Ladies Choice :: The Dinah 2012 DJ Line-Up!
Lesbians from around the country and across the world flock to Palm Springs at the end of March for Club Skirts: The Dinah, the annual bacchanalia of music and parties that is now the largest lesbian event in the world.
This year’s party is promising to be among the most memorable in recent history and organizers have gone to great lengths to incorporate a line-up of talent that has in the past introduced mainstream culture to current hit-makers Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Both pop stars made their debut on the Dinah’s stage performing for the hundreds of lady fans in attendance of this annual festival.
And like the circuit parties of their male counterparts, mainlining the fuel of the festivities are top-notch DJs, spinning the latest tracks to keep the ladies moving. The largest lesbian party weekend in the world is a showcase for headlining mistresses (and one master) of the dance floor. Here’s our breakdown of the newbies making their Dinah debut and veteran acts returning to show them how the ladies like to serve it up on the dance floor.
This London native got her start DJing while studying biotechnology in college. A DJ friend invited Asha to join her at gigs, and was impressed by how well Asha read the crowd.
"I would say, ’Hey, play this next’, and she would take my advice, and the crowd would love it," said Asha. "She showed me a few things, I started to get some gigs, and things moved on from there."
Believing that variety is the spice of the dance floor, DJ Asha plays all types of music, including House, hip-hop, electro, old-school funk, ’80s pop, and even Top 40, "as long as it’s quality music," she said.
In Los Angeles, DJ Asha spins weekly on Thursdays at KYSS at Here Lounge with DJ Lezlee. She serves as a resident DJ at the monthly Saturday party called Juicy hosted by Whitney Mixter from "The Real L Word," and spins for a more mature crowd in nearby Long Beach, at Inferno. She manages to get the gals to trek to Downtown L.A., where she’s regularly pumping at the Catwalk. Asha has also done fund-raisers for AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Trevor Project, which works against gay teen suicide.
Although she has spun at some unofficial after-parties during the Dinah mega-weekend, this is DJ Asha’s first year playing at one of the biggest events, Club Skirts. The party’s reputation precedes it. "I’ve traveled a lot, and I haven’t seen anything like the Dinah," Asha said in a recent interview. "People come from all over the world for it. I am looking forward to it, and am so honored."
She credits Mariah Hanson, the producer, with an outstanding job of bringing in some of the most talented DJs out there -and keeping the weekend fresh year after year.
Having worked a lot of straight and gay male events, Asha understands the different dynamic that goes into spinning a lesbian party. Straight men are happy when the music makes the women dance and love their hard-driving electronica. Gay boys love House music, pop hits, and diva anthems from their one-named icons like Britney, Gaga, Cher and Madonna. And the boys seldom need any encouragement to get them moving.
Women, on the other hand, like to hear slower, sexier music - less about the aerobics workout, more about the booty. "Lesbians like to hear a lot of hip-hop, especially in L.A.," Asha said. "At KYSS I play a mix of cumbia, electro, and deep hip-hop, because women have much more diverse tastes."
The vibe of a lesbian dance party also differs from its male equivalents. "A lot of women just want to party and hang out with their friends," she observed. "They aren’t necessarily out to meet somebody. The music is of the utmost importance. A bad DJ can really destroy a night, and the women are not having it. They’ll go home."
What’s her strategy for the Dinah? Respect for the crowd. The women will be there all weekend long, and don’t want to hear the same songs. Asha will be keeping tabs on what the other DJs are playing, and will spin tunes appropriate for the time of day she enters the DJ booth.
She also understands that it’s the DJ’s job to get people moving - not necessarily to make a grand artistic statement or stroke her ego. "The economy is bad, and people are spending a lot of money to get there," she noted, "money on the hotel, passes, flight, transportation, new clothes, getting their hair and nails done. So it is really up to the entertainment to make sure they have the time of their life."
DJ Susan Levine
Everything old is new again with DJ Susan Levine, a longtime music lover and former DJ who once again took up her post at the turntables about six years ago. This will be the New Yorker’s first trip to the Dinah, but she’s a veteran of the East Coast scene.
"Back in the day, I used to collect albums," said Levine. "I love music, and that’s why I became a DJ. I would make my own mix cassettes and bring them to work, and friends were stealing them from me." One day, when she was hanging out at the Cubbyhole, a popular lesbian bar in Greenwich Village, she had a cassette in her pocket. A friend gave it to the bartender, and next thing she knew, she was a resident DJ.
Talk about diving in head first to deep water: The very first party she ever played was "Rapture on the River," the huge evening event that takes place the night before New York City’s Gay Pride march, on the very same pier where 7,000 men dance the next night at the legendary Pier Dance. There weren’t that many female DJs at the time, so word quickly spread about Levine’s talent. She began playing everywhere from lesbian dude ranches to clubs like the PiedBar in Provincetown.
