Ten years ago, Kim Anh was a young gay woman and music lover who’d moved from New York to Los Angeles to work in music for TV. She loved club life, but when she went out in this city, she found herself feeling totally isolated. The DJ/musician, who got her start playing parties in Manhattan, would hit all the established gay and lesbian clubs in West Hollywood, but even when the vibes were good, she still felt like an “other.”
Ironically, she wasn’t alone. There were other “others” — she just needed to connect with them. So she threw her own party, and it was an instant hit. Booby Trap!, which made its mark at Sean Patrick’s Temporary Spaces in Hollywood, was one of those bewitching gatherings that had a core following (the coolest gay and bi babes in L.A., basically) but also had straights of both sexes wanting in, too. The diverse crowd was a big part of its appeal, but the music — led by Anh’s dynamic deck excursions — was always the biggest draw.
“I wanted to create a space where art and expression were sacred and the DJ controlled the vibe,” says Anh, who’s throwing a brand-new one-off bash at the Standard Downtown on Friday night called Our House. “I also wanted to create a more intimate experience. It was special because we somehow tapped into a scene of creatives who also felt like they wanted something different from the established LGBTQ nightlife culture.”
Anh was joined by powerhouse female DJs Daisy O’Dell and Anon at Booby Trap!, and surprise guests, too. James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem was a regular and told her it was his favorite club at the time. She says she never knew who she might be sharing the decks with each week. “One night it would be P from Chromeo, the next week Kim Ann Foxman, Ladyhawke, The Presets, Cut Copy, CSS, JD Samson, Nomi Ruiz, Light Asylum — the list goes on,” she recalls.
A military kid who traveled a lot with her parents (her mother is Vietnamese and her father is Sicilian and Mexican) and spent a lot time in the South before going to New York and then L.A., Anh started out being influenced by the New York-Chicago-Detroit trifecta of house music. “It was the soulfulness that connected me to house,” she says. “All the greats: Masters at Work, Frankie Knuckles, Roy Davis Jr., Derrick May.”
She spun at small raves and parties on the East Coast but didn’t actually get paid for her skills until L.A. and the Trap. The party helped her grow not only as an artist but also as a person and queer activist. “It is so meaningful for me, not only in terms of my career as a DJ but also as someone who could actively be involved in the political climate, someone who could rally,” she declares proudly. “Before Booby Trap! it was always about the music for me, but after it was about the community and the role that music plays in it. We hosted voter registration drives, rallied against Proposition 8 and were involved in countless fundraisers and helped to raise over $1 million for the LGBTQ community.”
Celebrating different cultures became important to her as her profile rose. “Creating more space especially for women, LGBTQ independent artists, and people of color has consistently been a main focus for all the events I host,” she says. “In this political climate where we have 'leaders' who blatantly express racist and misogynistic views, we have to be more vigilant than ever to create safe spaces and resist injustice. These may feel like trying times but each devastating blow creates a new uprising. Music is a powerful voice of resistance.”
Anh’s newest party, Tendencies (created with Chelsea Morrisey aka Bathhouse), was launched with this in mind. She sees the gathering, which floats around various L.A. locales, as adding to the diversity of underground nightlife. The femmes (and fellas) look fierce at her fêtes and the dance floor gets freakier and freakier as the night progresses, with Anh’s blend of old- and new-school house and techno driving the atmosphere. She's into soulful, warm, feel-good electronic music that goes beyond the EDM bangers heard at many Hollywood mega-clubs.
“I tend to agree with the opinion that EDM arose out of a 'bro-ification' of dance music; a need to scrub away the gayness associated with underground dance clubs and replace it with aggressive, in-your-face types of sounds,” she says. “And I think that translates into the energy of the crowd. When people try to talk to me about EDM, I’m just like, 'I don’t know her.'”
Still, Anh, who is currently working on a follow-up to her original music debut, the 2015 EP Shadows (Yellow Year Records) and had a remix of a track from Peaches' last album, admits that EDM has allowed more people to be open to underground dance music, and helped younger fans to discover the producers and DJs who first influenced her. It’s just the formulaic aspect she avoids.
“I’m known to play a vibrant mix of tracks but will also hit a flip into a minimal acid vibe,” she explains. “For me DJing is all about groove. I’m so guilty of building into that early-'90s vocal diva breakdown. I really try not to take myself too seriously.”
As for the obligatory “women in nightlife” question I have to ask these days, Anh says it’s actually an exciting time because “very necessary conversations” are being had. “It feels like there is a strong unification in the fight for equality right now,” says the DJ, who also has a residency at the Ace Hotel, a 3-year-old rager called Yowsah, every first and third Saturday, which she has taken to London and New York. “If you were to ask me whether we’ve reached equality, the answer is a very clear no. Booking percentages for men versus women are offensive. However, it feels good to know that we have a voice and steps, however small they may be, are being made to make changes and create space.”
Kim Anh DJs b2b with Chris Cruse and special guest Bathhouse at Our House! at the Standard Downtown rooftop on Friday, March 24. Visit DJKimAnh.com for more of her music and other upcoming events.
Los Angeles native Lina Lecaro has been covering L.A. nightlife since she started as a teen intern at L.A. Weekly (fake ID in tow) nearly two decades ago. She went on to write her own column, “Nightranger,” for the print edition of the Weekly for six years. Read her “Lina in L.A.” interviews for the latest nightlife news, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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