Keeping Up with Kim in O’ahu

Lei Kim Ann Foxman

DJ and jetsetter Kim Ann Foxman splits her life between New York City, music festivals around the world and her childhood home of O‘ahu.

Text by Mitchell Kuga
Images by John Hook and Skye Yonamine

Kim Ann Foxman rolls up on her bicycle wearing a leopard print baseball hat and a black T-shirt that reads in psychedelic font, “Journey to the center of the mind.”

It is an unseasonably hot spring afternoon in Brooklyn. At the small, triangular patch of asphalt known as The Lot Radio, which borders the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, coteries of scruffy music nerds lounge on plastic chairs drinking beer and smoking cigarettes while house-inflected disco emanates from a reclaimed shipping container that houses The Lot’s DJ equipment. Foxman hugs a few friends before sitting down with a bottle of rosé and two plastic cups.

Lei Kim Ann Foxman

“This is my home away from home,” says Foxman, who plays a monthly radio show here. She spends more than half the year traveling, mostly spinning at festivals and nightclubs throughout Asia, Australia, and Europe. A few days ago, she was deejaying the grand opening party of ‘Alohilani Resort in Waikīkī. Two days from now, she’ll play Slakthuset nightclub in Sweden.

After working in nightlife for more than two decades, Foxman has established herself as an androgynous fashion model, singer, record producer, and go-to purveyor for a pastiche of underground experimental dance music.

When she started to deejay internationally, around 2010, Foxman was one of few women in the male-saturated electronic dance world. “It’s a really fun job, to make people dance for a living,” she says, “but it is also exhausting. My jet lag is crazy.”

Amid the chaos of living out of a suitcase, the 41-year-old always returns to Hawai‘i. “I need to check in there once or twice a year, just to feel lucky that I grew up there,” says Foxman, who walked barefoot to Mānoa Falls nearly every weekend as a child. “If I don’t go there, it feels wrong. I start to go crazy if I don’t get the food or the nature.”

The self-proclaimed “island girl” landed in the international spotlight by accident. In the mid-2000s, she sang on demos for her friend Andy Butler’s to-be-determined project intended for other artists.

“I never considered myself a singer,” she says. But when the transgender singer Anohni—then known as Antony, of Antony and the Johnsons—heard the demo for “Athene,” she told Butler that it sounded like Foxman’s song. Suddenly, Foxman was in a band.

When Hercules and Love Affair debuted its eponymous LP in 2008, it felt like a queer revelation. The group’s critically acclaimed disco-tinged pop thrust Foxman in front of massive crowds.

“I was super petrified at first,” she says, “learning to swim with the sharks at sold-out festivals.”

Growing up in Hawai‘i was marked by a different kind of accidental success: winning Miss Teen Hawaii Filipina at 13 years old. “I wanted to be Johnny Depp, not Barbie,” she says. “I tried so hard not to win.”

A self-proclaimed “total basketball dyke,” she carried her BZ bodyboard and fins down the runway for the swimsuit portion of the competition. “I remember crying backstage because I didn’t want to wear the lipstick and evening gown,” she says. After processing years of shame about the experience, she has embraced it.

A few years ago, she used a dolled up picture of herself from the pageant for the cover of a 12-inch record release. Her sash, reclaimed, reads: “Energy EP.”

Lei Kim Ann Foxman

Foxman started getting into rave culture while she was a senior at Maryknoll School, a private Catholic institution in Honolulu. To circumvent her mom’s curfew, she got a job at Axis, the now defunct all-ages nightclub in Puck’s Alley in Mānoa, first as a go-go dancer—“I had a huge crush on a girl that was a go-go dancer there, Summer Jensen,” Foxman says. “She went to Punahou”—and then as a bartender mixing non-alcoholic rave smoothies.

Foxman continued to explore nightlife in San Francisco, where she moved to attend college in 1995, and then in New York City, where she relocated in 2011 to live with her girlfriend. They broke up three days after her move.

She filled her time with collecting records, mostly at a secondhand shop in Brooklyn called The Thing, where every record was $2. Foxman would show up with a dust mask and a portable record player and sift through the unsorted clutter.

“I’d find a gold mine of amazing records because everyone was getting rid of them,” says Foxman, whose record collection now numbers in the thousands. “It wasn’t cool.”

Unsatisfied with New York’s dance scene, Foxman started her own East Village party, Mad Clams at the Hole, bartending and deejaying from her vinyl collection. Over time, the party drew an eclectic and devoted following of lesbians, gay boys, and straight Lower East Side graffiti types who were attracted to Mad Clam’s anything-goes debauchery—and Foxman’s musical vision.

Since leaving Hercules and Love Affair after its first album, around 2010, Foxman has launched her solo career, releasing the vogue-inflected single “Creature” and starting her own record label, FireHouse.

It’s named after her loft, which is housed in an old fire station in East Williamsburg and has a fully equipped recording studio in the basement. This is where she recorded a new project with two friends called Pleasure Planet, to be released in the summer of 2018. “It’s really trippy,” she says. “I’m really proud of it.”

As gray clouds descend over The Lot, I scurry home.

Shortly after leaving, a crack of thunder rips through the sky, and torrents of rain descend. After getting home, soaked, I receive a text message from Foxman: It’s a video of her prancing through the now empty lot, rain pouring, as sirens blare over the dance music.