Text: Karisa Senavitis
Photo: Kat Slootsky
The only grasshopper I’ve ever seen in Brooklyn jumped between Christine Renee and me at The Lot. Christine greeted the insect, “hello sweet heart,” as I snapped a photo. She wondered aloud about it’s meaning, and sent a link later that day. An image of the musical insect was accompanied by the words, “Art finds kingdoms in a foot of ground.”
On a triangular block in Brooklyn, sound engineer, Francois Vaxelaire, put a shipping container designed as a DJ booth and coffee shop, and launched The Lot Radio in 2016. From inside, Christine DJs on Friday afternoons for a couple hours, streaming online to 75 countries and counting. I was there to interview the grasshopper about her show, but first will describe the grounds.
At The Lot, drinks cover the operating costs for the station. Beverages and music are served outdoors in a sliver of yard, offering casual seating and a view of Manhattan. Wifi and water are supplied by the Franciscan monks who run the church across street. When I arrived, Christine had a visitor. She’d purchased a record from Discogs and the guy who sold it recognized her from the show and came to deliver in person. She and Francois encourage this sort of neighborly-ness. As Francois says, The Lot is meant to be “a place to bridge the online and offline worlds of DJing.”
The Lot Radio video stream typically shows the DJ in profile, facing a window, in a tiny white room tagged with stickers. During sets DJs flip through records or mp3s, friends drop by, but not much is going on. It’s banal in a good way. You can be on your computer and just check in to the Lot once in awhile: a convivial work companion, with mild surveillance undertones.
On a Friday afternoon on thelotradio.com you might see her beaming, even her eyes smiling. A big poster with scripty handwriting like an 80s movie title announces: Christine Renee. “When I am performing on the Lot my intention is to be fully alive. To be fully me,” says Christine, “And by being me hopefully I connect to the We.”
Today, inside the booth, Vlastar by Billy Cobham is playing over bird calls. There’s lots of gear and Christine’s white frame sunglasses rest next to an iced coffee. Christine’s approach is visually aware saying, “I’ve always dressed up for gigs.” For her first show at The Lot she was subbing for a friend – “I wore this yellow running suit and said I’d just run over all three bridges and back. This got the chat room going and they liked the set.” People on the chat began to demand she have a regular slot. Christine got Francois on the air and he agreed to give her a regular show.
Opposite the door to the booth there are monitors and controls for the audio/visual broadcast. “Online,” Christine says, “it’s freeing to have an audience – there’s a feeling we can see each other. I love the chat. In a club setting you have 1 or 2 people engage with you to ask about a song or to charge their cell phone. There’s a distance, not a lot of direct communication. But here you play a song and the chat room immediately reacts to it – they tell stories, they say how it makes them feel.” The Lot’s chat has regulars that keep it community-oriented and troll free. They sort of manage themselves. Christine channels any negative comments she’s encountered toward mutual understanding. But for the most part, it’s:
I love the vocals, so cool, I’m all about poetry. @ECO CHAMBER
Yessss Christine is always fire @guest 291
literally have an alarm on my phone for this show @guest 887
christine renee is the ethical party starter @harlem globe lotter
dreamy CR!!!! @chirpgalchangingtheoilinthecar
did christine mention who made that unbelievable jumpsuit she’s in?? @guest 980
This suit has me being a snake @The Lot Radio
“I started off like everybody else,” explains Christine. “I just wanted to fit in and play a straight ‘DJ’ set, except that sometimes I’d wear a latex chicken mask.” Disco Chicken has been around for ten years now, first appearing at underground parties in LA. “There was a period when my youngest, who’s 3 now, wouldn’t brush her teeth unless I became the Chicken. And Chicken doesn’t talk, it only says, ‘Baaak bak bak baaak bak.’ So I’d wear the mask and she’d brush her teeth, and that’s how we got things done.”
It was after Disco Chicken’s visit to The Lot that Christine realized, “this is amazing – I have video. I have an audience. I have distribution. I can do WHATEVER I WANT.”
During the show Christine’s donned a keyboard tie and paid homage to “piano house” with DJ Bruce Tantum; she’s dressed in shells and goggles to tell stories about dancing dolphins; brought conceptual props to a Richard H. Kirk tribute; and repeatedly transforms the booth with backdrops and décor. “I can recite poetry, I can dance, I can feature friends and showcase what they do and create a new type of variety show,” says Christine.
Christine’s thoughts unfold spontaneously, filling silences with laughter.
I started off like everybody else; I just wanted to fit in and play a straight ‘DJ’ set, except that sometimes I’d wear a latex chicken mask.
