Z Space interviews Cosmic Amanda, Founder of BFF.fm and Disco DJ at Z Space’s Studio 54 about starting a radio station, art + politics (because of course) and disco.
Z: Tell us about your journey in starting a radio station for emerging artists.
CA: I joined my college radio station in 1994 when I was a freshman. They told me that they only played underground music and that you couldn’t play anything that has even been heard on commercial radio. So I had to learn all this new music that I never knew about. And it was like that moment, you know that meme where you see the brain exploding? It was like that.
Z: The floodgates are open.
CA: Yeah. I just saw that there was this whole universe of music outside of the mainstream that was broad and deep and unusual and cool. I was in college forever, and the only constant was that I always had a radio show. My radio show was call The Cheea Planet, and then I started playing disco, then I called it Stayin' Alive on the Cheea Planet.
When I decided to move to San Francisco, I was like “I need to start a radio station,” that's the only way I know how to support the scene. Part of the reason why I moved to San Francisco specifically was because the music scene was so cool and there were so many cool bands here. I got invited to a friend’s gathering at The Secret Alley, and they just happened to have a little space that was affordable. I fronted the money to get this going for a couple of months and thought that if at the end of three months we don't have enough interest and involvement, then it was a fun experiment.
It just so happened that it caught the attention of the right people at the right time. We started getting publicity and press and it just kind of took off. We do have specialty shows where people are focused on an area that’s not related to new underground music, but 90% of the shows are. It’s all people that want to have bands on and want to highlight new things. Doing a radio show is the most natural and comfortable way for them to do that.
Z: Everything right now feels like it’s about politics. During moments like this, what do you think the community wants/needs from art right now? What are the main conversations going on in the your scene?
CA: Art is the way that we synthesize everything that’s going on. That’s one reason that art is and will always be extremely important and valuable. Because we are going to need art to place what is happening in context for people, not just now, but forty years from now. Now we are looking back at disco forty years later and discussing “How does this reflect the time period, what can we pull out? What was important to people based on the art that they were making?” Representation is also a big issue. Just in my sphere with radio, and friends I have in the art community, the second Trump was elected, we started getting applications from people who said “I want to do an all-female or all non-binary show,” or “I wanna talk about immigration,” or “I wanna to have a show that reflects my point of view so that there is that representation out there for other people.” I think art is a huge conduit for that, making sure that different views are getting expressed and that people are able to see these different viewpoints through art.
The next extension from representation is understanding. When there is that representation of different viewpoints and you start exposing yourself to other people’s ideas you gain an understanding of where they are coming from. I think the biggest problem we have right now is this sort of us v. them friction. When we were all us, there was no them. There was really nothing to fear. I feel that dovetails with the history of disco. You had all different types of people together coming together around dance music and I think that’s what got people through a really difficult time in American history. I feel like we are inventing our own disco now. We don’t even know what it looks like yet. We will find out in 40 years….
You could hear Amanda’s disco beats at Z Space on November 30th by going to zspace.org/studio54. To listen and support Amanda’s radio station visit BFF.fm.
Practice your moves to the Cosmic Amanda disco playlist on Spotify!