Once upon a time, there were six little
girls who went to the DJ academy. One from Ohio, one from
California, one from North Carolina, two from the District
of Columbia, and one from Alabama. They were each assigned
very hazardous duties, but the circuit took them away from
all that, and now they work for all of us. I call them Circuit
Angels, and they are the real queens of the party circuit.
The status of the nightclub DJ has advanced
a great deal over the years. Considered idols by many, they
are worshiped by fans who readily pay large amounts of money
to hear them perform live. In the United States, these positions
have traditionally been held by men, but this is quickly changing.
American nightclub audiences are now witnessing a dramatic
rise in the number of women who mix records live. Nowhere
is this more apparent than on the gay party circuit, where
a handful of extremely talented and determined female disk
jockeys are changing the course of our coveted community-building
dance events. In doing so, they are helping predominantly
gay male revelers expand their horizons by experiencing dance
music from a womans perspective.
Saint DJ Sharon White broke new ground
and opened the door for succeeding female DJs two decades
ago with her pioneering performances at the legendary all-male
club. But its the diligent efforts and prolific performances
by circuit icon Susan Morabito that truly paved the way for
todays turntable femme fatales.
Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Susan began
DJing in 1982, honing her skills while playing at local lesbian
bars. In 1987 she relocated to New York City, where she lives
today. It would be difficult to name a major gay party Susan
has not played. The summer months keep her busy spinning at
the Pavilion for the Fire Island Pines crowd, but she still
finds time to make appearances at many of the hottest circuit
parties in the country and around the world.
It hasnt always been this way for
Susan. "I had a very, very hard time getting hired at
[male] clubs because I was a woman," she says. "Some
of the promoters who have hired me told me that they wouldnt
have hired me in the early days because I am a woman."
Luckily, things have changed. In fact, Susan says that once
audiences heard her play well, something she doubts the men
were expecting, it wasnt long before she had proven
herself, and her calendar gradually began to fill up with
increasingly impressive play dates.
Through the years, Susan has developed
a unique and fascinating perspective on dance music and its
relevance to the gay community. This perspective helps, at
least in part, to explain why a DJs performance may
not always be well-received. "DJing is like sex,"
she says. "You either connect or you dont. You
dont know why youre going to connect with somebody
or not, and even if you connect one night, it doesnt
necessarily mean that youre going to connect the next
night." As Susan points out, during sex either party
can just stop if things arent working, and move on.
A DJ does not have that option; he or she must go on with
the show, hopefully finding a way to make things work. Sometimes
the DJ simply cannot, for whatever reason, turn things around
and save the night. Herein lies an important difference between
good and bad performances.
Susan also finds similarities between
the evenings progression of musical styles and that
of a night of passion. "You dont just do one thing,"
she insists. "You have the foreplay, the peak, the climax,
and then the cuddle. That to me is wholeness for the evening."
Expressing her disappointment in how faster bpms are
often dominating entire sets these days, Susan goes on to
regretfully report, "Unfortunately, many people just
dont get the foreplay and the cuddle anymore."
Personal tastes in music aside, Susan
is quite happy with the success she has achieved playing for
discerning and demanding male audiences. She finds that her
professionalism has earned her a lot of respect, and that
promoters generally treat her very well. The same goes for
the crowds, but she has no doubt that a small percentage of
men still have a problem with the idea of a female DJ. Yet
she doesnt let this bother her in the least. Instead,
she will continue to share her vision of the music with her
fans, and looks forward to venturing into the realm of studio
remixing and production work.
Susan recently launched a New York tea
dance called "Hush," and she returns to South Beach
engagements at Salvation during Thanksgiving weekend and at
Crobar during Winter Party Weekend.
Approximately twenty years ago Dawna Montel
placed the needle down on the very first record she mixed
live for a mostly-female audience at Robbies Nightclub
in Pomona, California. Over the following 18 years, she played
just about every ladies party on the west coast, including
the Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs, Girl Bar, and Que
Sera in Long Beach where she worked with then-unknown Melissa
Etheridge in the early 80s. Dawna also worked with the Swedish
Egil at Los Angeles K-Rock radio station in the late
80s, and then again with him at Groove Radio. But it wasnt
until she started playing for men just a couple of years ago
that she really connected with her audience.
"Id much rather play for the
boys," she explains. "Its just nice to know
theyre tapping into what youre doing. It lets
you be a little more artistic and free ... you dont
have to be so timid about breaking a new record. Theyre
very on top of whats going on in the music industry,
and theyre so passionate about the music ... thats
what I love about them."
