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CONTENTS GayRVA / Norfolk’s Knight Hawks are Hell-Bent for Leather


by John Donegan / photos by Beth Austin

Losing Lifeblood: Rural Appalachia Survives After Coal


by Emily Holter

Goodbye Strange Matter: The End of an Era


by Daniel Berti / photos by Jake Cunningham & Julie Ferguson

RVA Global / With the Bombs Came Bebop: Through War & Oppression, Jazz Comes to Vietnam


words & photos by Madelyne Ashworth & John Donegan


The Faces of Hip Hop


photos by Branden Wilson & Matt McDaniels

Richmond Hip Hop Heats Up by Hip Hop Henry / photos by Nils Westergard


Future Perfect: The Art of Chris Smart


Unraveling Academia with Queer Punk Feminist Julietta Singh by Daniel Berti / photo by Alexis Courtney


Back of House Babes: Richmond Women Dominate in a MaleDominated Restaurant Industry


by Emily Holter / photo from Julie Heins

Fighting the System with Carole Leonard of Prison Reform Movement by Daniel Berti / illustration by Amelia Martin


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Thank You to Our Sponsors! Our music coverage is sponsored by the Graduate Hotel of Richmond. Our art coverage is brought to you by the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. Quickness RVA is our distribution partner.


IN VIRGINIA, ALL ROADS LEAD TO RICHMOND. existential — even by the standards we now expect from the daily ruck of political brinkmanship. I wish I could say that 2018 was better than 2017, and that we are on a progressive path towards a greater political equilibrium, but that kind of optimism is naive right now. This past year was a zerosum game, and while we will always support communities of color, women, and our LGBTQ and immigrant friends and family, we can always do better and strive for greater equity in the spaces where we operate. Going into 2019, we will continue forward with this mission. In Virginia, all roads lead to Richmond: It remains the singular outpost in a rapidly-transforming Commonwealth, with the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity to ensure that we remain the frontline of progressive change. The path forward is not always linear, and it’s filled with noise that distracts us from the signal. As the year comes to a close, we can be proud of what we’ve achieved as a community. The team at RVA Mag wishes you, your family, and friends all the very best — because you deserve the very best. We’ll see you in 2019, Richmond. Until then, we’ll be curled into a ball, under the covers, drinking whiskey straight from the bottle, and listening to every AGM-affiliated album until it is time to turn out the lights on 2018… or on the frontlines, where were you can always find us. — Landon Shroder Illustration by Lindsay Eastham

2018 has been a raucous year for RVA Magazine: One where we’ve covered the absolute best and absolute worst of the Commonwealth, from Roanoke all the way down to Hampton Roads. Our travels took us global, reporting on stories from Johannesburg in South Africa to Hanoi in Vietnam. During this time, many things became apparent to our team: With our shared humanity, arts and culture continue to bring us together and showcase a creative force that can unite us in a common mission. The explosion of talent in Richmond, as the Commonwealth’s creative center, continues to prove this — even under challenging circumstances that are not always conducive for creating. While sometimes, as a city and Commonwealth, we fall short of our better angels, one thing that always inspires us is how Richmond as a community continues to fight: In creative spaces, activist spaces, cultural spaces, and political spaces. For those who have dedicated themselves to this fight, in whatever form, we salute your courage and your tenacity. The opportunity to report on your struggles, projects, and movements this past year was inspiring in ways we can never truly articulate. I would personally like to thank you for sharing and trusting us with your stories. 2018 also closes out a pinnacle year for politics, a reporting beat that was filled with equal parts promise and exhaustion. In some ways, now, we all live a political lifestyle; whether we’ve chosen it for ourselves or not, the midterm elections in November proved it. The stress and anticipation we all felt was







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1  @sfhir / 2  @centralvirginiastormchasers / 3  Tim Barry at @thecamelrva by @richtarbell / 4  @skatexwytch getting ramp rad by @rocketmorton77 / 5  @_brandenwilson / 6  @kitt_bennett / 7  13th annual Halloween Parade by @ radiotokyo / 8  @wing.chow / 9  @sunnygicz by @candidcompositions from #TrueCommonwealth / 10  @sean_wotherspoon / 11  @visualsbybenjah




DRUG CHURCH, “GRUBBY (BEERS)” CHEER (PURE NOISE) Drug Church have been making excellent post-hardcore tunes about the dysfunctional underbelly of our late-capitalist society for most of a decade now, and vocalist Patrick Kindlon has only gotten better at capturing the struggles of our world’s losers and fuck-ups on their third album. Cheer kicks off with this surprising burst of concise melody, finding Kindlon harmonizing with over the song’s lead guitar and synth melodies in surprisingly nimble fashion. Thankfully, his throaty bark still dominates the song, meshing with the rhythm crunch in a powerful synergy of noisy, angst-ridden ennui. --Marilyn Drew Necci

THE MIXTAPERS, “FLOWERS (FT GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW & DUDLEY PERKINS)” FLOWERS/BLOOM (FUZZOSCOPE) “How do you make a classic track even more of a classic?” That’s the thought I had when I first heard the Mixtapers cover of Dudley Perkins (aka Declaime)’s classic single, “Flowers” which was produced by Madlib in the early 2000s. The smooth piano beat that many hopeful emcees have ripped from YouTube gets a makeover from the Italian duo. Perkins’ significant other, Georgia Anne Muldrow, handles vocals, creating what becomes a modern jazz suite with a hip hop feel. --Hip Hop Henry


Pale Waves’ reverbed guitars and ambient synth sounds have been a marker of the goth-postpunk sound for decades now, but instead of dark moods and downcast eyes, these goth kids-turned-bouncy New Wavers offer an antidote for our the ubiquitous post-millennial kohl-eyeliner blues. “Television Romance” runs a Siouxsie and the Banshees aesthetic through the uplifting synth melodies of CHVRCHES. For those of us who still want to wear all black but are discovering the promise of sunny days, Pale Waves hit all the right notes. --Marilyn Drew Necci

VANILLA POPPERS, “I LIKE YOUR BAND” I LIKE YOUR BAND (FEEL IT RECORDS) Vanilla Poppers lay it on thick on their latest EP, improving on the straightforward punk attack of last years debut full-length. The biting title track sticks out with it’s heavy production, scuzzy protopunk riffing, and Christina Pap’s acerbic vocals. “I Like Your Band” wags the finger at the fakes and phonies in the scene with a 70s punk swagger. Sure, calling out the fakes isn’t the most original sentiment, but creative lyrics have always been few and far between in the world of punk. At least they nailed the title. --Daniel Berti


WINDS OF PROMISE (WISHINGWELL/UNITY WORLDWIDE) This album is apparently not “on trend” for the hardcore scene in 2018, but I for one don’t care. By reuniting vocalist Joe Nelson and guitarist Joe Foster, both of Ignite’s short-lived original lineup, Winds Of Promise recapture everything about the melodic, emotional hardcore of the late 80s and early 90s that I loved. “Never”’s chunky rhythm guitar evokes Government Issue’s later melodic work, while the moody bass intro could have come from a forgotten Outspoken B-side, and Nelson’s urgent vocals recall Embrace-era MacKaye. This is great -- the haters need to chill. --Marilyn Drew Necci



STUDIO NEWS We've been hearing the name Roy Batty for a while, and considering that this band features an all-star cast of Richmond luminaries from Avail, Hot Dolphin, Parasytic, Hoboknife, and more, there was bound to be a lot of buzz about them. A threesong demo released in summer 2017 got the conversation going, but it's been nearly a year and a half since then, and plenty of us have been wondering... when will we get more? Have no fear, because the wait is over; the band laid down ten tracks at Lance Koehler's Minimum Wage Studios at the end of October. "The recording process was super smooth and Lance was fantastic," said vocalist Lindsey Spurrier. "He was quick and on point. It is personally the best recording experience I’ve had." The band is currently looking for a label to release the album on vinyl, but you might be able to pick up a CD copy if you see them around in the near future. Keep your eyes peeled! Sea Of Storms hasn't graced us with any new material in over three years, but they're preparing to end the drought with their second fulllength album. "We are still tying up loose ends but the record is more or less finished," said singer/guitarist Brandon Peck. The group, which has expanded to a quartet with the addition of former Landmines guitarist Nick Bergheimer, laid down eight songs with producer Andreas Magnusson. Magnusson played a significant role in putting the record together. "He was very helpful in finding parts that didn’t work and getting us to change them," Peck said. "He had a lot of input on the recording and it’s so much better because of it." Peck also gives a lot of credit to Bergheimer. "His songwriting has taken some of these songs in directions that they wouldn’t have gone in, and that’s been really cool." The band hopes to self-release the album in early 2019. Hip hop producer Ant The Symbol just released his latest star-studded hip hop affair, The Motions, three months ago, but he's already back in the studio. "I'm working on an intentional album," he said. "The Motions was the product of two scrapped albums." And this one is not what you might expect from a man who's made his mark as this city's version of Prince Paul. "It's a major departure from the hip-hop releases people are used to," he said. "It's moreso an album for me than for listeners." So, no rapping? "Minimal," he answered. "Only about a third of the album will have vocals, and tow or three of those [tracks] will have rappers." The album will feature extensive involvement from Jonny Ciggs, who heads up Ant's label, Gritty City Records, as well as from local luminaries Kelli Strawbridge, Ben FM, and Calvin Presents. Creating it is a profoundly new experience for this hip hop veteran. "It's exciting and scary to work on something so different," he said. Be on the lookout for this one. -- Marilyn Drew Necci







