Circuit Chat - Dawna Montel

dawna

Dawna Montel
By John McHugh-Dennis (webmaster)

Dawna talks aboutthe differences between boys and girls and her long journey to success.

Oh, and her reaction to Sidewalk Talk, of course!

John:

The DJ space in L.A., it seems like its a pretty limited space at least it seems like theres not really a whole lot of well known DJs that are from L.A would you agree with that? Certainly not female

Dawna:

Certainly not female, but it just depends on what you mean by well known. Do you mean nationally known?

John:

Yeh or even within Los Angeles. Its really a handful of DJs that I would consider to be widely recognized.

Dawna:

Thats because I think theres really just a handful of premiere events. There are a lot of DJs a lot of really talented DJs its just the ones that get the high-profile jobs are a very select few. A lot of the same ones, and its hard to break into that cycle to be the new face.

John:

The only other female DJ name that comes to mind for me, and Im certainly by no means a circuit veteran, is Susan Morabito. Are there any other female names that you would consider to be high profile?

Dawna:

Lydia Prim.

John:

Thats true. Lydia Prim.

Dawna:

And I think theres a girl on the East Coast in Florida thats starting to come up thats been pretty good there.

John:

Do you think that being a woman makes it more difficult to make it in this business, especially in the gay club scene? Do you play pretty much the gay circuit now?

Dawna:

Ive DJd for 20 years. Ive played primarily for the Lesbian crowd, but I kind of feel I want to play for everybody everybodys welcome on my dance floor. As far as the Circuit events, I just did my first one in July. But as far as playing for the boys locally, thats been going on for about 2 years, and its been just since April that I pretty much concentrated on playing for the guys exclusively.

John:

What clubs are you spinning for them?

Dawna:

Spike, Red Eye and Fly for Will and Garrett, 2 dates at The Factory, a short stint at Mickys, and ICON... Ill be back at ICON again on August 19th. Ive also played Montage in San Diego.

John:

Where did you get started? Were you always in LA?

Dawna:

The first club gig I ever had was in Pomona, at Robbys with the guy whos still the Manager there. His name is Chuck Krump, and hes the guy who actually said "Come on little girl, you wanna put on these headphones and try this?"

John:

Really?

Dawna:

I actually had asked a DJ when I was probably 17 years old at the DOK... I used to go in there all of the time, and I asked the DJ: "Is there anyone around who could teach us girls how to DJ?" He kind of laughed at me and said "Nobodys ever gonna show girls how to DJ Night Clubs will never have woman DJs they cant hold the crowd!" That was my motivation. Three years later I was always hanging out at Robbys and they were going to start a Lesbian night, and Chuck asked me if I wanted to learn how to DJ.

John:

Is there a big difference in the kind of music that you play for the Lesbian crowd and the kind of music you play for gay men?

Dawna:

Absolutely.

John:

Really?

Dawna:

Yes. The Lesbian crowd is more radio-oriented. They like more of the R&B kind of soulful stuff. And the guys, well, these days its times are changing its computer generated music and just about anybody can make it and therefore it changes the sounds and the thrills of what we have on our dance floor musically these days. Keeping up with the times I guess thats what you get it comes out of the computer, anybody can do it.

John:

How would you characterize your style of mixing? Do you think that a DJ is more distinguishable by the type of music that he or she plays or more by a style?

Dawna:

I think its pretty much the way you play. I was always taught that theres 2 records theres record 1, record 2, and the whole idea when you put those 2 records together is to try and squeak out a third little mini-song in there if you can. Ive always been taught to have the longest overlay that you can. Thats the way I like to play.

John:

When youre playing at a club, how much of your mixing is affected by the crowd itself, and the energy and vibes that you get from them?

Dawna:

I totally feed off of the crowd. The more vocal they are and the more they give me, the more Im going to give them. It definitely helps. Its my job to get them going, and if I can get them to feed off of me, then its a nice exchange and we can have a pretty good time out there. Everybodys not in the same mood all of the time - I mean theyre not as receptive to new records as they might be there are some people that will just go crazy the first time you play a new record, and then the next time you play it, theyre like "Whats this?" Really, when you think about it, when was the first time that you heard Spanish Guitar, or Olive, and where were you, and who was the first one to play it? I dont think a lot of people really know. Id like to think it was on my dance floor But eventually as long as they all get it, thats all that really matters. I like people to have an open mind and to realize that even though were just DJs, we are hired to do something and everybody in this town is talented, and were here to provide a source of entertainment for everybody, and its pretty much just our interpretation of what our dance floor life should be.

John:

A lot of people associate you, at least in recent years with the Spike. Spike kind of had a reputation of being this dark, dingy hole in the wall where people would go to for their "last chance" at, well, I think most of our readers know what Im talking about. Lately, Spike has come to be known as one of the "the" after-hours spots to go and hear good music (the other benefits remain as well no doubt). Some friday nights there is a line around the corner. How did the whole Spike thing happen for you?

