| PEDAL TO THE METAL: DJ Velo keeps the wheels turning. |
IMAGE: johnathon allen
You'd think all these factors would lure a balanced crop of genders to the DJ booth, yet among the army of hipsters vying to control the city's turntables, it seems only a couple of dozen possess two X chromosomes.
What combination of geek chic and public knob-twiddling attracts so many dudes to the DJ's craft? Researchers are silent, but the fact remains that females who rock the floor stand out. Here's a glimpse at four of Portland's finest deck divas, who succeed in doing just that.
This thirtysomething former Nike PR manager turned DJ after moving to Portland from Chicago, where she was exposed to house music by founding fathers like Bad Boy Bill. Leonetti made the leap from PR to playing in 2000, when she met world-renowned Beastie Boys turntablist Mix Master Mike.
"We were filming a vignette for Nike on hip-hop culture and got stuck at Mike's house because our driver lost his keys," Leonetti says. "We just ended up hanging out, eating pizza and listening to him play. Finally, I got the nerve to ask him what gear I needed to get into it. He broke out a piece of paper right there."
Within a year, Leonetti scored her first gigs, and she's now hostess for Violet, a monthly showcase of Portland's finest female DJ talent at Red Sea. "Some people criticized me for playing out too early," she says. "But I learned quickly by being in the spotlight. At first I thought, 'What am I doing? You don't buy turntables when you're 30!' But it just took hold of me, and I had to go with it."
Last summer, Leo blew the top off Burning Man's "Illuminaughty" camp. What she may lack in experience, she more than makes up for in ability to connect with her audience.
Leonetti: "I dig progressive music, anything with that hard, bumping techno feel. I love interacting with live musicians and the crowd. Drummers, fire dancers and horn players often come to our Thursday-night shows at the Sea and jam. I like playing to a scene like that because you have to be responsive to the moment."
Velo's background as a dance-team coach and road cyclist lends her a natural instinct for getting down. She found her way to the turntables, like many of her peers, through an ex-boyfriend. Now in her third year of playing, she's made it her mission to subvert mixer misogyny. After networking with Sister SF, an all-grrrl Bay Area collective, she started a Portland chapter called Sister PDX.
"Not enough women play records," Velo says. "There's no logical reason for the imbalance. Guys are just as likely to train-wreck as girls. The worst part is when you're trying to play and some guy interrupts you to say something like, 'Can I show you how to do that?'"
Sister PDX lets women hone their mixing skills, swapping tracks in a casual environment. "It's pretty chill," Velo says. "Everyone brings a beverage and a stack of records, and we take turns spinning."
When she plays, Velo moves as much as anyone in the house, whirling around like a Tasmanian turntable devil, mixing back and forth between short dance breaks that run the gamut from modern progressive to full-on funky, always with a solid groove.
Velo: "I started out playing break beats at Conan' s Pub on Tuesday nights for a show called Virus, but now I play a lot of progressive house. I have a secret obsession for Indian and Arabic techno, but I need to get a CD mixer because a lot of the really cool Goa and Middle Eastern dance stuff isn't pressed on vinyl."
She moved to Portland last year from Nashville, on a mission to tap the West Coast's auditory aorta and make it thump. Soon after arriving in Bridgetown, her tantric turntable techniques were recognized and she opened a packed Ohm for international touring phenom DJ Heather. She describes the night as pure meditation: no outside thoughts, no brain noise, just a seamless pocket of sound encompassing everything in the room.
"I've been very blessed to meet the right people," Aizlynn says. "Dance culture is about connecting with people and spreading positive vibrations. It's a circle of give and take. You have to treat that with respect to keep it pure."
Aizlynn has all the elements for success, but what makes her stand out is the most rare quality on the music scene: soul. She's humble, genuinely personable and making the world a better place by pumping it full of positive music. What's not to like?
Aizlynn: "It's all dance music to me. I don't usually try to classify it. I think it's really important to stay versatile rather than attach yourself to a specific genre. One thing I do have is a distinctive ear for East Coast house. It's totally different than the West Coast sound you hear in Portland or San Francisco, which gives me a certain edge."
A femme fatale with the fader and classically trained pianist-singer, Mena cut her teeth at 16 with an all-male crew in Spokane. Sporting superlative skills and music knowledge, Mena migrated to Portland, where she consistently blew the doors off every decent club in town. After a year of riding waves, playing music and doing yoga in Oahu--"I would set up on the dock, point the speakers at the ocean and just crank it up"--she's back in Portland, bearing a mahalo vibe and a nice tan.
"When I step up, I don't want people to think, 'Oh, she's a girl,'" she says. "I'm a ripping DJ. Reproductive plumbing doesn't really factor in. The scene isn't about drugs, it's not about sex or gender, what you wear, or what club you go to. It's about getting sweaty, dancing your ass off and having someone up there who can make you do that shit."
Mena: "I love soulful house music--any kind of house, really--but I play a little of everything. In Hawaii, I spun a lot of drum'n'bass because that's what the Rastafarians wanted to hear, but I'm a sucker for any track with cool vocals and a great beat."
Catch Portland's premier XX DJs on the second Thursday of each month at Violet, a night of house music showcasing all- female turntable talent, live musicians, and fire dancers performing in two rooms at the Red Sea (318 SW 3rd Ave., 241- 5450).
Dig Mena Friday nights at La Bella Napoli (225 SW Broadway, 241-3465) when Picture of Sound hosts Dulcé.
Sister PDX meets the second Sunday of every month. Contact Velo for information: firstname.lastname@example.org. The all- grrrl crew plays out once a month; the next show is Feb. 28 at the Cobalt Lounge (32 NW 3rd Ave., 225-1003).
Aizlyn rocks Ohm (31 NW 1st Ave., 223-9919) on Saturday, Feb. 22.