With a Nod from Beyoncé, NYC Nightlife Legend Kevin Aviance Gets His Own Renaissance
The performer of '90s club classics "C*nty" and "Din Da Da" talks about how being sampled by Bey rebooted his career, life 17 years after a brutal assault and why he likes to EMPHASIZE certain WORDS.
Caftan readers, it’s…March! Yay? March is a bit dreary, isn’t it? I am coping by planning and thinking about a trip to France in June—which will be my first trip there since a certain Frenchman broke my heart a decade ago when he ended our five-year relationship. (But isn’t it glamorous to have one’s heart broken by a French person? Every American should try it once!)
Also helping me get through the final stretch of this NYC winter is The Lost Americans by my fellow journalist and novelist Christopher Bollen…
Christopher writes very juicy thriller/intrigue/crime novels that are always set in foreign countries and always have gay characters, so there’s definitely a Patricia Highsmith/Hitchcock vibe, and this one is no exception—about a damaged young American woman who travels alone to Cairo to figure out exactly how her military contractor brother died there, and ends up befriending an affluent young Egyptian man who’s a closeted gay. I’m about halfway through and it’s really good and once I finish I want to do a Caftan interview with Christopher (who’s far from 60, the usual youngest age I aim for with interviewees, but, well, this months’ interviewee isn’t 60 yet either, so…)
Also giving me life these days is the young gay Grammy-nominated Mexican-American signer Omar Apollo, whose 2022 album “Ivory” I have on repeat, with certain songs, like the emo dance track “Go Away,” currently stuck in my head 24/7. Here he is doing the song on The Tonight Show.
I get strong Frank Ocean and George Michael vibes from Omar. Also, he’s beautiful and I’m totally in love with him. There, I said it!
Anyway, I love this month’s interview. The past few interviews, though nice, have felt a little dry and withholding to me and I love how crazy and fun and silly and also moving this interview is. It’s with Kevin Aviance, who has been a part of my NYC life since—I remember this very vividly—I went to this sexy trip-hop cruising night called “The Locker Room” in 1995 at the then-Chelsea gay bar Champs and it was hosted by relative NYC newcomer Kevin, who walked around all night with a mic intoning, in a very gay James Earl Jones stentorian voice, “The LOCKER Room…THE Locker Room…The Locker ROOM?” with slightly different inflections each time. It was weird and it cracked me up; it felt like he was slightly trolling the very idea of the night itself (gays trying to be masc and jockish with a night called “The Locker Room” lol). Then a year later, Kevin’s dance tracks “Cunty” and “Din Da Da” were all over the clubs—just hearing those tracks reminds me of being out every night in the late nineties.
In 2006, Kevin was brutally and homophobically assaulted by a gang of human trash outside a Manhattan gay bar. Not being close to him, I didn’t know how it affected him long term, but, as you’ll read, it did. I saw him out at Good Room in Greenpoint about a year ago or so and was so happy, as were so many others, just to see him out there and still on the scene. (He’s 54—a year older than I am.) Last year, millions more people, especially young ones, learned who he was when “Cunty” was sampled—among countless house classic samples—by Beyoncé right at the top of “Pure/Honey” on her disco- and house-heavy Renaissance album.
Beyoncé even says “cunty” once on the track—if I could ask her anything, it would be how she felt about saying that word and what she thinks it means. I have a female friend who once got very angry at me for using the word. I’ll be honest and say it’s a word I sometimes use with other gay male friends but wouldn’t use around a woman. But that’s just me! You’ll also see in the interview how Kevin feels about Beyoncé’s sampling him. (I still do not know if Kevin, who I think it is safe to say has less money than Beyoncé, was compensated in any way.)
I’ll be honest—I always end up really liking my Caftan interviewees or just feeling kind or “meh” about them—or, in rare cases, not really liking them much at all despite being grateful for the interview—and Kevin definitely falls in the former bucket. His mind works in a crazy, free-associative way that can make an interview a challenge but also hilarious and wild, but Kevin has a pure heart and I think he just wants to make the children laugh and play (more on that) in a way that is really funny and sweet. He is the epitome of someone who was larger than life from an early age and finally made his way to the world’s greatest stage and playground, NYC, to really let that performative flag fly. I hate what happened to him in 2006—as someone who was relentlessly bullied myself when young and has spent years unpacking that trauma, I hope there is a special place in hell for his attackers—and I’m really happy to hear that he seems to have worked through a lot of it via therapy and is not in the dark place he was in after it happened.
I would also like to dedicate this Caftan interview to the talented gay NYC R&B singer Ari Gold…
…who died from cancer at 47 in 2021. Ari and I were casual friends for years—I remember we had one very long and sweet phone conversation a few months before he died—but he and Kevin were best friends, and Kevin talks about him in this interview so movingly. I heard the hurt in Kevin’s voice when he talked about how much he missed him, what Ari meant to him, and it hurt my heart, too. Ari, we haven’t forgotten you—sexy, talented and beautiful man!
So here we go with the legendary Kevin Aviance, folks! Again as ever, a special thanks to all who pay-subscribe to Caftan and help me divert time away from my paid work to make this happen every month, and thanks as well to those who free-subscribe and give it a read each month. Please tell your friends about it if you like it.
