah. I feel like that’s always the case, because it’s just like… I feel like the arts in Durham is an area to where, when you’re doing it professionally, everyone’s going for the same jobs; there’s not enough of the jobs, so it’s like, it can be very cutthroat. And then it also just can be very daunting, too, ’cause you’re just like, “Okay, well, can I do this? Because I’m not booking.” And there’s only so many jobs, so.

That’s tough.

Yeah. But if you network, then that’s also a way in right there. I feel like a lot of dancers, also nowadays, it’s always been who you know, but even more so now it’s who you know.

Yeah. And I feel like that’s true everywhere.

Yeah, definitely.

So then were you able to turn those dancing networks into music networks? ‘Cause you’ve been playing out a lot; I’ve noticed on your Instagram and stuff.

Oh, yeah. The music stuff, transitioning to that, all really started when I met Zensofly, pretty much. So I’m part of a drag house scenario, or performance arts house, called the House of Coxx, who does a lot of stuff in the area, Vivica C. Coxx being the mother of the house. And I remember there being one show that they were doing at The Bar in Durham, and Zen happened to be at that show, and I remember her coming up to me and being like, “Oh, I like your outfit. You’re really cute, what do you do?” You know, I was just like, “Oh yeah, I’m a dancer.” And then she was like, “Oh shit!” She was like, “Well I’m an artist,” and then we just started kiki-ing and talking, and then she was like, “Well I’m doing this music video; would you like to join it and dance in it?” And I didn’t know who Zen was at the time, to be honest, ’cause I was just like, “Oh, okay.”

Random person, walks into the bar…

Yeah, a random person. You know, I hadn’t heard her music yet, or anything like that, so I was just like, “Okay, cool, I’m down to collab.” ‘Cause I’m that type of person. I like collabing with different people, and just making stuff, so she asked me and I was like, “Yeah.” And then she asked me if I wanted a shot. And I was like, “Yeah,” so I’m thinking we’re going to the bar to take a shot, and she pulls out jello shots out of her pocket. So from then, we became friends and I did that music video, and from me doing the music video onward, I started backup dancing with her and doing shows, and from there, I ended up meeting her friend and producer Max, Maxville. And that’s pretty much how I got into it, because Max was like, “Yeah, you know, Asa seems cool. Do they do anything, like, do they do music stuff or anything?” ‘Cause I think they had saw me joking around, doing some little raps on Instagram, being cute, and then we ended up getting together, and that’s how it all started.

Zensofly’s “Getting Started” music video

So that one night at The Bar, you must have just been dancing your ass off!

You know what, the funny thing: I hadn’t even been dancing yet, to be honest.

Just a cute outfit? You got all that out of a cute outfit?

Yeah, I just had a cute outfit on, and I had been hanging around the house a few times. I was still kind of new to hanging around the House of Coxx and whatnot. I wasn’t part of the house yet, at the time, but I was friends with Mercury Waters and Stormy Day, and that’s… like, being around them, I would just go to the events, but I was still kinda new into the scene. So yeah, she found me that way.

So I remember, I went to a House of Coxx… it’s like a drag house in the traditional sense, kind of. Oh, and Vivica had said that you were the first person in the house who didn’t have to be a money person first.

Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’m the only person that didn’t do pit crew, really. I didn’t have to go through that. I remember doing it at one point, but I wasn’t ever really a pit crew person.

So if y’all haven’t seen a House of Coxx drag show, they have beautiful boys – mostly boys, I don’t know if they’re all boys – walk around in just their underwear around the crowd with big jugs for tips. And I think it’s very effective. I think it’s very effective. But at the beginning of each show, Vivica has to be like, “Alright y’all, let’s talk about consent. Do not touch these boys anywhere. Just give them money and leave.”

Yep, always the consent talk. Always. Absolutely. Don’t touch anyone anywhere.

But you didn’t have to do that, you were just part of the family, it kinda sounds like.

