DJs Christi Mills and Chris "Mr. Bootsauce" Nalbandian, the couple behind weekly house night Unity, are sitting outside a Toluca Lake Coffee Bean not far from where they first met. That first encounter happened at a bar, but it's not a typical pick-up story. Mills was the DJ and Nalbandian did the thing that DJs often loathe: He made a request.
Neither remembers what song Nalbandian, who was hanging out with his hockey pals after a game, wanted to hear. It was something that came out in the '90s and, even though Mills didn't have the track on hand, it was something that she didn't find off-putting.
"Because he made an actual house-music request," Mills explains. "Usually someone who walks up to the house DJ is like …"
"Do you have Beyoncé?" Nalbandian finishes.
"And then they try to educate you on how more people would be dancing," Mills adds.
So, the two househeads exchanged contact information.
"I went back to my hockey friends, 'I just made a request for a track, she gave me her number,'" Nalbandian recalls with a laugh.
"Meanwhile, I'm like, I'm such a good promoter. I got that guy's number," Mills counters.
They became friends and, eventually, started dating. About 2½ years ago, Mills launched Unity with another DJ. Five months into the run, Nalbandian came in as co-promoter and DJ. He and Mills now run the weekly event together and serve as co-residents.
While Unity has roved around to a few different venues, it has since settled into One666, on McCadden Place in the heart of Hollywood. Yet this isn't your typical Hollywood dance night.
The Thursday night event goes down in a space that looks more like a living room than a club. There's a desk near the patio door that serves as a resting place for cocktails and beer. The DJs play on a small platform instead of a large, high stage. And, perhaps best of all, you can sit down without having to order bottle service.
In fact, at Unity, it feels more like Mills and Nalbandian have invited you into their home instead of a venue off of Hollywood Boulevard. It's an intimate but not exclusive party that attracts quality talent like DJ Heather and Tony Powell, both of whom have played Unity within the past few months. This week, they've booked a bona fide legend: Jesse Saunders, whose 1984 single "On and On" is often cited as the first house-music track.
"The purpose of Unity is to serve this house-music family and community, and we want people to feel that living-room feeling," says Mills. "We want them to feel that they're with their family in there. We want them to feel very comfortable and still get that great energy with the dance floor."
The two mention community a lot. Hang around and you'll see the promoters mingling with the crowd after their sets. It's like the parties that used to happen in this part of town before VIP tables and elevated DJ booths and lines that never seem to move.
"I love contributing to this beautiful scene," says Mills. "I feel very honored to be around all these people, the DJs and dancers alike."
Adds Nalbandian, "We really care about everybody who comes through."
Raised in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Mills took to the decks in 1995 and spent a few years playing across the Pacific Northwest. Four years later, Mills, who is also an actress, moved to Los Angeles. She has been promoting parties locally off and on for about 15 years.
Nalbandian has only been DJing for three years, although he started producing before that. A native of Montreal, he's a drummer with a jazz background who headed to Los Angeles in 2005.
As promoters, Mills and Nalbandian complement each other. "He can do everything that I can't do and I can do what he can't do," says Mills, noting that Nalbandian excels at branding and marketing.
Mills' 21 years of promotion experience has been a major benefit to the project. "I've learned a lot from her when it comes to promotion," says Nalbandian. "I kind of got to learn the dos and don'ts. She's very sensitive in who you have to promote it to and when."
On a recent Thursday night, their musical loves came together at the party. Deep house DJ Fred Everything was Unity's special guest. That was a big deal for Nalbandian, as the Canadian DJ was his introduction to house music. Then their friend and fellow L.A. DJ Master Kev showed up with Queen Latifah. For Mills, who played hip-hop sets in her early DJ days, that was a really big deal.
"When we were trying to decide on the name, 'U.N.I.T.Y.' was one of the first things that went through my head," she says, referencing the rapper/actress's Grammy-winning single.
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"That night," adds Nalbandian, "was perfect."
This week, on Thursday, June 2, Unity at One666 welcomes guest DJs Jesse Saunders, Joseph Munguia and Soul Fabulous. More info.