Oh, and one more thing: As you likely know, LGBTQ people—and especially our trans siblings—are under attack in so many (red) states right now. I wrote about it recently, and it really makes me sick—most of all, I think, bills blocking trans or gender-nonconforming young people (and their parents, hello) from getting the kind of physical and mental health care they need. (If someone’s life is none of your fucking business and impacts you in no way, why can’t you just leave them the fuck alone?) True, many of us live in places where we can feel shielded and removed from these attacks. But not all of us do. As someone who’s written for years for Lambda Legal, may I suggest you make a donation to them—or even set up a modest monthly contribution? They will be doing a lot of the legal fighting back against these laws in multiple states, in cases where they think they have an argument that the laws violate the Constitution.
Okay—let’s proceed with Kevin now!
Tim: Hi, Kevin! Thank you so much for doing this interview. So, to start, you're 54. And where do you live?
Kevin: I've been in Harlem almost eight years now in a one-bedroom apartment, after coming back to NYC from Ft. Lauderdale. It's very loud, very me, all the club flyers on the walls and drag in the closet and my DJ system. There's just a lot of pictures of myself and colorful things and drag pieces and heels.
Tim: As you look around, what do you love?
Kevin: A brand-new top hat I just made out of fake hair. I'm a hairdresser by trade. That's my go-to when I get bored. I'm constantly doing hair or buying pieces and doing wigs. I give wigs out to my girls. Hm, what else? My music. It's all MP3s. I don't have any vinyl except for a few things like The Supremes at the Copa. I'm a new DJ, not an old-school vinyl girl.
Tim: Yes, you started DJ’ing in recent years. I have such great memories of DJ'ing in the late 90s. What is DJ'ing like for you?
Kevin: It's rejuvenated me because it's a way to be seen again. When I came back to the city and had my hips replaced, the girls weren't letting me [work] again and I was trying to get back on the pole. The girls were like, "She's legendary, she's iconic." I was tired to death of hearing that. They weren't booking me. Then the DJ thing started happening. But then COVID happened, which allowed me to go into myself and come out like a butterfly. I started DJ'ing on Instagram during COVID.
Tim: What's your DJ'ing M.O.?
Kevin: The track has to slay in the first five seconds.
Tim: I love that, a track that drops like a bomb. What are some of your go-to tracks?
Kevin: DJ Caiiro's The Akan.
O Conjunto de Orlando Pereira by Maruda. I love all of [Beyonce's] Renaissance—my favorite song being Cozy. DJ Spen's version of You Brought the Sunshine and Talk to God 'Bout It.
Tim: So what is a typical day like for you?
Kevin: I go to bed late, two or two-thirty. I wake up to go to the bathroom or when the sun comes up, around 6am, then I go back to sleep until my first calls around 9:30 or 10. Breakfast is either a big country breakfast with pancakes, or I can just give you fruit. Then, if it's during the week, I'm staying in the house, working on my music, taking care of my business like a gig coming through or an artist wanting to work with me. I'm working on a new album right now. I can either write lyrics to a track I already have, then try to get my producer to emulate it. Or I'll do something myself on [music-making program] Garage Band or I'll take some sample, then loop it. Also, doing laundry is a big thing for me, at least once a week. But in the house I'm mostly naked.
Tim: Do you go out at night?
Kevin: It depends. Sometimes friends come over and we hang out. I'm seeing someone, so we hook up. I'd rather go out when someone's hosting a party or a friend is DJ'ing. Going from Harlem to Brooklyn and back—it's an excursion.
Tim: So you're seeing someone?
Kevin: For about four years. He's in the art world but I'm going to keep his name out of it. He's my longest relationship. Prior to him I was single for about eight years. But we met and it was amazing and we got along really well. He doesn't hold me down or hinder me. We have our own places. He's always filling my head with music and we go to concerts all the time. Music really connects us.
Tim: That's beautiful. When you say "He doesn't hold me down or hinder me," what do you mean?
Kevin: I can still be free, who I want. He wants me to be me. He believes that I feed off my environment and live for that. He loves the stories I tell him about whatever I've gone through.
Tim: What do you most love about him?
Kevin: [pause] I can't say that. [laughs] We've laughed so much and we talk on the phone. We like being in each other's presence. We broke up for a little bit but it felt like when I lost my best friend, Ari Gold.
But I knew [the boyfriend] was going to miss me and he did and I was happy to get back with him. I love him and he loves me and it's real but I don't call him my boyfriend. He's my fit.
Tim: Hm, that’s a really nice way to put it. What is the most challenging part of the relationship?
Kevin: Um. [long pause] We have—I have this vanity in my head, the white dress and getting married. I really wanna get married but I know that's just what heteronormativity has put in my head. I'd like to have the pomp and circumstance of it all, but the actual getting married? Mm, no, I don't think so.
Tim: You mean you want the pageantry of a wedding?
Kevin: Yeah, yeah.
Tim: Will you ever?
Kevin: I don't know. I have so much pageantry in my life, honey. I get my fill—trust.
Tim: Okay, I trust. So Kevin, what were you like as a kid, young Eric Snead growing up in Virginia? I found this pic of your family—
Kevin: I wasn't born yet in that pic. The youngest one there is Michael, who just passed away this year. But I hated being a kid. I was around a lot of older people and I just wanted to be an adult already. I went to lots of shows and concerts. I was not a playground kid who hung out with other kids. I was in my basement listening to Rick James, Prince, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Slade, Klymaxx, Mass Production.
Tim: Who was your ultimate diva growing up?
Kevin: Diana Ross as Tracy Chambers in Mahogany.