Something’s missing on this Ar-Kaics album. It doesn’t have the urgency or tension that drove earlier releases; the songs are slower and more subdued. There are some remarkable moments, like the guitar riff in the title track that sounds like a bumble bee getting cooked alive in a frying pan, but mostly this doesn’t stack up with their previous records. (DB)

Any chicken hearts wanting to test the acidscorched waters of the Doberman discography will find that this is the best point of entry. Rust Clatter has all the hallmarks of past releases: throbbing electronics, a cacophony of brass and wind instruments, scattered percussion -- but condensed into a pair of three-minute missives rather than their typical 20 minute deep-trip excursions. (DB)





(VINYL CONFLICT) After seeing Serqet live a few times, I’d written them off as a band who mimicked Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Chameleons really well, but wasn’t all that creative. After hearing the first side of this single, “Oleander,” my opinion didn’t change all that much. It checks all the boxes pretty easily, and even throws in this pan flute line that’s actually pretty brilliant. It’s far better than the obligatory goth foolishness that still crops up in punk scenes, usually masquerading as “anarchopunk” or some other term that has little to no meaning. Arctic Flowers, Criminal Code, Lost Tribe, Spectres, Anasazi... it’s a mystery to me how these bands keep happening. It’s pretty clear at this point that nobody wants to hear it. The B-side, “Lullaby,” is far more promising, though, saving what would otherwise be an instant dollar-bin failure. It starts out with some sugar-coated riffing in line with The GoBetweens, Felt, or The Railway Children, and it doesn’t deviate. Each pretty guitar line is followed by another catchier riff, and the production on it is exceptional. On top of that, the vocalist finds her voice and ends up sounding a bit like Nico. It’s one of the best songs written by a Richmond DIY band in, I don’t know, a decade. (DB)




This intense post-hardcore group with roots in DC and Norfolk recaptures the urgency of prime-era Fugazi on their debut release, complete with politically-driven lyrics and harshly melodic vocals. They augment their riffs with piano chords, adding an intriguing melodic layer. The grating Jackson Browne cover is the only misstep -- the originals are uniformly excellent. Give us more. (MN)



Who said rap is a young man’s game? This new project from GRT Sctt!! And Mirtaw (the artist formerly known as Langston Thoreau) shows that even after a couple years away from the mic, they’re still sharp as ever. It has been in the rotation for me since its release in the fall, and belongs in your rotation as well. (HH)






Shadow Age might be written off as mere goth revivalists by some, but their debut full-length reveals hidden depths -- of talent, as well as gloom. Frontman Aaron Tyree’s beautifully morose vocals, layered atop a deep pool of chiming guitars and humming synths, are perfectly accented by the urgent rhythms. On lonely nights, these infectious tunes will have you pressing repeat. (MN)

Sports Bar’s long-awaited debut LP fulfills their potential so completely, it makes the hype that’s followed them around town for the past decade look restrained. Full of unforgettable melodic punk singalongs and heartfelt power-pop gems, this record straight-up rules. But if I’m too complimentary, I’m worried they’ll keep us waiting another eight years, so… you didn’t hear it from me. (MN)

Killing Joke always felt like postpunk types playing metallic music, which makes Unmaker’s postmodern flip on Killing Joke’s classic early sound eminently apropos, as they’re metal kids (mostly members of Occultist) playing postpunk. They’re doing a great job, too -- Firmament’s reverb-drenched guitar lines, ominous rhythms, and incredible vocal melodies constitute essential night music for the apocalypse. (MN)

Music for all moods; that’s what Black Money Mobb member and battle rapper/emcee Yung Sums brings us with this EP. Sums displays his versatility over a variety of soundscapes, with production from EP the Outkast, Melodic, BraveStarr, and 804Lowbeats, and a guest feature from Jabs. Whether you’re a trapper or a boom-bapper, turn it up to 10 and enjoy. (HH)



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MARCH 1993. People were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and the coming of passover. Buick LeSabres were stuffed with families in spring photo-op attire. But for three Norfolk friends in particular — Chuck Walrick, Jim Nelson, and Carlos Rhone — the beginning of spring meant a different kind of celebration. They drove from their Tidewater hometowns to Richmond for the annual “Vernal Arousal,” a weekend retreat catering to a crowd far removed from the shopping-mall mainstream. The event celebrated the fetish community, offering one of few places in the mid-Atlantic in its time where merry kinksters could gather and explore fantasies in a communal setting. Walrick, Nelson, and Rhone shared a fetish for leather, both for the joy of sporting it in public and its properties of sexual enhancement. Long after they returned to Norfolk, memories of the Vernal Arousal stuck with them, inspiring ideas for a leather fetish club of their own. The stigma around the gay community in the early nineties, amid the HIV/AIDS crisis and the rise of evangelical-conservative politics, made them hesitant. But the friends knew they couldn’t wait another year for the next event.

THE LEATHER MEN SET OUT TO RECLAIM THE MASCULINITY STEREOTYPES DENIED THEM. They needed a beacon in the small community of Hampton Roads. They needed a group of their own. “We threw around a couple names,” Patrick Harvey tells me from the dining room of his Norfolk flat. “Carlos came up with Bay Hawks — but [we thought] people might associate us too much with San Francisco.” Harvey was Rhone’s partner at the time of the club’s inception, and remembers every detail of their first days. “Someone chimed in, saying, ’Hey, we’ll be Knight Hawks In Leather’ — based on a porn movie at that point,” he continues. From one of the binders he keeps next to alphabetized DVDs and assorted change jars, he slides out an old sheet of paper. On it, the original illustration of the club emblem — a rough sketch of the grill insignia from a ’62 Studebaker Hawk. “So that’s how our name got its start — a car that no longer exists and a porn film.” Today, Harvey is president of the Knight Hawks leather club. He’s also their last original member, but his advanced age doesn’t impede his work. He can trace back nearly any photo of past events with precision and an anecdote, and reads the club’s archived ledgers like Sunday comics. We met in the dining room of Harvey’s first-floor flat in downtown Norfolk. Lining the walls were bookshelves packed with assorted trinkets, photos fuzzy behind glass, and a vast assemblage of leather — mainly vests and belts — hung about, as did the smell.



At age 67, Harvey is a leatherman of legend. He tells me his involvement in the leather fetish community started in the seventies, as the “Castro clones” in the West and old-guard bureaucrats in the East clashed for control of the gay image; the ensuing cultural change took the leather scene to the height of visible gay culture. Harvey preferred the sleek black leather and militaristic caps of the leather fatigues, so he fell into the group with Rhone. He attended the Knight Hawks’ formation meeting — one of the original eighteen. The Knight Hawks weren’t well received in the Norfolk community. Many thought they would amount to little more than their predecessors, the Wildcats, a defunct club notorious for wandering the mid-Atlantic in the eighties like a nomadic party tribe, engaging in acts of debauchery in each town they rode into. “We were fighting against the Wildcats to maintain our own image, fending off the latest tales of ’What did they do this week in D.C.?’” Harvey said. The Knight Hawks spent much of their history struggling to provide their club with the most basic structural elements. “Without the confines of a bar, it’s really hard to organize. It’s almost impossible,” Harvey tells me. But when the Knight Hawks started, gay bars were under a much greater degree of scrutiny than they are now, and the concerns of a niche club weren’t on owners’ radar. The lack of a home made events difficult to set up for many years. They finally found their current base of operations, at MJ’s in downtown Norfolk, five years ago. It was a long time coming. Today the group has 30 members and is still growing. They’re always excited to bring in members, but they don’t accept just anyone. After being awarded their “cut” (a club jacket with identifying patches), active members vote on issues and have to stay involved with most group activities. Yet the club has twice as many “associate members.” There’s a good reason for that.



images from far left: Patrick C. Harvey, President of the Knight Hawks of Virginia / center: Flyer from Leather Daddy ‘93, an event hosted by the Knight Hawks / above: Knight Hawks at their base of operations, MJ’s in Norfolk


