On the rooftop of the Ace Hotel, as night falls and downtown lights sparkle in the background, Adrian Sosa and David Ramirez try to remember how they met. It was ages ago, in the L.A. club scene where both have spent a good amount of time DJing.
Sosa is DJ Barbeau, who moved from Seattle to Los Angeles in 2001 and soon made a name playing parties like Lovecats, Miss Kitty's Parlour and Hot Dog. At the height of the electroclash heyday, he joined forces with performer Jackie Beat and club promoter Mario Diaz to form Dirty Sanchez, gaining a nightclub following with the song “Fucking on the Dance Floor.” David Ramirez, better known by his DJ name David Banjela, also played Miss Kitty's and Hot Dog and he counts Trannyshack and Black Unicorn among his credits.
Together, they've been tearing up the decks as Men's Club Soundsystem for about three years now. When they try to piece together the fuzzy details of how they became a tag-team force, Sosa drops a bombshell.
“David was one of my favorite DJs for a really long time before I approached him to do anything,” he reveals.
The look of surprise on Ramirez's face brightens up a dimly lit corner of the bar. “You never said that to me before,” he says, then adds, “He knows that he was one of my favorite DJs.”
Men's Club Soundsystem got its name from a night Sosa used to promote at Fubar in West Hollywood. The party didn't last, but the DJ partnership has. The mutual admiration is obvious when they play.
A few nights before they sat down to chat, Men's Club Soundsystem played Dragula, the monthly party hosted by the Boulet Brothers. The crowd was high-heeled and well-glittered, almost too gorgeous to break a sweat on a steamy Saturday night. Still, Ramirez brought the dance floor to a boil with an old club hit called “Percolator.” Sosa later nodded to the sexy '80s with a remixed Prince cut. The set was seamless, as though handled by a single musician, and the crowd got down.
Mega-heeled shoes can't get in the way of a good night on the dance floor and this was a very good night.
Theirs is a modern take on the classic two DJs collaborating using four turntables. They use different technologies—Sosa likes computer-based Traktor and Ramirez prefers to plug flash drives into CDJs— but the idea is the same. When Men's Club Soundsystem plays, it's about two DJs connecting through beats.
“We know each other well enough now where we just kind of know each other's songs really well,” says Sosa. He'll bring in other gear, such as a sampler, to help beef up the sound. For their biggest gigs, like a recent appearance at Seattle Pride, performers sing and dance with the mix.
Sosa is coy about how long he's been working the nightlife scene. He laughs before saying he's been DJing for “a long time.” He worked as a promoter and DJ in Seattle before moving to Los Angeles about 15 years ago.
Ramirez, an L.A. native, says he's been DJing for about 19 years—with the caveat that he spent the first few playing in his bedroom.
Ramirez, who started out in the rave scene, was a relative new kid when he started catching Sosa on the decks. The up-and-comer gravitated toward the house- and techno-influenced sounds Sosa played.
“Growing up in the gay community, there weren't any cool DJs that weren't afraid to mix electro, techno and house,” Ramirez says. He found playing underground-minded music at gay parties to be a challenge. “Specifically in L.A., there would be only a handful of promoters who would book me,” says Ramirez, “because in their eyes, I'm too edgy or whatever the case may be.”
As Men's Club Soundsystem, the two are picky about their gigs, which keeps them from having to veer too much into the top 40 when they play. “We say no to a lot of things,” says Sosa, “if we don't feel that it's our vibe.”
At Dragula, they're a good fit. Held monthly at Dragonfly in Hollywood, the drag-centric party attracts a fashion-forward, open-minded crowd.
“Dragula is not a gay party, it's not a straight party, it's a full-on mixed bag of 'anything goes,'” says Sosa. “If you have a freak flag, they just want you to fly it and come on down.”
Playing West Hollywood clubs, Sosa says, is more difficult. “Everybody knows that West Hollywood is about pop music and hip-hop and R&B and it's been like that forever,” he notes.
However, the two just landed a spot playing Sunday nights at IllumiNaughty at Revolver. It's in the heart of Santa Monica Boulevard, near old standbys like Rage and Mickey's, and offers an alternative to the pop-minded sound that blasts along the boulevard.
Inside the Ace Hotel bar, Sosa and Ramirez banter like they've been friends for a lifetime. They talk music and get in a few fun little DJ jabs. “We come from the same mold,” says Sosa, referring to their formative years in their respective hometown rave scenes. “We really understand each other's aesthetic.”