Describing Christine’s softness and strength, writer Eglée de Bure confided, through a thick accent she uses for phone calls, “I’m a Parisian so I’m very snobby and she’ll come on and do a crazy dance and she’s so free and I love that about her. She doesn’t really care about what other people think.” Eglée calls the show poetic.
Christine selects show themes by drawing divination cards by moonlight. “The shadow theme was from a deck and it had to do with mirrors, reflections of yourself, everybody’s shadow is the ego, the id… “ Christine follows her intuition, “I pulled from Jung a little bit, from Native American philosophy and I called ASFOUR and asked if I could wear one of their amazing mirror pieces.” In a cape of reflective petals and metallic shoes she called her set “infinite reflections.” Some music was planned to fit the theme, like Moon Shadow by Kitaro or Shadowmask by Sandoz, but her playlists are left open so she can make selections in the moment.
Outside the booth, Christine pulls an oversized camouflage coat over her denim romper, to stay warm enough to continue our conversation. The coat is a donation Christine’s collecting for the Standing Rock water protectors and turns our conversation to the show she did at The Lot after going to the D. C. protest of the Dakota pipeline. With her guests DJ Zebra Blood and Navajo elder, Jake Singer, they created an online prayer for Standing Rock.
“The Lot started mostly with house music and club DJs and I was a little nervous about first of all, bringing prayer to that space and also totally changing its format,” but Christine says “the show was VERY well received. Because the Lot is holding space for this kind of experimentation I didn’t have to worry.” Francois says all are welcome and that’s been empowering. “Now that I am here all these creative spots have opened in me that had been mostly dormant,” says Christine. And her eight-year-old daughter, Cassia, agrees— working as barista during her mom’s sets and sometimes appearing as a dancing eagle. She loves to tell strangers that her mom has a radio show.
Christine made a mixtape and started promoting herself at a time when there were around 10 women DJs in NYC. “You would get booked sometimes where it didn’t matter what you played, just the fact that you were a woman was the reason you were hired,” remembers Christine.
“Women have been subjugated by a sort of mass perversion for a long time now, and everyone is a part of it: the perceived as well as the perceiver,” says Christine. “I think this perversion is an imbalance that will be corrected with time and by a collective effort. On a macro-level, you see it in the way we treat our Mother Earth. We impose our thoughts of how she should be, instead of seeing who she really is. When the human race learns to care for our planet, which I see as female, we’ll naturally be better to women.” Thinking of her show, Christine says, “I hope the show challenges boxed ways of perceiving women. I try to embody that by just being me, which is in a Taoist way, beyond gender.”
Christine is mother to two girls. Their father, Prince Alex Czetwertynski, also works with the interplay of sound and light waves. They met working on Agathe Snow’s “Stamina,” and have been married for ten years. As part of caring for her daughters, Christine learned cranial sacral therapy. Christine explains the technique as a practice of listening to “stations” in the body saying that healing and DJing have a lot in common. “There’s a lot of energy work to be done in DJing,” says Christine, “that’s how I do cranial now — through the music that I play.” Some of her listeners are picking up on this kind of energy.
Fashion designers, threeASFOUR regularly tune in for Christine’s show. “We are very in tune with vibrations so the vibe is very important here for the wellbeing of the crew,” Gabi, of threeASFOUR explained over the phone. They recently did a collection based on the wave patterns of sound and light. Gabi calls sacred frequencies “the snowflakes of sound waves,” making the visual aspect of sound – which Christine embodies – simultaneously explicit and ethereal.
Others describe Christine’s transmissions in mystical terms. Artist, Stephanie Land, likens Christine’s show to installation art, “it’s an extension of her and she’s making these magical, sometimes strange environments.” For the swans show, Christine dressed all in white, hung swan sculptures from the ceiling of the booth. “The swans were so strange,” Stephanie mused, “and the one swan was hanging close to the camera so its beak would fill up the lens and it was kind of cinematic.” Christine fondly remembers preparing with the artist Tamar Mogendorff, “Tamar’s studio is so magical and we just had fun, mixing things, discussing the costume… It was a collaboration I really enjoyed.”
Sussing out the ideas of the show is an ongoing process. “There’s a sweet spot,” Christine says she’s looking for, “between filling the space, doing the outfit, and being the character —and also making a solid music mix that people can listen to without the visual.” Eglée insists, “characters that she goes into are different facets of who she really is and connects to something that really matters to Christine.” Grasshopper or princess, Christine has made a kingdom in a shipping container. Christine smiles, “In a way each show is my ode to happiness.”
Christine Renee’s show can be heard every other Friday from 4-6pm on Brooklyn’s The Lot Radio.