Lady D Q&A

This piece originally appeared on undergroundhouse.net in 2005. Cut to 2013 and Lady D has been featured in a movie about high-profile female DJs – proving she’s as relevant as ever.

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A couple of years ago I went to Chicago on a house music pilgrimage with a long list of DJs I wanted to catch, and clubs I wanted to check. But the city is so big and there’s so much talent that I stumbled upon many more names and places than I was expecting. One of them was Lady D in a little club called Tini Martini. She looked hot and powerful and was playing Paul Johnson’s very latest track – the one that goes: “Hey sexy lady, how you doin’ baby…” And just like that she got one more fan to add to her vast collection.

You’ve celebrated your 10th anniversary as a DJ this year: Do you think you’ll still be at in another 10 years time? 

Wow, well, it’s likely but I don’t exactly know in what form. Will I be touring and playing clubs? Sporadically, I suppose, if there is still an audience for that sort of thing – the world is changing as you know. The owner of a successful independent record label and apparel company would be more likely. Also, I have an initiative on UGH.net for Public Radio. If that is effective, maybe I’ll be on the radio like John Peel was for so many years. It wouldn’t be a bad way to celebrate getting older while maintaining my love for the music.

How long had you been partying before you got behind the decks? Were there any particular people that urged you to do it or was it just a natural step? 

In between getting an education, I was always into house music, from its very beginnings. I guess I had been partying since I was 12 when we thought we were “new wave” and would have parties outside of our elementary school, with a big boom box playing the B-52’s and Devo. But I actually started going out on weekends when I got to high school. We’d go to Hot Mix 5 parties at the local high schools. Just before I started DJing, I was going to clubs, underground parties, loft parties and raves. I was living with and dating a DJ so I would play with the turntables a bit.

But it was Begona (DJ Boo from Basic NYC) who heard me and said you should play out, and set up my first gig in a shoe store in Chicago. From there, it snowballed. But all the guys in the scene were very encouraging. From the first time I played Shelter’s main floor, being only the 3rd woman to do that, I felt the love and support from people like Derrick Carter and Diz and others. I always felt welcomed in that elite circle and after that, through the ups and downs, I always knew it would be ok.

I get all excited at the very mention of Chicago loft parties in the ’90s, but how was it to actually be there? What was the space and soundsystem typically like? Did people pay, like for rent parties or something? Were they advertised or strictly word of mouth?

Well it was very exciting to say the least.  People were so creative in their approach to party throwing. It was always something new to behold. You’d have to climb up a fire escape or crawl through a hole in a wall and once you got in, there would be like 500 people and a ceiling swing, club kids in costume, ecstasy punch, bowls of fruit, black lights, contortionists, circus mirrors, a whole beach with sand… I mean people got creative!!! And sometimes there wasn’t even enough sound for the space or there wasn’t enough power for all the sound and it would keep cutting out, but none of that mattered, people made the most of it and the music was what was important. There would be sweat on the walls, speaker phreaks, real dancers, like ballerinas and shit… It got wild.

There was hand to hand flyering – small palm sized kinko’s flyers sometimes with only an address on it – and word of mouth.  People paid off the cops and had security and there was no real reason for a while not to advertise; it was fully accepted, as if God said on the 8th day, “there will be loft parties”. It was completely outlaw but nobody complained for quite a few years. Some people did parties for rent, but those were more low key, more scaled down, more about getting off your face than creating a dance party/club-like environment, and those were cool too.

Who was involved in your first collective For Soul Only and what was the concept behind it?

For Soul Only was a rave zine I started publishing – made about 4 issues. Then it was me and Jevon Jackson and Mark Grant, Frique, Matty, Mel Hammond, Frank Orrall and E-Smoove as a DJ crew, so it was two things at once. It was me and all my homeboys. When I threw parties, they were my go-to guys. I always knew the music would be good with any one of them playing. I lived in a party loft and we threw our own sets there and in clubs, restaurants, and whatever venues we could find. We were a makeshift, grass roots marketing company of sorts.  Even if wasn’t a FSO party, we would help promote any event that any of the members were playing, either via flyering or email. Yes, I did email even then – 95-98, it wasn’t big but hey, I had AOL.

