There is a rise of female DJs breaking into the music scene and I love it. In my own city of Vancouver, I have been blessed to work alongside local talents such as DJ Kasey Riot, DJ Cherry OnTop and years earlier DJ Betti Forde, who now resides in Toronto. I have ventured out to gigs to see DJ Lisa Deluxe and DJ Blenda work their magic to make the dance floor come alive. So can we please show some respect to females who put themselves out there to DJ in a previously male-dominated genre?
I have been slagged as a DJ – mostly online and mostly by men because obviously if I am a woman I can’t possibly know anything about DJing and am “just getting paid to stand behind the decks because I am a hot chick”. So let me break it down and remind you what DJing is – a DJ is a disc jockey who plays music for an audience. A DJ is not defined by their gender, or by their gear, or by what they look like, so why am I being judged? I have several residencies where I get paid to play music for an audience, so that makes me a DJ. If you have trouble accepting that, maybe you need to take a look at why that irritates you so much. On that note, let’s go back a few years to when I first started DJing.
I have always loved music. As soon as I was old enough, I weaseled my way into the clubs to listen to music and dance. I was constantly hanging out near the DJ booth asking the DJ what songs he was playing because I wanted to listen to them all when I wasn’t at the club, (obviously Shazam was not a thing back then). Music has always been a huge part of my life and has inspired me to want to become a DJ. I find it amazing that people are motivated to come together in unity over sounds to create groups where subcultures are formed and friendships are made. I wanted to be able to share my passion for music with everyone else, so I wanted to learn how to DJ. I was intimidated at first as I knew I would be judged, mainly because I was a woman, and at the time I had only ever known of one female DJ, they were a very scarce breed.
I was taught to DJ by DJ Pandemonium, a local DJ who took the time to show me how to set up the two CDJ100’s and pioneer mixer I learned on. I insisted on learning how to set up the gear first because if there was ever a technical problem, I wanted to know how to fix it. There wasn’t always going to be someone by me to hold my hand, and I knew that as a female, people would not expect me to know how to set up my own gear or know how to troubleshoot gear that was not working. Then came learning the knobs and buttons and figuring out which button does what, cueing up songs and checking to see how the next song ends so you can be prepared if it has a quick stop or gently fades out.
I practiced at home for months before my first actual DJ gig, which was at Rock-N-Roll Highschool, a Thursday night dedicated to alternative culture where we would play all the classics. I DJ’ed this night as a guest a few times, it was a labour of love for all of those involved, as it wasn’t very busy – which was OK for me because I was still learning and tweaking my new skills. Since the night didn’t really generate an income for us, it was only a matter of time before some of the resident DJs could no longer afford to give up their spare time and had to move on, and eventually my passion for music and DJing paid off and I became the resident DJ. Sure, I wasn’t really making any money from it, but it gave me the opportunity to fine-tune my skills, and play music for people who loved it.
The next step was to learn how to beat mix. This is not an easy thing to learn, counting out beats and lining them up so the transition between the songs is smooth and people barely notice that the songs have changed. I’m not going to lie, this took a while for me to master, and once in a blue moon I still have train-wreck mashups and that’s OK because most of my song transitions are smooth. DJing is not about how well you can beat mix, or how expensive your gear is, or even what kind of gear you use. In my opinion, DJing is being able to read your audience and know what songs that they will lose their minds to. You need to keep people at that club/pub/bar/fashion show/art event/whatever and make them have the best time of their life and spend money at the bar. I don’t get hired to DJ because I am a model, I was a DJ long before I was a model, I get hired to DJ because people have fun when I am spinning.
Yes, I DJ on a laptop and yes there are naysayers who claim DJing on a laptop is not actually “DJing”. But let’s talk about why I use a laptop. I was using Pioneer CDJ2000 Nexus decks with USB keys and there was actually a night when my USB keys crashed and the songs I had for playback for the performers were suddenly no longer available. Thank god, I had my laptop with me that night. I had to borrow a USB key from another DJ and throw the songs on his USB key to get the performers on and while that was happening try and find enough songs for a DJ set that I could play after the show and quickly transfer them onto another stick. I’ve also been stuck running to a corner store to buy new USB keys right before a gig, so I wouldn’t recommend USB keys as the most reliable source for DJing. I am also a DJ that travels, and its way more convenient to have a laptop with me than to rely on people to rent gear for me. What happens if I show up and they don’t have the right DJ decks and my USB keys are useless? Sure, I can DJ with CDs, but do you think I can travel with cases of them? Not really. Now that many DJs today use their laptops, a lot of clubs don’t even have gear (they usually have a mixer) so you have to bring in your own gear and it is much easier for me to bring in my laptop and controller than it is to drag in two CDJ2000 Nexus decks, plus 5 bags of CDs, so stop shitting on DJs who use laptops, its way more convenient and it gets the job done.
In time, people started to take notice of what I was doing, I was soon asked to drop a guest DJ set at Sin City Fetish Night, which is usually an event that has 300+ attendees, and it was a paid gig, so to say I was nervous was probably a huge understatement. Years later, I became a resident DJ there, (which I still am today), I was also asked to DJ at a local burlesque night called Kitty Nights West, where after a few guest sets, I became the resident DJ for 2 years. This meant I would be dealing with music cues and songs for over ten performers per night, playing backing tracks and talking on the mic (which is still something that is not my favourite part), plus DJing the dance party after the show. As time went on, my DJ circle expanded more, I am DJing the Vancouver Tattoo & Culture Show for the third consecutive year, which is a 3 day weekend of tattoos, pinup girls and rock-n-roll. I DJ’ed the Fan Expo after party in Vancouver a few years ago, and for the second year I am DJing the Forever Yours Lingerie Fashion Show in Langley. I have also DJ’d the pool party (with over 700+ guests) at Fetish Factory in Florida (this will be my third year), with last year being one of the most stressful DJ gigs in my life since the sun was melting my laptop and I had to keep my computer on a bed of ice while I DJ’ed and change the ice as it melted without getting my laptop wet and ensure the music kept playing. I also do private events, birthday parties, whatever you need, I am sure I can help you out – unless it’s a wedding, I’d prefer not to do those thanks.
There are many different reasons why women make great DJs; we are versatile, good with people, light-hearted and we work twice as hard because we know there will be backlash against us because of our gender. So when you see a female DJ in the club, don’t be that drunk asshole that says she can’t do it, because she IS doing it, buy her a drink and telling her she’s killing it. P.S. I drink rum and diet coke 😉