“You have to think back,” Harvey said. “1993 was still in the days of don’t ask, don’t tell, so there were some people active in the military who were inquiring but didn’t want to be associated with what was essentially a gay organization. So to be an ‛associate member’ gave the option for them to be involved, but not actively appear on a piece of paper.” The military connection to the gay community isn’t well-known, but it definitely exists — and in a military city like Norfolk, it’s unavoidable. Around a third of the club’s members are, or have been, in the military, and many are still uncomfortable exposing their names to the public. Jim Farmer, the club’s current Vice President, knows this quite well as a military spouse. Farmer has been an active member since 2011, and has provided a complement to Harvey. Harvey kept his partying within state lines, but Farmer has traveled far and wide, attending massive leather events with attendance in the thousands, from San Francisco to Berlin. As VP, Farmer is the gregarious face of the club. He chats up guests and newcomers on bar nights, and has started posting on Instagram. Farmer says he came out when he was 13, but thinks of his entrance into the group as passage into his own skin. “Knight Hawks gave me permission to talk to people I normally would never get to,” he said. For most, leather has a strictly-practical use, as protective clothing for physical labor. But, in tandem with the rugged lifestyle and wellstructured club functions behind biker culture, it created an undeniable allure. “The bikes were interesting, but it was really the riders that made the look,” Harvey tells me. For young gay men in the 70s, leather was a rejection of the pressure

against the LGBTQ community. The leathermen were some of most visible and outspoken, so they were the first to go. Entire communities were eliminated. A later report cited the first AIDS-related death as Tony Tavarossi, founder of San Francisco’s first leather bar. In a time of loss, Harvey survived — partly because, in the midst of the chaos, keeping the Knight Hawks alive as many other leather clubs disappeared provided a much-needed focus. “We lost so many people in the early days of the HIV phenomenon. Not a lot of people my age are around still to tell the tale of ‛this is what we did, and this is what happened to us,’” Harvey said. For many in the leather community, leather fetishes denote not only an aesthetic, but certain sexual practices that go along with it. For an entry-level fetishist, this might just look like getting your rocks off in a well-cut bomber. But for the more committed, it’s a full look. Boots, trousers or chaps, belts, shirts, jackets, overcoats, captain’s hats: All in premium black leather. Each accessory has a place within a certain school of thought. “There are two trains of thought,” said Farmer. “One is the old school traditional, where there are rules about how you wear certain outfits, what’s appropriate, what you’re projecting. If you’re a dominant sir, then you’re gonna wear a certain outfit; if you’re projecting a submissive type, then you’re outfitted in a…different way.” The gay leather scene traditionally catered only to men, but that is gradually changing. “Back then, when you went to a leather bar, there was a dress code, there was a certain behavior code and women weren’t

to conform to the “sweater queen” stereotype that cast gay men as well-to-do, preppy types. In a time when the LGBTQ community had to choose between abiding by the stifling image they were given and being invisible, the leather men set out to reclaim the masculinity these stereotypes denied them. Then came a crisis: In 1981, the New York Times reported a “rare cancer spotted in 40 homosexuals.” Public sentiment quickly turned

allowed in that environment,” said Farmer. “Well okay, guess what — those bars aren’t around anymore.”


left: Early Knight Hawks of Virginia event / right: Aisia Jones, the most active female member of the Knight Hawks / below: Knight Hawks at their base of operations, MJ’s in Norfolk





While only three women have ever been involved with the group, one in particular stuck out in Farmer and Harvey’s minds for her commitment to the culture. “We had an African-American young lady — Aisia Jones,” said Farmer. “I was borderline rude to her: ‛Why do you want to be a Knight Hawk?’ There were no women at that time.” Jones’s first entry into the leather scene was with the Knight Hawks. Originally from San Diego, she followed her husband-to-be to Dam Neck naval station in Norfolk. From there, she simply checked out what was available in the area. She pledged in 2011, when the group was in a stagnant period and Farmer was heading overseas. He didn’t include himself in the vote to admit her into the club. “I wouldn’t give her the time of day,” he said. It wasn’t until Farmer’s return to the club in 2013 that he saw how Jones had extended her role in the club. “I came back on a bar night and, here’s Aisia in her Knight Hawk full colors, selling Jell-O, out in the community, showing and being proud of being a Knight Hawk,” he said. Her leather outfits were certainly her own — the kind of outfit that turned heads at the bar. “I think it was great,” Farmer said. “It gave the group a new look that showed they weren’t so closed-off, and that maybe anyone could join the group.” Jones returned to San Diego in 2014, and immediately sought after the leather competition circuit. Her first title — Ms. Alameda Leather — came in 2016, and in 2017 she won the International Ms. Leather competition in Chicago, entering both as a Knight Hawk. Jones says that while she did have to put on the usual dog- and pony-show on the competitive circuit, she was able to use the platform to slide in some serious topics — like black intersectionality in the fetish community. “I let them know that… especially during this intense political climate, you might want to open up your space to other marginalized people,” she said. “That’s how we survive and thrive — because we’re all we have.” Farmer later visited her at the San Francisco Eagle during Folsom Festival, where he found her wearing her full Knight Hawk colors representing the small club back on the East Coast. She’s proud to do so. “For me, to be a Knight Hawk is to be a part of a legacy that started before me, and help own the torch of this little club in Norfolk, Virginia, of all places.” Today, Jones still sports her IMSL belt with a vest and a leather t-shirt. She remains the only fully-patched female member of the Knight Hawks, wearing their patch alongside her title patches. For those in the know, it’s just as much of an attention-grabber. “Someone stopped me in the crowd and exclaimed, ‛Knight Hawks of Virginia, really?!’” she said. “For me, it’s like being a part of a really cool family that only a few people know about, and I have nothing but love and respect for it.” 

top: Aisia Jones at Fetish Pride Italy / center & bottom: Knight Hawks socializing at their base of operations, MJ’s in Norfolk



Losing Lifeblood: Rural Appalachia Survives After Coal by Emily Holter

For Erastus Adkins, a once-resident of Wayne County, West Virginia, the coalfields were a way of life. With eleven children to feed, Adkins worked in the mines from the age of 14 until he died of black lung at age 57, his daughter Betty Lett recalls.



In poorly-constructed houses embedded into mountain sides, residents earned pay in devalued currency that could only be used at the company store. Families were left indebted to their employers. “My mother, when she hung her diapers on the line,” Lett explains, “she would have to shake the coal dust out of them.” Adkins and Lett share this story with many from the Appalachian coal country, who struggled to survive as part of a thankless labor force. With little to no benefits and low pay, many left for work not knowing whether they would return home to their families that night. For years, the Appalachian region has relied on rich minerals nestled within its mountain ranges. Hard-working coal miners labor tirelessly from sunrise to sunset, crawling on their hands and knees in cramped underground spaces to provide much of the United States with electricity. Historically, coal mining supplemented much of West Virginia's income. Now, the state faces a crisis as the coal industry continues its decline, and many are searching for an economic revival through alternate forms of energy. According to the Energy Information Administration, between 2008 and 2016, coal production in Virginia and West Virginia dropped 50 percent. West Virginia’s most coal-rich center, Boone County, lost 60 percent of their mining jobs in less than a decade. Searching for answers, the typically-blue state turned red in the 2016 election, as politicians promised new efforts for coal. Holding out hope for the revival of their economy, voters gave their power to Republican politicians despite regular campaigns to reduce government assistance to the poor.

Holding out hope for the revival of their economy, voters gave their power to Republican politicians despite regular campaigns to reduce government assistance to the poor.

Recent elections have put the region in a complicated position between political parties. On one side: Vote to restore the backbone industry; on another, vote towards assistance to prepare for its fall. In a region that holds so strongly onto the merits of hard work, Appalachians put their faith into bringing back their jobs. As the flame of their lifeblood industry fades, West Virginians reluctantly lean on government programs under politicians who work against their support. In 2014, roughly 38 percent of West Virginia’s population relied on government programs, with 19 percent utilizing food stamps. According to a USA Today report, West Virginia is one of the most-dependent states on government programs. West Virginia native Rachel Sparkman, now a rural sociology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, says West Virginians are not voting in their best interests. While these programs are crucial to the state population’s survival, its desperation for economic stimulus has led West Virginians to sacrifice these vital resources for coal.


“You’re going back to work,” Donald Trump promised miners during his 2016 campaign in the region. Yet since his election, little has been done to help miners get back on their feet. Coal production is still declining, and unemployment is still high. Sparkman says the future of Appalachia lies in shifting the culturally-driven labor force into a different skill set. “We have skilled workers willing to work, but the opportunity isn’t there,” Sparkman said. “If we can teach them a new skill set, then we can change the state.” Many residents are placing their hope in natural gas. For the first time in 2016, natural gas replaced coal as the nation’s main electrical fuel. Although natural gas seems promising as a sustainable replacement, it has the same negative environmental effects as coal. And it, too, Sparkman explained, will eventually become scarce. The area has historically relied on mine labor rather than pursuing higher education — the root of another problem, as the state’s less-educated labor force cannot switch to a knowledge-based economy with ease. In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission reported that 48 percent of rural West Virginia does not have access to broadband internet. The same year, a study conducted by Virginia’s Chamber of Commerce found that 45 percent of rural Virginia homes also lack access. Education is hindered as a result, and many cannot adequately keep up with the rest of the country. In the rural counties of Southwest Virginia and the states beyond, populations are decreasing as younger generations move to more urban centers. Appalachia’s traditional coal-producing areas are experiencing a similar exodus. As young people get more educated, they’re less likely to return to their roots: Without sustainable job opportunities in the area, it becomes harder and harder to go back home. Around the country, similar situations have placed cities in tough positions.


Places like Detroit, Michigan — which declined as the automobile industry moved overseas in the 80s and 90s — relied on government bailouts to shift its labor industry forward. But Appalachia has no safety net, as it’s unlikely for the government to bail out an entire region of the country. Despite the overwhelming odds, some local groups are fighting to bring renewable energy to the area. These include community organizations like the Wise-based Solar Workgroup for Southwest Virginia, and full service solar-energy providers like Solar Holler in Huntington, West Virginia. Starting in 2013, Solar Holler founder Dan Conant wanted to continue coal country’s legacy with energy through more sustainable resources. Beginning as an experiment placing solar panels on homeless shelters and churches, Conant’s organization fueled these buildings with clean energy. He says Solar Holler is growing rapidly and serves about 100 people per year. “We want to help build up the industry, because solar has amazing potential,” Conant said, expressing the region’s need for reform. According to him, solar is cheaper than running coal plants and better for the environment. One of the hundreds of people Solar Holler services is Thomas Harless, a resident of Wayne County who chose solar power as an investment.