After a few years, she got tired of the endless travel and late-late nights, hung up her headphones, and scaled back. While sitting on the beach on Fire Island about six years ago, Levine was approached by a woman who asked her to spin at Therapy, a trendy men’s bar in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.
Now she’s back, having played fund-raisers for the Human Rights Campaign and "The L Word" premiere at the (now-closed) Manhattan mega club Crobar. Another chance meeting on Fire Island led to a regular gig at local bar Cherries. Two weeks later, she got a coveted spot at the Ice Palace," one of two gay discos on the island.
"The funny thing is, I didn’t mean to be a DJ the second time," Levine said recently. "Nowadays, a lot of kids DJ to get laid. But for me, I’m passionate about the music. For the first time in 15 years, I thought, ’I love this; I would love to do it again.’
Levine’s eclectic musical choices encompass Top 40, House, hip-hop, electro and Old Skool. She spins for Q-Girls, a party for professional women; has worked "Rapture on the River" three times; has her rotation at Cherry’s; and has done all the Manhattan "The L Word" parties. She can regularly be heard at Stonewall in Greenwich Village, and the huge men’s bar-nightclub Splash in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
She also likes to spin at parties for SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), because they give her the chance to play classic disco. But she takes pains to make sure that, as an older DJ, she keeps up with the trends. "When you’re old and do older music, you’re old-fashioned," Levine noted. "You have to play the stuff that everyone wants to hear; play what they know, and then you can turn them on to different things. But it has to be very commercial when you’re spinning."
That doesn’t keep Levine from flowing in some of her favorites, such as a Michael Jackson remix or CeCe Peniston’s House classic, "Finally." She happily reveals that she has dug up some old remixes of one of the most enduring of all disco divas, Chaka Khan, for her Dinah gig.
Summers spinning in Fire Island Pines, the other primarily gay community on the island (and the one with most of the muscle boys) has given her an ear for what gets guys on the dance floor: Those diva anthems again - Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, the late Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Madonna. But for the girls, Levine says, "I can get crunchier."
While she is thrilled to meet young DJs who share her passion for music, she abhors the unfortunate trend of "jukebox DJs," non beat-mixed, seemingly random strings of un-remixed Top 40 radio hits. "You’re getting paid!" Levine emphasized. "You need to put some imagination into your music!"
You have been warned: Expect her to bring this same take-no-prisoners attitude with her to Palm Springs. "I don’t go in and spin blind. I try to bring to the party to a place where there’s an emotional end. It’s a beautiful thing when your crowd walks out and has had an emotional moment. If you listen to the music and find that emotional drop...if you time it correctly, it will give you goose bumps. That’s what makes a great set. So if they give me an hour, I’ll rock it."
Levine has spruced up her DJ equipment - and her wardrobe (necessary for gigs on glammy Olivia Cruises). She has also hit the studio with an eye to releasing her own remix with a producer friend, a two-time Grammy Award winner. For the immediate future, she’s looking forward to playing the most famous women’s event in the world.
"For me to go to the Dinah and spin to a crowd that huge ... what a trip," she enthused. "I’m going to make it remarkable. It is an amazing opportunity as a DJ; it is the pinnacle of women’s parties."
DJ Von Kiss
Bay Area native DJ Von Kiss bought her first set of turntables and other DJ gear about 10 years ago. She is best known in the San Diego area, where she has been based for six years. She is partial to tech House and dubstep. "Electronic music is my passion and my love, and what I focus on," said Von Kiss, who counts Armand Van Helvin and Switch among major influences. But it’s her friend Diplo to whom she looks for the most inspiration: "I love his energy and the way he plays a set. He throws some random tracks in there that make people go crazy, and that’s what I like to do."
Von Kiss plays at U-31, El Dorado, the Ivy, The Hard Rock and Club Rich’s, but her favorite San Diego gig is Eden, a mixed (mostly gay men, but also lesbians and assorted friends) scene. But the new club is decked out in a distinctly high-end feel. She also likes the vibe -neither commercial hits nor hip-hop, but electronica.
Like other female DJs, she is fully aware of the musical gender gap. Generally, women, she said, prefer hip-hop, House and Top 40; guys, House, Hi-NRG remixes of diva anthems and her own favorite genre, electronica. But musical trends are always changing: At her Rich’s gigs, she’s booked to play hip-hop in the back room. But she’s seen more and more women receptive to electronica.
At the Dinah, Von Kiss hopes to open some ladies’ ears to the London electronica sound known as dubstep. It helps that she’s sharing billing with female rapper Rye Rye, with whom Von Kiss has toured in Tokyo and the U.K.
Von Kiss is planning to make her Dinah debut a night to remember. "I’ve been to parties where I’ll never forget a night that was well over 10 years ago," she noted. "Sometimes the energy and the music come together in a way that you’ll forever remember that party. I would love for it to be that experience for them."