Ten Minutes with Gabriel Squailia
DJ BFG opens up to Berkshire Magazine about music, writing, and what BFG stands for
Photo by Megan Haley
Gabriel Squailia (a.k.a. DJ BFG) likes heeled Doc Martens, eyeliner, black clothes, weird things, dark things, and things full of love. From Rochester, the 36-year-old author and professional DJ studied storytelling and literature in India, Europe, and the Mid East with the Friends World Program before settling in the Berkshires 16 years ago. Squailia (who identifies as the pronoun “they”) lives in Pittsfield with partner, Najwa, and daughter, Dulcinea. Squailia’s second novel, Viscera, a gruesomely comic fantasy tale, is out in October.
Does DJ BFG stand for Big Friendly Giant?
Um, Booty Focused Grooves. [Laughter] Or Beats For Geeks. It actually started as Big Fat Gabriel. My first gig was at a bar called Fatty’s, and the owner put my name on the sandwich board as Big Fat Gabriel and it kind of stuck.
What sorts of events do you DJ?
I mainly spin weddings, fundraisers, events with arts organizations, and then whatever I can do that people can actually go to publicly, which tends to be gigs at bars and restaurants since we don’t really have an established dance scene.
How large is your music collection?
It’s big because the music that I listen to on my own doesn’t tend to be the music I listen to when I’m preparing for a gig.
Please define each one of those things.
The music that I play for a crowd is always upbeat, fun, diverse, dance music. The music that I listen to on my own tends to be quirky, bizarre, indie electronic, and, you know, guitar stuff—way more left field than anything I could present to an audience. And the music that I listen to when I’m writing tends to be repetitive and ambient. I just get into the zone and I stay there.
What’s your favorite music to write to?
This past novel was almost entirely produced to Aphex Twin and various Richard D. [James] side projects. He’s a prolific producer of electronic music who was really big in the nineties, and I ended up tracking down pretty much everything he recorded, which is 48 hours of music, and I’d listen to that on loop for a while and I picked out an eight-hour playlist of my favorite stuff and whittled that down as I got closer to the deadline.
You studied literature internationally with the Friends World Program. What is that?
Started by the Quakers, it’s now Global College of Long Island University. It very much began as an experiential-education– and social-change–focused Quaker international school. My understanding is that now the focus is more on study abroad, but at the time, yes, we were wild Quakerian-influenced hippies.
What kind of literature did you study and where?
I studied storytelling more than literature. I was really interested in the uses of story in various cultures, and then I traveled to the Middle East and I lived in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and rather than studying any form of traditional storytelling, I started to really focus on the way that a story played a role in conflict. The way that different stories would be told about the same event and the ways that story became more important than reality.
You recently announced that you identify as non-binary, transgender queer. Why do you need all three words?
To me, it’s a little like describing yourself as a white person of Norwegian ancestry from the Midwest. I mean, we’ve got room for the layers in other places. Non-binary means I’m between things, both in terms of how I present and the cultural spaces I can comfortably occupy. This is purely personal, but it feels like it has to do with the way people see me. Transgender has more to do with how I see myself—I was assigned male at birth, but I feel like a woman, and that aligns me with a bunch of other people in similar situations, which isn’t necessarily true of all non-binary people. And queer has a political connotation—I’m not straight, not cis[gender], and I’m working to make space for people like me to safely exist in this world. I’m also fine with those words meaning different things to other people who use them to describe themselves, which is where people who really like to define things tend to get annoyed.
Tell me about your new novel.
It is a response to my first novel in a way because a lot of people identify it as horror. Dead Boys to me was a rollicking and mostly silly adventure story set in the underworld. I understood there were elements of horror, but I didn’t see it as a horror story. I started to wonder what it would look like if I did write a horror story, and I started to write about things that scare me, most related to me coming out of the closet. What came out is something like a season of “Game of Thrones” directed by Tim Burton.
Why stay in the Berkshires?
I love the community and I love the people, but what it really boils down to is that you can survive as a creative person and have enough time to do what you need to do. This is a resort area and we have people coming in from outside doing things like destination weddings; and I can live in Pittsfield, so I can afford to write books. That intersection of paying creative work and low mortgage is really hard to find anywhere. It seems to me like it’s, you know, one of these secret places where there exists that sort of balance.