A study conducted by Virginia’s Chamber of Commerce found that 45 percent of rural Virginia homes lack internet access.


Solar Holler offers job training and certification to laid-off coal miners as well as the younger generation, working to keep tradition through alternative energy.


“Over the next 15 years, the system will have paid for itself,” Harless stated, explaining how he saves money on his electric bill by using solar. According to Conant, installing solar energy in Appalachia will lower — and potentially eliminate — people’s electric bills, keeping money within the state. Partnering with the non-profit organization program Coalfield Development, Solar Holler offers job training and certification to laid-off coal miners as well as the younger generation, working to keep tradition through alternative energy. Through the apprenticeship, Solar Holler offers to pay for college, a living wage, and solar certification so they can continue to establish solar panels within the state. Harless says the initial expense for solar installment is high, and many in the area may not be able to afford it: But in time, he says, and with adequate resources, more people will be able to make the switch to solar power. In an area wrought with poverty and uncertainty, Southwestern Virginia’s coal country struggles to find ways to survive in the face of a dying industry. While the area is seeing the beginning of new survival methods through renewable energy, its resources are still limited, and Appalachia awaits a new hope for revival. 



STRANGE M AT T E R THE END OF AN ERA By Daniel Berti Photos by Jake Cunningham and Julie Ferguson



Beloved Richmond music venue Strange Matter closed this December, after nearly a decade in business. The venue hosted countless touring and local musicians over the years, and was a hub for underground music in the city. The space may soon be taken over by another venue, but for many, it marks the end of an era.

The soon-to-be vacant building at 929 West Grace Street has been home to a string of concert halls stretching all the way back to the 1970’s, but the area has changed dramatically in the years since Strange Matter opened its doors. For years, the area around West Grace Street was considered to be a dangerous and decayed area of the city, but it was also where Richmond’s illustrious hardcore, punk, noise, and metal scenes flourished. In the 70s and 80s, the block was home to biker bars, porno theatres, and even a go-go bar. By the 2000s, there was a plethora of venues, bars, and independent businesses in the area that catered to alternative cultures and lifestyles.


However, shops and restaurants like Exile, Nonesuch, Bunny Hop, Empire, The Nile, and Rumors have all moved or gone out of business since Virginia Commonwealth University began expanding into the area. Strange Matter was one of the last holdouts. VCU has spent much of the last decade buying up properties on the block, and has replaced many of the old storefronts with campus amenities, such as a mini Walmart, a dormitory, and a student computer store. The university’s hegemonic expansion into the area has had an outsized impact on the cultural landscape of the city: Earlier this year, the university purchased Mansion nightclub, located a block from Strange Matter, for $3.5 million, four times its estimated value, in an effort to “clean up” the area. “Until VCU started growing, it wasn’t crazy expensive to live in this neighborhood and be in walking distance to all these places,” Strange Matter’s bar manager, Kelsey Hulvey, said. “But now the only reason to live around here is to walk to class, because all these businesses have been pushed out by VCU. It’s not the same.” Hulvey worked behind the bar at Strange Matter since it opened in 2009, and has seen the changes take place in real time. Yet she’s optimistic that another venue will be able to take its place. “I think one of the discussions that people have been having is not knowing where else you would put a small to mid-size venue like this,” she said. Mark Osborne, who has been the booking agent at Strange Matter for the last eight years, said that the city is in desperate need of smaller venues where up-and-coming musicians can cut their teeth. “Bands don’t just immediately get big and go play The National; they need these smaller rooms to build them in and familiarize people with them,” Osbourne said. “I feel like, without the building blocks, the stepping stones, we’re not going to get as much major talent because they’re just going go to the bigger cities.” 929 West Grace Street has been the home of one venue or another since the early 70s, starting with The Back Door. It was a regular spot for local bands like Single Bullet Theory, The Good Guys and Steel Mill, and it famously hosted Bruce Springsteen for three nights in a row just before he skyrocketed to mainstream success. In the late 70s, The Back Door became one of the first venues in the city to have punk and metal shows. Tom Applegate, guitarist of first-wave Richmond punk bands L’amour and Beex, remembers it well. It was his idea.


“We went to The Back Door dude and said, ‘Can we have Sunday night for a punk show?’ And he sold every fuckin’ beer in the beer cooler,” Applegate said. “He was like, ‘You want to do this again next week?’” Sunday night officially became punk night at The Back Door, and early Richmond punk bands like White Cross, Prevaricators, The Barriers, and Death Piggy (which eventually evolved into GWAR) began playing there on a regular basis. “Once they found out you could sell beer having punk shows, a bunch of people started letting that happen,” Applegate said. In the 1990s, The Back Door was replaced by Twisters, and became a full-blown alternative punk and metal bar. Twisters helped put Richmond on the map as one of the best cities for alternative and underground music in the 90s, and helped Richmond legends like GWAR, Honor Role, Avail, Lamb of God, and Four Walls Falling get off the ground. Twisters also hosted plenty of big-name touring acts like Dinosaur Jr., Green Day, and Smashing Pumpkins, during that period. In the early 2000s, the space was taken over by The Nanci Raygun, which folded in 2007, followed by the short-lived Bagel Czar. Both venues had a difficult time meeting the high bar set by Twisters. Strange Matter was a return to form, however, and the building once again became ground zero for the Richmond music scene. John Graham, guitarist and vocalist of local band Fat Spirit, has been playing shows at Strange Matter since it began, and like many local musicians, the news of it’s closing came as a shock to him. “It’s going to leave a big void when it’s done,” Graham said. “In high school, we’d drive around asking any crappy bar restaurant where I grew up if they’d let us play shows, and every single one was like ‘Not a fucking chance.’ So I think we owe a great deal to places like Strange Matter here in Richmond.” When Strange Matter opened in 2009, RVA Mag founder R. Anthony Harris wrote a lengthy diatribe about the historical importance of 929 W. Grace Street for the city. “I want the new owners to know 929 can work,” Harris wrote. “It has been done before and can be done again. Concentrate on the great history at this venue. Realize how important it is to Richmond’s illustrious music scene… It is ripe for the taking to be a thriving venue again.” Strange Matter didn’t disappoint, but the quick changes that have taken place in Richmond in the last decade have made the future of the concert hall much less certain. According to Osborne, the owner of the building is currently looking at several offers from businesses that would like to rent the space, but the details aren’t public yet. “It’s been a venue now for 30 or 40 years,” Osborne said. “Ideally, we’re hoping to find someone with a similar vision.” 





With the Bombs Came Bebop Through War and Oppression, Jazz Comes to Vietnam

Words & photos by Madelyne Ashworth & John Donegan

After the U.S. exited Vietnam in 1975, jazz was placed on a nationwide ban by the Vietnamese government, who failed to lift the outdated policy until the installation of the “Doi Moi” economic reforms in 1986. Listening to jazz during this ten-year period was considered subversive to the standing government — a simple playback could mean prison.

On the edge of Hanoi’s old quarter sits the Hanoi Opera House. A relic of French colonialism and an architectural beauty, it presents and accomplishes a perfect draw for tourists — but locals know better. They know what’s behind it. Quyen Van Minh, a Vietnam War survivor and renowned jazz musician, opened the Binh Minh jazz club in 1997. Although it has relocated twice since its debut, the club found a permanent home on Trang Tien, a small V-shaped alley behind the old opera house and the bustling Hang Ma intersection. The club is well guarded by palm trees, smogstained neon signs, and a lofty fence line. “Mr. Minh is known as the ‘Godfather of Jazz’ in Vietnam, simply because of the role he played in pioneering jazz as a respected genre of music in Vietnam under socialist rule, and developing Vietnamese jazz as a genre in its own right,” said Stan BH Tan-Tangbau. Tangbau is an ethnographic researcher, and is completing a book on Minh and the history of jazz in Vietnam.



