By Joyce Gabiola • Photos by Yvonne Feece
When we think of the hottest DJs who have spun this town underground with deafening sounds into daybreak for 20-plus years, we might think of Michael Degrace or DJ Johnny J. Both have been hypnotizing beat fiends since the early ’80s and holding steady their status as the leading forces in and around town.
Like a lot of industries, DJ culture remains a male-dominated playground. However, within the past 15 years or so, major metropolitan cities, including Houston, have experienced a surge in female DJ talent. In Houston’s LGBT community alone, you’ll find a handful of lesbian-identifying DJs who spin to the beat of their own turntable. Although they differ in experience, perspective, and style in music, fashion, and technique, DJs will rant about two things: their passion for music and their desire for a packed, thriving dance floor.
Sounds like Gab E and Natasha Ninjason, the DJ duo known as Grrrl Parts, were simply meant to be. They share a love for indie/electro remixes, as well as for each other. Throw in ghetto-tech with a dash of ’80s, and you have their style defined. Four years ago they were introduced through mutual friends and have been together ever since, on deck and off.
It all began for them in April 2007 when the girls were offered the opportunity to play a set at Aromas. Since then they’ve shared the stage with Don Rimini, Drop The Lime, Fetish Dolly, French Horn Rebellion, Lazaro Casanova, Via Audio, and Dubbel Dutch. Although relatively new to the scene, Grrrl Parts has quickly emerged as a to-be-seen act, attacking the decks in some of Houston’s popular nightspots. Grrrl Parts currently holds residency at HYPE! at The Backroom/Mink, and starting in August, you can find them throwing down at Zeppelin in Midtown.
Everyone knows that DJs, in general, are not fond of song requests. However, Grrrl Parts is open to a request as long as it is in the same music genre. “If you’re going to come request Celine Dion or salsa/merengue when we’re playing a bumpin’ LA Riots track, we will hate you forever!” the girls playfully warn.
“We enjoy making people dance.” That’s the high, isn’t it? And to achieve such highs, Grrrl Parts employs some of the latest technology available, including Torq, a software much like Serato, which transfers music from the computer library to the control vinyl.
And sure, a DJ’s equipment, and even fashion sense, are key to a successful show, but there are other things to consider in being a notable DJ. “You should be able to read the crowd and how they react to your tracks and knowing when and what to change it to, being respectful of other DJs, and trying to get to know the people who come out and support your nights.”
In response to the progression of female DJ talent in Houston over the last couple of decades, Gab E and Natasha hope that “it continues to grow to the point where there’s an equal amount of girls versus guys out there on the decks.”
When asked about any creative differences between them, the girls boast, “We are lucky to have the same view, likes/dislikes as far as music goes. We are a match to be.”
DJ Rocky B
Likely the most veteran lesbian DJ in Houston who remains in the scene is DJ Rocky B, producer and DJ for THROB Friday Nights, a “girl 4 girl” event that has been staged at various clubs since 2003, and which is now currently holding residency at Aztecas. Upon entering THROB, you’ll hear Latin house beats integrated into hip hop and rap sets that are deep and pulsating.
Rocky B’s presence extends beyond Texas, having played in Palm Springs, California, at Dinah Shore. Thousands of lesbians from all around partied to the beats that DJ Rocky B laid down at Club Skirtz at the Westin Hotel poolside in 2007. “No amount of money can ever buy that experience!” she exclaims.
For the most part, DJ-ing is all about everyone having a good time, but DJ Rocky B takes her sets very seriously, noting, “It’s my art on audio display.” Before she begins a set, she keeps distant from any electronics—television sets, radios, computers, and cell phones—so she can have a little quiet time to relax before she starts thinking about the music she is going to spin.
Many DJs these days utilize laptops and music software, but as owner of a massive vinyl library and two Pioneer CDJ 1000s, DJ Rocky B prefers to play CDs and MP3s. “I am one of the few DJs left who doesn’t use a laptop.”
If ever you’re at a party and DJ Rocky B is on deck, remember two things. “When my headphones are over my ears, don’t talk to me.” Secondly, she is open to song requests as long as a song is popular. However, she warns: do not expect the song to be played immediately. “I am not a jukebox!”
Regarding the future, DJ Rocky B plans “to keep spinning as long as the ‘miracle ear’ continues to be manufactured.”
A recent graduate from the University of Houston in photography/digital media, Shu Latif (aka Shoe) freelances by day and works the lights at Numbers and DJs by night. And when she’s not creating art or manipulating beats, she spends time dressing up her cats and playing UNO.
Around 1999 Shoe and Breye Kiser were DJs for a short-lived show at Sliders, which they called Retroactive, playing EBM, industrial, synthpop and goth. In 2002 they started Danseparc with Allison Shaw and Jen Kiser. Danseparc is a monthly party housed at Numbers. One time they hosted a cat-themed Danseparc, appropriately named Catparc. “A cat wandered into Numbers like it knew!” quips Shoe. It is a total musical playground; the music is as whimsical as the people. Come as you are, but hit the floor.
