All-Female DJ Crews Are Making Their Mark on L.A. Nightlife
DJ Jazzabella of Girls Gone Vinyl L.A.
DJ Jazzabella puts on her headphones and adjusts the music on her turntables with a deep look of concentration. As she gently places the needle on her next record, boisterous cheers greet her from the dance floor. It's 12:30 a.m. on a Thursday night and the Virgil, a bar in East Hollywood, is packed. Glasses clink, drinks splash, couples struggle past dancers and an elegant man in a white ruffled shirt sways gracefully to the beat.
A successful night at one of the longest-running funk nights in Los Angeles is not unusual, but this occasion for Dâm-Funk's recently retired Funkmosphere weekly event is different. DJ Jazzabella, whose real name is Priscilla Martinez, is not spinning a solo set but playing as part of an all-female DJ collective called Girls Gone Vinyl L.A.
Over the last three years, all-female vinyl clubs have popped up nationwide and become a more prominent presence at clubs and parties around Los Angeles. And they're earning the respect of their peers; the Funkmosphere crew, for example, are known to be highly selective about the guest DJs they book, so the invitation to Girls Gone Vinyl was significant.
"It's legendary," Jazzabella says of Funkmosphere. "Not just anyone can jump on and spin ... you gotta definitely develop your way up to get here. It's a privilege and an honor."
Jazzabella formed Girls Gone Vinyl L.A. in 2015 as a DJ collective made up of women of color who are bonded by their passion for vinyl records, obscure music and intersectional feminism. The group has played numerous events throughout L.A., including the city's biggest celebration of International Women's Day, Viva La Muxer at Plaza de la Raza. The vinyl club also features DJ Spiñorita, aka Angela Ramirez, and DJ Muezette, Muezette Alvarez.
"It makes me proud to be brown and be up there, because we have to have representation, you know? It needs to be there, and my goal always is to be a dope DJ," Spiñorita says.
Girls Gone Vinyl isn't the only rising all-female DJ group putting in work on the West Coast. In 2016, Oakland native Zakiya "DJ Lady Z" Mowat started B-Side Brujas, which features members currently living in and from L.A. Since forming last year, they have already played prominent events featuring artists such as Ronnie Spector and Kali Uchis. Most recently, Brujas were on the same lineup as 50 Cent, YG and Wu-Tang Clan at Summertime in the LBC, a hip-hop and funk festival at the Queen Mary in Long Beach.
DJ Lady Z was inspired to form B-Side Brujas by DJ Tuff, co-founder of Oakland collective Suavecito Souldies, who frequently invited her to DJ at their events. After collaborating with him to provide more visibility for women, Lady Z decided to take things a step further and form an all–women-of-color vinyl collective. The Brujas' other members include April "DJ Abrilita" Garcia, Moe "DJ Jani" Alvarez and Toya "DJ Chatoyance" Willock.
"Before it was a boys' club, and it was a very exclusive boys' club for all genres of music," Lady Z says. "It's nice to see the invitation for other women. They've always been there. There's always been women vinyl collectors and they don't get the recognition that they deserve."
In 2016, Roseli "DJ Black Lotus Rosie" Martinez put out a call on social media for women of color interested in starting an L.A. chapter of Chulita Vinyl Club, which started in 2014 in Austin, Texas. The post caught the attention of Linda "DJ Bien Buena" Tovar, Maryann "DJ Que Madre" Aguirre, Karina "La Infinita Tristeza" Ramirez and Liz "DJ Love Lite" Rosales. They came together at Que Madre's home, hoping to establish a friendship and play the music they grew up on, such as salsa, funk, new wave, Latin and oldies.
Not everyone in the L.A. chapter had previous experience spinning vinyl, but the collective gave them the opportunity to learn and receive support from one another, without worrying about the obstacles present in a male-dominated scene.
"It's challenging sometimes, you know? Because you have a lot of male DJs, you have male sound guys, male bar managers, male freaking everything," Que Madre says. "Going into that space, so many things are obviously male-dominated. It's very intimidating, and sometimes I feel like we have to be twice as good because we're women, because we're women of color especially, because we're playing records. It's challenging, but I think that's what the Chulitas represent. ... It's combating all that."
DJ Que Madre of Chulita Vinyl Club (left) on the decks with DJ Jani of B-Side Brujas at La Cita in downtown L.A.
All three clubs spin an eclectic range of music, as each member focuses on her preferred genres. For instance, B-Side Brujas collectively spin soul, electro-funk, disco and salsa of the Fania Records variety — and since Lady Z was recently in Brazil for three months, she has been adding a lot of Brazilian music to her sets. Girls Gone Vinyl also spin funk, disco and soul, but they individually specialize in genres like jazz, dark wave, hip-hop, house and '90s R&B. The diversity of music each vinyl club can spin has greatly contributed to their quick success.
As all three clubs have climbed the ranks, all have faced challenges dealing with sexism and male privilege in the music scene. Men hover over their equipment trying to micromanage their sets, or harass them by asking if they can go through the DJs' records. The members of Chulita Vinyl Club detailed a night when they were invited to play a prominent venue in L.A., only to be placed in the dark behind the sound guy and have their sets repeatedly interrupted by other performing artists. Bien Buena was forced to speak out and stand up for her crew, but she wondered if they would have received the same treatment had they been male DJs.
B-Side Brujas recalled an incident when a man on Instagram challenged members' knowledge of music based on their looks. "We think about music all the time, we share music with each other — like, I constantly listen to music no matter where I am," says Abrilita, who stood up to the male commenter. "To comment on our looks, 'Oh, you're pretty but?...?' It just made me so angry inside."
Beyond increasing representation and female empowerment, being part of an all-female collective has helped some of the women better understand their identities as women of color. Spiñorita and Muezette use their positions in Girls Gone Vinyl L.A. to explore their heritage, since both women were denied critical parts of their culture due to assimilation.
"My grandparents were like third-generation, so they were taught not to speak Spanish in school. They didn't teach it to my mom, so I didn't grow up with that," Muezette says. "[Girls Gone Vinyl] helped me to kind of fill the gap or the void of what I didn't have growing up."
The women in all three clubs express admiration and pay respects to the female DJs who came before them: Spinderella of Salt-N-Pepa fame, Bay Area legend and onetime Prince touring DJ Pam the Funkstress, singer-turned-DJ Lady Miss Kier of early-'90s dance-pop group Deee-Lite. They also cite many veteran female DJs from the L.A. area, including Mamabear, Han Chola, Monalisa and Asmara.
For Chulita Vinyl Club, though, the influence is much more contemporary.
"It's the folks who are here," Que Madre says. "It's B-Side Brujas, it's Girls Gone Vinyl. They inspire me."
You can catch Girls Gone Vinyl L.A. at the Abbot Kinney Festival on Sunday, Sept. 24 and Chulita Vinyl Club at the Tropicália Music & Taco Festival in Long Beach on Saturday, Nov. 11. B-Side Brujas have numerous events in the Bay Area coming up and will return to L.A. soon.
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