Pride Puts DJs in Spotlight

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Aug 13, 2013

Pride is a time when we march to show our solidarity and our strength. But it's also a time to celebrate who we are. For gay men -- and not a few lesbians -- that means dancing. Across the country, parties during Pride weekends put the spotlight on DJs, from the veterans, legends and superstars to the up-and-comers and local favorites.

In the wake of the double Supreme Court victories in June, this year provided an especially celebratory atmosphere. "It was more upbeat," said Morabito (formerly Susan Morabito), one of the DJs who played the WE Party in San Francisco, told EDGE. "The excitement was huge in San Francisco, with the striking down of Proposition 8. You could really feel it."

From the moment she stepped off the plane at the airport, where she saw rainbow flags everywhere, to the march itself, Morabito was blown away by the spirit of the whole city, which she found, in a word, "stunning. Gay Pride," she added, "is like our Christmas and always was, but this year, people were even more aware of it."

Pride has been associated with dancing since its beginnings in June 1969, when a group of disaffected gay men, along with a smattering of lesbians and drag queens, fought arrest by corrupt policemen. Joined by radical straight activists who couldn't resist a good anti-police action, the Stonewall Riots became the catalyst for gay organizations to form across the country. The next year, a brave handful of LGBT New Yorkers stepped off into the street and commemorated those heady nights of protest in the world's first Gay Pride march.

It's also entirely appropriate that the action began in a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. It might only have been a hot, sweaty, below-ground dive with a tinny jukebox, but by God, we were fighting not only for the right to be who we are openly and without shame, but for the right to dance with each other without fear of arrest.

Laugh if you will, but the fight for fundamental rights goes hand-in-hand with the right to have fun. The Beastie Boys had it right: You've gotta fight for your right to party!

The City Where Pride Began Rocks the Beat

So it’s probably no great surprise that New York City, where the modern gay pride movement started, should boast a lion’s share of the DJs who have become legends on the dance-music scene.

Let’s start this journey into DJdom with two men -- Junior Vasquez and Frankie Knuckles -- who learned their craft from the proto-gay DJ at one of the ür-gay discos: Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage. The Garage was, along with the Saint, one of the two Downtown Manhattan gay mega-clubs that flourished in the early 1980s and helped define the all-night gay musical "journey." But whereas the Saint was pretty much restricted to white men, the Garage’s dance floor presented a true rainbow. Black and Hispanic men, women straight and gay, drag queens and the transgendered shared the dance floor with some very cool white guys, such as graffiti artist Keith Haring.

The young Junior Vasquez began by working with Shep Pettibone, who promoted (and was briefly the lover of) a funky East Village singer-songwriter named Madonna. At a huge club who name has become synonymous with night-into-morning-into-afternoon sets, the Sound Factory, he honed his beat-driven sound. But it was Frankie Knuckles who has become known as "the godfather of House." After he moved to Chicago in the late ’70s, Knuckles took up residency in a club called the Warehouse, where he became known for his beatdown style. Named after the club and abbreviated, that became House, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward to 2013: Knuckles played a rooftop party on the day before New York’s massive Pride march. Junior, true to form, started early in the morning on the day after for one of his signature sets, featuring one of the true dance-music divas, Veronica (born Veronica Vasquez, no less). If you think you’re not familiar with Veronica, put your speakers on and blast your ears with this song, then get back to me.

On the other side of the musical spectrum, the night before Gay Pride in New York, several thousand gathered at the massive Roseland Ballroom to pay homage to the late Peter Rauhofer, the iconic gay tribal DJ who tragically died of a brain hemorrhage earlier this year. The party, called "Work" in honor of Rauhofer’s own parties, was a true gathering of the tribe. The DJ line-up was one of the finest amassed for any party, anywhere, anytime, including Miami’s Abel, Spain’s Chus & Ceballos, Eddie Martinez, Isaac Escalante and Marco Da Silva.