Minh’s club is reminiscent of a neon-saturated Bossa Nova bar. Framed photos and abstract paintings adorn the walls, while the bar still sells Marlboro Lights — Minh’s favorite. The only sounds to compete with the drone of motorbikes outside are the appreciative murmur of the crowd, and the smoky-horn melodies of the band on stage. The band is a six-piece ensemble, but usually only four of them stay through the whole set; a five-piece drum set and bass backs the baby grand in front, while the center players do a number on the clarinet and saxophone. The audience is an older crowd. Many have been here before, and are fine with paying the higher rates the bar charges for drinks and smokes as there is no entrance fee. Minh is easy to spot: His black-and-silver ponytail, jazzman’s goatee, and the cigar clutched between his lips are iconic. He drifts around the room, saying hello to old comrades and bar regulars, his aura cool and cordial. After a few songs, he grabs a saxophone, one of three in rotation, as his piece of choice for the evening. Minh is Vietnam’s first jazz star, and today one of the most eminent musicians in Hanoi. His grainy, nostalgic cool is a relic of what fell out of favor in American jazz circles decades ago, with the advent of rock and roll music. Jazz in Vietnam today is at the forefront of the live music circuit, with venues located in every major city in the country. Yet until recent years, Vietnam’s relationship with jazz was more complicated than its seventh-chord harmonies. “Of course, we had jazz in Hanoi from the 1920s,” said Nguyen Manh, a pianist and professor of Jazz at the Vietnam National Academy of Music. “It was in metropolitan hotels, and back when people watched Charlie Chaplin movies in the theatre. It started in French Hanoi, with French music, but of course it’s not 100 percent jazz.” While the French first introduced Vietnam to jazz, Manh insists it

“Louis Armstrong soundtracks were always being put on Good Morning Vietnam,” Manh said. The period brought many firsts to Vietnam, such as shopping malls and saloon life for stationed soldiers, the first inclusion of the press on the frontlines, and the expansion of AFVN (Armed Forces Vietnam Network) radio, boasting they would play “all the hits from back home.” According to historians, B-52 pilots would cut through the air and listen to Bebop jazz while dropping millions of tons of napalm on anything from Viet Cong command posts to villages of women and children. “Minh’s encounter with jazz and attempt to play began in the late 1960s, when he first heard jazz on the radio,” Tangbau said. “[He’d] chanced upon an overseas channel, most likely Voice of America’s jazz hour program.” Minh had his own transistor radio. It was Chinese, one of the thousands sent down by Vietnam’s Communist comrades to the north. He used it to listen to the BBC and American broadcasting stations. He was 12, sitting in secrecy, enjoying jazz hits outside his father’s earshot. Already adept with the guitar and clarinet, Minh was entranced by the new form of music. “It was something new, strange and mesmerizing for him,” Tangbau said. “He has never heard it before. This is because jazz has simply disappeared from northern Vietnam after the end of the First Indochina War in 1954, [when] the new government set the country on the path of socialist revolution.” After the U.S. exited Vietnam in 1975, jazz was placed on a nationwide ban by the Vietnamese government, who failed to lift the outdated policy until the installation of the “Doi Moi” economic reforms in 1986. Listening to jazz during this ten-year period was considered

wasn’t until the Vietnam War that the country saw the introduction of rock-time, brass band jazz. In Vietnam, this conflict is known as the “War of American Aggression,” in which America’s desperate and futile crusade against Communism erupted in senseless genocide. From 1955 to 1975, Vietnam was America’s playground for airstrikes and chemical warfare, creating a strained relationship between Vietnam’s people and American jazz.

subversive to the standing government — a simple playback could mean prison. “All cultural artifacts associated with the capitalist enemy were banned,” Tangbau said. “There was some jazz that came into Vietnam under French colonial rule, mainly in the European style hotels and lounges. A little bit of jazz was broadcast on radio, and perhaps a little bit of gospel in the churches in the first half of the 20th century.



Minh’s desire to continue playing the music he loved outlasted the government’s restrictions. As the Soviet Union began to crumble in the late 1980s, Minh and other artists were able to play Western music without fear of censorship.

images clockwise from far left / The Binh Minh Jazz Club features artists from around the world and pays homage to past legends. top / The band lineup features many up and coming artists as well as upperlevel jazz students from the Academy of Music in Hanoi center / Quyen Minh's grandson is a un upcoming star as a talented singer and staple performer at the jazz club. bottom / Minh still isn’t afraid to jazz up his grandson mid-performance.



“Vietnamese jazz is still on the way to developing its own identity, by combining that with our ‘root’ traditional music,” Manh said. “Many Vietnamese folk songs have been rearranged, also many new compositions using our pentatonic scale.” All these disappeared in the north after 1954.” Things were a bit different in the south, at least while the United States occupied that part of the country. “In the south, under American influence, there was some jazz, although rock’n roll was the more popular genre of the time,” Tangbau said. “There was even a small group of Vietnamese musicians who played jazz in the south. After reunification in 1975, all these disappeared.” For a few years, jazz all but disappeared from public consciousness in Vietnam. “Those who had the chance to study in Eastern Europe were aware of jazz, but there was just no cultural space for it in Vietnam,” Tangbau said. “It was risky to even try play jazz or bring the genre back.” However, Minh’s desire to continue playing the music he loved outlasted the government’s restrictions. As the Soviet Union began to crumble in the late 1980s, Minh and other artists were able to play Western music without fear of censorship. According to Tangbau, the previously negative perception of jazz shifted when the Vietnam Association of Musicians endorsed two concerts in 1988 and 89, orchestrated almost entirely by Minh. “The 1988 and 1989 concerts really turned things around,” Tangbau said. “Jazz was endorsed by the official musician circle. After 1989, Minh was even invited to teach saxophone and jazz music at the national conservatory.” The music you hear in Vietnam today differs between North and South Vietnam. Whereas in the South, Ho Chi Minh City embraced American culture with fast-paced Bebop and the swell of jazz bars on every block, northern cities like Hanoi took much longer to embrace anything outside old traditions. “Vietnamese jazz is still on the way to developing its own identity, by combining that with images from top: Professor Nguyen Manh outside his class hall. Manh is one the most influential professors in the country and insists on teaching the classics. // center: A student practicing in peace on the fifth floor of the National Academy of Music in downtown Hanoi. // bottom: A crack in the door revealed a student practicing the drums on the top floor of the academy hall.


our ‘root’ traditional music,” Manh said. “Many Vietnamese folk songs have been rearranged, also many new compositions using our pentatonic scale.” Minh was able to transform a prohibited practice, one many associated with pain and suffering, into a new method of healing and growth. His dedication and passion for jazz brought a new, younger wave of jazz musicians


in Vietnam, including his own son. The multiple generations of jazz musicians were able to create a sense of community that combines jazz with Vietnamese culture, rather than being pushed to the fringes. Vietnam’s new push for cross-border education is sending some students to Europe for their educations while bringing foreign instructors to teach at the National Academy of Music in Hanoi. However, according to Manh, as their curriculum catches up with France and America, most students are opting to remain in Vietnam. The Academy began teaching jazz as part of their available curriculum in 1991. According to Manh, jazz curriculum gained significant popularity in the 1990s and early 2000s. “So this is one of the biggest schools we have here for jazz — we are the pioneers in the country,” he said. He collaborates with world-class artists and invites many of them to Hanoi for lectures and demonstrations. “In our [playing] style, we go back to our roots, one that combines western and eastern jazz,” Manh explained. “But for teaching, we try to keep to classical jazz. American jazz has the basics for every student.” According to Manh, Vietnamese artists wish to explore foreign styles of jazz, a movement which the country has encouraged. In 2005, Vietnam hosted the European Jazz Festival, while in 2017, the San Francisco Jazz Orchestra visited Vietnam to mark the 10th anniversary of Vietnamese and American diplomatic ties. That same year, under a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, and the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, Grammy Award winner Herbie Hancock visited Vietnam with an eclectic ensemble of legendary jazz artists and musicians from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at the University of Southern California. In addition to their performance, the artists spent the following weekend conducting workshops and seminars at the Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City conservatories. Back in Binh Minh, time stands still. Alongside young, curious locals and wandering tourists, Minh and his group of wartime survivors sit close to the stage each night at 9 p.m. sharp, drinking Hanoi beer. There are no revolutions, no seminars or symposiums, no fear of survival, no culture wars, no airstrikes, no bombs: There are simply good people, good cigars, and good music. “Jazz is a universal language,” Manh said. “It’s more than the war.”

Minh was able to transform a prohibited practice, one many associated with pain and suffering, into a new method of healing and growth. WINTER 2018


The Faces of Hip Hop photos by Branden Wilson and Matt McDaniels On a chilly late-fall day in early December, a crowd gathered on West Grace Street to document a banner year for Richmond’s hip hop community. Including lyricists, producers, DJs, battle rappers, and muralists, as well as assorted friends and family, the results show an artistic community in full flower, and a group of movers and shakers who won’t stop until they make their mark on the city — and the world.





By Hip Hop Henry Photos by Nils Westergard The RVA hip hop scene has been one of the nation’s best kept secrets for a while now — but between its growing online presence and impactful releases of the past year, the secret is out. From Face Melt Fridays (the always-steady showcase of up-and-coming talent) to the Cheats Movement’s packed showcase at the VMFA, local hip hop events are attracting attention from eyes plenty outside the 804. Part of the reason for Richmond hip hop’s most successful year in a long time: Local artists aren’t waiting for people to come to them. AGM and Gritty City’s crews have both done national tours this year, and artists like Noah-O and Versace Chachi headed overseas. In fact, the increase in activity has even led some former Richmond residents to move back. “I didn’t leave because I was tryna get hot. I left for school,” says Mutant Academy’s Henny LO. “I came back to get hot.” Scene mainstay Ohbliv has had a particularly hot year. Always mentioned in circles throughout the beatmaker/production community, his profile was raised this year with Retrospective, a best-of collection released by Brooklyn’s Paxico Records and distributed by indie heavyweights Fat Beats. For Ohbliv, the proposal was a total surprise. “I wasn’t even expecting it,” he says when I visit him at his home on the Southside. The project apparently had its genesis when Paxico heard that Chris Hund got a job at Fat Beats. “I had already been working with Fat Beats,” Ohbliv relates. He and Hund had also been talking for a while about an Ohbliv release on Paxico. “So [Chris] is like, ’I’ve been going through your joints — yo, I think you should put out a greatest hits.’” While Ohbliv never planned for a retrospective, he definitely sees a need. “The era’s changing, there’s a whole new generation of kids doing this shit now — they kind of need to know,” he says. “So, yeah, it just made sense to drop this now.” Along with a retrospective album, Ohbliv was immortalized here in the city with a mural by Nils Westergard, which surprised a lot of people. Ohbliv gives the backstory of how it all came to be. “Initially, we were going to do a video,” he says. “Then he was just like, ’Yo, what do you think of getting your mural?’ I was like, ’Okay.’ What am I gonna say?” He laughs. He gives all the credit for the mural to Westergard. “It’s just a testament to his artistry,” says Ohbliv.

