Amplifying underrepresented voices

Can you remember the first Stance? The Podcast is One

THIIIRD speaks to podcast founders Heta Fell and Chrystal Genesis who are celebrating a year of inclusive and refreshingly relevant discussions on their show ahead of their first birthday party and Uniqlo Tate Late.

One year ago, Heta Fell based in San Francisco and Chrystal Genesis based in London set up Stance, an independent podcast covering arts, culture and current affairs. Since then the pair’s show has already gained recognition from the likes of The Guardian Observer, Evening Standard Magazine and Refinery29. To celebrate the podcast’s first birthday, Stance is holding a free admission, Uniqlo Tate Late, ‘Movement’ at the Tate Modern on Friday 26th January. The event will be “paying tribute to the cultural heartbeat of London- its vibrant, eclectic people and stories”, through international music, dance and film screenings.

Their unique approach of drawing on diverse perspectives from around the world as well as voices who generally are just not given a platform to speak from, results in an informative and inspiring hour of listening. The podcasts discuss a range of topics from war in Yemen, to the female prison experience, to colourism with diverse guests and voices, as well as interviews with artists such as Ibeyi and actor and writer Riz Ahmed.

We decided to speak to Heta and Chrystal to shed some light on their upcoming event and the podcast itself.

You have your one year celebration event, ‘Movement’, coming up at the Tate Modern on 26th January. What sort of thing should we expect to see or hear at the workshop?

HETA We are so excited for Friday! We are Tate Exchange Associates this year, which means we will be programming cultural events at Tate Modern in London throughout the year. One of the central ideas behind the Tate Exchange is to explore new ideas and generate new conversations around art. What really excites us about this partnership is the opportunity for Stance to champion greater representation throughout all our programming there. This Friday, we are celebrating Stance’s 1st Birthday with a night filled with sound, music and movement, paying tribute to London’s diverse communities and their rich, vibrant cultural influences. Our DJs will take over the Turbine Hall Bridge playing everything from West African Underground to Angolan Kuduro, Brazilian Baile Funk, NY Ballroom and Desi Disco! Artist Lotte Andersen will capture euphoric moving portraits. We get nostalgic about the subcultures we grew up around, with an immersive Dubstep retrospective by photographer Georgina Cook, and short film screenings from Riz Ahmed and Ewen Spencer. We will also have a zine-making workshop where people can collaborate with us to make a one-off “Stance is 1” zine. Our next event there is a Tate Late on 23rd February where we will be celebrating the disruptive power of women in art. Mark your diaries now as it is going to be brilliant!

Obviously you have a lot to celebrate at the one-year marker event, having been recognised by the Financial Times, The Observer, Refinery29- How does it feel to get this kind of recognition from those big names in your first year of broadcasting the podcast?

CHRYSTAL It is great and we are so happy people are enjoying the podcast. We hope to reach more listeners, take Stance out of the studio and meet more interesting people using their voice to present new interesting ideas or push society forwards.

HETA I feel really proud. It is a brilliant endorsement and I think it shows that what we are doing is different and needed. In the times we are living through, I think people are increasingly keen to develop a more complex and objective view of the world and hearing more diverse perspectives is essential to this.

There is this 3-part format to each of your podcasts – How do you decide what themes you’re going to discuss in each part? You interview such interesting people, is it sometimes them or their work that inspires your choice of themes for the podcasts?

HETA Each monthly episode has a large feature, a profile interview and an arts or current affairs piece. We have programming meetings every month to brainstorm subjects we want to cover and voices we are keen to feature. Sometimes a person’s work might spark the idea for a feature, or it might be that we decide on a subject we must cover before finding any interviewees. It is all organic and Chrystal and I are so aligned on this front. We really challenge each other to find the most unique voices and original stories. Previous topics include ‘The Female Prison Experience’, ‘Sex’, ‘Kids In Cults’, ‘Outnumbered in Silicon Valley’, and ‘Sport & Revolution’. Voices we’ve featured previously include political campaigner Gina Miller, Emmy award-winning actor Riz Ahmed, author, Yaa Gyasi, artist, Phoebe Collings-James, Grammy-nominated Musician Four Tet, Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Fazeelat Aslam, renowned activist, Selma James, musicians, Ibeyi, poet and playwright, Sabrina Mahfouz, and more.

It’s so refreshing that you look at political issues behind everyday parts of culture, for example in your food feature you discussed euro-centricism and the sense of othering in supermarket food labelling and pricing, is politics a big part of everyday life for you? 

