KSTEELE DJ stage lights black and white

KSTEELE aka Kalib Steele is hosting a dance party called Colored and Colorful at Denver club Beacon on Wednesday, June 21st that coincides with both Juneteenth and Pride Month. It’s his way of reframing a time of year that he of all people should celebrate, but that tends to leave him feeling isolated.

As a bisexual Black man, Kalib finds himself in the intersection of two seemingly disparate worlds. “Both parts of my identity can feel displacing,” he tells me over video chat from Atlanta, where he’s attending the Autodesk Black Network Summit. “I’m really trying to channel those feelings as a way of stepping into my true, authentic self.”

KSTEELE DJ blue Adidas jacket logo screen

LGBTQIA+ communities across the U.S. and beyond have recognized June as Pride Month since the Stonewall riots of 1969, a watershed moment for gay rights in the U.S. But Kalib argues that “A lot of the events during Pride tend to lack diversity and can have an elitist, white, gay atmosphere.” 

“Not all queer safe spaces are necessarily Black and brown safe spaces,” he says. “I think a lot of Black and brown people’s culture also gets co-opted as gay culture by the same people who are supposed to be their allies with no due respect given. It was enough of an ordeal just getting our stripes added to the Pride flag.”

The other key inspiration for Colored and Colorful is Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of foundational Black Americans from slavery. It takes its name from June 19th, 1865, the date U.S. Major General Gordon Granger issued an unprecedented order to free slaves in Texas. Following the 2020 protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd, President Biden signed a June 2021 legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday. 

Kalib is part of the Black community; nothing could change that. He hasn’t always felt like he belonged, though. “I feel like I’m not gay enough in certain environments and I’m not Black enough in others,” he says. “There’s still very deep-rooted homophobia in the Black community — even towards people who are Black. Christianity also has a hold on things and the Bible gets used to justify a lot of it.”

There is, of course, one setting that has made history as a common ground for LGBTQIA+ and POC individuals: the dance floor.

House music was created in the void left by disco in the 1980s by members of the Black, Latino and gay communities of Chicago. It remained an obscure niche Stateside but exploded in popularity among youths disillusioned by Thatcherite politics in England.

The genre emerged as a worldwide phenomenon that continues to evolve in the present day. Even in the most distant echoes of its original four-on-the-floor rhythms, however, its inclusive philosophy continues to reverberate.

But it’s perhaps not as easily felt in progressive house, Kalib’s style of choice for his KSTEELE project. The subgenre emerged in the U.K. in the early ‘90s, its origins more closely associated with white, straight acts like Leftfield, Sasha and John Digweed than queer, Black house forerunners like Jesse Saunders or the late Frankie Knuckles.

KSTEELE DJing black and white shirt

Kalib says that being a Black, queer progressive house artist “comes with its frustrations, but it’s also a responsibility.” He’s sure that “somewhere out there are other people just like me,” no matter how thin their margin of an already thin margin might be.

“When you look at the term ‘progressive house music,’ the word ‘house music’ still exists within that genre,” he observes. “I just don’t think we do a very good job of marketing it as house music — but it still is. I think it would be looked at a lot differently if it was marketed like house music instead of like trance.”

Therein lies the beauty of a concept like Colored and Colorful. It’s not strictly about Black, queer artists belonging to a specialist dance music subculture. It’s a reminder to embrace the qualities that make you different no matter what they are.

Kalib Steele Before He was KSTEELE

This hasn’t always been easy for Kalib himself. Born in Colorado Springs and adopted by white, British parents, he jokes that “I was the only Black person in Black Forest.”

Kalib was raised in an austere household that he suspects may be responsible for his lifelong outspokenness. His habit of talking back caused his adoptive parents to deem him a problem child. When he was in the 6th grade, they sent him to military school — where he was exposed to far more problematic children. On the plus side, one of his peers introduced him to Paul Van Dyk, starting his lifelong love affair with trance music.

When military school “didn’t work out,” by his account, his parents sent him to live with a family friend in Louisiana. “He was a Black Army Airborne Ranger who grew up on the streets of Brooklyn back in the day,” says Kalib.

His new chaperone was strict, but it wasn’t all bad. “He also taught me so much about Black culture. There was so much I didn’t know about our music, movies, hair, and television. It was a blessing in disguise.”

Kalib’s parents begged to differ. “Me growing waves and wearing a durag apparently wasn’t part of their lesson plan in sending me to live with an almost stranger,” he recounts. “I was quickly flown home. I’m not making this up.”

In high school, Kalib started the long process of coming to terms with his sexuality. He was met with resistance on that front as well. 

As Kalib tells it, “I remember hearing family members use the word f****t and other derogatory labels to describe queer people at a time in my life when I was coming to terms with who I was,” he says. “I just thought, ‘Well, let me scratch that off the list. Definitely never coming out over here.’”

Enter Colored and Colorful

I became friends with Kalib in 2016 at Dreamstate SoCal, a festival dedicated to trance music. In his 1998 book Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture, Simon Reynolds wrote that “People who hate trance often accuse it of lacking funk or soul — for basically being too white.”

This stigma didn’t stop Kalib from finding role models in the trance space. “I was listening to Daun Giventi’s music for three or four months,” he says. “I was shell shocked with excitement when I saw he was Black, too.”

“I sent him a three-paragraph message about how thrilled I was to see somebody like me doing what he was doing because of how rare we are,” Kalib continues. “Even just with my own DJing and now producing, it’s time for me to be that example to someone else. How can I expose the progressive genre to more Black people?”

KSTEELE DJ black tee shirt

This is a continued pain point for Kalib — one he says keeps him up at night. Recently, he went to a Denver after party to play a late-night set as a favor to a friend. On the time slot before his was another Black DJ. After the handoff, Kalib’s colleague leaned back into the booth and told him, “Don’t be playing none of that cracker-ass shit, either.”

“What is cracker-ass music?” Kalib asks rhetorically. “Can you please define that for me? Because no matter how you cut it, it’s still dance music — it’s still art.”

This is why he feels an event like the one he’s hosting on Wednesday is necessary. “Colored and Colorful’s purpose is to bring in Black people, bring in queer people, and explore both through music,” he says. “Black and gay people started this whole movement in the first place.”

Supporting KSTEELE on the bill are fellow Black artists Spaceradio and Basement Syndicate. He also has a surprise special guest in the works — not even Party Guru is privy to these details. It takes place at Beacon, a club known for its surrealist installations in Downtown Denver’s River North Art District (RiNo).

The gathering is by no means restricted to queer or Black people. It’s a celebration of our differences. It’s a statement on unity in a divided world. It’s a testament that imaginary walls need not stand between bodies on the dance floor.

“We are who we are. We like who we like. We perform how we perform,” says Kalib Steele. “And then someone comes and tells us there’s a problem with that, so we change and adapt to what society thinks we should be. Neither my race nor my sexuality nor my style is going to keep me from pursuing the things I want to pursue.”

But Colored and Colorful isn’t about Kalib Steele alone. “The goal here is to really encourage and guide those who are still trying to find what their lane in life is,” he says. “People change, things change, but you should never change who you are based on other people’s fear or ignorance. Find it, embrace it, love it, nurture it. You owe it to yourself and no one else.”

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