Pulsing Through the Community // cry$cross
If you’re familiar with the NYC club scene, you’ve probably heard of Crystal aka cry$cross. Identifying as a multi-hyphenate visual, digital and sound artist, Crystal is not only a well-respected DJ that recently booked at a stage at New York’s upcoming Boiler Room festival, but she’s also a full-time graphic designer with a portfolio spanning from t-shirt designs, to food packaging. Despite wearing many hats, Crystal brings community to the forefront of everything she does, making a concerted effort to collaborate with friends and uplift others navigating their creative practices in a movement she refers to as “gatebreak culture.” Looking forward, she hopes to open for a house music legend, add more international gigs to her roster, and continue uplifting Black femmes.
Your practice spans from DJing to graphic design, with community advocacy at the core of so much of what you do. What do you find most fulfilling about the work you’re doing?
The feedback I get and the fact that what I do isn’t just for me, but for other Black, queer femmes doing the same thing. I’m always trying to uplift them while they uplift me; it’s a community thing. The feedback from my community is the most fulfilling to me.
What are some themes you regularly explore through your practice?
Community, togetherness, blackness, and queerness. There’s not really a specific theme, but what fuels my work are my emotions, especially when I make a mix. A mix is an arrangement of how I’m feeling at the moment, but sometimes I need to meet requirements. I have a lot of creative freedom with my design work, but for DJing specifically, my emotions fuel what I create, and the same for design because colors can also convey emotion.
I was first introduced to you as a DJ, but I want to know how you were first introduced to DJing and NYC nightlife? How has your experience in this scene evolved overtime?
I started making mixes in my basement in 2016 and started putting them on Soundcloud; I had no intention of ever playing for crowds. I played a few gigs back at Max Fish before they closed in 2016 —probably one of my first gigs. I think I was going by cry$cross then, but definitely not with the phonetic spelling I have now. I started making mixes in 2016, and I got a lot of listens and comments from different countries — especially Brazil. I guess the Brazilians really fuck with me! I’ve been playing parties for quite a few years, but now I’m deep in the nightlife scene. The parties I played before weren’t in the same community; they were more like bars and small clubs. There was a little party set up in the basement of Basquiat’s Bottle, so my friends would have me come there.
What really pulled me into the nightlife scene was my residency at Half Moon, where I met all of these other DJs. I played h0l0 a lot in 2018 and Mood Ring a lot in 2019 — I was lowkey a fake Mood Ring resident DJ — that’s when I gained my fanbase.
Going back to your fanbase in Brazil, where are some places that you would like to play in the future?
I didn’t know many of the people that would comment on my Soundcloud mixes, but I would check my stats and saw on the map that Brazil was orange, and thought it was kind of cool. I have a homie who lives in Brazil, and I was meant to be there in February before covid spiked in December, but I plan to go later this year. Me and my friend were talking about playing some carnival after parties if I went, but maybe next year!
My manager and I just put together a working list of cities I want to play in, so I’m playing in L.A. and will be there for the first time in my life to play BAE BAE’s Hood Rave party on April 30th, and there’s a super special guest I’m excited about. I really want to play in DC — that’d be sick! Detroit this summer is a possibility since my friend will be working with the Underground Music Academy. I just put Pxssy Palace on the list — I want to play in London for sure. I’m going to play the Pep Rally party in Toronto. I’m also playing Boiler Room in July, which should be fun!
You’ll be playing for your largest audience yet at Boiler Room NYC, making this a huge milestone for your music career. How did it feel to be chosen for such a large opportunity?
How did it feel?! Honestly, I was wondering what was taking Boiler Room so long to hit me up?! It was like a sign of relief — like finally, I’m being recognized for all the work I’ve put in. It felt great — seeing the lineup, seeing the people who haven’t been announced on the lineup yet, and knowing that they’ll be playing is crazy. There are so many talented people, some of which I’m not familiar with, so I’m excited to hear who they are. It’s a 5k max capacity venue, so it’s going to be crazy!
You recently facilitated a zine-making workshop with SPICY, a QTPOC-led artmaking collective that you’re a member of. Can you share more about your role at SPICY and why it’s important to bring these experiences to a wider audience?
I’ve been with SPICY since 2018, which is around the same time I started DJing. I met Priya, the founder, through some mutual friends, and I think we met at this gallery opening I was playing. She had me play the SPICY launch party at the same gallery a few months later. A year later, Priya asked me to be a member of the creative team to create the zine, our Instagram graphics, and web design. I’ve worked on two zines that we produced and one digital zine because printers were closed during covid in 2020, so we put it [SPICY] online. We did a lot of virtual programming during that time too, and created ways for the community to come together and be there for each other. That’s really what SPICY is. We don’t do this for money, and for a long time we weren’t getting paid for it. We did recently get approved for a grant, so we have funding we’re using towards artist residencies, and for other organizers who want to host panels or facilitate.
L: Butterfly Effect Poster; digital (2022), R: Crystal photographed by Nikki Cardona (2021)
We’ve been doing zine workshops for quite some time, but not since the pandemic. A lot of people don’t even know what zines are, so it’s really the history of zine-making that we like to teach when we have our zine-making events. As a DJ and someone in nightlife, I don’t only want to go out to parties. I want to go to galleries, ceramics and pottery workshops, pole dancing classes – everyone needs extracurriculars! We did them in high school and college, so why not do them as adults? I think it’s important to have a way to explore creative expression with other adults and like-minded people in the same spaces.
