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Ultraviolet wonderland

Discussing EDM in Oklahoma with two members of the Intergalactic Circus

Intergalactic Circus, 2017

Matthew Cremer

Driven by the decline of disco and the rise of modern techno, house, and trance music, the term EDM (electronic dance music) originated in the U.S. around 1985. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, a subculture of glitter-soaked, black-lit warehouse parties and raves seemed to appear overnight. Dance parties lasted until 4 or 5 a.m. and helped create an odd coalition of DJs, goths, suburban hipsters, and modern psychedelic hippies.

In the late 2000s, millennials repurposed this music and party culture to coalesce with the manic and 808-heavy styles of dubstep, psychedelic bass, breakbeat, and modern drum and bass. The glitter never left, but the parties got stranger. Festivals like the Nocturnal Wonderland and the Electric Forest feature completely immersive sensory experiences.

The modern EDM party is replete with diverse styles. You’ll see people of all genders in glowing silver onesies, jarringly sexy Pokemon costumes, and everything from Victorian- to sci-fi-infused images of steampunk. Such oddities might be scarce in Oklahoma, but the EDM culture here is vibrant and growing. Amanda Fortner and Jessy Shelton are members of the Agni Flow Arts collective and the Intergalactic Circus performance art showcase and dance party, which will be held July 19 at Whiskey 918.

Damion Shade: EDM and psychedelic bass music and the culture surrounding it aren’t really what people think of when they think of Oklahoma. Why do you think that’s changing?

Amanda Fortner: I feel like EDM is definitely making its way into Oklahoma. I think the vibe of the scene is changing. It’s getting a little less masculine and aggressive. There’s less of a negative sexual space. It’s a little more fluid and filled with community. It’s starting to become something more people can enjoy.

Jessy Shelton: Everything moves central from the coasts. It’s started to gain popularity here over the last couple of years, and I would say it’s gotten popular here because of people going to festivals and then wanting to bring their experiences back with them. There are a lot of local shows now in OKC and Tulsa that have had a big presence in Tulsa. The first two years of Intergalactic Circus shows, we were completely sold out by 10 o’clock. We had a line, one-in one-out, at our first venue. At the second venue, we were just maxed out and people weren’t leaving. So this year we’re trying to do the same thing with three times as much space. We’re just trying to take it to the next level.

Shade: How did Intergalactic Circus begin?

Fortner: I got into EDM and flow art when I was inspired by performers I saw at Electric Forest in 2014. It just lit a flame in me. Later I saw fire dancers practicing on Riverside. There was already a fire spinning community in Tulsa. So I started spinning fire and it all just kind of went crazy from there. At Electric Forest, I saw character performances like safari clowns and Victorian stilt walkers, these people with Shakespearean style clothing on stilts. Eventually, the name just kind of flew from the air and it was perfect. Intergalactic Circus just kind of rolled off the tongue. It started with the intention of inspiring individuals to do more with themselves in the performance-art realm. We want to encourage playfulness, mindfulness, and happiness through the art of movement. The first one was January 30, 2016. Originally we were going to throw this party and have all these different performers with everything in all blacklight and crazy lighting. Then we decided to give the event a visual theme. We wanted to create, like, an ultraviolet wonderland or playground. Performance art recess.

Shade: For our readers who aren’t as familiar with the terminology, could you explain what a few things are? What’s a flow artist?

Shelton: So a flow artist is somebody who uses props in dance like hula-hoops and poi and staffs and other things that you see people spin around more or less.

It’s typically associated with EDM, but it’s branched out into many different genres. The first time I saw flow art in person was probably the Gem and Jam festival in Tucson, Arizona. Every year Tucson has the largest gem and mineral show in the world. So I guess they decided to have a music festival as well. They sell crystals and art and host art installations, and there are people doing all types of dance and flow all over the place with a wide variety of music as well. Now there [are] Tulsa flow arts groups on Facebook. Agni Flow Arts is the name of the group that Amanda came up with before Intergalactic Circus. That’s what she started her personal performance as, and she brought a few other performers on with her. Agni is the goddess of fire (in the Vedic Hindu tradition).

Shade: These aren’t the kinds of skills I’d imagine that most people could just jump into. Some of them seem a bit dangerous, like hanging from the ceiling on a piece of silk and spinning fire. How did you practice and learn this stuff?

Shelton: Fire takes a lot of practice, for sure. You don’t start with fire. You start with practice props. You can put tennis balls in socks and just spin those around till you get the hang of what it feels like. You’re kind of working with kinetic energy and sacred geometry, but it is a little dangerous. I waited about a year to start with fire, and I started with a prop that’s more static. They’re called plum torches. Basically they’re little pieces of metal that attach to your hand and then they have a wick that comes off of them. So you’re more just dancing and moving your body and then using the fire to accentuate that. More so than if you’re using a staff or poi where you would kind of be manipulating the prop more than your body. So those would be a little more advanced.

Shade: Each Intergalactic Circus has a unique theme. What’s the theme of the July 19 event, and how is this event different?

Fortner: This year’s theme is zodiac—kind of representing the astrological wheel. All of our 25 performers will be painted up as their zodiac sign. I’ll be painted as a Cancer because that’s my sign. We chose Whiskey 918 this time because that gave us the space we need and the ability to have a one-ring circus. When you enter the venue they kind of left it a blank slate in there. It doesn’t have a lot of honkytonk stuff anymore, so it’ll be easy to transform. There’s just this very large circular dance floor. All of our performers will be set up on that dance floor. Our guests will be able to observe them from 360 degrees. There will be a glow cave. There will be a space cave, and there will be absolutely incredible lighting. We’re going to have two massive projection screens going on with visualizers. Our fire dancers will be off to the west door of the building. We’re hoping to leave people in awe of what they see.

Intergalactic Circus: Zodiac
Thurs., July 19
Whiskey 918 | 514 E. 2nd St.
7:30 doors, 8:00 music | $20–$80 | 21+

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