Yeah, it was weird, because it was like, being friends with Mercury Waters, and that was the first person I ever met, part of the house, I was hanging around with Mercury, and then finally later into our relationship, Mercury introduced me to Stormy, and was like “Oh, you should come to one of the shows sometime.” And around this time too, I also had just realized I was trans, so I was just coming out, and I was really going through a lot, and I had lost a grandpa; it was just a lot. So they had took me in as family, and so I would be at the shows, and I would be to the side, and people would be like, “Are you a part of the house?” I’d be like, “No, I just know them. These are like, my family.” And so from there in time on, as I was hanging out with them, I was like, “Yeah, I really like being around these people, and they are accepting me.” And I was like, “Oh, how do I be a part of the house?” And then they were like, “Well, you gotta kinda work to get in the house.” So I ended up doing the drag shows, and that’s ultimately how I got into the house, is I did my first amateur drag show. I came in second place, and then I did it again, and then I won first place. And then after that, like a month or so afterwards, I was asked into the house. And they were just like, “Yeah, we wanted to hold out and see what was going on, but yeah.”

That’s awesome. That’s really cool. How do you feel about… I mean drag is such a deep tradition. How do you feel about your place within that sort of history?

I like it. I like it, especially being a trans nonbinary person in drag, because there’s so much transphobia within the drag community from cis drag queens who feel like, “Oh, you have to be this to do drag, and drag is only for this certain type of person.” All this other bullshit that’s just really transphobic, and I’m just like, “Yeah, that’s some bullshit.” So, being a part of a house who actually has diversity within it, people who are cis, and people who are trans and nonbinary and whatnot, I think that’s really important to see. Especially being a black trans person in the house. You know, it’s just all these different layers that I find really important at this moment in time to be a part of a drag house. Even though I’m not necessarily a drag performer, I’m still experimenting within the house, I’m kinda like the wild card, because I do dance and because I’m still new to drag and doing drag makeup and all that, so.

Mhm. So you’re kinda figuring it out, figuring out what your place is there.

Yeah, figuring it out. But it’s home, and I definitely feel welcome, and there’s definitely solidarity there to where I feel safe, which is important to me nowadays, too.

Yeah. So let’s talk about the witch thing, if you don’t mind.

Oh yeah, absolutely.

So right now, we are in Asa’s apartment that they share with their boyfriend. You might’ve heard the boyfriend walking around earlier, and I think peeing.

[Both laugh] I love it.

Asa’s song “Hex Game”

And there’s altars, and there’s black candles, and there’s crystals and plants. A lot of plants; there’s a plant in the shower. And then I’ve just noticed that in your music, like, you have your song Hex Game, which is so catchy I had it stuck in my head for five or six days, and then you also just got featured on a song called Santería. So can you talk a little bit more about your relationship with witch culture and how you feel about it?

Yeah, I’ve been into witchcraft since really young, but I grew up in a really, super Christian household, and that was definitely a non-existent thing. Like, I wasn’t even allowed to read Harry Potter back in the day; my mom threatened to burn the books. But it wasn’t until after high school I ended up really just being like, “Okay, I’m gonna do what I want.” So considering I was into it, I just did my own kinda research into witchcraft, and pagan spirituality, all that sort of things. Wicca – wicca was one of those things when I was in high school where everyone was interested in. It was like “Oh yeah,” like if you were into witchcraft the majority of the time, people were like, “Oh, I’m Wiccan.”

I knew the Wiccan kids.

Yeah, you know the Wiccan kids! So you know, I was into Wicca for a little bit, and I end up meeting this woman who identified as a fag hag. She was from San Francisco, old 50-year-old woman who grew up Catholic and then became a witch later, and she kinda took me under her wing and was just like, “Oh, hey!” She also kinda clocked that I was queer. So she was like, “Oh, I got you, honey.”

So she got me into Wicca, and then I got into Druidism, ’cause her husband was a Druid. And then from there doing it, I was just like, “Mm, these things are, like…” Around this time, I became more conscious, also, just about colonialism and things like that. So I was like, “These things are just hella white for me.” And I felt like, I was just like, “I don’t feel like I can do things with this, but it doesn’t feel home. Homey.” So I started looking into African spirituality a little bit, and ultimately I end up running into this guy, or end up talking to this guy who was a makeup artist – a white guy, actually, too – and he was into Voodoo. Which is odd, right? When you think, considering the history of Voodoo, this white guy doing Voodoo. So he and I were talking one time, and he was like, “Yeah, I’m into Voodoo.” And my understanding, just because I just grew up in a Christian household, and even within pagan culture, African spirituality is kinda demonized. Especially things like Voodoo, Santería, and things like that.

I didn’t know that.

Yeah, very demonized, ’cause it’s black magic. Which, you know, people assume is all about destruction and all that, which, nothing really to do with that.

You would think that there’d be solidarity between the kind of witchy traditions.