Shoe has reservations about being referred to as a DJ. “I prefer the term music selector. I blend rather than mix,” she explains. She uses CDs and various tools when she is on deck at Numbers, such as vinyl, DVDs, VHS, or broadcast tapes. She doesn’t touch MP3s, instead using Serato or a laptop.
It’s not just about matching the BPMs. Shoe admires DJs who strive for creativity in their sets and allow the mood to dictate the next song. Such an artist is wES wALLACE. “It’s amazing what he can do. He can beat-match from video to video to CD to vinyl. You don’t need fancy equipment to be able to do that, and I think a lot of DJs don’t realize that.”
At a party where Shoe is your DJ—I mean music selector—you can count on dancing to anything from indie pop/rock like Franz Ferdinand or the Unicorns
to post-punk like Joy Division and Gang of Four to new wave like Lene Lovich to electropop like Cut Copy and Pnau. She’ll even throw in Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson, and has also been known to play Run DMC and Timbaland. “Nothing is really off limits.”
Some DJs spend quiet moments alone before a show, others drink a little to loosen the nerves. With money and time allowing, Shoe snatches an extra cheese, light sauce, no-oregano pizza from Romano’s on West Gray and a large bottle of Mexican Coke. Hey, whatever works.
And speaking of what works, in addition to equipment, the music, the crowd, what also influences a good set is the DJ’s attire. “Dressing up usually puts me in a good mood, makes me want to dance more, and I think when those things come together, it helps me to be more intuitive.”
Although she admits there are now more women present in the male-dominated industry, Shoe believes it is “still a good old boys club.” And as one who spends nights laying down tracks just as she does dancing into the wee hours, Shoe observes, “You can feel a difference between when men and women DJ. I think maybe we listen to music differently (or can) and that affects the style. That probably took off some points on me from feminists everywhere. But whatever, women and men have different personalities and it comes through in spinning music or even in making it.”
She leaves you, readers, with this wisdom: never trust a DJ who doesn’t dance (or never used to dance).
Joy De La O
Everyone has to start somewhere, and Joy De La O’s story begins in the bedroom.
Before entering the scene, as most DJs do, De La O would mess around with her equipment at home, “making mix tapes for everyone and their mama like [she] was in love with the world.” In October 2008 she was at Chances talking to Grrrl Parts about clubs and ’80s music. The casual discussion between like-minds resulted in an invitation for De La O to be a guest DJ on Grrrl Parts’ set, which led to Chances offering her an opportunity DJ for them regularly.
A DJ for the people, De La O, who self-inherited her parents’ vinyl, caters to the crowd. “If I see it’s more of a Latin crowd, I have a playlist. If I see it’s somebody’s birthday, then I know I need to play more dance stuff and less hardcore rap music.” Know your crowd. “The Chances crowd, in particular, doesn’t like music that they don’t already know. If it’s not already on the radio and they can’t sing along to it, they’re gonna leave the dance floor. Now if it’s gay men, they want it before everybody knows it.”
In addition to knowing your crowd, accuracy is important. Among her DJ talents is De La O’s ability to run to and use the restroom, wash
her hands, and be back on stage in three minutes or less.
De La O is in it for the music and the opportunity to please you on the dance floor. In fact, in three to five years she hopes to open her own queer-friendly venue, a place similar to Meteor. “That’s a fun place. I’d like to see more girls there, not just professional women’s happy hour, which, when I was laid off, I was like, ‘Can I still go to that? When’s the unemployed ladies hour? When’s the my-ass-just-got-laid-off hour?’”
For all those folks who remember when stores were closed on Sundays and soda cans had pull-off tabs, De La O might be the DJ for you. She might dash her sets with ’80s nostalgia—Michael Jackson, Lisa Lisa, and the Cult Jam, Yaz, The Cure, Depeche Mode. “I don’t have a problem playing Anita Baker and then Xanadu back to back.” If she could spin to her own rules, she would play ’80s and ’90s drum and bass all night long. It’s what she loves.
Speaking of love, De La O is in it. “I am in love with DJ Sun,” one of Houston’s premier DJs whose style can be described as lounge with some integrated Latin beats. Also, she loves “every single thing that they do at Danseparc because you never know what the next song is gonna be, and [she] can dance like an idiot.”
Do you make sure you look good? “Well, that comes naturally. Please don’t write that, oh my god, I would die.”
Did I mention that De La O is in love? She’s engaged, actually, to a trance and house music junkie and English teacher named Caroline who is currently teaching abroad. Like the gals of Grrrl Parts, they met through a mutual friend and De La O admits it was love at first sight. Hey, when the DJ feels the love, you will, too.
Here are a couple of tips: if you want to get in good with De La O at Chances, just be the first one to hit the floor. And don’t forget to bring your friends!
Joyce Gabiola profiled Pride grand marshals Fiona Dawson and Legacy Community Health Services in the June issue of OutSmart magazine.