In addition to SPICY, what other community organizations or collectives do you closely work with or admire?
Secret Riso Club, the co-host of our event at Nowadays, is a risograph printing company based in Bushwick. The work they create is so beautiful but also so liberal, colorful, political, and queer. I have a few posters I bought from them in my room. They’ve been making consistently good work for years! They’re definitely a collective I’m a fan of.
You recently created the first ever package design for Sol Sips, a Brooklyn-based vegan cafe that you’ve worked closely with for years. Among the many design projects you’ve completed, which makes you the proudest?
I would definitely say that one! Sol and I have literally started at the bottom – not like the complete bottom, but we’ve come a long way since we first started what we’re doing. It’s amazing to watch her accomplish every single thing she puts her mind to; she’s also an Aries which is not surprising, but she’s just incredible! The project was a long time coming because we started it in 2020. What I had done then is so left field to what was actually produced, but it’s a process, and I love letting things sit for a little bit. Sometimes it’s good to look at things with a fresh set of eyes, and sometimes you need three or four months. A few days isn’t really that fresh. I know that the projects I’m sitting on right now will be used in the future, but in the meantime, stay tuned for more Sol Sips packaged projects!
Another project I was excited about was the H31R project. Since I love working with my friends, I hit up JWords and maassai and said we should make some merch because Sonia (Jinn), who I was living with at the time, was making merch and giving me the spiel of how they market, sell and produce their designs. I thought, my friends are a cool duo, and I love 90’s band tees, so let’s make a 90’s R&B tee. We did it, it was a hit, and we sold out twice! I’m really proud of H31R; maassai and JWords, separately and together, are such incredibly talented artists I’ve been fans of and friends of for so many years.
With a myriad of gigs, projects, full-time work, and other commitments on your plate, how have you built a work ethic to keep you afloat? What’s some advice you’d offer to creatives looking to extend their practices?
Honestly, I think the best advice I can give anyone is to work smarter, not harder! I don’t think I have a really great work ethic, I just like money, so any way I can make more of it to help sustain myself is what’s best for me. Also, don’t compare yourself to other people because it’s so easy to think you’re not doing enough or you’re not that good.
Who are some artists or projects that have been on your radar over the last year?
I’m a huge fan of Audrey Lyall! I’m always so inspired by the world she creates in her work. She’s been on my radar for a few years because we’ve known each other. Someone who I recently met name is Nai; we did a photoshoot a few weeks ago. She’s young and still in college. She’s an overall great photographer that documents Black life, Black culture, and she lives in Maryland, so it’s fun to see what’s going on down there through her lens.
Honestly, Black women, all of them inspire me. I saw Keiya A recently — her performance at Public Records was incredible! So many tears were shed, feelings were felt, and the knees quivering! The crowd was chanting — it was so great. :3ION right before her shook me to the core with their vocals and the range — oh my god! It was beautiful!
I’ve always admired how dedicated you are to uplifting other artists and extending support to them throughout their journeys — you do this through inviting them to play on your monthly show at The Lot Radio, creating flyers, and offering to make EPKs (electronic press kits), among many other things. How did you manage to find your identity in a community that can be exclusive and competitive?
It’s crazy because in college, I had an infographic project, and I was asking myself the same question. The project was to make an infographic about whatever you wanted, and mine was about designers in the music industry because I was applying to jobs at Sony and Universal. From then on till now, I tried to find out where I would fit in those two realms, and I guess I had to create it for myself, so I did. I also know a ton of other artists; musicians, visual artists, definitely other DJs — so I started to make the EPKs during the quarantine. Since then, I’ve had so many incredible artists ask me to create them. It’s so important for artists to have an interactive portfolio with all of their links and work they’ve done — pretty much like an interactive resume.
I’m always figuring out a way to bridge things together. I want to bridge the gaps between a lot of different things, specifically with the design and DJ/musician communities. I feel like Sonia (Jinn) is also doing this. Sonia and I are honestly pioneering this, and it’s so fun and so awesome that we’re friends and can do this together and separately without feeling like we’re in competition with each other. Obviously, we both have unique styles, but we’re in the same community, and we can do these things while also uplifting other people and helping them figure out how to do it too. Gatebreak culture, no more gatekeep culture.
What’s next for you, and where do you imagine yourself within the next year?
I’ve had a lot of big DJ sets, and I want to have a set where I play with an old head in the game. Someone that’s been DJing for years and pioneered a sound — I want that for me; like when Kourtney and Devoye played for Byron the Aquarius — that was such a great night! Shaker Mountain is happening in the Adirondacks, and there are a lot of big names playing it, and I want that for me! I’m already planning to play in different cities and countries, but I want to open for a legend in the game, specifically a house legend. I want to play a fun house set so my mom can come – she would love it! If it’s someone she knows, that would be even better.
Can you provide a few tips for other artists?
Don’t box yourself in; the world isn’t even a box — it’s round! There’s no need to box yourself into any specific style of art, design, or genre.