She's Got Skills

At Dallas' hottest dance clubs, women are getting noticed--behind the turntables

The instructional video on how to be a female DJ has a fairly stereotypical cartoon protagonist: She has flowing blond hair, pouty lips, penetrating eyes. A thong peeks out from her low-slung pants; her waistline cinches into a point. Oh, and also: Her breasts are huge.

When she comes on the screen, everyone giggles. That's because the Dallas DJs who have gathered to watch this video--a new how-to DVD called Reel Girlz Real Skilz--don't look anything like her. They don't make Barbie look flat-chested, and they aren't dressed for a rap video. The group, a fraction of more than a dozen female DJs around town, includes a mother of two, an ex-Marine, a former skating rink DJ, a graphic designer and a Dallas Museum of Art gift shop employee, to name a few. These are real girls (if not necessarily "Reel Girlz"), women who never thought they'd spin records at all, let alone for money.

But that's something more and more women are doing these days. Once a sight as rare as Bigfoot in the West Village, female DJs are popping up all over Dallas as well as the national and international scenes. Documentaries such as Girl and Vinyl Is a Girl's Best Friend have tracked the phenomenon. Late-night cult favorite Dance 360 features a female DJ, as does a commercial for Cingular. Even magazine fashion spreads are cashing in on the trend.

When DJ Wild in the Streets (top) opened for Stereo Total, one of her favorite bands, they commended her song selections. "That was the ultimate validation," she says.
Kristina Hunken
When DJ Wild in the Streets (top) opened for Stereo Total, one of her favorite bands, they commended her song selections. "That was the ultimate validation," she says.
Cyberina Flux (bottom) takes Rocket Radio, her Friday-night show on KNON, to Crave in Deep Ellum once a month.
Mark Graham
Cyberina Flux (bottom) takes Rocket Radio, her Friday-night show on KNON, to Crave in Deep Ellum once a month.

Still, the sight of a woman behind the turntable can be a surprise. "I had a girl come up to me and say, 'A girl DJ? Wow!'" says Lisa Bush, who spins under the name DJ Wild in the Streets. "Her boyfriend says, 'Yeah, they make those these days.'"

Dallas' first female DJ may have been Mary Kehoe, who started spinning records in 1986 as Mary XTC. While performing in a dance rap group called Mary and the Acid Queens, she met Mike DuPriest and Tony Fair--"the godfathers" of the Dallas DJ scene. She was the resident DJ at Sue Ellen's on Cedar Springs Road for five years, did guest spots at clubs around town and was the first woman to do The Midnight Mix on KDGE The Edge, returning to the show half a dozen times to spin with both Jeff K and DJ Merritt.

"I feel like I was pretty lucky because I met really great guys, and I hit it off with them," Kehoe says. "I was just this wide-eyed girl fascinated by records."

But she became much more: She had a sense of humor and a flair for scandal, often wearing little besides an "X" of electrical tape over the areola of each breast. It was memorable, yes, but it was her talent that won the endorsement of veterans DuPriest and Fair and, eventually, the rest of the scene. "There was this sense of respect like, 'Well, if they're down with Mary, then we're down with Mary.'"

Kehoe passed that approval on to protégé Tiffany Hughes, whom Kehoe befriended and taught to spin in 1994. The pair became known as Mary XTC and DJ Licorice Girl, doing business as Danger Girl Productions and hosting parties at 8.0, the Starck Club, Gridlock and Minc. Hughes, who mostly DJs in California these days, shares her mentor's flair for drama--she performs in red panties that peek through black stockings and has a reputation for, as she puts it, playing songs with "bad words and sexual tones." At her core, though, she is a businesswoman. "My motto is you have to take your job seriously, but you cannot take yourself seriously," Hughes says. "You've got to show up on time. You cannot give them any reason to think, 'Why did I hire this person?' Or, 'Why did I hire a girl?'"

That's something Kelly Lewis has learned. The Friday-night crowd at Zúbar--a sea of stilettos and self-tanner--doesn't pay much mind as renowned Dallas house DJ DeMarkus Lewis steps away from the booth and Kelly Lewis, his wife and fellow house DJ (her DJ name is Kelle Marie), takes his place. Her music mixes thumping bass lines with female vocals, sometimes spiking them like instrument riffs, other times letting the lyrics play out naturally. The empty space on the dance floor shouldn't reflect on Lewis; her set is tight.

The switch-off between a tall, built black man and a petite strawberry blonde has taken place many times since DeMarkus taught his then-girlfriend Kelly how to DJ eight years ago when she was just 17--not even old enough to get into clubs like Zúbar. Since then, they've shared the decks, produced tracks together under the name Honeymooners, had two kids (Alesis Marie, named after a drum machine, is 5, and Ava Simone is 18 months) and run a management agency called Grin Music. Kelly Lewis also produces solo under the name Housewife, does freelance Web design and goes to school at the Art Institute of Dallas. Even with that full résumé, she's aware some people think she's riding her husband's coattails, which is why her current focus--along with family, school and work--is to establish herself as an independent producer.

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