“I just see myself as a subject for his artistry. And if my music or, you know, our music inspired that artistry, then I’m grateful for that.” “Our music” is a reference to himself and Fly Anakin, the local rapper and Mutant Academy member who shares the mural with Ohbliv. The two collaborated this year for Fly Anakin’s debut solo album, Backyard Boogie, which was produced entirely by Ohbliv. I met up with Anakin and Henny LO, the creators of Mutant Academy, to get the whole story. “It started with myself and Anakin, and then it just expanded,” Henny LO explains. “We’ve still got the same members for the most part, minus Koncept [Jack$on] — shout out to him — but initially it just started as just some shit that we just loved to do, and us wanting to really do it and be nice, for real. And the next thing you know, it caught on.” Beginning with two high school friends, the Mutant Academy team has ballooned to members up and down the East Coast. It includes rappers, producers, and video directors, and they do virtually everything in-house. “People don’t like that shit,” says Fly Anakin. “I be telling [people] no all the time and they hate it.” Henny LO quickly chimed in. “If we step outside, it’s because we really love you.” “Exactly,” says Fly Anakin. “I’m a fan of some people, but it’s like people that aren’t on my radar. If I don’t know about you, if I didn’t seek you out, I’m not about to just go ahead and overly exert myself to people that I don’t know. [People] are strangers until they prove otherwise: It’s a reason why we move the way we move.” The Mutant Academy team has gotten a lot of love from a variety of hip hop luminaries this year. Detroit production legend, DJ House Shoes, DJ’d for Fly Anakin on his trip to LA, with fellow mutants Big Kahuna OG & Gray Matter. But the year has had both ups and downs — what should have been an opening spot for Roc Marciano in Washington D.C. was cancelled when the promoter failed to pay Roc. They’ve learned from all of it. “That trip just showed [people], like: We can do anything we want to do, easily,” says Fly Anakin, laughing. “We just gotta do the shit. That’s all it took. People showed extra love — that was the first time I ever seen people lined up to buy merch from me. It was a paid show, but I realized, having merch and shit...

Beginning with two high school friends, the Mutant Academy team has ballooned to members up and down the East Coast. It includes rappers, producers, and video directors, and they do virtually everything in-house.



“Whatever positive things you’re doing, just keep doing that, and more positive things will happen.”

...you can make any show a paid show at any time. I look at that way more seriously now.” Mutant Academy has always taken their music seriously, paying close attention to the way they drop projects — from EPs to instrumental collections, to full-length albums. I mentioned their song lengths increasing over time, and they let me know it was all part of the plan. “We’ve been training for years,” Henny LO says. “[We] learned how to write songs off of one minute beats — Dilla, [MF] Doom. [We] ain’t had no producer. It was just me and him.” The plan eventually led to Fly Anakin’s surprise solo debut, even though he’s not entirely sure he was ready. “I was like, ’I’m gonna make EPs, because I’m not about to do an album right now.’ I told myself I wouldn’t drop an album until I felt like I was where I need to be,” Fly Anakin says. “In a sense, Backyard Boogie was premature. I shouldn’t have did that yet. But it happened, you know?” I mention that their work has given them recognition in the “underground,” but before I even finish the sentence, Henny LO interjects. “Is that even a thing anymore?” Everyone laughs, but Fly Anakin gives a serious response. “The reason I can accept it is because only a certain type person knows about us. It’s only a certain type of person that knows about the music that we enjoy, that we came up on,” he says. “Not everybody’s that type of person.” He recognizes that only the “underground” type of person knows Mutant Academy right now, but he doesn’t regard the label as a limit on their potential. “[We’re] only underground because we aren’t signed.” Henny LO agrees. “I’m an artist. As an artist, I don’t give a fuck about no underground or mainstream.” Mutant Academy isn’t leaving town to chase success, though. “I don’t feel like you should have to move away to get what you need to get out of this shit,” Fly Anakin says. “We was in Broad Rock and we started doing this shit, like some real Southside shit. We still in Southside. We ain’t leave.” Mutant Academy are feeling positive about the future of RVA hip hop. So is Ohbliv. “Onward and upward. I mean, for real,” he says. “As everything gets fine-tuned and continues on the trajectory, there’s a lot of good stuff out there to keep you sharp, which is great.” The talent has always been there, Ohbliv says, but the city’s finally ready to embrace it. “For a while, it was a lot of people playing around with it. There was a time when there was a lot of new rappers coming out locally,” he says. “I feel like now it’s kinda settled, the infrastructure has gotten a little better, elevating and giving platforms to the people that deserve it.” His advice for the residents of Richmond, rappers or not, is entirely positive. “Just keep doing it. Keep doing your thing. That’s one thing that my mom used to always tell me,” he says. “Whatever positive things you’re doing, just keep doing that, and more positive things will happen. That goes with anything — music, or whatever field or career you’re in. Recognize the positive things that enact, and accentuate those things.” “I feel like if everybody did that in the city, it would just keep growing.” 



FUTURE PERFECT: The Art of Chris Smart

Chris Smart is a photographer, artist, and visual engineer based in Richmond, Virginia. Smart’s work, brings to life the physical and metaphysical connections we all have with our surroundings. “We are constantly on the hunt for a connection, whether it be spiritual, physical, or technological,” he says. “With my ongoing project titled Future: Love, I’m trying to portray the way I personally view human connections; connections with ourselves, the universe and our place within it.” “For me, the beauty lies in the fact that every person will have a different view of reality than the next,” Smart tells us. He’s aware that his work is very open to interpretation, and he embraces this reality, seeing it as fuel for the imagination of the viewer. “Everyone takes their own message, whether that is positive, negative or indifferent — and there’s power in that.” Find Chris Smart on Instagram at @theartofcjs.







Unraveling Academia with Queer Punk Feminist Julietta Singh By Daniel Berti Author and academic Julietta Singh flunked out of college on her first try. Now almost 20 years later, she’s a tenured professor at the University of Richmond, and she’s authored two books — both released in 2018. After spending over a decade in the slog of academia,

and Personality Crisis. She spent several years working as an amateur journalist, although she quickly became disillusioned with the work. Singh finally returned to school in her mid-20s, but said that her formative experiences in DIY spaces stayed

Singh has had a breakthrough year. Her first published work, Unthinking Mastery: Dehumanism and Decolonial Entanglements, was released in January by Duke University Press. Her latest, No Archive Will Restore You, was fresh to the shelves this November from Punctum Books. Both books were written from a queer feminist perspective, but they couldn’t be farther apart in terms of style and content. Unthinking Mastery is a dense, academic text that draws on postcolonial theory and queer theory, analyzing the concept of mastery in modern politics and anticolonial movements. It’s primarily a scholarly text, but the book also contains scattered autobiographical elements which aren’t typically found in academic writing. “I used experiences from growing up, as a racially-mixed person in a very racist, small city in Canada, to elucidate some of the concepts I was trying to talk about,” Singh said. “The book became kind of infused by auto-theoretical writing, where I inserted myself into an academic book where I don’t belong.” Her newest book, No Archive Will Restore You, takes this idea to an extreme, fully merging academic theory with autobiographical writing. It engages with a range of intellectual ideas on a deeply personal level. Singh’s willingness to stray from the confines of academic writing is partly due to her own off-kilter journey through academia. She barely made it through high school, then dropped out of college after her first year. Around that time, she was working on and off as a tree planter in the Canadian bush: A popular summer job for alternative youth in Canada, where the logging industry is a major economic force. “Basically a bunch of weirdo youth,” Singh said. “A lot of punks, hippies, crust punks, and all different kinds of young people pay their way through their education, or their lives, by replanting clear-cut forests.” “We would plant thousands of trees a day, and just lived in the woods in a communal space where nudity became totally mundane. Everyone was living this radical, communal life.” She was also involved in the local DIY scene in her hometown of Winnipeg, which gave rise to bands like Propagandhi

with her as she went through her undergraduate and postgraduate programs. “I never felt in sync with it,” she said of academia. “I always felt that I was a few steps off.” According to Singh, she approached No Archive with the DIY attitude in mind, and it shows. The book’s collage-like narrative is artfully- and urgently-written, and embraces a certain ‘devil-may-care’ attitude not often found in academic writing. The book is part of a growing body of feminist and queer-feminist literature, called auto-theory, that counts authors like Maggie Nelson, Wayne Kostenbaum, and Paul B. Preciado in its ranks. “It’s a style that refuses the distinction between the theoretical and the personal,” Singh said. “Instead of theory being something that’s very head-in-the-clouds, theory becomes something very intimate to thinking about one’s life.” No Archive Will Restore You is separated into six sections, which zig-zag between storytelling and abstract speculation. The book is written in non-linear fragments, but continually returns to themes of queer identity, race, and the body. Singh’s narratives are deeply entangled with the work of other academics, and draw on the works of Antonio Gramsci, Jacques Derrida, and Elaine Scarry to expand on her ideas. Intertextual analysis and impressionistic anecdotes are intertwined to construct a piece of literature that defies easy categorization. The book uses theory to think through big questions like pain, motherhood, and love in the internet age, and returns over and over to the body as a place that is both politicized and intensely personal. The following passage takes a literal approach to this duality, as the author remembers the research of a fellow graduate student: “She was several years ahead of me in her PhD, writing about Argentine women who, as political prisoners during the last dictatorship, stored subversive literature in their vaginal canals. She called this ‘The vaginal library.’

