Inside a Studio City coffee spot, Colette recalls the weekend she first took to the turntables. She threw a party at her Chicago home, turning the kitchen into a scene resembling a nightclub. After the guests were gone, the gear remained, so Colette grabbed her vinyl and started playing.
It didn't take long to nail her first beat-matched mix. The future house music star wrote down those two songs — C.V.O.'s "Mighty Real Groove," a house interpretation of Sylvester's disco hit, "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and Flex's "From the Archives (Desire Edit)" — for posterity.
At first, Colette caught the DJ groove easily. Keeping up that rhythm proved to be more difficult. "It was challenging for me to learn, really, how to DJ," she says. Eventually, though, she got the hang of listening to two songs simultaneously and "not overanalyzing" her sets. "It took a while before I felt comfortable to go out and play in front of other people."
Two decades later, Colette has played in front of crowds across the U.S. and throughout Europe, Asia and South America. She has released several artist albums, including the crowd-funded 2013 full-length When the Music's Loud, and has appeared on numerous singles. This Friday, she joins forces with her hometown pal, DJ Heather, for a back-to-back set at the Viper Room.
While Colette has lived in Los Angeles for 15 years, and spent childhood summers here, her dance roots are in Chicago. The DJ and vocalist was just a teenager when she caught Windy City house heroes Derrick Carter and Mark Farina playing inside a loft. Not long after that, she started singing over her friend's mixes at parties. By 19, she was a club promoter. "No one knew how old I was," she says.
Colette was part of a team of women who came up during the mid-1990s house explosion. She learned to DJ alongside her friend Dayhota. The two practiced together, encouraging each other to keep going even when the mixes didn't work. Dayhota's roommate, DJ Heather, was already playing out at clubs and convinced the two to give it a shot as well. "We already knew a lot of women who DJed and we didn't think it was all that strange that women were DJing," says Colette. "Yet everyone else did."
The trio organized a party where every DJ was female and, ultimately, formed the crew Super Jane, with fellow Midwesterner Lady D as the fourth member. By 2000, they were touring. In the years that followed, Colette says that she has met a number of women who started playing because they caught a Super Jane gig.
"DJing is not gender-specific," says Colette. Back in the 1990s, she didn't understand why people were so shocked to see women behind the decks. "Twenty years later," she adds, "I still don't understand why it's always a surprise."
While outsiders may still talk about female DJs as an anomaly, there are plenty of other aspects of the club world that have changed. "It was really hard for me when I first switched from vinyl to CD," says Colette. "I really didn't want to do it." In the end, though, CD sets turned out to be better for the road. Colette no longer had to deal with getting vinyl across the globe or playing on turntables that weren't properly set up. Plus, CDs made it easier for the DJ to sing live with her sets and test out her latest tracks in the club.
Today, she still uses Pioneer CDJs and isn't quite used to the influx of digital DJs who haven't learned the technical aspects of the art. "It's strange to me to that there are people learning how to DJ now that don't know how to beat-match," she says. "I'm not mad at it, but I'm baffled. I can't imagine letting technology do all of that."
But the wave of computer jockeys has given DJs who learned the ways of vinyl mixing one advantage. Colette says that now, flubbing a mix in a club doesn't elicit a roar of disapproval. Instead, she says, the attitude is, "You're really mixing!"
Colette mentions her three-year-old son. When the time is right, she intends to teach him how to DJ as well. "I'm going to teach him how to play on vinyl first," she says. "You can't replace the beauty of vinyl."
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Colette and DJ Heather spin at the Viper Room on Friday, Feb. 27.