Whether at live music venues, lively cocktail bars or strobe-flashing dance clubs, the nightlife in Austin has traditionally been heavy on the testosterone. But thanks to the rise of a few notable female crews, the DJ booth is no longer a boys’ club. With DIY techno raves, open-mic hip-hop nights and more, these four lady-led collectives are making waves by appealing to listeners who don’t always see themselves reflected in the booth. Sound guys, take note: These women don’t need to be told how to plug in a turntable.
Austin's lady DJ crews
Chulita Vinyl Club
Austin is known for catapulting bands to national acclaim, but rarely do local DJs’ reputations extend outside Texas. Chulita Vinyl Club is an exception: The all-vinyl collective, established in 2015, has already expanded from its Austin base to chapters across Texas and California, with a growing membership of 43 DJs.
“We’re women of color, and each Chulita has her own identity,” says Xochi Solis, lead Chulita of the Austin chapter. “Within CVC, we individually identify as Latinas, Tejanas, Chicanas, Xicana and more.”
Chulita’s focus on vinyl means there’s more of an emphasis on vintage genres like Chicano soul and cumbia than on the latest club bangers, but the crew’s large list of DJs allows room for musical exploration—so much so that 28 genres are represented within the collective. The group also offers an opportunity for aspiring female DJs to advance their skills (without being subject to mansplaining), as Chulita Vinyl Club has an inclusive policy of welcoming novice DJs with a passion for records to join its ranks.
“It’s different learning from a woman who has been deejaying for 14 years than some dude who thinks he can show you just because it’s a male-dominated scene,” says Shavone Otero, a.k.a. Canela. “[At Chulita Vinyl Club’s gigs], I meet a bunch of other Chulitas who are all about the music, and we generally just have a good time.”
When Miss Manners blasts a boom-bap beat from the FM frequency of 91.7, you can expect conscious sounds. “We feel like mainstream hip-hop has enough misogyny, greed, violence and drug focus,” says Leah “Miss” Manners. “We try to avoid those topics and steer away from things that don’t represent the art form.”
Since 2007, she’s helmed 91.7 KOOP’s popular Sunday afternoon show Hip Hop Hooray, performed at events around town and cofounded Austin Mic Exchange, a weekly hip-hop night where on-the-rise rappers can sign up for five minutes of stage time.
Her radio show features roughly 30-percent local artists, and her ear to the underground made her an early supporter of legacy Austin MCs like Zeale and trending live hip-hop bands like Magna Carda. “I think terrestrial radio is vital to discovering new music,” says Manners. “You have your given playlists that’ll try to find you new artists on SoundCloud or Spotify, but that isn’t the same curation engine as someone who really cares about the scene.”
Of Their Own
Comprised of Girlfriend ATX (Ezra Edwards), Lolo (Lauren Franchi) and Breezah (Bree Rose), Of Their Own is one of Austin LGBTQ community's most progressive party starters. The group joined forces in January, but its members have a combined 20 years of experience moving crowds. Franchi and Rose are relative newcomers to Austin (arriving in 2014 and 2016, respectively), whereas most Austinites will recognize Edwards (who identifies as gender nonbinary) from birthday parties for divas like Beyoncé and their unapologetically cheesy Middle School Dance Party at Cheer Up Charlies, where ’90s tunes like La Bouche’s “Be My Lover” and New Radicals's "You Get What You Give" turn into epic sing-alongs.
Of Their Own’s format is unpretentious and anything-goes, with selections that include the latest Drake track and classic house anthems. Although the crew recently stepped out of the downtown scene to throw a party in an East Austin warehouse, its home base is decidedly Cheer Up Charlies.
“It’s the first place I played in Austin,” says Franchi. “I came down to DJ during GayCL, and my experience behind the booth that night was so welcoming, encouraging and lovely. The energy on the dance floor and in the space actually sealed the deal and helped me decide to take the leap and move to Austin.”
Follow Of Their Own on Facebook to find info on its regular gigs at Cheer Up Charlies and the Volstead.
Techno has never quite fit into Austin’s musical landscape, so the ladies of Pleasure Escape had to take measures into their own hands. Led by Deep Creep (Sasha Cwalino) and Malika (Sarah Malika) with a rotating cast including Cap’n Tits (Samantha Garrett), Trinidad Trini (Katrina Fairlee) and Mary Magdalena (Zoe Darsee), Pleasure Escape has built a reputation for throwing don’t-call-them-raves in unusual locations like warehouses and Mexican restaurants, with the address often kept secret until the day of the event.
“We didn’t necessarily start by avoiding traditional club environments; if anything, no one would give us a chance to play,” says Cwalino. “We also didn’t like the idea of stopping the music when the bar shuts down at 2am.”
Pleasure Escape’s techno-dungeon aesthetic extends to darkening the dining room of Tamale House East after closing or taking over art spaces like ATM Gallery. Their soundtrack features kick drums and doomsday synths over pulsing bass lines—music that’s best enjoyed at ear-splitting volumes.
“I want to take people out of their daily headspace of stress and normalcy to escape to something where they can lose themselves within the music and atmosphere,” says Cwalino.
Follow Pleasure Escape on Facebook to find out what dark warehouse space it’s fogging next.