Introducing: Sky Deep, a Creative Force Who’s Charting Her Own Course
Introducing: Sky Deep, a Creative Force Who’s Charting Her Own CourseJune 28, 2021
Sky Deep is one of dance music’s most creative new forces. Cameron Holbrook hears her story so far.
“My goal was to be all of myself,” Sky Deep exclaims, glowing from the purple light that emblazons her Berlin apartment. “People would say, ‘Nope, you have to pick one,’ and I really hate that. All my life, people have told me that, and I’d be like, ‘No, I’m doing everything.’ And yes, I have been driving myself crazy. And yes, I barely sleep and am pretty neurotic. But in the end, I get the most joy when I get to do it all. And so, I started to blend everything together.”
When it comes to blending, exploring, and excelling at numerous artforms and acts of self-expression, nobody does it quite like Sky Deep. A producer, DJ, guitarist, vocalist, actor, poet, music production instructor, label owner, community organizer, LGBTQ+ activist, and an award-winning queer porn director, Sky Deep is a true renaissance woman. A force of nature on stage, behind the camera, on the dance floor, and even over Zoom when teaching her students. It’s fair to say that Sky already has more knowledge, experience, and drive than most people ever will.
Born in New Jersey, Sky’s earliest musical memories date back to the “guttural, melodic, and sing-songy preachings” of the church that her great grandmother led. She comes from a musical family with a musician father, and it was his knack for the guitar that, according to Sky, made it so natural for her to pick up the instrument herself. “I hung out with people who were musicians, and somebody gave me a guitar at one point. I was like, ‘Oh, I think I know what to do with this thing.'”
Upon moving across the country to Lakewood — a city near Long Beach in Southern California — with her mother at an early age, Sky started playing in little garage bands with her friends, experimenting with grunge on the guitar, hip hop on the MPC, and beyond. “I thought I was going to be a writer because, to be honest, I was a lot more of a lyricist and a poet at first,” Sky says. “And then as I started to put melodies to words, this is where song creation and my desire for creating the music itself began to evolve.”
Before she truly started nurturing her musical calling, Sky’s passion for the theatre was her main driving force early on. She attended a theater academy and was consistently working on movie sets, learning the ins and outs of the business. However, due to “the vibe of the typecasting” that was going on in the industry at that time, Sky decided it was better to move on. “I was constantly asked to perform like a hood girl, and I didn’t really grow up like that, so it wasn’t really working for me,” she explains.
It was in Los Angeles, attending queer parties at clubs in South Central and famous venues like Jewels Catch One, that Sky’s love for the dance floor came into full view. “I was more into acting, but Catch One is where I started to fall in love with dancing,” she says. “I took the bus and I didn’t know anybody, and I would dance to this music all night long, eventually making friends. When I’m making this music now, it always brings me back there, but the music I’m making didn’t start until I had moved back to Brooklyn.”
Moving back to the East Coast in 2010, Sky dove deeper into music, going through “a whole nother cycle of bands and hip hop and this and that.” With the strain of feeding a full band weighing on her, she decided to go her own way, incorporating her electronics with live instrumentation. In 2012, she founded her music label Reveller Records, which features diverse musical talent pushing futuristic sounds that span beyond the floor, and events that push critical social justice messages.
If there’s one thing Sky Deep values most, it’s community. And with Reveler Records, a beautiful community of expressive and cutting-edge talent began to take form. With any up-and-coming independent acts, however, a city like New York can be an unforgiving place. With this and the livelihood of her family of artists in mind, Sky decided to try a social experiment.
“As independent artists trying to get booked or paid attention to, I realized that a certain type of treatment went with that with people’s perception of who they think you are,” Sky says. “And so I decided to create a ‘storefront’, if you will. And, to be honest, a whole other personality at the time. I called myself James from Reveller Records by email, and all of a sudden, I was treated a lot more seriously.”
Despite the inroads that she was making in New York, Berlin came calling in 2014. Following a DIY tour that she organized through Europe, she got hired to teach at an international music camp for young girls in Germany’s Black Forest. Her work visa eventually turned into a full visa, and she decided to put down new roots in the German capital.
“When I decided that Berlin was going to be home, part of the reason I moved here, to be honest, was about survival,” says Sky. “At first, it was like, ‘Can I survive as a not super femme black female presenting guitarist in Germany?’ A little bit more challenging than New York, I would say. Most of my bread and butter when I was working was dealing with the film industry. I was making money as a guitar player, but I was also working 10 to 16 hour days behind the scenes in film and TV. In Berlin, creativity just started to feel like more of a thing. It gave me a lot more freedom to explore myself musically.”