Racism even reaches that area. So yeah, he ended up talking to me, and I was like, my knowledge, “Uh, that’s black magic,” and he was like, “No, actually that comes from the African slaves.” So the fact that this white person is now educating me about my own history is kinda annoying, but he ended up introducing me to the loa, who are the spirit of Haitian Voodoo, who are kinda like guardian angels, if you will. And so from there, I got into Voodoo. And around this time also, I was really into Azealia Banks, who’s a bomb artist too. And I followed her on Twitter, and she and I would talk on Twitter a lot. So she ended up introducing me to Santería, which is also coming from west Africa Yoruba tradition.

Pause. Pause. Azealia Banks introduced you to Santería.

Yeah. Just casually, though. Through Twitter, because in the Twittersphere, you know, celebrities talk to their fans, and I was a big-ass fan, too. I was always on her timeline and stuff, and she would talk to her fans really casually, which I really respect. I know she gets a bad rap from people, but actually she’s a really bomb and intelligent person who’s kind of misunderstood and demonized, I feel like. But yeah, she told me about it, and we would exchange information, ’cause I was really into loa and Voodoo and I hadn’t really known about Santería, even though it’s coming from the same areas of Africa. And so she introduced me to the Orishas, who are a different type of spirit in Santería, or Ocha, who are like African spirits, or guardian angels. Guardians of your conscious, which I think Orisha actually translates to guardians of your conscious. But yeah, I started getting into that, Hoodoo, like, all things related to African spirituality from there on out, I just kinda dove into. And that’s how I got into it, and try to reconnect with my ancestors, because I feel like growing up as a young black Christian person and not really knowing the history of where I came from besides slavery, ultimately, I found myself searching to be like, “Okay, I know there’s more to the story than just slavery.” And as I became more conscious and became more radical about my way of thinking and decolonizing myself, the more I was like, “Okay, actually, this history is there.” It’s just like, people have either thrown dirt on it, or there’s misinformation out there, but I ended up finding information for myself, and now I am where I am today. I pray to my ancestors a lot – not recently, which, my altar is not here. So actually, the altar that you see is actually my boyfriend’s. My altar is back at my mom’s place, and my altar actually has my ancestors on them, ’cause my witchcraft mostly has to do with ancestry worship, and dealing with my ancestors, and more so Hoodoo-ish, and working with the Orisha, so it’s kinda like it can be mixed into each other. So that’s what I mostly do, and I tend to my ancestors and make offerings to my ancestors, and make petitions for them to do work for me, or help me through things.

Does that feel more right and more homey to you?

Oh yeah, so much homey. Just because when you connect with your ancestors, when you have that tie there, you sort of feel like you have some backing. Like, you have the backup to do whatever. And you know, when it comes to African spiritualities, the ancestors are like… For any black person or African person who practices Santería, Voodoo, Hoodoo, or anything coming from there, they’ll tell you too, probably, that just the overall feeling of being filled with your ancestors or being in the presence of them is just such a strong feeling, and they’re so powerful.

So what’s next for you musically?

Well, I’m working on a track now called Sirens, that I’m gonna be… actually, it’s almost done. I actually just have to lay vocals on it and maybe extend it a little bit with the time on the track, but I’m working with that with Max also. That should be out soon. He’s been really busy doing projects with other people and stuff like that, and also doing his shows, and the scheduling’s just been off, but I’m gonna be in the studio soon, finishing it out. And then also, I am going to be collaborating with Sand Pact, which is… I opened up for Sand Pact for one of their shows recently, and they’re just really cool in general, but we’ve been in talks about just collabing and having fun. They’re so chill; they’re just like, “Yeah, we love you, whatever, let’s make time.” So that, I’m really excited about that, ’cause I’ve been wanting to work with them for a long time.

I was the first person to buy their latest tape; I was real proud of myself. Also Kaanchee from Sand Pact taught me how to run the NC State radio station!

Oh, listen. Kaanchee, like… they don’t fuck around. They’re gorgeous, strong, I’m about it. Alex is bomb also, just chill, in the cut.

Well I’m excited to hear it!

Yeah, I am too, ’cause I really am. I’m a big fan of theirs. Also, I just feel like the energy that we both have would just be monumental on that track.

I can see it. Alright, well thanks for talking to me.

Yeah, absolutely.

Find Asa at @cruelworldofasa on social media

Vivica C. Coxx (The House of Coxx)
Trans Music website Trans Music on Instagram
Trans Music on Facebook

Artist Profile: Cool Boy 36

Editor’s Note: This piece was written for print and is the feature writing in the limited edition REUPCYCLE LOOK BOOK Zine, a collaboration between Durham Beat and Cool Boy 36. To purchase the look book, please visit our online shop HERE.

