Culture Music

How NJ witch music collective Black Lipstick creates spaces in music for those often excluded from it

"It’s been decades since 'girls to the front' started, and we still have to yell that. Why are we still screaming that? This should have already been solved. We want to create a space that is accessible to women, to nonbinary punks, LGBTQIA punks, and people of color."

Mary Von Aue was 9 years old at the restaurant where her mother worked as a bartender when her life changed forever. She heard Green Day’s Dookie for the first time. 

“The teenagers would all hang out there, and I remember when Dookie came out,” says Von Aue. “I wanted to be cool with those kids, and Dookie was a gateway drug to punk music.”

Von Aue would later hone her punk chops by hanging out at skate parks, and later discovered ska music. Even though Von Aue loved the energy and rawness of these genres there was something that these shows provided Von Aue that other genres couldn’t: a chance to actually go to shows. 

“I have epilepsy,” explains Von Aue. “I couldn’t go to huge concerts or arena shows because of strobe lights. What I loved about the DIY scene and going to local shows in basements is that there aren’t any strobe lights. And if there were, you could just tell the guy, ‘Hey, person who lives in this apartment in New Brunswick, I have epilepsy. Can you turn off the strobe lights?’ They would be like, ‘Yeah, no problem,’ and you can’t do that with arena shows. I was obsessed with music early on, and it became clear with my disability that the only safe and accessible way to do that was through the DIY scene.”

Accessibility was on the forefront of both Von Aue and Ali Nugent’s minds when they created Black Lipstick in 2021. Black Lipstick is a witch music collective that fosters accessibility, and making sure that LGBTQIA+, non-binary folks and minorities have a place on the stage. Von Aue is a music journalist and has written articles for the New York Times and Vice. Nugent is a concert photographer, who has photographed artists such as Taylor Swift and Florence Welch, and they have worked at the OG Asbury Lanes. Both understand the importance of accessibility and having different voices in the room.

“We have been going to shows all of our lives, and we have been to countless shows that were all-dude bills,” says Nugent. “We looked around and thought to ourselves, ‘It would be cool if the shows looked like the audience more.’ In all of the things we create we try to bring other voices along, especially if those people don’t always get the mic.’’

“Kathleen Hanna’s Riot Grrrrl ‘girls to the front’ was sadly revolutionary and this scene doesn’t have to be so hypermasculine. It’s been decades since girls to the front started, and we still have to yell that. Why are we still screaming that? This should have already been solved. We want to create a space that is accessible to women, to nonbinary punks, LGBTQIA punks, and people of color. We are in this scene, but we aren’t on stage. Why does the stage look so different from the room?”

Making music more accessible to underserved communities also means realizing that the area that Von Aue and Nugent call home is becoming less accessible for working-class to middle-class folks. With a more commercialized Asbury Lanes and luxury condos popping up everywhere in Asbury Park, it’s hard not to notice it; Nugent and Von Aue realize it as well.

This past summer, the Asbury Park Press published a report on housing in the shore area, and the impact on LLCs buying houses in the area. This has resulted in less homes available, and less opportunities for residents to live year-round in Asbury. It also has effects on the creative scene in the area. 

“I don’t understand when rich people move in, they destroy culture,” says Von Aue. “They erase culture, and turn everything into something so vanilla. Families are being pushed out for people who live here for three months of the year, and it’s sad that people are selling it away for people who are maybe here six weeks out of the year.”

“We lost a lot of venues,” says Nugent. “I worked at the old Lanes, and someone else bought it and now it’s one of the worst venues. It looks like the set of the Teen Choice Awards. They are putting on more local shows now, but it took a long time to work with locals again. The old venue was a pillar of the community, and it sucked how it was wiped away like that.’’

But the shows must go on, and Black Lipstick has hosted a ton of them in the past year or two. Along with music, there are also tarot card readings at the events as well. To match with the coven theme, Black Lipstick has hosted Equinox shows as well. The concerts are free, but donations are welcomed and they are sent to groups such as Food Not Bombs and other community organizations. 

In the summer, Black Lipstick had a show after the overturning of Roe v Wade, which raised over $1,100 for reproductive rights organizations. It was a memorable show for Von Aue after a dark and scary time. 

“We were empowered by rage,” says Von Aue. “I was also really scared because of the potential of vigilantism. I went to school in the south, and you have people who act justified in standing outside an abortion clinic and thinking they are doing god’s work by targeting women. Talking about accessibility, there are women who don’t have a way out of their state to get health care. They are kind of fucked.’’

“It was important to us,” says Nugent about the show. “New Jersey has pretty codified laws about abortion as it currently stands. We donated to the greater network to help out communities that are going to see the first-hand effects of the reversal was important to us.’’

Recently, Black Lipstick hosted an event with music journalist Dan Ozzi on the weekend when the Menzingers were in town. 

“He wanted to host an event for his most recent release called Sellout,” explains Von Aue. “He wanted to talk about the music industry, and we decided it would be a great time to host that conversation. It was also my birthday as well. The Menzingers were also in town that weekend and it was a great bookend to the weekend and a lot of crossover with the fans.”

Even though the witchy nature of Black Lipstick will always be a staple of the events, Von Aue and Nugent would like to see Black Lipstick grow to bigger venues.

“I would like to book bigger rooms,” explains Nugent. “We’ve been hovering around the 150 cap, but growing to larger rooms would be cool. From there, we would like to go to other cities as well. We have a strong base of community in Asbury, but there is community everywhere. 

“What I would like to do is to book a really large band, and pair them with a local favorite,” says Von Aue. “That way we are still supporting art, punk and music in Asbury Park, and we are doing it with big names and people we think are up and coming. The music is so incredible here, and the people of Asbury Park do so much for music. We have tourists who show up and take pictures of whatever bar Bruce Springsteen scratched his balls at. We want to make sure the tourists who come here are ingrained and involved in supporting local events.”