By: Christina F. & Lauren Z. Photography courtesy of Tara Beth Photography
They’re the ladies that keep you movin, sweatin, and groovin, sometimes until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. You’ve seen them at Philly’s hottest parties and clubs from Center City to West Philly, shutting it down on the ones and twos. While you’re sipping your drink of choice, they’re hard at work in the booth, mixing the music that keeps you moving.
But beyond the booth and without the headphones, who are these women? Phillesbian.com sat down with four of Philly’s premier lesbian and queer DJ’s to get the scoop on how they got started in the business, their influences, goals, dreams, and more.
Ashley Brandt, aka DJ K.A$H, lives a busy life. Besides being the resident DJ at Sister’s Nightclub and spinning Stimulus and Pulse parties, she’s also a 4th year medical student at the Philadelphia College of Medicine, on her way to becoming an OBGYN.
“I started DJing in college at Swarthmore, and planned to give it up once I got into medical school,” she explains.
That changed when in 2008, she won Best Female DJ at the Equality Forum, besting out thirteen other local, well-seasoned female vets. The first place award opened doors for her, and soon enough, she was spinning at Sister’s, Pure (now Voyeur), Stir, Z-Bar, and more.
The 27-year-old, who loves spinning in Philadelphia, hopes to work her way into production, much like some of her influences, including David Guetta and Skrillex. For now, you can catch her showcasing her skills every Thursday night at Sister’s, as well as various parties and events throughout the city.
On what it takes to be a DJ: “There’s an abundance of people who want to learn how to DJ – everyone is always asking me to teach them. Anyone can learn the basics, but mixing is huge thing. You have to know bars, you have to know measures, you need to be able to count a measure in your head. “
On requests: “Requests are frustrating. To a certain extent, I consider is disrespectful. I think there’s a general lack of understanding as to what exactly we do as a DJ. Part of it comes from the fact that there are DJ’s out there who will just play whatever you want because they’re not mixing or transitioning, they’re basically just using their iTunes or an iPod and going right from one song to the next.”
Most random request: “Mandy Moore’s Candy – this girl literally asked me seven times to play it.”
On being in a relationship: “Jess (my girlfriend) is amazing. She’s maybe missed one or two events I’ve spun, at this point she’ll even get to events early for me and hook my equipment up. All those late nights can be hard, but we view it as time we get to spend together.”
On Philly: “It’s hard to see myself moving out of the tri-state area. Professionally, some of the best hospitals are here in Philly. There’s also a great music scene. I’ll definitely be here for at least four more years.”
Chaska Sofia, aka DJ Precolumbian, hails from Lima, Peru and has made a name for herself both locally in the West Philly queer scene spinning various house parties, including the popular Afrodesiac party, and internationally. She describes herself as a genderqueer DJ, musician, artist, media activist, and educator with a goal of building a space that’s free of racism, misogyny, and homophobia.
“I want to make a space that’s safe for people of all genders, all races, and all abilities because there’s no space for that. Who wants to go to a party and be encircled by vultures, ready to get up on your butt?,” she asks.
Her Indian roots influence her sound, and she uses a lot of Latino beats and Peruvian cumbias when she spins. You can see her in Brooklyn, NY, spinning the Hey Queen queer dance party, as well as various house parties, events, and benefits here in Philly.
On her sound: “I play music that I want to get down to, and that my friends want to get down to. I mostly play what I like to call, electro tropical madness, which is a lot of tropical bass, electric clash, indie and punk influenced music. I’ve been really getting into a lot of electronic, dark and witchy music which influences what I do. I just want complete madness on the dance floor. I play whatever gets your booty shaking.”
House parties vs Club: “I prefer to play house parties; it’s how I got started. I just think house parties are more fun. I started DJing because my friends in D.C. are part of the Anthology of the Booty DJ Crew in Washington, D.C. They throw amazing house parties and I really wanted to replicate what they did. So, I don’t want to move out of the house party arena, because I feel that it’s more intimate. But I do have some things in the works with clubs, too.”
On her biggest dreams: “My big thing right now is to make my own music. It’s always been my dream to have a band or group and tour together. That’s where I see myself going. As far as DJing goes, I feel really good where I’m at – I’ve DJed all over the East Coast, all over the country and in Peru. My dream would be to DJ more cities in Latin America like Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Mexico City. I get to DJ in Peru a lot because of friends so it’s really amazing to not only have community here, but to also have community internationally. I think about starting a music label for queer artists, as well, but that’s a BIG dream.”
Nikki Lopez, aka DJ NiiLo, started spinning in 2004 when she was living in Florida. She always loved music, but growing up poor didn’t allow her the opportunity to take music lessons and learn piano or guitar. “DJing offered an opportunity for music because I could go into a pawn shop, buy a couple records and scratch,” she says.
As a freshman at Bryn Mawr College in PA, she began doing parties on college campuses and gaining notoriety. Her sound is heavily influenced by her Latin culture, and includes drums, rhythms, percussions, heavy beats, and bass.
Today, you can find DJ NiiLo spinning at various Stimulus parties, local universities, and other events.
On collaborations: “I always prefer working with other DJs because I love bouncing off other people’s energies, talents and skills. So, I’m a big fan of collaborations and partnerships.”
On what inspires her: “The energy that I get from the crowd, specifically the individual people who are dancing and you can see the stress and problems on their faces. Just for that moment, for five to ten minutes, they’re not thinking about anything else but that energy – that’s what inspires me. It’s awesome to be the DJ and gatekeeper for that type of energy.”
On being an artist: “My biggest dream as an artist is to just be an artist and to be able to sustain myself as an artist. I think artists – whether you’re a musician, poet or actor – it’s always hard to do your art. Because, you struggle with the internal battle of, I need to get paid, I also have to survive, but I also love my art. I would love to be in a space in which I’m doing my art and not have to be worried about doing it.”
What’s next: “I’m working on creating a better social media presence. I’m building my website. I have a Soundcloud and a Mixcloud, too. I’m working from the ground up. Also, I’m working on starting a queer Latino monthly party here in Philadelphia.”
DJ Jovi Baby
In just two short years, Jovon Eldridge, aka DJ Jovi Baby, has built quite a name for herself in the DJ scene, spinning at various clubs and parties all over the city. In fact, in just four days, she’ll rock the Powerhouse 30 stage as the DJ for Asia Sparks, who is opening the much-hyped yearly concert at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I went to Temple, so I’ve been in Philly ever since then. I was always really in the social scene, into music, so DJing was kind of a natural progression of that. I bought turntables and taught myself,” she explains.
Originally from Massachusetts, DJ Jovi’s influences include DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ A.M., and DIPLO. You can catch her regularly spinning at Stimulus/Arouse parties, various clubs, and private events like weddings. Past credits include Outfest, the IndiGoGo Ball, Temple Homecoming, and the Autism Walk.
On using turntables: “A lot of females don’t use turntables. In fact, I always get a lot of compliments on using them, but for me, I never considered any other way of learning. These days, anyone can DJ – all you need is a computer – and it’s diluted the culture completely. I one hundred percent respect everyone that did it before me – when you used to lug in crates and crates of vinyl’s with your equipment. Your preference is your preference, but for me, turntables are the essence of DJing.”
On her ideal type of party: “My party would be very underground, a warehouse party type. I’d play all types of music – any genre of music would fly as long as it’s dope. I wish I could have one of those parties where people just come and rock out and are open to the experience of different types of music.”
Most random request ever? “Bob Marley Dubstep.”