In moving to Europe’s dance music capital, became thoroughly entranced by the beating heart of its house and techno scene. Sky quickly acclimated, befriending collectives like female:pressure, linking with artists like Elisa Bee and Paula Temple, and releasing her own dance floor ready EPs like Rebirth of Deep and G-Space via Reveler Records.
“I had to decide if I was going to cancel the label, or continue it and switch up the format,” Sky says. “I decided on the latter. Reveller Records had been focused more on band projects and getting our bands booked. Now I was completely solo, in the land of electronics, partying my butt off and loving it. So yeah, I wanted to make the music that I want to dance to.” Since then, the label has become even more globally and musically diverse. But the ever-achieving Sky was ready to fulfill another one of her lifelong dreams — creating a feature-length film.
“Having this background where I’ve had the experience of working on multimillion-dollar films, as well as, you know, no-budget films, equipped me to understand how to stretch my little DIY legs and make something. And I love vampire movies. Playing a vampire in a movie was at the top of my bucket list. I was walking through a cemetery with my friend one day, and I thought, ‘you know, I should make a little film.’ I didn’t care if I had to make it with my Android phone. I told my friend at that moment, ‘I’m gonna make a queer vampire film.’ And my friend was like, ‘You should make a queer vampire porn!’ And I was like, ‘You’re totally right.'”
Two years later, the critically acclaimed queer vampire film, Enactone, hit the silver screen. Directed, written, and starred in by Sky Deep, Enactone is the story of a black vampire woman who was once a slave in the southern U.S. about 100 years ago. Her path leads her through challenges in identity while fighting her thirst for blood during erotic encounters. In 2017, the film won Best Feature at the Berlin Porn Film Festival.
In her spare time (however she has any of that), Sky regularly posts to her YouTube channel with various instructional videos where she “demystifies” the musical equipment she owns. “The primary purpose of the series is to share tips so we can all be freer with our machines and treat them as instruments instead of little calculations that we have right all the time,” Sky explains.
Sky Deep’s knack for machines and chops on the guitar certainly hasn’t kept her secluded in her studio. Pre-covid, Sky was selected by Peaches to be her supporting guitarist, background vocalist, and co-MIDI director while she was on tour in Europe. “I pride myself on being a guitar player, I can be very theatrical on stage,” Sky says. “I hammed up my audition video for the tour, and after 20 minutes, they got back to me saying, ‘Peaches thinks you’re a sexy badass.’ That felt good!”
With her ever-expanding musical range, trying to pin down Sky Deep’s signature sound has become a futile act. No genre or dance floor attitude is safe from her production prowess. Between the wonky cadence of her “Sacred” single, her rich and bass-driven track “Swerve,” the creeping acidity of “Rising,” and the flavored rhythms of her Yes I Did EP, there is no telling where Sky Deep’s noise is heading next.
“I’m starting to feel better about just exploring my sound without worrying about being judged by the underground,” Sky says. “I have this weird thing where my sounds are often perceived as too pop for the underground crowd, but too underground for the pop crowd. Honestly, story my life. I’ve always been in between, on the fence, and in the gray area of every social anything ever. I’m getting over needing some kind of approval from a bunch of people I don’t know, and just trying to get back to the essence in the fun of it. That’s what it’s about for me. The essence and the fun.”
Sky Deep’s latest release, Up In Here EP, embraces this mentality wholeheartedly.
“With Up In Here, I felt like it was saying what I want to be saying right now, which is whether we’re distant or not, whether we’ve been asked to shut up, or whether people try to silence us, we’re going to keep celebrating,” Sky exclaims. “It’s not only celebrating myself and my own diverse approaches to art; it’s also my invitation to people just to keep on keeping on. We still have the opportunity to be with each other, even if it’s through something like VR, right?”
During the pandemic, Sky Deep fell in love with VR. So much so that she’s currently learning to create her own game, which will also serve as the package for a new album. On top of her new VR experiments, Ableton recently asked Sky to co-present their 16-hour Loop Create broadcast, and she is a regular instructor at the private British music university, BIMM Institute.
“I’m really happy. I just officially got my Postgraduate certification, which is a very important certification to teach in higher education,” Sky says. “It’s hilarious because I don’t have a bachelor’s. I always just knew I would not follow traditional education patterns because I wanted to make my own curriculum. And I did in life. I made my own school.”