In gay dance clubs, the bartender is crucial, and the doorman keeps the peace, but the hero of the night is the DJ. The DJ works not just as the person bringing the tunes, but also as ship’s captain, leading the dance floor into an open sea of remixes and creating waves of euphoria through matched beats. Rarely, though, do we hear them open up.
Until now. Seven DJs from across the Dallas scene candidly weigh in on the crowds they play for, the state of Dallas’ party scene and just where is it heading. From dance to country to even outside the gayborhood, queer DJs are setting the tone and making their mark, but now they want to be heard.
— Rich Lopez
Dallas Voice: How has the scene evolved?
Alex Guerrero: I’ve been going to Cedar Springs since I was 19 and it hasn’t changed much. The area could explore something more. The music has changed for sure and the lesbian scene embraces trendy genres like dubstep.
Paul Kraft: How we socialize as a community has changed. It’s a real challenge. Younger LGBT members socialize more in non-gay clubs. Clubs should adapt; smart ones are appealing to diverse patrons.
Scottie “Redeye” Canfield: I hear complaints all the time about how DJs can’t play a non-hit. I come from the “trust-the-DJ” era.
Blaine Soileau: I’d like to go more progressive. What I think holds [me] back are the constant requests for Gaga, Britney and Rihanna.
Micah, you are in Los Angeles now. Is the scene different there?
Micah Banes: The L.A. scene lets me play what I want. They are open to anything. I can play a dubstep track followed by disco and the crowd digs it.
How could the scene be better?
Redeye: I wish there was more diversity. [Back in the day], straight people went to gay clubs because the music was better; now, every place is carbon copy and they don’t have the balls to break out.
Soileau: It’s a challenge to break the migration pattern to Cedar Springs.
Banes: Yes! Blaine hit the nail on the head. I think Dallas is hurting on venues. The worst thing is getting the ’mos to experience different things.
Kraft: Much of the scene is held in hands of few — namely, the Dallas Tavern Guild. That doesn’t allow for variety. Caven controls much of the Strip and they [seldom bring in outside DJs], and it’s tougher for smaller indie clubs to finance guest DJs. Until we have more club owners like [those at the Dallas Eagle], willing to be innovative, nothing will change.
What is the Dallas gay club scene doing right?
Roger Huffman: Our crowd is the same, but we do see more straight people coming in.
Banes: Roger is awesome. He’s got it on lock.
Guerrero: [At Sue Ellen’s], we play to customers and fans. Crappy music doesn’t make us money and the DJs are doing a major part for the night. Great managers help.
How do you keep it fresh?
Guerrero: I know what I do for the lesbian crowd works, but sometimes there is a pressure if they want a different sound. For me, it’s about maintaining focus.
Soileau: I try to change up the music each time I spin locally. I’ll have favorites thrown in but people will definitely hear new and unreleased stuff.
Huffman: We may play some slower country before the faster stuff needs to happen — like the two-steps and the shuffles.
With the Purple Party, MetroBall and the like, how is Dallas as a dance destination?
Redeye: It used to be [great]. I would define the whole scene as kind of stereotypical. It’s the same thing everywhere and there are a lot of people who don’t wanna hear that.
Guerrero: Dallas is lacking in some parts. Station 4 just did the Glow Party and it was cool, but how much better it could be if we had more [of those events]?
Soileau: Bigger events are going by the wayside. Many of the circuit parties from the ’90s have vanished. I don’t think Dallas would support more. We can’t charge a cover because people likely complain.
Erik Thoresen: Yes. Because of one word: Pride.
Banes: Do you think it’s the support or lack of venues for the shrinking of party size?
Soileau: Micah, I think it’s just been done and new things are evolving.
Kraft: Trends change. It was sofa clubs, then bottle clubs, but I’m seeing a trend to dance more.
Are non-gay clubs surpassing gay ones in innovation with differing offerings like silent discos, guest DJs and live music?
Kraft: I can appreciate out-of-the-box inspiration; incorporating new ideas is always good.
Soileau: Yes, but silent discos were a cute idea, then buh-bye. I would love to see more guest DJs, but try charging a cover to pay for them.
Guerrero: I don’t see a big difference. The clubs I’ve been to are the same, music-wise.
Redeye: You can’t be in this business and be cheap. Clubs are about rep and bringing in someone that’s worth a damn will have more people in spending money at the bar. You have to invest in the bar. Beauty Bar has brought in cutting edge DJs from outside for $1,000.