A mixture of progressively sexy tribal
rhythms, disco house, and high energy vocals compliment a
driving bass line that keeps the after-hours boys dancing
under Dawnas direction well into Saturday morning at
the Spike in West Hollywood. She has recently started playing
circuit parties like Indepen-Dance in Laguna Beach
this past July and she hopes that her success at the
Spike and other events will generate more out-of-town bookings.
Dawna does not believe she has been treated
differently by promoters or club owners because of her gender,
"but I do think theyre more skeptical to go after
female DJs," she speculates. "Its kind of
like the boys club, "she adds. "But you cant
dwell on that, you just have to let them know that youre
one of the boys and that you can hang with them." Her
philosophy about her profession is also quite admirable, and
surely contributes to her rising success. "Its
up to us to set the standards for what happens on our dance
floors, and to keep people entertained as well as educated,"
she explains. "You should be able to build a relationship
and a trust with your dance floor, so that when you are playing
something they have never heard before, they give you respect,
and trust your judgment that you are playing it for a reason."
This determination, coupled with a profound
perception of her role as a turntable temptress, has consistently
impressed both male listeners and promoters. You may not have
heard her name much yet, but all indications are that Dawna
Montel is one woman who is well on her way to circuit stardom.
Now working on her second full-fledged
career, Keana is a true circuit-hopper. She conquered the
equestrian circuit early in life, working as a stable manager
for the prestigious Hunters & Jumpers stable in Hunterton
County, New Jersey. As a stable matriarch, Keana traveled
around the country to various horse shows. Eventually she
realized that she had gone as far as she could in that career,
and prepared herself for a major change. "I felt like
there was something more for me," she recounts. "But
I didnt really know what that was."
One fateful night in 1994, a friend convinced
her to accompany him into New York City to The Monster where
Warren Gluck was spinning. It was there that Keana discovered
a new passion, one that would drastically alter the course
of her stagnant life. "The music just really touched
me, because I had never heard music like that before,"
she fondly recalls. "So we started going out three or
four times a week. My friend suggested as a joke that I should
become a DJ. I thought, Yeah, why not? Sure." And so
began Keanas foray into the world of dance music and
the artistry of cleverly mixing the tunes together.
Perhaps it was inevitable that Keana would
become an entertainer, considering her partents show
business background. (Her father directed the Ed Sullivan
Show, and her mother danced in and choreographed the show.)
In any event, she was definitely ready to carve out her own
niche. Having been surrounded by gay people on the horse circuit
for years, Keana was quite comfortable frequenting gay bars.
She proceeded to make many good friends and valuable contacts
in New York City, not the least of which was Warren Gluck
himself. Keana taught herself how to mix records on a couple
of old turntables and a crude mixing console that didnt
even have pitch control. She persevered, and gave every tape
she made to Warren for his critique. Her talent may have been
raw, but Warren saw a lot of potential, and encouraged Keana
to continue practicing and developing her skills.
Fast forward a few years. We now find
Keana with a revered residency in the Chapel at New Yorks
infamous Limelight, where she plays on Sunday nights. Keana
also spends quite a bit of time playing on Fire Island, but
she made her circuit debut in 1999 in the Winter Partys
first Rising DJ Showcase. Logic Records recently hired her
to mix their third in a series of Pride compilation CDs, and
shell be returning to Miami this month for White Party
Week, where shell spin on Friday night at Level along
with her mentor, Warren, and fellow female DJ, Tracy Young.
Keana may be relatively new to the scene,
but she is taking full advantage of the pioneering groundwork
laid by her predecessors. But she thinks she has one possible
advantage over her lesbian counterparts. "Being straight
makes a difference," she admits. "I think I have
a closer connection with men because of that. I dont
have any illusions of sexual conquests or anything; theyre
my friends and thats it. I just flirt and have fun."
Keana also believes that being a woman made it more difficult
for her to get her foot in the door, but now she says, "Im
hoping that its going to work to my advantage."
Her positive outlook and love of music keep Keana from worrying
about competition from other women on the circuit. "As
far as Im concerned," she says, "theres
plenty of room for everybody. All I can say is that I love
what I do, and the music comes from my heart."
South Beach audiences have been treated
to the innovative mixing skills of Washington, D.C.-based
Michele Miruski on several occasions at Salvation. Another
self-taught DJ, Michele began mixing records during her last
year of college in South Carolina. She moved up to our nations
capital after graduation and began spinning at lesbian bars
around town. When she landed a spot at the Frat House playing
for the boys, her career shifted into high gear. Her Monday
night time slot wasnt exactly desirable, but her performances
at the Frat House eventually caught the attention of the famed
Tracks crew, which then led to many notable performances at
their now-demolished venue.