Dawna:

Sam actually had been trying to get me to come and play there for probably about a year and a half. I was waiting for The Factory to open up last year and I had a meeting with him and we just decided that wed try to do something on Fridays, and I definitely cannot take credit for Fridays all by myself theres the door man, theres the bartenders and the barbacks, and lights. It takes more than one person or DJ to make something run. Fortunately for us, there were no expectations - it was just kind of like lets just open the doors and have fun, and well see where it goes from there, and I think thats the key to the success nobody was expecting anything. It worked out in our favor. Sams a great guy to work for, definitely. He wants everybody to have a good time and he wants everybody to feel welcome.

John:

Do you have a favorite event that youve played? If you look back on the 20 years that youve been DJing, what are some of the memorable places that youve played at?

Dawna:

Long Beach Gay Pride. Ive been coordinating the dance portion of that event for probably the last 15 years. I hold that event very near and dear to my heart. The very first time I played at AXIS, the very first time I played for the boys, about 2 and a half years ago, that very first night I will never forget. I can see it as clear as day.

John:

Was that a nervous moment for you?

Dawna:

Yeh really, really nerve-wracking.

John:

Was every event you played prior to that a Lesbian event?

Dawna:

Or mixed events. I did a Boys on Boxes T-dance years before, and some different things, but I just, I think Groove Radio and my Long Beach Gay Pride event helped open a lot of doors for me as far as doing those types of events and getting the boys to at least hear me play a little bit.

John:

What was it that made you nervous about playing at AXIS?

Dawna:

Theres something about that room. Just like at ICON. When you stand in there, and youre looking down on the dance floor and you just, I mean, theres history there. There are a lot of people that have been there before you you dont want to disappoint. I totally respect and cherish our treasured past, but I think that theres a time to create some new traditions as well.

John:

There are strong opinions both ways. There are a lot of people who I dont know, I dont want to say are stuck in the past, because even today to listen to that music, it brings back memories, but were not all 40!

Dawna:

If it wasnt for that music, we wouldnt be where we are right now without a doubt. I have tons of it, and I love it all, but its a different generation.

John:

Are there any DJs that were mentors for you?

Dawna:

I think all of them. It sounds like a cheesy way out, but when you think about it, everybodys an individual, and for anybody to have to week after week get up there, and stand up there in front of hundreds and hundreds of people like we do and to give what we give its an emotional tug-of-war and you are emotionally telling your story and you are giving the people an emotional little ride sometimes. Its kind of like an actor or actress doing a one-man show. Youre up there, and when you mess up, its you. I think it takes a lot of guts to stand up there and to be creative week after week after week and to have people come and visit you and to have people like Mike and Manny and Steve and Ron and I cant name all of them, but all of them its not easy to do.

John:

Would you consider the L.A. DJ competition a friendly competition?

Dawna:

I think were creatures of habit, and everybodys kind of vying for like you said at the beginning of the interview, theres not that many prestigious places to play, or not that many prestigious events, so everybodys pretty much trying to jockey into those positions and at times it can seem like it can be kind of a cut-throat thing, but I think that we all just want to be able to tell our story and to be given a fair shot. I would consider myself pretty much friends with everybody that plays in L.A., and I would hope that they feel the same way about me.

John:

To the best of my knowledge, there are no truly mixed gay/lesbian venues in L.A. Why do you think that is? Is it musical tastes as you mentioned earlier, or is there something there that prevents it from happening? Would it be a risky endeavor?

Dawna:

I cant really put my finger on it. I dont think that anybody has really made an effort. When I was working for Girl Bar we did something with Manny and Eddie X called Fusion Dances that were kind of cool they opened up both sides of the clubs and theyd mix the AXIS side with the Girl Bar side. I think that its a learned process. We have to learn how to be a little bit kinder and gentler on the dance floor to the opposite sex.

John:

Its hard for me to put my finger on it I dont have very many Lesbian friends. I have maybe 2, and theyre not that close, and I think thats true for most gay men, and the reverse is probably also true for most lesbians, I dont know, maybe not.

Dawna:

I dont know. The majority of my friends are guys. I have some very close, close, close lesbian friends. And I have some very close straight friends.

John:

Your girlfriend by the way, is very CUTE!

Dawna:

She is, isnt she?

John:

Yeh, shes very cute.

Dawna:

Good girl.

John:

Yeh,

Dawna:

You know, I dont know if its just a different generation or what, I cant really put my finger on it, do you know what I mean? Its a difficult one to call because I have a lot of lesbian friends that like to go to the guys clubs, and I think that maybe back in the 80s and the early 90s when there really was a big emergence of lesbian clubs they were so strict at the door that when the lesbians did come with the guys it was like "Well you know, its ladies night tonight!" and vice versa for the guys that would bring girls to their clubs. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot as far as that goes.

John:

I can recall this is going back more than 10 years, but I can recall taking girls to clubs and the girls would tell me that they were just getting attitude from the people that worked at the clubs, and patrons just negative vibes they would get.

