By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"There are a lot of females in the industry who only produce with guys as a team, and you can never really tell how much they contribute," she says. "I don't want people to be wondering about it. I want to get my own songs out, so there isn't a question in the future about whether I contributed or not."
Lewis earned her stripes spinning at The Pharmacy and Sand Bar, as well as in Oklahoma and L.A. and at Miami's annual Winter Music Conference, but she still encounters club employees who treat her like she's never touched a mixer before, and some male DJs refuse to treat her as an equal. The gripes are worth the pay-off, however. "At Zúbar, the last 30 minutes, the place is completely hype, and everyone's dancing," she says. "But the best part of my night is when they cut on the lights and I can squeeze in two more tracks."
Ronin--Lewis' other producing partner and fellow member of female DJ support group Suck My Deck--has shared some of her friend's negative experiences. "I think a lot of guys are taken aback and scared of girls that are really good," says Ronin, whose real name is Elena Martinez. Once, when a male friend helped her carry records into a venue, the door guy let him in but not her. He refused to believe she was that night's DJ until the guy vouched for her.
Her appearance helps limit that kind of interaction, though. When she spins funky groove, hip-hop-inspired house music and panty house (a joke description for the type of music male DJs use to seduce women--onto the dance floor and out of the club) at Zúbar on Wednesdays, she's dressed in a baggy knit polo shirt and loose jeans that bunch around her black and red sneakers. Her hair is short and spiky, dark brown with red tips. "I've been told by many people that because I don't play or look the part of the female, I get a little more respect from the male end of the industry," she says.
She supports herself with her DJing these days--something she never expected when her roommate in the Marines taught her how to spin about 13 years ago. "I just didn't see anybody making a living off of it," she says. "That's not something you can do for the rest of your life." So she dropped it until 1999 when her dad bought her "DJ in a Box," an inexpensive package of turntables and a mixer ("a cheesy way to start," she admits). She taught herself through "many hours of practicing, crying, frustration, turmoil...and hundreds of dollars in records."
Things weren't always easy for Sabrina Steiner, who's known as Cyberina Flux behind the decks at clubs and on the air Friday nights at KNON during Rocket Radio. In her own smaller scene of people who spin goth, industrial and electronica, she says, "I've had DJs go on rants that I couldn't possibly be getting gigs for any other reason than the fact that I have breasts. They can think what they think. I can't do anything to change that no matter how hard I work."
Despite an enviable gig at KNON playing records for an audience not distracted by drink specials and a parade of pretty people, she gets anxious to perform live during stretches between gigs. After all, part of the thrill of being a DJ is seeing the effect you have. That's apparent when she takes the small stage at Crave in a camouflage minidress and knee-high black boots. Friends and patrons stop by the booth to dance or sing along to the percussive, sometimes noisy and dissonant music.
The challenges for a rock-and-roll DJ are a bit different. Lisa Bush spins Wednesdays at Hailey's in Denton, where she has had to confront the indier-than-thou guys eager to prove their record collection couldn't possibly be inferior to a girl's. "I had this gig one time, and this circle of guys came and stood around me--they were the music-snob guys. And they came to look at what I was going to play. 'Is this rare enough or pure enough?' They all got into this big record conversation, and they just excluded me. I was just standing there."
Good luck beating her at her own game, though. Bush's crates are heavy with French and Japanese pop and soundtracks to 1960s films (her DJ name came from one called Wild in the Streets). She recently played with Berlin dance duo Stereo Total--one of her favorite bands--at their most recent show in Denton. "It was really cool because they recognized several of the French artists I played," she says. "That was the ultimate validation."
The truth is that any DJ gig comes with its pitfalls. Clubgoers can treat DJs like human jukeboxes, throwing money at someone busy queuing up records and beat matching, requesting OutKast during a rock set or Madonna during a house set. Others try to talk to DJs while they're playing or come behind the booth begging to scratch a record or talk on the mike. Allison Gordon, who plays rock and roll from several decades and genres as DJ Sista Whitenoise at Lee Harvey's on Thursdays and Saturdays, says people have tried to use her setup, which is in a tiny room with Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga machines, as their personal drink coaster. She's been known to ask, "Now do you really think your game is more important than thousands of dollars of music equipment?"