When shes not spinning her magic
on Saturday nights at Velvet Nation in D.C., Michelle travels
the country sharing her music with gay audiences in cities
like Key West, Atlanta, Denver, and New York. Shell
continue to put her eight years of classical piano and guitar
training to use in the DJ booth, but shes ready to move
on to the next level. "Everyone has always told me Id
be best at production work and remixing," she says. "Now
I just have to prove it to myself."
Michele has always had confidence in her
technical abilities but, during a recent visit to New Yorks
Twilo, this Billboard-reporting DJ had a revelation. "When
I heard Junior, that changed my life," she reports. "It
just really expanded my knowledge and made me realize how
much further I can take the crowd. I realized there was so
much more that I could do musically." Michele likes to
keep people guessing, and you just never know when a sample
from a movie like "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"
or "The Wizard of Oz" is going to pop up in one
of her sets. Yes indeed, it does sound like Michelle has been
influenced by the Master of Remixing.
"Its an edge for me in some
ways," Michele says about her gender. "Some club
owners may be a little wary [about hiring a female DJ] because
a lot of people still think they should hire a guy DJ to bring
in the guys. But it can work for you as well as against you.
Theres not that sexual tension that some male DJs may
encounter." Certainly, this could be a distraction for
some DJs, particularly now that many of them are celebrities
within the gay community. Nevertheless, Michele loves playing
for the boys, and shes grateful for the efforts and
accomplishments of her peers. "You cant help but
respect Susan Morabito for what shes done for this whole
community as far as getting a womans name out there,"
she says. "Ive always listened to her with an open
mind because I knew that there would be something to learn
The youngest and newest Angel on the circuit
scene is Tracy Young, and shes living most every aspiring
DJs ultimate dream right now. After getting her start
in Washington, D.C. nine years ago, Tracy followed in Victor
Calderones footsteps and began spinning at Liquid in
Miami. She is now a local girl living in South Beach who plays
regularly at Level and Vivid for predominantly straight crowds.
Tracy has had to travel out of town to reach gay audiences
in the past, but this is quickly changing, as she is slated
to perform at Level this month during White Party Week. Oh
yeah, theres that Madonna thing too.
Ingrid Casares, formerly of Liquid, took
Tracy under her wing and offered her the incredible opportunity
to spin at Bar Room on New Years Eve last year. Luckily,
Madonna just happened to be partying at the club that night,
and was apparently quite impressed by the musical stylings
of Ms. Young. So impressed, in fact, that she later flew Tracy
up to New York City to man the decks during the movie premier
party for "The Next Best Thing." A request to remix
her new song, "Music," followed shortly thereafter.
Madonna was so happy with Tracys mix that she included
it on the commercial maxi-single release, used it for the
extended remix video of the song, and suggested it to Donatella
Versace for use in an upcoming fashion show. Madonna also
had Tracy remix her new single, "Dont Tell Me."
Straight, gay, lesbian Tracy has
played for all types of audiences. "I like a balance.
I like to see whats going on in all markets," she
explains. "But I definitely enjoy playing more for gay
men. I just get excited when Im playing for somebody
else whose priority is also music." Acclaimed performances
in Provincetown this summer have catapulted Tracy onto the
distinguished list of hot circuit DJs, and helped her land
gigs on Fire Island and at the Columbus Red Party, as well
as the aforementioned White Party Week Friday slot at Level
alongside DJ Warren Gluck. The Winter Party people liked this
combination so much that they chose to repeat it for DHRFs
Winter Party on the beach in March. And her debut compilation
CD, "Inside My Head," has just come out.
Women may still face more challenges than
men when it comes to breaking into the music industry, but
Tracy is confident that things are improving. "I think
that the more women who are in the business, the more people
will accept it, which will make life easier for every other
girl who wants to be a DJ," she muses. Tracy also revels
in the camaraderie of women in the music business, and shes
truly thankful for the opportunities afforded to her. "I
owe a lot to Ingrid, because she really opened a lot of doors
for me," she says. "Because shes a woman too,
she gave me a lot of chances to prove myself."
Knowing the right people is certainly
important in this business, but a good attitude, a positive
outlook, and progressive thinking are equally significant.
"Its all about doing what you love, kicking down
doors, and breaking the barriers," Tracy insists. This
is a formula that seems to have worked quite well so far,
and will surely help Tracy to realize her dream of creating
an album of original material in the spirit of Moby and Groove
Armada. One way or another, we will definitely be hearing
a lot more from Tracy Young in the future.