Blaine Wyatt Carteaux. Yes, that’s his real name. You might know him better as Raund Haus co-founder and local fashion artist Cool Boy 36. I met Blaine for the first time in the weeks leading up to Moogfest 2018. As the resident local journalist dedicated to covering all of the local sets, I first started to get to know Blaine in the short, intense burst of time surrounding the festival. I knew from the very first moment I met him that he is an innovator. Quixotic though he may be at times, Blaine is a fiercely self-aware individual who effortlessly emanates an energy of uniqueness.

Born in upstate New York and raised in North Carolina since the age of eleven, Blaine has been making art for his whole life. Through the years he has walked down many creative roads. From his early affection for street art, sketching and drawing, to the design, screenprinting, and VHS video art of his current path, Blaine has been a fearless navigator of “creating something in a non-traditional way.”

“I started as a design student at UNC Greensboro,” he told me over drinks at Criterion. During his five years in undergrad, he dabbled in mediums ranging from photography to etching. Throughout these formative experiences his design process grew, became more intentional, and more inclusive of different mediums. By the time he finished college and had landed in Durham, the spark for Cool Boy 36 had already been lit.

Fashion wasn’t something he studied in school. His passion for it grew over time and took root when he worked in fashion retail. Between flipping through fashion magazines on breaks to the inevitable people watching of the mall, his observations and experiences during this time would help inform his path to come. His first foray into fashion would come in Durham when Cool Boy 36 was little more than a great notion waiting to be born. Thanks to an injection of income from a tax refund, Blaine was able to do his first-ever run of shirts under the Cool Boy 36 brand. Now five years old, Cool Boy 36 is an established presence in Durham.

Cool Boy 36 is as much an artist persona as it is a brand. The aesthetic of Cool Boy is driven by Blaine’s longtime affection for street art–everything from graffiti to busking to trash art and found art. To his core, Blaine is a street artist. While today the Cool Boy 36 brand represents a much larger body of work and artistic mediums, street fashion is the cornerstone. The Cool Boy garments are every bit as unique as the artist who makes them. One of the fundamental qualities of the brand is the non-traditional approach to production. No two garments are ever the same. Cool Boy 36 specializes in limited edition one-of-one garments, each its own unique piece of art, which can never be truly replicated. If fashion is meant to help people express their individuality through personal style, then Blaine’s approach is true fashion sense. Over the last year, Blaine describes himself as having “hit a stride” and achieving “a level of rarity I’ve always wanted.” The Durham environment has certainly aided in Blaine’s creative ascension.

Since Blaine has been living in Durham, the Cool Boy 36 brand has been reacting to the growth and changing landscape of the city. “I’ve been growing as the city is growing,” he told me. Durham is home to a vibrant art scene, some publicly funded, some strictly DIY, but all of it furiously local, and often intersecting. Blaine himself describes Durham as having a “very open artist community” where people are “down to collaborate.” But in the midst of this highly creative space, there exists a particular chaos that goes beyond people and art and community.

Durham is undergoing a transformation for all to see. Construction makes itself known everywhere it goes: orange cones, workers in green and orange vests, fences, piles of dirt and rubble, and dead empty lots. All of these images exist in the daily life of Durham. This is the everyday chaos of tangible change that Cool Boy has captured in his REUPCYCLE clothing line.

For this new line, Blaine designed images inspired by urban development, signs posted, utility work, orange lines spray painted on the street. Bright colors and images of chains, “restricted area” signage, and his own rendition of Durham’s recycle logo, all reflect the face of a space in flux, of a city preparing itself for a massive infusion of new residents, and with them, new cultural values. According to city officials, Durham is currently growing at a rate of 20 new residents per day, or 7,300 per year. The city has grown more than 12 square miles since 2000, and has already seen a 22% increase in population during the decade of 2000-2010.

Durham’s changescape is highly visible, and yet the impending impact of these changes is most often heard in cursory complaints about traffic and parking and housing and road closures and spontaneous utility work–the usual quotidian dilution of a much larger conversation. Still, Durham is fighting the implications of its gentrifying trend, walking the contradictory line between embracing the inevitability of growth, while also seeking to retain aspects of its identity that are at risk of being eradicated by that same persistent change.