Are you throwing any parties of your own at the moment?

I’m working on some regular events for ’06.  I’ve been throwing about one big event a year and it’s always insane…I’m an old school party thrower, like I like to have a theme and a concept and I like to plan it through and through so it’s an experience and not just another night at the club.

How did you break into playing at major events such as Cirque De Soleil? Do you enjoy those types of functions as much as underground parties?

You know, it just happens. Someone knows someone and they tell them they have a need for this type of music and then my name gets tossed in a hat and I get picked from time to time. They can be enjoyable and they can be not what you signed up for; it just depends.

superjane

I’ve heard you, Colette, and Heather play individually but never together (with Dayhota) as SuperJane: How do your sets work? What do you have in common and how are you different?  

Playing together as long as we have in so many settings, we’ve tried all sorts of configurations but what we find works best is designated short set times and sticking to that so everyone in the group gets to be highlighted – because we approach it as we are all equals in the group. For example, if we have an 8-hour night, we will each play 30-minute slots until the night is over, that way no matter when people show up, they get the chance to catch us all. We always get the same amount of money and the same amount of time on the decks.

All of us play House so that’s our commonality; Colette sings which sets her apart and her track selection is very energetic, disco-ish and filtery; Shannon is big drums, tribal and latin influences and heavily layered tracks; Heather is very current, Chicago style house; and I am the one who plunges the depths of deep house vocals, old school tracks and mixes all of the above in the middle. I like to think of myself as sort of like the bow on the package, tying it all together.

People have various opinions about why there are so few women DJs: that they’re at home with the kids, that they’re less passionate about music… Why do you think it is?

Late starters? I don’t know. There have always been the guys who wouldn’t encourage a woman to play. So many girls I know have said: my boyfriend had tables but he would never show me how to play, or if I did he would complain about how I sounded, or the boys were too heavy handed at showing and it became a turn off. When I was in high school, I hung around the DJs at my school and they would laugh at me when I asked to play. Women are not less passionate about music, though. I just think we process that passion differently, maybe? We may be more content to appreciate while guys feel the need to create.

This summer you did the Perfect 10 tour to celebrate your anniversary and last year you did the Sexy Mined Tour; prior to that you did the Angels & Robots tour with Slater Hogan for Mixer magazine: Do you prefer organized tours to one-off trips? Do the tours tend to go to the same cities and clubs or do they vary depending on the theme?

The Perfect 10 and the Angels & Robots tours were both organized by PR/marketing groups. Sexy Mined was different because it was all my own design and it was strictly a SoCal tour – very microcosmic compared to the others but it still was a lot of fun – sort of like how many times can you play in SoCal in two weeks! The other tours were cool because I didn’t have to do too much of the organizing. With those two tours I was only responsible for the concepts and the art/creative direction. With each tour I have been going to different venues and playing for different crowds, which is less by design and more about what contacts the organizers have. Sexy Mined was meant to be more harder edged and was centered around a promo CD I had at the time called Filthy Animal, which was a bit mature in its approach – as in dirty – so I played harder for it.

I don’t have a preference as long as the venues are right, the crowds are enthusiastic and the details are handled properly. I always envisioned a very lounge-y tour too, so maybe in the future you will see something like that, where I play verrry deep and cerebral. The thing about different tours and different venues is, when you are diverse in your musical tastes, sometimes a promoter will hear you in a certain room and decide that’s your sound, but with me, I have different sounds so I can change it up depending on atmosphere. You will never get just one approach with me.

D’lectable is a gorgeous name: Who else is involved with your label and how are things going in light of the whole vinyl/digital issue? What are your plans for the label and your own production?