Quite possibly the most visible female
DJ on the gay party circuit these days, Lydia Prim has come
a long way from the $3.35/hour she made washing glasses at
a small gay bar in Montgomery, Alabama 15 years ago. After
several years as a self-described DJ groupie and apprentice
in Alabama, Lydia took her newfound talents to Pensacola,
and then on to Atlanta and New Orleans, where her popularity
skyrocketed during her residencies at Fusion and Bourbon Pub
Parade, respectively. Also a Billboard-reporting DJ, Lydias
career has continued to pick up momentum in recent months,
and shows no signs of slowing down despite her current (if
not peculiar) home base in Birmingham, Alabama.
She still plays in Atlanta and New Orleans
regularly, but she has expanded her circuit resume with highly
sought-after engagements at Salvation, The Hotlanta River
Expo, Fireball in Chicago, and the Blue Ball in Philadelphia.
Ironically, it was after Lydias 1999 performance at
San Franciscos leather-oriented Folsom Street Fair that
"the phone started ringing." Fans can also look
forward to upcoming continuous mix CDs by Lydia on Aftershock
party promoter Jito Garcias label, Tremor Records, as
well as a Circuit Sessions installment on 4Play Records.
If Lydia has been discriminated against
due to her gender, she is genuinely unaware of it. "Perhaps
I have blinders on," she suggests, "But I dont
encounter that prejudice. If I do, its never said to
my face." In fact, she recalls, "Theres a
bar in Atlanta that I wanted to play, but I was told they
would never hire a woman. I ended up playing there."
Its this type of determination and ambition that have
propelled Lydias remarkable career, not to mention her
extraordinary ability to work a room and give the crowd exactly
what they want. But she agrees with Susan Morabito in one
respect regarding sexism in the music industry. Recounting
a conversation with Susan, Lydia asks, "How come when
any of these male DJs go off [complaining about being disturbed
by too many people while working], people say theyre
just having a bad night? But with us women, its always,
Shes a bitch. Its not bitchiness,"
Lydia insists. "Its busyness."
Bitch or not, Lydia relies on her sharp
wit and keen sense of humor to deal with work-related obstacles
and to cope with working in a traditionally male-oriented
profession. A friend of Lydias on the Folsom Street
Fair committee relayed a story to her about the meeting wherein
the decision was reached to include her in the line-up. "One
guy laughed and as a smart-ass remark said, Well, what
if she gets her period? So when I arrived in San Francisco,"
Lydia says, "I made sure that I tracked down that guy,
gave him some money, and asked him to please go get me tampons
at the store. [I did this] just to show him that I never take
stuff like that as insulting. I always see it as very catty
Lydia also has a serious side, one that
is particularly apparent when she discusses her philosophy
behind DJing, and what its like to be a woman playing
for predominantly gay male audiences. "Youre always
going to encounter prejudice in some form, so just try to
find a way to deal with it," she advises. "You can
actually turn it around so it does more good than harm. Use
it for fuel instead of baggage." She also harbors a deep
respect for and admiration of her peers, and values her relationships
with them, regardless of gender. "I think theres
a sense of community among DJs in general," she says.
"I think that cuts across gender lines."
Lydia is scheduled to appear at Salvation
on Thanksgiving weekend.
These girls are currently enjoying lots
of support from within the gay community, and because of this,
the female DJ phenomenon will surely endure long after the
novelty has worn off. "There is something quite nurturing
about having a female presence in the DJ booth that I think
the men enjoy," suggests Craig Smith, Events Coordinator
for DHRF/Winter Party. "Having a girl in the booth is
a nice contrast to the sometimes all-male, sexually charged
environment on the dance floor." DJ Manny Lehman concurs
that "adding a female touch into the mix is a good thing,"
but he doesnt believe that gender matters when it comes
to landing a job. "I think it is totally a music-driven
agenda," he declares. New York promoter John Blair further
emphasizes that "Good music is good music. It is no harder
for a woman to break in [than] it is for a man. I think it
is very hard for anyone to break in, as the slots are few
and the DJs are many."
Our lovely Circuit Angels will continue
to travel the world, spreading their wings and touching many
of our lives as they generously share their love of dance
music with the masses. Perhaps theyre simply fulfilling
our innate need to be coddled by a female figure. More likely,
their hard work and innovative visions are inspiring our lives
and providing the perfect compliment to our community-building
dance events. Whatever the reason for the female DJs
rise to prominence, it is clear that this emerging trend is
improving the circuit by reshaping our tribal gatherings into
something even better and brighter.
Michele Miruski summed it up best when
she said, "The bottom line is that if youre a good
DJ, it doesnt matter what sex you are." Amen, sister.
Ill dance to that.