Rounding out New York’s A List of DJs was Paulo at Viva; Boris at Alegria; Eddie Elias at Verve; Lydia Sanz, Honey Dijon and Berlin’s Tom Peters at Matinee; and super-producer Dave Audé and Oscar G at the Pier Dance, where Deborah Cox and Cher performed. Whew! It’s no wonder that New York’s Pride pulls in partygoers from around the world every year to celebrate in the city where Pride began.

Superstars Play Coast to Coast

Not to be outdone, Los Angeles boasted its own sweaty line-up of DJs playing huge venues.

Two of L.A.’s top party producers, Masterbeat and Tom Whitman, teamed up for Wonderland, a series of parties throughout the June weekend. Manny Lehman (another DJ who learned his craft from the original turntable maestro Larry Levan); Alyson Calagna; Spain’s Manuel de Diego; Paulo; and Brett Henrichsen had Angelenos going from Friday into Monday morning.

Back East, Boston’s Rise featured Micky Friedmann for an afterhours set. Friedmann, whose interest in music dates back to his days as a soloist dancer with the Berlin Ballet, studied music at the Rubin Academy of Arts in Jerusalem. That combination of musical knowledge and experience as a classical dancer informs his sets. The Israeli, who is now based in Berlin, has become an international sensation for his driving beats, and he certainly did not disappoint in Beantown.

Rewind to the Left Coast: The same weekend as New York’s Pride, the highlight of the equally large San Francisco Pride was WE Party Vogue, the Spanish parties that have taken over gay dance floors coast and coast. Along with Morabito, Brett Henrichsen kept the crowd going all night and into the morning. Perhaps most significantly, the party took place at the Regency Center, which temporary light and sound systems transformed into quite possibly the largest venue San Francisco has ever experienced.

San Diego’s Pride has justly taken its place as one of the hottest in the country, thanks to local impresario Bill Hardt, and this year did not disappoint.

Circuit Daze on Saturday took place in a massive venue with the added advantage of an outdoor chill space. DJ duo Rosabel kept the party going into the wee hours.

The city’s most famous annual party takes place at the world-famous San Diego Zoo. This year, Andy Almighty and Wayne G spun. The Zoo Party has already become the stuff of legend for an incident that, it can truly be said, has not happened at any party anywhere on the planet and probably never will again.

Wayne G bumped his head into a giraffe foot. Yes, a live giraffe. He was about to be taken to the emergency room, when he came to life and drove the crowd nuts with his serious remixes. All 3,000 revelers had his back and it drove him to new heights -- giraffe-level heights!

Local Faves

It would hardly be fair to round out a look at the Pride parties this year without a shout-out to some local favorites. Because Pride isn’t only about the big names; it’s the season when we celebrate everyone in our community.

At the Boston Pride Festival, DJ Aga had the crowd moving, which is exactly what he wanted. "I don’t just play music, I play to the crowd in front of me," he said, "always teasing people with cuts of classics and new tracks."

In Washington, D.C., Town featured a superstar from New York, Hector Fonseca, but also Town’s own Ed Bailey. This year’s Capital Pride was a special moment for Bailey, who was one of the honorees. In addition to being a DJ, Bailey is an entrepreneur behind most of D.C.’s major clubs, including Tracks, Nation, Number Nine, and, of course, Town. He also has served on the boards or committees of several local LGBT organizations and is especially involved with the Crystal Meth Working Group of Washington.

Since this round-up started with a lesbian DJ, it’s only appropriate that it ends with a nod to the ladies.

The night before New York’s massive Pier Dance caps the Pride march, the same space hosts a woman’s dance party, Rapture on the River. This party usually features a female DJ, and this year it had one of the biggest names on the gay club circuit, DJ, Susan Levine.

Levine started her career in Provincetown in the late 1980s and continues to be a draw in that Massachusetts resort town. With regular gigs at Cherry’s and Sunsets in Cherry Grove, Fire Island, parties like the Human Rights Campaign Gala, and New York landmarks like the Monster, Levine has justly become known for her signature high-NRG, House-inflected sets.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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