From Philly to Cleveland: Electro-punk artist Uniity finds a home
Asia “Raven” Clark, who goes by Uniity, is on a mission to unite independent, LGBTQ+ artists and women of color in Cleveland's avant-garde music scene.
The 20-year-old writer and performer said her own music put her on a path to making a better life.
Her challenges started early in life, growing up in Philadelphia as the child of a single mother who gave birth to her at age 14.
“It was basically the hood in Philly. There was definitely a lack of resources in all of my education and schooling,” Uniity said.
She said crime runs deep in the community too, and she’s had to watch relatives being sent to jail.
“It's hard to break out of that cycle, you know, those generational curses,” she said.
She decided to leave Philadelphia in search of a better life.
Music became the catalyst for her migration to Cleveland, where she enrolled in Tri-C’s Recording Arts and Technology program after graduating high school early.
Introduction to music
In Philadelphia, Uniity enjoyed exploring music in her youth.
“It wasn't until my uncle got locked up and he left a keyboard in the back room, which is where I stayed, and I started to kind of fiddle around with it almost every day after school,” she said.
She started going to shows at age 10 or 11 with her grandfather and got her first guitar for Christmas as a teenager.
She honed her vocal skills in school choir, learning different ways to sing and express herself.
Now, her singing and performance style go against the grain, fusing punk-rock screams with electronic beats and synthesizers.
“[My upbringing was] really chaotic, but it shaped the person that I am. It made me very tough, which is why I kind of naturally started to get more attracted to different music, like punk and metal and weird genre fusions and stuff,” Uniity said.
Uniity’s music career is beginning to take off, thanks to what she describes as a “welcoming scene” in Cleveland.
“It has a huge scene of people with very diverse music tastes, and it's not necessarily about the music that you make. It's more about the emotion or how you're connecting with the people that's listening,” she said.
Finding an identity in Cleveland’s music scene
She said her performances involve a lot of jumping, moshing, singing and dancing from both the performers and the audience.
“Cleveland has one of the best scenes for Black independent musicians starting out. If you're interested in making, like, punk or alternative or, like, genre-fusion type of stuff, Cleveland is the place.”Uniity
Uniity said because Cleveland is relatively small, it’s been easy to make connections with other local artists interested in more experimental music.
A lot of that connection has been formed on club stages, where her performances are intense, intimate experiences.
Uniity often descends from the stage and into the crowd screaming her lyrics to and with her fans.
“A lot of the people that come to my shows are going through all sorts of stuff—whether it's housing, emotional, mental—and they're just going out to have a great time, releasing some of that,” she said.
“People sometimes will probably put their arm around you and sing to you. And I love that. I love that culture of community,” she said.
Beyond performing, Uniity has learned technical skills like recording, repairing musical equipment, running live sound and music production during her studies at Tri-C, where she is currently a student.
“My first-ever project that I worked on was called ‘HIIVES,’ and that was the first-ever thing that I officially wrote, recorded and did not delete,” she said.
“HIIVES” is an eight-track album Uniity released in March 2022.
She sings and plays guitar on the tracks, which are accompanied by pulsing beats, noisy aural tones and an electropunk fusion of techno and rock ‘n’ roll sounds.
Uniity said the music community in Cleveland has been very supportive and accepting of the world she’s created.
“Cleveland has one of the best scenes for Black independent musicians starting out,” she said. “If you're interested in making, like, punk or alternative or, like, genre-fusion type of stuff, Cleveland is the place.”
She said she was one of the only Black kids she knew in Philadelphia listening to bands like Slipknot and attending punk shows.
“So coming here and finding there's an entire community of people of color that loves doing that, I'm a kid in a candy store,” Uniity said.
Gaining confidence and growing as a musician
Uniity said it’s important for people to see themselves represented in the music they like to listen to.
“A lot of the bands that I listened to growing up were white, and a lot of the people that I saw on big stages and different things like that were white,” she said. “I went through a very tough period of just kind of like an identity crisis, not really knowing who I truly am, not even wanting to be a person of color because of the lack of representation in the media and how that actually affects people in minority communities.”
She said racism exists in the alternative music community, but the more she learned about Black and Hispanic women creating the songs and sounds she wanted to make, the more confident she became in her identity.
“One of the biggest things that I talk about is being a Black woman in the music industry that's making something other than R&B, hip-hop,” she said. “And I opened up the door to my family accepting those parts of themselves that aren't a part of that stereotype or norm dictated by the media.”
As Uniity continues to grow a fan base and release music this year, she said the focus will continue to be on breaking down the barriers that she’s experienced in the music industry.
"One of the biggest things that I talk about is being a Black woman in the music industry that's making something other than R&B, hip-hop."Uniity
“The hoops that you have to go through, and the even more hoops that's added on if you're a person of color, it's dealing with racism while dealing with trying to package it in a way where it's more marketable,” she said.
In 2021, the Panza Foundation, a Cleveland 501(c)(3) organization that awards grants to local independent musicians, selected Uniity as one of the artists it will support in 2023.
“And I'm like, ‘What on earth is this? And it seems official. This seems professional. I need to do my research,’” she said.
Uniity learned that the owner of No Class in Cleveland recommended her to John Panza for the grant. She regularly performs at the punk venue and said it is like the “‘Church of Uniity’ at this point.”
As one of the 2023 Panza Foundation bands, Uniity will release new music and tour this year.
She said having the support to see the world, meet more artists and create connections is what she’s most excited about.
“For every show that I perform at live, my goal is to convey an emotion where all the stress, the anxiety, any insecurities you may have about yourself or being around other people, it can get released in a way that unifies people,” she said. “That's why I chose Uniity.”