Cae Monāe’s existence is her art. Whether she’s taking over an Instagram square with her face abstracted by embellishments and makeup or adorning herself in a custom outfit and commanding a stage with iPhone beats, she demands consideration. And why shouldn’t she? She’s a Black trans woman, so invisibility isn’t an option for her. It’d be reductive to say her work is about her identity, but the two are nonetheless inseparable. On her latest EP, October’s Get Out (billed to just Monāe, as she sometimes appears), she draws on house and trap, genres pioneered by women, queers, and sex workers—especially women, queers, and sex workers of color. “Get Out” underscores a woman screaming “She’s not a Christian!” with pummeling electronic beats, and “Cut My Dick Off” punctuates hip-swinging rhythms with a maniacal laugh. This isn’t music about “resilience”; it’s about having a target on your back but making it fashion. Whether operating in the audio realm or the visual one, Monāe is always creating unfamiliar and hauntingly interesting collages: a fresh song, an unusual outfit, a new self.
A longtime fixture in Chicago queer nightlife, Monāe has attracted increased attention from the city’s postpunk scene via recent collaborations with local queer darkwave trio Pixel Grip. She raps on the Pixel Grip track “Demon Chaser” (from their latest album, Arena, released in May on FeelTrip), and in its video she appears as the demon the band members chase—which feels like a metaphor for the danger and excitement of pursuing things coded as both queer and bad. At a sold-out show at Sleeping Village on Halloween, Pixel Grip opened their set with an artful video installation condemning the police and a justice system that disproportionately incarcerates people of color—especially trans sex workers. Then, as “Demon Chaser” began, Monāe appeared in a long black dress and loose black vest emblazoned with “Black Trans Power.” She stole the song with a heady mix of attitude and energy, and the crowd melted with excitement as they screamed with her, “Black! Trans! Power!” At this concert, Monāe is billed as one of the openers for Pixel Grip’s headlining set, but they’re sure to feed off each other even if they don’t share the stage at the same time—they make for an infectious combination. Pixel Grip lean heavily into a sound that fuses industrial and Hi-NRG while embracing an electro-BDSM aesthetic, and their work with Monāe, onstage and off, underscores the plurality of how queerness can be exhibited—and invites consideration of how queer artists can work together to acknowledge and manage risk.
Pixel Grip (DJ set), Rita Lukea (solo set), Monāe, Club Music, None of Your Concern, Sat 12/18, 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, $15, 21+