Dawna:

I think its a power struggle. I remember back when I was younger I had to bring several changes of clothes to go to the Night Clubs because if my shirt wasnt buttoned on the right side they werent going to let me in.

John:

I dont think its so much that way now.

Dawna:

I dont think so either, but weve been conditioned, and thats the groundwork thats been laid. I would love for that to change. I dont see why we dont make a more conscious effort to do that.

John:

Its nice that theres Girl Bar, a night for lesbians, but its kind of sad that we have to label things as "Girl Bar" or "Boys Night Out" and cant just have a night out!

Dawna:

Exactly. If the musics good, and the atmosphere is good, and the service is good, and the door price is right, then who cares? Theres plenty of room on the dance floor for everybody the music is for everybody, period. You cant segregate music its a universal language.

John:

The one thing that I definitely wanted to ask you about and give you an opportunity to talk about is the (former) Dawna Montel forum on Sidewalk Talk. It started out as a very positive commentary on your work largely input from your Spike fans, and it ended up with many negative comments, fired back with positive comments, and some vicious comments. It was the first time I actually took a forum down because of where it was heading

Dawna:

Thank you. At first I was just like, I dont know, at a loss for words, and I was from the get-go, was uncomfortable with it. One, I didnt know who posted it, I still to this day dont know who posted it, and I dont know if I really want to know who posted it. I am saddened that it got to be as ugly as it did and that people that didnt necessarily have the true facts felt that it was necessary to post some false things regarding myself and other DJs. I think that were all pretty much passionate and sensitive people when it comes to our work and to have your name up there and to have people just have the free will to make whatever comments it was very difficult for me.

John:

And it was difficult for me too.

Dawna:

I didnt even have to read it I would get phone calls every day. "Oh guess what?" And it just got out of control.

John:

I dont understand it. It seems like these people, they dont view DJs, promoters, club owners, as people. They think theyre a machine that they can just mouth off about.

Dawna:

My favorite comment actually was "they are just DJs". Well, yeh, we are just DJs, but we also happen to be artists, and we happen to be people, and we happen to have loved ones and family and friends and peers and industry relationships, and a lot of that can get destroyed. And it affects a lot of people the same as if it were me.

John:

I think even more than if it was you based on some of the people that I talked to.

Dawna:

Im very lucky, and Im very thankful that I have as loyal and as passionate of a following as I do. I couldnt ask for anything better than the people that love me. I wouldnt trade them for anything in the world, and Im very thankful for that. Its nice to see that come out of it.

John:

I guess if theres anything thats positive about it, you kind of see who your friends are.

Dawna:

But like I said, I know that every single one of the DJs that plays in L.A., or doesnt play in L.A., or played in L.A. at some point in time they all have the same following, and thats why its great that we all live in America, because we can all pick and choose we have choices.

John:

What events do you have coming up?

Dawna:

I just returned from Vancouver Gay Pride. I will be doing ICON on the 19th

John:

Thats with Ron Thomas also, right?

Dawna:

Thats right, my very good friend Ron Thomas.

John:

You were at Groove with Ron together, right?

Dawna:

Right. I actually had introduced Steve Tseplias the Music Director and Swedish Egil the Program Director back in 1986 and the 3 of us starting working together. I did the KROQ all-night radio rock mix with Swedish Egil that aired on Friday nights in L.A. from midnight to 3AM.

John:

So you introduced the two of them before GROOVE?

Dawna:

Before they even came up with the concept of GROOVE Radio back in the 80s.

John:

What happened to GROOVE? I thought that was such a great station!

Dawna:

I couldnt say that this was exactly what happened, but I think that at the time, Ken Roberts, the guy who owned the station, he was pretty much the last and only single-owner operator of a radio station. Its all corporate-run now and to have the money to compete with those larger corporations, it was very difficult for one man to do. He tried something that was ahead of its time and hopefully will be able to have something like that again.

John:

You think that will happen?

Dawna:

You know, I dont think there will ever be anything like it, but I think that in some kind of corporate way, we might have the remnants of it somehow. Theres GROOVE Radio International which I recently Djd on with Holly Adams on August 10th

John:

So ICON is the next local thing that you will be spinning at?

Dawna:

Yeh, on the 19th. Im also doing the next FLY with Will and Garrett on the 26th of August. I also do Spike every Friday night.

John:

Any final comments before we wrap this up?

Dawna:

Im glad you pulled that forum! Its summer time we need to lighten up and have a nice time, you know what I mean? Just remember that the dance floor is made for dancing, and be good to ourselves, and be good to your friends when youre out there on the dance floor and have a good time. Just let the music move you, and the rest is gravy.

John:

Its nice to have choices.

Dawna:

It is nice to have choices. And its great to be able to share music and to share smiles and to come out of your house and escape from the day and meet new friends and relax and have a nice time. I think that thats pretty much what its all about. It is a business, but fortunately we can have our friends at our business, and we need to have fun there too.

John:

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me!

Dawna:

Thank you!

 

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