You’d need both hands to count all the things Barbie Bertisch is. Of her many titles, there’s DJ, zine creator, bassist, writer, and her newest one, record label owner. Lately, though, she’s been trying to figure out how to be just Barbie. She says for the past five years, she’s been running nonstop. “My goal is not to live in a jet every night, DJ festival stages for 30 minutes, and then leave and go to the next gig to just collect money,” Bertisch says. “A, it’s not sustainable. B, it doesn’t contribute anything to this culture. C, you just become a machine.”
The stillness she’s found in the past six months did not come without some internal struggle. She’s had to manage her general anxiety while confronting hangups about being an artist and setting herself free from people’s expectations of what she creates. But here, on the other side of that, she says she’s emerged more confident, more self-assured, and ready to connect. “Now,” she says, “let’s focus on showing up for the people who need it the most.”
It’s not difficult to be impressed by her resume and the natural level of cool she exudes, but it’s her self-awareness and conscious effort to make a real contribution to the world that makes her inspiring. In partnership with SOREL, we sat down to find out what changes the last six months have brought, and her hopes for moving forward — from the art she’ll be creating, the clothes she’ll be wearing, and the connections she’ll continue to make.
Even in a tumultuous year, NYC’s creatives are rising to the challenge — re-envisioning their work, supporting their communities, and inspiring change. To celebrate the spirit of vibrance and renewal, The Cut has partnered with SOREL to bring you the stories of six unstoppable individuals from New York City’s creative communities. Take a walk with us as we explore their work, values, resilience, and all the ways their style propels them forward. Previously, The Pastry Chef Finding Creativity Amid Chaos, and The Fashion Writer Who Bet On Herself.
There’s your classic New York multi-hyphenate, and then there’s you. You do a lot. What have you been focusing your energy on lately?
Well, I had been focusing on writing music — and let’s just say that I spent the beginning of the lockdown freaking out because I knew I wouldn’t be able to meet with people to do that. I couldn’t play with my band, or get together with a friend that I was writing with. It became very apparent that I was going to have to just do it on my own.
A lot of people shifted focus back onto themselves and thought, “Well what’s going on in my life? What can I do?”
It was a really interesting period because I had been doing a lot of emotional, mental health awareness work the last two years, which I feel really culminated with the lockdown. It was like, “This is your real test.” Music is collaborative for me, so it’s been a challenging time for anybody who really needs that physical presence or the ability to jam with someone. I’m thankful that I’m now back to playing with a friend and that I was able to finish the music projects that I wanted to finish, and start some new ones.
How would you describe your approach to style?
I’m open to pushing myself in new directions while remaining true to who I am and what I believe in. I’m not the most ladylike person in the room and I may never be, and that’s okay. I opt for comfort over glamour, but I still want to look and feel good when I look in the mirror before leaving the house. During my early years DJing, I put too much effort into trying to curve male perception. When I started DJing, we didn’t have the organizations we have now, that have been actively fighting to diversify and normalize women and non-binary people on lineups. It felt more like you were on your own in a typically male space, and it felt — and still does sometimes — like there was a lot of emphasis on what women DJs wear. As a woman, you have to think three times before walking into a nightclub in a skirt and a record bag. I used to spend a lot of energy making myself invisible and ignoring a part of myself that had something she wanted to say. I still catch myself going back to patriarchal notions that I’m fighting to unlearn, but I’ve started gaining more awareness around, “Well, I can be braver” or “I can be who I want to be and wear what I want, and f**k what other people think.”
I’ve gone through this period of self-doubt and overthinking, but I don’t want to abandon fashion and style, which are such a big passion for me. I went to school for fashion design, and I feel good when I’m more adventurous with my style, and put more effort into it. I still believe that what you choose to wear and step out of the house with is your armor. It can affect your mood, your self-esteem. It’s been cool to have opportunities to do that here and there.
What’s your go-to outfit these days?
I wear black jeans and boots or shoes on the daily! I love my SOREL boots, which I’ve taken to wearing often to work and while walking around, running errands. Particularly when DJing, I cannot just throw on heels. I don’t know how anyone can. Most DJs I know are keeping time, tapping their feet or bouncing to the beat as a very physical part of being in the music, in the mix. It’s a very physical job — as well as mental, spiritual, and creative — so comfort is key. I love the idea of a uniform because it takes the guesswork out of the equation and lets you focus on what matters. In my case, it’s showing up with an intention, communicating through music, having that energy exchange and emotional release. If that happens, everyone goes home happy.
How have you handled the pause on live performances in NYC?
I definitely miss that special energy. I got to DJ a live stream recently — those are complicated because there’s no crowd when the DJ’s playing records for people. The act of DJing in a club with a crowd is a very symbiotic relationship. You have this energy exchange that happens and you can make people go crazy or scream, cry, hug, react with you — you can shift moods. But as the DJ, your job is to be part of the emotional response, which in a livestream, there just isn’t that same feedback.
You have your radio show that you’ve been doing for five years. Has continuing that given you a sense of normalcy?
Absolutely. The second the radio studio shut down, they were super helpful in getting each resident set up at home. At first it was strange. You’re letting people into your home, which is a big stretch for some, but for others it’s just opening up another aspect of yourself. But having that every Saturday created a sense of, “Okay, I have something to do.” I’m feel lucky to have this radio show. It’s anchored me.
New York is one of those places full of crowds and that undeniable energy. Do you think there’s been a shift in that?
I’m not a born and raised New Yorker, but I love New York so much. I understand the people that had to leave. And I understand that people have wanted to leave — but I don’t want to leave. A lot of people that have been in New York through traumatic times can speak to this unique New York energy. When hurricane Sandy happened, we all held each other down and we all elevated each other and showed up for each other. I think that’s what makes people from New York so special. And we’ll have to see what’s at the other side of this, as far as nightclubs, as far as theaters and entertainment goes. It still feels too soon to speculate.
Is there anything you’ve had to adapt to during this time that you might actually want to continue when things go back to normal?
I started practicing Qigong a little bit in the morning, and that’s something my mom put me onto because she does Tai Chi and Qigong. I also journal everyday. There’s also just the pace. The first three weeks of the lockdown, we were just in shock and almost were like, “Okay, well, I was running at, say, 125% capacity, and now I can only really run at 25% capacity. When things feel a little bit more stable, I might be able to pick up the pace and go at 50%.” I still haven’t been able to go back to 100%, and I don’t even think I want to, because a lot of the realizations that I had around, “Well, I can finish these music projects” require a sense of stillness, and they require introspection and reflection. Those things cannot happen if you carry on day-to-day with a pace that is unmanageable and if you move at a speed that doesn’t allow you to nurture your instincts and to tell you that you need.
Moving forward, what are you optimistic about for 2020 and going into 2021?
My partner and I are starting a record label arm of Love Injection, and just kicked things off with the first release, which I’m so excited about. He’s had a label for a few years now, but having done the zine for five years and finding a natural progression to what the next chapter of that could be, is really exciting. It feels a bit scary, because the pace moves quicker when you’re dealing with release schedules. I’m excited for my music to come out, even if it fails, I don’t care. It’s more about being able to tell myself that I did that. I’m excited for…well, I’m hopeful for a greater, more conscious way of living and interacting with each other.
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