Last fall, Club Diesel's Thursday-night dance party known as "Community" devoted an entire evening to female DJs. A lot of ladies, both in front and behind the DJ booth, attended, but one of the biggest draws, Sista Stroke, was not there. The DJ had more pressing concerns, namely her eight-year-old boy, Lief.
"It was a freak accident," she explains after performing a shift at Club C2K's Friday Night Karma. "He was playing a game, kind of like Red Rover, and he was running 'cause he was being chased, and he collided with a girl. His left leg got wrapped around her right leg, and it just snapped at the femur."
The setback has been only temporary for mother and son, who both migrated to Houston from San Antonio last year so that Stroke could be closer to her Rebel Crew, the Bayou City-based underground group of which she has been a member for seven years. Lief is almost fully recovered now, which is good, because Mom has big plans for her son, who's been known to break-dance to her beats.
"I am so lucky that he wants music," Stroke says. "He feels it as much as I do. So I'm gonna feed everything I can into him, you know, and take him on tour with me. Take him on the road with me. And when he gets the skills, let him take over the deck, so Mama can take a break. You know what I mean?"
"Like a mother-son tag team?" interjects percussionist Annette Musick, Stroke's musical collaborator.
DJ, musician, mother of invention, if you will, Sista Stroke -- she just wants to leave it at Sista Stroke -- is a twentysomethinger who obviously has a different take on deejaying. You could almost call it maternal, if it weren't for her ferocious skills behind the turntables at a club, rave or whatever. Sure, she would love to reach the upper echelon of Houston DJs, joining the ranks of DJ Sun or Sean Carnahan. But for right now, she's just happy keeping y'all on the dance floor. And teaching her child.
And she's not the only woman in town working her woofers off for the aural and physical amusement of others. Female DJs have been staking their claim in this city's underground scene for quite some time. Aside from Stroke, you got girls like Agent A, Rocky B and Kid Likwid working it. Indeed, femme DJs are blowing up everywhere. Such spin specialists are making a name for themselves either in the mainstream, like the UK's voluptuous junglist DJ Rap, or in the cult scene, like L.A.'s underground queen DJ Irene. But these are only the most notable players. There are also turntablists like New York's Spacegirl; the Chicago troika of Dayhota, Colette & DJ Heather; Los Angeles's DJ Dazy; San Francisco's Charlotte the Baroness. Then there's the burgeoning number of distaff DJs coming out of Europe and Australia.
Still, increasing numbers don't necessarily translate into increasing respect, particularly in Southern towns like Houston.
"It's a novelty act here," says Levon Louis, a veteran local techno DJ who happens to share his home with another record fiend, Jennifer "Lotus" Gardner. "I've seen female DJs perform that were not exactly up to par with some of the male DJs. I have noticed some female DJs brought in from out of town and paid high dollars -- flown in to perform basically on the fact that they are female. They get a lot more attention."
"Because it's in a male-dominated industry," chimes in Lotus, who has been spinning for a couple of years now, favoring down-tempo, jazzy music over her beloved's hard electronica beats.
Says Lotus: "And when I see an all-female DJ party or a female DJ, I'm completely supportive. Whether she sucks or whether she's just trying or whether she's just out there having a good time, it's just really good. It's good to see that."
Albert "DJ Bizz" Rowan, a Houston turntablist who recently relocated to San Francisco (home of female DJ collective Sister) thinks he knows why distaff DJs have it so hard. It's the same reason why liberals have to suffer through four years of a floppy-eared idjit in the White House.
"I think there's a lot of politics that goes with everything," Bizz says. "I think, maybe, politically speaking, some of the girls don't get the chance they deserve. I think that's just the politics of it all, you know."
What kind of politics?
"I mean, there's a lot of politics," continues Bizz. "There's the different crews that only book a certain DJ, and it's, you know, cutthroat nowadays in the scene. I mean, it's not like it used to be. I hate to say that, but it's getting to that point."
Tanya Pelt, who deejays under the nom de guerre Soul Free, has played her eclectic dance grooves in such places as Club Waxx and the recently shuttered Instant Karma and Club Some. Free insists she hasn't suffered any gender discrimination. "It is an issue with some people," she says, "but with me, I haven't had a problem with it -- at all, not even in the least little bit."
But Free admits she has seen some "pushing and shoving" among up-and-coming DJs. "I've seen a couple of girls who deserved the spot, but not get the spot," she says. "I've also seen some guys who deserved the spot, but did not get the spot."
Sure, the intimidation of veteran male DJs plays into the mix. Yet for some neophyte spinners, the audience is more intimidating than the guys. "There's a couple of female DJs that I know that spin in their house," says Stroke. "But they won't think of coming to a party and doing it, you know. They're intimidated. They're a little worried of what the crowd might think. It's not so much being scared of other DJs .The biggest fear a DJ has is they won't dance."
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In the end, Soul Free says, it doesn't matter whether you're a man or a woman. What the audience wants is for a DJ to come correct. "The people that bring the music to you should be involved in living in the culture, in order for the people to enjoy something," Free says. "Because they're the ones who want to hear the dopest shit they can possibly hear. You're there to put the dopest shit out that they can possibly hear. If you're playing for any other reason than that, then you're playing for the wrong reasons."
Sista Stroke seems to be playing for all the right reasons. About a year ago, Stroke and her percussionist friend Musick launched their own "live PA ensem" called Groove Matters. Their motivations appear as pure as freshly fallen snow. "The whole goal for Groove Matters was to make music for our sets so we could jam," says Stroke, who plans to release the ensemble's tunes on her own label, Lief House Music.
Stroke is something of an evangelist for the cause of female DJs. Aside from her various projects, she also holds periodic DJ sessions at the Mars Music store at 980 Gessner where she works. It appears to be part of her plan to bring women DJs out of the dark -- and into the dark, where a whole load of people can dance to their music.
"I'd like to see more female DJs come out," Stroke says. "I mean, it's cool being one of the guys, you know. But it'd be really cool to have female DJs to kick it with, to do what I do when I hang out with my friends who are all guys 'cause they're all DJs, you know."