HETA I first became engaged in politics when I worked at not-for-profit, Kids Company, in London – I wanted to understand how such a large part of our community was struggling so much, yet so invisible to society. Now, I am living in Trump’s America so there is no getting away from politics for me. Since starting Stance, I realise increasingly that every choice we make can be political on some level.

CHRYSTAL Yes, I love politics and an important part of that for Stance is leaving the US and UK for stories or answers. We have covered lots of places including Yemen, India, Venezuela and North Korea. We live in such a global world right now and so why not learn more about it or question your own behaviour? It isn’t a big ask. Politicians can be awful but it’s important to get involved somehow.

Looking at the music sets that are going to be played at the event for example, there’s a very international feel… Do you think it heightens the sense of internationality your podcast has, that the two of you are based over 5000 km apart? Do you think it brings cross-cultural inspiration?

CHRYSTAL Yes, definitely, we love music and the programme comes from both of us. I have worked in music in the past and right now so any opportunity to listen to more music and discover new or old music is fun. I love going to club nights offering something different so this is a selection of club nights we’ve selected all crammed into one Tate Late!

I know when you started the podcast you said it was because you ‘wanted to stop moaning and start doing’. Are there any people that inspired you to take this stand and set up this platform?

CHRYSTAL My family and friends for always being the best. I also work in a great environment where Stance is encouraged and supported.

HETA I think weirdly enough I was inspired by the platforms being given to people like Donald Trump and Nick Griffin. The hateful and divisive rhetoric that was legitimised in the lead up to Brexit and the American election gave me a sense of urgency and fear that we just could not sit around and wait for things to change. Although I hate to give them credit, so can we just say Michelle Obama instead?!

Your workshop at the Tate Exchange will include dance, film, zine-making … Do you consider art to play a paramount role in political and social discussion or change?

HETA Absolutely. In my mind, art has the potential to move people, to offer an escape, to inspire new ideas, to evoke empathy, to change people’s minds, and to create optimism. Arts is a central recurring theme in Stance because of its potential to introduce new concepts, incite inspiring conversation and drive societal change, and that is key for our programming at Tate.

CHRYSTAL Yes! We’ve featured some excellent artists on the podcast, established or rising artists creating forward thinking work. We’ve spoken to the Singh Twins, Larry Achiampong, Phoebe Collings-James, Charlotte Colbert and covered Jean-Michel Basquiat with an exhibition in London and a curator in the US touring one of his most famous works, Defacement, to highlight how art is used to depict state violence. We also have an interview with the brilliant artist JR soon!

You always have a really diverse and broad range of guests and features on the show, is this something which occurs naturally for you? Because evidently it doesn’t seem to come naturally to many media outlets to share the voices of marginalised groups.

HETA We are both minorities ourselves and we were becoming increasingly frustrated at the underrepresentation of women, people of colour and other marginalised groups in much of mainstream media. There are so many people growing up having no value attached to their perspectives in many ways – so we decided to do something about it and create a platform that is more reflective of wider society. With Stance, we thought it is about time that a larger array of people share the spotlight and are given the same respect and intellectual weight as ‘other’ groups. We are active and deliberate about finding varied voices when we are producing our podcast – we aim to present fresh and nuanced perspectives of people that the world doesn’t hear from enough, without being exclusive. We also love highlighting the people that are using their platforms and working hard to drive real change in society.

CHRYSTAL I think there are so many great voices out there and by making them diverse and reordering the usual hierarchy a bit, Stance hopes to provide a larger, more eclectic group of people, space and at the same time hear from some great people pushing us all forwards.

With Stance it feels like anyone could pick it up and listen to it, in terms of the language used, the voices heard on it and the themes discussed, there’s no sense of exclusivity. Because I think often cultural discussions on technological platforms, are quite exclusively aimed at younger people, when it’s just not the case that only twenty-somethings use the internet. Whereas Stance feels like it could be listened to by young students, to middle-aged, to my grandma who uses an iPad, and all groups would find relatability… is that something you hoped for? 

CHRYSTAL This is great to hear as I’m sometimes asked to drill down on who our target audience is as we didn’t start the idea of Stance based on a particular type of person – we were fighting those generalisations! We also get suggested ideas from people of all ages so we get a multitude of perspectives. We get emails from people from all walks of life all over the world and it is really important for us to make Stance accessible.

HETA The echo chamber problem we saw with the US elections and Brexit vote really made this front of mind for us. We cannot inform any real change in society if we are just preaching to the converted. As a result, we are deliberately inclusive. We want anyone to feel like they can listen to Stance and come away with fresh, interesting perspectives that can open their minds to new ways of thinking and challenge preconceptions.

If you are in London make sure to catch the Stance Birthday bash happening tonight, at Tate Modern Exchange details below:

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Tate Workshop