It’s easy to look at and think about D.C.’s music and art scenes as a single cohesive package. It’s a kind of utopic projection: everyone plugged into the different arts communities—photographers and musicians and painters—all hanging out together. In reality, that isn’t really the case though, as Blight Records Creative Director Jen Meller points out.
“It’s two different art crowds,” she says, speaking of how she first found herself involved in D.C.’s underground music scene. “For whatever reason, it seems like the arts in D.C.—photography, museums, galleries, and studios—don’t really seem to cross over with each other, and that was the world I was more familiar with.”
For this reason, Meller describes her initial interaction with D.C.’s music scene as that of an observer. Because she’s not a musician, she says that she would “go to shows as this massive cheerleader, really proud and really into it—and really excited.”
Unfortunately, Meller also noticed a number of distressing things about the city’s underground music scene, particularly with regard to how gender roles and stereotypes are often strictly enforced. “I started to notice trends and discrepancies within the gender dynamics in the subculture,” she says. “I found myself frustrated, and asking ‘Why is each gender put into such specific roles?’ I began criticizing the system for its structure.”
Meller’s criticisms are taking the form of a short film, Venus, which is currently in the middle of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Set in Columbia Heights, the film focuses on the exploits of a group of self-proclaimed gender-bending misfits who band together to form a small label called Venus Records.
The similarities of Venus’ plot to Meller’s real-life Blight associates are apparent and intentional. Blight Records bands CrushnPain, Stronger Sex, and Br’er will all be creating original music for the fake bands that they play in the film.
However, as much as the film is made for and by the people involved in D.C.’s underground music scene, much of Meller’s intended audience might not be as familiar with transgender issues and the notions of gender fluidity that she’s placing at the forefront of her film.
Meller describes her purpose by using the analogy of going home for Thanksgiving and visiting friends from high school “I used the term gender fluidity,” she says, “and they didn’t know what it meant. These are educated people, but it feels like if I’m not tied into this particular art scene, it doesn’t seem to come up.”
In a lot of ways, then, Venus looks to act as a disruptive force, forcing confrontation with topics that many may consider uncomfortable. “I’m trying to make observations and make people feel uncomfortable to create some broader change,” Meller says, citing Larry Clark’s 1995 film Kids as her primary source of inspiration.
“On the surface, it’s just about skateboarding,” she says, “but in the subtext it’s about AIDS and HIV, and it’s not criticizing the kids involved, it’s criticizing the system. So I’m applying that type of structure to this or making sense out of it through that structure.”