Author portrait by Alexis Courtney

“Basically a bunch of weirdo youth,” Singh said. “A lot of punks, hippies, crust punks, and all different kinds of young people pay their way through their education, or their lives, by replanting clear-cut forests.”

Both metaphor and place, the vaginal library seemed to me an embodied archive in organic ruin. It brought the notion of “preservation” into the cell in a doubled sense: into those cages that imprisoned women, and into the cellular structures of their bodies.” The passage illustrates the overlap between autobiographical narrative and theory, as well as the free-flowing style of the book. According to Singh, No Archive began as a collection of poetry, but ultimately veered away from its poetic format as she began to incorporate disparate, stylistic elements into the work. “There’s a lot of ways in which it engages with existing genres and existing conventions in writing, but it also exceeds them, or slips away from them,” she said. “It’s poetic, but it’s not poetry. It’s got essay-like qualities, but it’s not an essay. It’s autobiographical writing, but it’s not a memoir.”


Singh began working on the book during the writing of Unthinking Mastery. In many ways, she said, No Archive was a response the rigidity of the academic work she was doing at the time. “Writing Unthinking Mastery made me really want to think and feel and write in a different way,” she said. “It felt like something urgent that I needed to put down on paper.” The author is currently working on several other books that are still in the early stages of writing. Her upcoming works deal with a variety of topics ranging from environmental issues to queer and feminist representations of extinction. “All my preoccupations are about the end of the world,” she said.




Back-Of-House Babes Richmond women dominate their work in a male dominated restaurant industry. by Emily holter

Out of more than 660,000 restaurants in the U.S., less than 7 percent are led by female chefs. The food and restaurant business has an inherent bias against women, and years of discrimination in the industry have made it hard for them to climb to the top of the ladder. But despite the odds, women are picking themselves up — as they always do — and rising from beneath the weight of their male counterparts to make a new name for themselves. This holds true for Secco Wine Bar head chef, Julie Heins, and her battles with sexism and misogyny pushing against her success. While working long hours, Heins has had to sacrifice things that many would deem crucial to a happy life. Like most, Heins got her start in the industry as a dishwasher, then moved up the chain while working under a pastry chef over several years. The chef taught her all the ropes, but steadfastly refused to promote her to the actual position. When Heins realized her setbacks were due to her gender, not her ability, she went off to culinary school; a decision she credits to evening the playing field for her later career. 18 years later, Heins is an experienced chef in a city that’s been named a “Top Destination for Food Travel” by National Geographic. But the field is not friendly. Constant sexual misconduct in the workplace and almost-nonexistent family leave policies teach women across the service industry that it takes thicker skin, and harder work, to make it. “Don’t let them see you cry,” Heins explains. “Being a woman, you get judged on attitude and appearance.” With an average work day of 12 to 14 hours, the idea of having children is often just an idea. Women are left with a difficult choice to begin their families in a situation where most jobs have no maternity leave, and temporary leave can result in positions lost. “There is an expectation that a woman will, eventually, leave to start a family,” Heins says. “If management already thinks you have a timeline, they won't invest in you the same way they would a man.” Kitchens are already a difficult world to navigate as a woman, but the stakes are even higher for people of color and LGBTQ people who are brought into the mix.

The food & restaurant business has an inherent bias against women, and years of discrimination in the industry have made it hard for them to climb to the top of the ladder.

Hiring and creating a safe space for women, people of color, and LGBTQ people, Babe's has served for years as an example of how to do it the right way. “Women from marginalized communities have had to endure racism, misogyny and sexism while working in the industry,” Heins explains. “It's crucial to make room for them with intention, and to do the work to be inclusive.” Historically, in all aspects of society, women of color and queer people receive lower wages, have more limited resources, and must fight systemic oppression in day-to-day life. In the service industry, these setbacks present added challenges in an already-competitive field that doesn’t do them any favors as they attempt to move forward. Many, including Heins, believe a path to stop misogyny across restaurant workers is through mentorship: The women who have “made it” teach new women as they get their start. It is essential to create equal opportunity for all, for those who have made it before to push for more women and people of color to hold positions of power. Babe’s of Carytown, one of Richmond’s oldest gay bars, is one of the few places practicing this idea of inclusion: Hiring and creating a safe space for women, people of color, and LGBTQ people, Babe’s has served for years as an example of how to do it the right way. A jack-of-all trades, Kat Ray has worked at Babe’s for more than four years. From bar-back to cook, fixer-upper, and security guard, Ray has done and seen it all in the industry, and understands the implications the field has for the marginalized groups who take part in it. For over a quarter of a century, Babe’s has been an outlet for women and the LGBTQ community to thrive alongside a family of regulars and employees alike. The kitchen at Babe’s is comprised of mainly queer women, and its owner, Vicky Hester, has made it a point to create a safe space for these groups over her years operating the business. “People gravitate to Vicky — and to that space,” Ray says. “It’s where they feel safe.” Babe’s is a sanctuary, often for those who need it most. The 33-yearold bar is known for its inclusivity, and staff “that doubles as a welcoming committee for anyone who stumbles inside,” as Thrillist wrote when naming it the best dive bar in the state. From its start, Hester has ensured the space served as a home for Richmonders of all walks of life, and three decades later, it stands strong. For the women running the service industry across the nation, the future is looking better as earlier successes are paving the way for those to come. The number of women-owned establishments, like Babe’s, has increased more than 50 percent in the last decade. Women are rising to

Julie Heins, Head Chef at Secco in Richmond.


the top of their field, and for the first time, the Culinary Institute of America saw more women enroll than men in recent years. To Heins, in the back of the house, nothing matters more than your skills. “My favorite thing about kitchens is it's a great equalizer — You can either cook or you can't.”






tion (which should come as no surprise). While bar crawls have been around for decades, Scott’s Addition has brought the world a brand-new concept in beer with brewery crawls: one of few places in the world where a few footsteps can take you to an array of world-class brewers, right in our own backyard. Strangeways Brewing is only five years old, and has hit the hearts of Virginians since its start. Its brand-new 4,000 square foot space comes with a large patio outside, so it’ll be the perfect place to sit back and enjoy the weather next year after an evening of games at The Circuit.

Try Your Hand Final Gravity Brewing Co. is inviting drinkers to come try their own hand at brewing next year, with several workshops planned in the spring to teach Richmonders how to do it themselves. They’ve partnered up with Blue Bee Cider for a cider workshop, and have a regular Learn How To Brew workshop in addition to a Mead Brewing workshop with Black Heath Meadery. There are tons of other events coming up next year with folks around town like Triple Crossing, Stone Brewing, Vasen and more, so be on the lookout for more to-dos as we roll further into 2019.

RVA: Best Beer East of the Mississippi It’s no secret that Richmond is one of the best beer cities on the East Coast, and thanks to several local breweries, the rest of the country knows it, too. Just in the last few months, some of our favorite spots in town have put us on the national map once again. We started off last season with Virginia Wins at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado, as Richmond’s Hardywood and Ardent brought home awards for their stellar brews in a sea of more than 3,800 other contestants. This season, The Beer Travel Guide named Richmond the “Ultimate Craft Beer Destination in Southeast America,” noting that RVA’s got the best beer East of the Mississippi (and we can’t argue with that). Richmond had so much to offer that the writers decided to divide it into two sections in their guide, so keep your eyes peeled for part two next year. More recently, The Veil was named Virginia’s #1 Brewery by Thrillist, adding even more accolades for the River City’s award-winning beer scene.