Thanks. It’s a play on the D in Lady D. It didn’t take me long to come up with that. Right now, it’s me and my biz partner Steve. He’s a CPA. I take care of operations and A&R and he handles contracts etc. We complement each other perfectly.  Sales are slow for vinyl and some releases do better than others but Syntax is conservative with their pressing amounts so we aren’t sitting around with a bunch of vinyl that’s not selling or returns etc.

As for digital, we will be working with BeatPort in the near future and possibly some others secondarily. We chose BeatPort because of their incredible functionality. After a year of checking out all the download sites, they win hands down in my opinion and that was the most important factor in our decision. The label has seven releases to date and more are coming for next year…we are reenergizing the image and musical direction so it will be a new D’lectable in 2006. I will be producing more in the next year: it’s what I want to do and I love to do edits so I will continue there and work my way up to full on productions.

Five years on from Naked Kaleidoscope you’re releasing a double-CD called “Perfect 10: The Sound of D’lectable”. Tell us about that project…

I know. It’s been a long time. Well, I was chosen to do a mix CD for The Westin group of hotels right before 9/11; after that they had to pull the project. I had been thinking about creating more follow-ups to Naked K, but I really didn’t get many offers. Then with my label being such a platform for artists and music, I started thinking recently I should do one myself. Because of the configuration of the 10 releases (seven released, three in the can), I have over 50 songs in my arsenal by some of the best names in the business. I don’t have to license anything and the artists on the label get another push with the associated publicity and sales. I want to inspire people: this is a CD that’s going to do that. It’s a lifestyle CD with the deeper cuts from the label. I’ll be doing some composing for this and making it more of a listening experience. The other disc will showcase my A&R talents with me compiling the choicest cuts from the label.

You’re also a writer: What was the first piece you had published and what have you done since then? 

It was established early on in school that I was a gifted writer and reader.  When I was seven I had some poetry I’d written published in a book of poetry. I won a writing contest when I was eight and had a play I’d written performed on public radio. I continued to write in college and my poetry was published in the literary magazine at my university. I didn’t think about writing for about four or more years after that. Then I got a Mac and desktop publishing seemed to be a way to make money so I started doing that. Then I started raving and wanted to create a magazine that celebrated the culture so I self-published a quarterly – it’s hard work doing layout and all content so I gave that up quickly.

I also started writing freelance for UC Music doing PR stuff, press releases and such. I thought I should write about music especially since I was playing and had that inside perspective. In 1997 I approached the editor of music at that time, Tamara Palmer, and I wrote some reviews for URB. I loved seeing my writing but I was more inspired by spinning. I’ve written for Discoid (Italian Dance Magazine), RockPile, Venus, 5ive and the Chicago Tribune, plus their digital publishing magazine Metromix. I’m editor for Theblacklistmag.com. Writing is a lot of work and until you do a lot of it, it’s not much reward. It’s still something I love to do, but I know when I write about music, it’s for the love. Professionally, I write for some ad agencies on a freelance basis, so that’s where I make money, but as they say, you pay it forward. When I write about music that’s how I feel, like I’m paying it forward.

Considering you’ve already appeared in documentaries and music videos, is there any chance we’ll see you on the silver screen sometime in the future? 

Only time will tell. Being a writer, I have been amassing some of my own story ideas… one of which involves a really cool record store but Hi Fidelity has been done… But really it’s not my focus now; though channeling my energy that way would be fun and it’s something I feel comfortable doing. For now, I just keep my focus on being a mom, as my son really likes acting too and he’s been doing more and more acting and modeling lately so I have to be stage mom for now.

Do you travel much or do you mostly maintain international connections online? Would you ever leave Chicago?

I travel some but not as much as others. If I could go out of town each and every weekend, and stay close to home during the week to do the mom thing, that would be ideal. It’s only my ideal because if I could get my work focused to those eight days of the month, then all the other time would be free to devote to being the soccer mom, and I really do enjoy that. Anyone who’s ever met my son knows that being able to drop him off at school and pick him up and volunteer there is extremely important to his growth and he’s a great kid because of it. I would leave Chicago for a warmer climate such as SoCal, like a second home for winter. But I wouldn’t ever really leave Chicago, you know.

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