As DJs, do you think live music options are good or bad for the scene?
Soileau: I’m not sure about more live music.
Kraft: As a dance DJ, the last thing I want is to build up energy to stop for a live act. Sue Ellen’s has done a great job with live music, though.
Huffman: I wish we had more options. A live band came in on our anniversary and we had requests for live bands but nothing became of it.
Banes: The Round-Up would be great for live music.
Soileau: But I don’t see a gay crowd packing a live venue.
Why is that?
Banes: There are not a lot of live acts that can pull in 300 homos to a club.
Soileau: That all would be nice but most of the gay crowd isn’t in-the-know. Back in the ’80s, I would have answered differently. People were thirsty for new stuff.
Guerrero: I know our customers enjoy the bands. There is nothing wrong with more music. What’s wrong with finding gay bands? I’m not a big fan of live music, but seeing them at our club, there is major talent out there.
What has been the best thing to happen to the Dallas club scene? The worst?
Soileau: We haven’t dissolved and faded away. The worst is how the Internet has taken a big bite out of club life.
Banes: Like Blaine said, the Cedar Springs migrations hurt, but the passion is still there.
Huffman: A good thing was the no-smoking ordinance — it made the atmosphere so much better. The worst has been the clubs that have closed.
Redeye: There’s always room for it to get better, but you need a catalyst, a vanguard. Try something out once a month, do something different. Baby steps.
Guerrero: For me, the worst is the drama. It puts people at high risk. Don’t bring the drama out!
Have Scruff, Grindr and social networks affected clubs?
Kraft: You can now order men like pizza. We don’t know how to talk to each other. I think people are getting over that and have more desire to get out.
Soileau: Absolutely. That’s why clubs are promoting alongside these apps.
Thoresen: What hasn’t changed is that people still go clubbing to party and get down.
As DJs on Cedar Springs, how do you respond to that migration?
Guerrero: Working on the block, I’m very lucky, but I know there could be more venues. We work hard to have a presence. I can’t imagine how it would feel if I didn’t get as much visibility.
Thoresen: It’s tough because I’ve been doing solid while other clubs have been up and down.
Huffman: I do like that the clubs are in one location. I think in part, that’s good for us.
Redeye: There is a market for it and I wish I could play in the community, but play cool stuff. I couldn’t get away with it, so I’ve always been at clubs that were on the fringe.
Where do you see the gay club scene heading?
Redeye: Gay clubs feel more segregated than ever. Maybe people think we’re progressing, but we’re really going backwards.
Soileau: It’ll always be in a transitional state. But they’ll be around.
Kraft: It could use more diversity and outside influences. Dallas isn’t known for being versatile. Having been a promoter, I will tell you: It was suicide to deviate. The guys here want what they want. It’s tough from a balancing standpoint.
So what’s your overall perspective on the state of the Dallas gay club dance scene?
Huffman: It’s good. As long as people still are coming out to have fun, it’ll continue.
Soileau: I do think we are trailing straight clubs [in terms of innovation], but it’s a cycle.
Kraft: It could be more current, innovative. The Cavens, the Okons, the Guild still have a hold and work very much in the old way. The Eagle has adapted and moved forward. Until we have more club owners determined to do that, the scene could stagnate.
Redeye: A lot has to do with the business of it. The DJ is there to educate, but if you think of clubs as a school, it’s like the audience gets to check out one book and everyone’s gotta share it.
What do you say to haters who say Dallas has no appreciation for music diversity?
Soileau: You have all these people that are living in a time warp with their relentless requests. If you want to hear your favorite song, go sit in your car then come back into the club.
Redeye: I’m not dissing mainstream, but it’s sad when a whole market is ignored. It’s like feeling ostracized in my own community for listening to something different. It doesn’t feel representative.
Guerrero: I feel honored to be in the biggest gay scene; being the only female is a blessing. I hope to spread my wings and make the lesbian community proud.
Banes: I’m excited about where gay music is going. We’re going to see a big change in the next five years.
Kraft: At the Eagle, you can see everybody having a great time together. That‘s the future. Separately things are weak, but draw a number of groups together and you see the strength.
Soileau: Just keep supporting your local clubs because when they are gone you will miss them.
Huffman: I agree with Blaine. The support is important.
Thanks, all. Now keep the party going.
Who’s who on the panel
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.