Last Call Movie filmed at The Answer The Answer Brewpub partnered up with local production company Aisthesis Produc-


tions this season to film Last Call, a “Twilight Zone-esque tale of the regrets of a once-celebrated bartender.” Last Call is packed with Richmond artists, filmmakers, musicians, and actors, and sponsored by several local breweries — featuring local personalities like Tim Barry, Municipal Waste’s Tony Foresta, and the guys from Sports Bar. Mekong and The Answer were also recently awarded the spot of America’s #1 Beer Bar, which makes it an even more perfect destination for the movie, and a total must-see film for folks

Fresh Brews Hitting RVA

Our East Coast booze hub is growing even more this year, with several new breweries opening up around town in 2019. Following last season’s news of Basic City Beer Co. taking over the old Twisted Ales spot in Manchester, more new members of the Richmond beer family are on their way, including the recently-opened Bingo Beer Co. in Scott’s Addition, and Dogtown Brewing Company’s Manchester rooftop spot that’s opening in 2019. Dogtown’s got a great-looking space up there, with a beer hall, rooftop patio and around town. pup-friendly outside space — so bring your Scott’s Addition Gets a New Addition four-legged friends! Almost certainly, you can catch me over there with my beagle (Bagel Our friends at Strangeways Brewing are — no, not THAT Bagel) when springtime opening up their third location in the Com- comes around. Across the bridge in Shockoe monwealth next year, right across the street Bottom, Shiplock Brewing, which comes from The Circuit Arcade Bar in Scott’s Addi- from the same owners behind Southern Railtion. Scott’s Addition is really making a name way Taphouse, is settling into the old 7 Hills for itself — known across the country for its Seafood & Brewing Co. space next season. haven of breweries, all within walking dis- Outside of town, Dancing Kilt Brewery is tance of each other — and we’re stoked to see opening soon as Chester’s first craft brewery, Strangeways join the club. In The Beer Travel and stay on the lookout for more new openGuide’s Richmond winners, Final Gravity ings as we roll into 2019: like Camp TrapeziBrewing Company came in at #3 for its world- um’s farmhouse arriving outside the city in class IPAs, The Answer Brewpub hit #2 for its the summer. best-of-the-best on tap, and #1 on the list was the entire neighborhood of Scott’s Addi-


Richmond’s OG Craft Brewery Legend Brewing Co. is both our city’s original craft brewery and one of its favorites to date. Legend turns 25 next year, and as winter comes along, we love their seasonals like Ember Ale and Winter White. Another awesome brew from Legend is Quad, and it’s strong enough to keep you warm on these cold winter nights. Look forward to a big 25th Anniversary party in 2019, and plenty of special brews to commemorate the event.

New Year, Great Beer The Richmond beer scene is getting festive, as always, this season. For holiday events, be sure to check out the Fugly Sweater Party at Center of the Universe — whether they’re made by your eccentric aunt, knitted by your grandmother, or brand new, COTU wants to see what you’ve got. Isley Brewing Company is also ringing in the holidays this year with their Holiday Beer Brunch and Beermosas (yum). After the rest of the celebrations are underway, head on over to Three Notch’d Brewing Company for their Family New Year’s Eve Party. The brewery is hosting a free event all evening, which is family-friendly and features a balloon ball drop for the little ones who can’t stay up.



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WITH CAROLE LEONARD OF PRISON REFORM MOVEMENT BY DANIEL BERTI / ILLUSTRATION BY AMELIA MARTIN Earlier this year, administrators at Nottoway Correctional Facility issued a ban on the use of tampons and menstrual cups during prison visitations. Criminal justice activist Carole Leonard, founder of the Prison Reform Movement, broke the story on Twitter — and sparked an immediate backlash, propelling the story into the national spotlight virtually overnight. The story was picked up by local and national news outlets, and the ACLU of Virginia issued a statement calling for reversal of the ban.


In the next 24 hours, the Virginia Department of Corrections suspended the rule indefinitely. That day was a huge win for Nottoway Correctional Facility prisoners and their families. For Carole Leonard, it was just another day in the fight for criminal justice reform. Leonard established Prison Reform Movement (PRM) in 2003, as an online group meant to help the families of prisoners with housing and medical issues. Since then, PRM has become a vital source of information for ongoing prison and criminal justice issues.


When did you start Prison Reform Movement? I started in 2003, I came out to Tennessee from California to look out for my father. I got involved in some Yahoo groups, and I noticed that families of loved ones were on the internet asking for help with various issues. Housing issues, medical issues — medical issues mostly. So I just dove in head first, and created a group called Inmate Advocates. Yahoo started changing things around, so we moved over to Facebook and it really took off. I was amazed at the people I met on Facebook who were also doing the same thing, trying to draw attention to criminal justice and prison issues. And from there, we went to Twitter. I’ve got roughly 85,000 followers, and they’re varied. Some will champion one cause more than another. Social media does have a reach, and it’s one of the best tools I’ve found to share with others what’s really going on behind the wall. Could you tell me a little about why you’re so dedicated to prison reform? I’m a former felon, and my son is also currently in jail awaiting trial... It’s been over 20 years for me. I didn’t go to prison, but I spent a lot of time in county jail and I did four years felony probation. So it’s a deeply personal cause.

You’re constantly posting current, up-to-date information about prison policies and prison injustices all over the country. It seems like you’re often ahead of the news curve on these stories, and sometimes you’re even the one breaking these stories. How do you get this information? Do you do investigative work? I do. I’m in constant contact with families of prisoners. I’m also in contact with prisoners themselves. Those are my best sources of information, because they’re in the trenches. And I try to stay abreast of what’s happening, because I have a lot of people following me — and I feel like they rely on me to give the facts, what’s really going on. Is it difficult to get in contact with prisoners to obtain information about what’s going on inside prisons? Prisons seem like they’ve gone out of their way to make this a difficult process... They do, and this is why cell phones are such a big issue. We do have email now — a lot of prisons have email. Not just federal, but even county and state prisons have email. It can be a little pricey. I think it’s 47 cents per stamp through JPay, and one stamp equals one email. Sometimes, it is difficult because the prisons will say “we’re taking away your phone calls, we’re taking away your email, or we’re taking away your visits.” And then we don’t get information in a timely manner. So my position on the cell phones, regardless of whether you want to hear it or not, I see the need for the cell phones in prisons. It keeps us

What is the goal of Prison Reform Movement? We just want to educate people. We want to help the loved ones of prisoners learn how to advocate for those who are doing time. A lot of people don’t know how to advocate for their loved ones, and some of them are very fearful of advocating for them due to retaliation. Unfortunately, that is the reality — sometimes when we speak out on behalf of a prisoner, the prisoner pays the consequences. And sometimes if the prisoner speaks out, they pay the consequences as well. Are you approaching your work from a particular academic perspective, or a particular political framework? Oh boy. It’s funny that you say that, because today I got called a political hack on Twitter. I’m still kind of licking my wounds at that one. I try to take no clear-cut political stance, although I do tend to side with the left. I’m a Criminal Justice major currently, and I’m quite pleased to see a lot of the current issues being discussed — but we still have a long way to go. I think we need to address trauma-based reforms and restorative justice, and actually apply these principles. That would really change the system. The U.S. prison system is a point of intersection for a lot of other issues: Capitalism, racial justice, and environmental justice, to name a few. Does your work address the intersectionality of injustices in the prison industrial complex? We’re all about intersectionality. There are so many widespread issues that fall under the umbrella of criminal justice and criminal justice reform. You mentioned capitalism: We have these huge corporations that are literally breaking the bank on the backs of our prisoners, and most importantly, the prisoners’ families. We have huge corporations taking advantage of slave labor. I mean, if you’re behind bars and you’re doing work that you’re being paid a dollar an hour for, that’s still considered slave labor... because you don’t have

informed and it keeps our loved ones safe, because the DOC is not likely to retaliate as harshly when they know that people are on the outside looking in. Can you talk a little about getting information from the prisons themselves. What’s that process like? The process is extremely difficult. We are usually stonewalled. If you can get through to someone directly, it’s pretty much amazing. Most of the time, like if you want to get any medical information on a loved one, you have to have a signed medical release by the prisoner on file. And even then, they’re not very transparent. Sometimes even with a signed medical release, they refuse to give us information. That’s happened numerous times. So trying to get information from any department within the DOC, or within the prison, can be very difficult. We’re kind of looked at as an extension of the prisoner, and oftentimes we’re made to feel like we’re criminals as well. Can you talk about the difficulties that you’ve had bringing attention to some of these issues and how you’ve been able to do so successfully? The general public really is still under the impression that people in prison must be the worst of the worst. That’s changing gradually, but it’s taken years for people to realize that the criminal justice system is not what it appears to be — the public’s perception has been our biggest issue. Some people still don’t understand that it’s very easy to go to prison with the laws that we have in the United States. You don’t have to kill someone in order to go to prison, unfortunately. The more people know, the more likely we will have criminal justice reform. And that’s what the goal is: We want to reform, or even abolish, what we currently have in place. It’s a huge failure, and we need people to know that and be on board with that. What are some of your biggest achievements with Prison Reform Movement? The tampon ban was pretty good because it happened in one day. We got an immediate response. It started late Saturday night, because I got the information Saturday night. It started mushrooming on Sun-

a choice whether you get to do it or not. If you don’t work, you get punished. And racism in the system: All one needs to do is walk into a visiting room, and it’s pretty self-explanatory. We incarcerate more blacks than any other race. Black and latino people get harsher sentences versus you and I.


day, but as you know there’s nobody in administrative offices on a Sunday night. Monday it really took off, and by Monday evening, we got a response from Virginia that they were going to look at this closely. But we have to remain vigilant, because they could be sneaky and slip this right back. 


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RVA #35 Winter 2018  

http://rvamag.com/ Winter Edition of RVA Magazine 2018.

RVA #35 Winter 2018  

http://rvamag.com/ Winter Edition of RVA Magazine 2018.

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