The REUPCYCLE line is both a reaction to and reflection of this transformation. Blaine deliberately calls attention to Durham’s changescape through his use of color, color manipulation, and street-inspired imagery. The utility orange color of construction is a bright camouflage for gentrification in Durham. Utility work and construction sites around the city throw up signs, build fences, and spray paint lines on the street, creating a particular visual aesthetic, and, at the same time, an unintended street art. No matter where you live in Durham or even elsewhere in the Triangle, the visual of change and growth, as indicated by this unintended street art, is widespread. Those of us living in Durham breathe that dusty air, drive on those torn up streets, swerve to avoid poorly placed road plates and erroneous cones, and watch the prices for consumables slowly creep up.

This is an appropriate moment to mention bleach. In addition to the unique designs of Blaine’s REUPCYCLE garments, one of his Cool Boy 36 trademarks is his use of bleach to manipulate color and create distortion. While the use of bleach on garments in this way is typical for the Cool Boy 36 brand, it carries special significance to this REUPCYCLE line. Bleach is a product typically used for cleaning, to make clear again that which was distorted by dirt and grime. Blaine uses bleach in a way that directly contradicts its traditional purpose. He creates color chaos. He distorts the original crisp coloring of a garment to imbue a sense of commotion into the very products he makes. Then, by screenprinting his designs on these distorted garments, he has simultaneously created a background of the dusty mayhem of a city wrought with construction, while overlaying his interpretation of the Durham changescape’s unintended street art. REUPCYCLE is very much the embodiment of a complicated relationship between the artist and his space. It is also a rigorous commentary on the fashion industry.

The REUPCYCLE name is meant to evoke the thought of recycling, “something that needs to be continually promoted,” as Blaine said to me. The name is also a riff on the common street term “re-up”, which simply means to resupply one’s stash. The union of these two practices does more than simply tie together Blaine’s passion for street culture and his clothing brand; it is also a nod to the process and the materials used to create REUPCYCLE.

“I’m sick of the waste of the fashion industry,” Blaine told me. An oft glossed over topic, even in this contemporary time when repurposing and recycling have become more prevalent, the waste of the fashion industry remains rampant. According to an NIH study published in 2007 called “Waste Couture”, the fashion industry is second only to the oil industry in polluting. Only a fraction of clothing donated to charities and thrift shops stay stateside for reconsumption by the American consumer. Nearly half of all used clothing is shipped overseas. Between 1989 and 2007, the total weight of used clothing shipped from the United States rose to seven billion pounds per year.

Ever mindful of this reality, Blaine actively seeks out used clothing to serve as the canvas for his designs. He visits thrift shops across Durham to find garments he can give new life to and make relevant again. This practice is uniform across all Cool Boy 36 fashion productions. It is especially relevant to the REUPCYCLE line ostensibly because it seeks to promote recycling and the culture of repurposing existing materials. Similarly, the Durham changescape maintains an element of this “repurposing” of existing spaces. While new development all over the city has popped up at an alarming rate (in light of the population explosion), several small businesses have taken the initiative to use existing infrastructure to house new offices or retail spaces or venues. The Durham Fruit is a good example of this: once home to a fruit packing warehouse originally built in 1926, the former industrial warehouse has since been successfully converted to a multipurpose arts and event space… an old building made relevant again by a new purpose.

REUPCYCLE embodies within it the very heart of Durham’s struggle to grow while still maintaining its authenticity and edge. As a member of the artist community which thrives here, Blaine, through this project, has contributed substantial commentary on Durham’s present moment and its difficulty in reconciling its future self with its present identity. This fashion line is a statement, an authentic and unforgiving reflection of Durham right now. From concept to process to final product, Blaine has produced clothing for people who consume art, while also delivering a solemn, although brightly colored, message to anyone who wears or encounters one of his REUPCYCLE garments: look up, look around, understand where you live.

I am also a resident of Durham and a member of the local artist community. Throughout this months-long collaboration with Blaine, we have shared many moments of mutual lament about the changescape of Durham. Having already been displaced from my home city because of the economic violence of rapid gentrification, working on this project has struck a chord in me. I have already seen what happens when development is not merely left unchecked, but actively pursued regardless of cultural impact. This look book collaboration, from the perspective of your humble author, is a stake in the ground, a declaration to fight for the heart of Durham, to preserve its authenticity, its edge, and especially the creative economy of the local artist community.

Featured Photo: Cool Boy 36 Polaroid by Tyger Locx.