Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Women who give you the spins

Dyke DJs bring down the house

TAILSPIN. Former fixture of the Lookout's Friday Night Fixxx, DJ Jungle Jen, says being a woman was a greater barrier than being a lesbian when she first started spinning. But all that's changed. Credit: Publicity Photo

The dance floor is a populous and remarkably swingin’ habitat for young adults, regardless of their sexuality. If you’ve one- or two-stepped in any of Ottawa’s queer haunts, lesbian DJ Jungle Jen may have been the influential puppet master behind your moves. Jen, a 14-year turntable veteran, identifies as a house DJ, yet she possesses an trademark style which reverberates with club goers throughout the city.

If while you’re booty-popping, you happen to take notice of the person up in the booth, chances are it’s a dude in there spinning. In ’93, when Jungle Jen started carving her path through vinyl, a female DJ was almost unheard of.

Jen cut her teeth with a three-month unpaid stint at Le Club, a lesbian bar on the Quebec side which ultimately met a fiery demise.

“They basically brought me in the booth and said, ‘There’s the record, there’s the mixing board, see you at midnight,'” says Jen.

Armed with nothing but aspirations, Jen would step up to the deck and turntable for two hours a night, learning as she went.

“I taught myself basically; I got a few tips here and there, but I basically taught myself how to beat mix,” says Jen. Among the tipsters, Tactics DJ Johnny Rock lent Jen a teaching hand helping with the basics. After navigating the sharp learning curve, Jen secured a paid gig at Le Club.

Ottawa promoter Doug Muir has known Jen since her Le Club days and says her work commitment remains constant.

“Jen is and always has been a fun party girl who works extremely hard,” says Muir.

In the time before her legendary seven-year run with Lookout’s Friday Fixxx, Jen fought against turntables with speed problems and let loose a creative mind that would sometimes pair songs like ZZ Top’s “Legs” and Robyn’s “Show Me Love”. “They actually mixed really well together,” swears Jen.

Yet the dodgiest foe Jen dealt with was the sexist stigma attached to being a female DJ.

“It was a very uphill battle. I didn’t have any experience behind me, and I really wasn’t very good when I began at all. I guess it made me stronger.”

With high profile gigs like Girls Night Out and Montreal’s Metro Lounge under her belt, Jen insists that while being a female DJ may have been difficult, being a gay female DJ wasn’t as much of a hindrance.

“I always tapped [into] and concentrated on the gay industry,” says Jen. Additional conquests include Soda, Helsinki and Surface.

Former Edge staple Grace Yip emulates Jungle Jen’s sentiment. Grooving for four years now, Yip would rather spin at a gay establishment if given the choice, although she has made appearances at hetero joints like the Honest Lawyer and Suede.

A recent engagement at Heaven proved to be more than fulfilling for the burgeoning beat master.

“It was a really good opportunity and a blessing to get to use the same equipment as my DJ idols have,” claims Yip. “It’s a very different club from everything else in the city.”

Yip cites Cascade, Peter Rauhofer and Grammy-award-winning house DJ and producer David Morales as her major influences, as well as former Edge resident DJ Ilon.

“Grace is a wicked and diverse DJ which is hard to find these days,” says Ilon, who you can catch spinning at SIN, Foundation and Helsinki. “A lot of DJs are busy doing their thing instead of reading the crowd and playing accordingly.”

Ilon goes on to say that when he thinks of female DJs in Ottawa three come to mind: Grace, Jen and DJ Karyen. “I think they’re all doing a great job putting themselves out there as well as putting this city on the map,” says Ilon enthusiastically. “The great thing about all of them is the fact they’ve all got distinct backgrounds and styles.”

Yip gives kudos to the Edge and DJ Ilon as the foundation for all her experience.

“It was very nice of them to give me the opportunity to learn a lot,” says Yip. “It’s a very big jump from DJing in your bedroom to DJing for people and being paid.”

Yip’s signature style of “gay house” has landed her a permanent platform at Beats On Bank at The Buzz Friday nights.

“It’s not a straight night, it’s not a gay night, it’s just a whatever night,” says Yip.

“Everyone is welcome and there will be good house beats.”

While Yip held her tenure at the Edge, Jen was sustaining the crowds at the Lookout, and the two virtuosos have only recently met. And while “all good things must come to an end,” as Jen says of her exit from the Lookout, their newfound freedom has allowed the two to connect as colleagues.

“Grace is fucking phenomenal; I love her,” Jen enthusiastically states, and Yip concedes that Jen has set the bar for female DJs in Ottawa.

From spinning 45s in a childhood bedroom to feeding off a crowd’s throbbing pulse, these DJs have come a long way to please our pink, prancing public.

To any beat junkie with disc jockey aspirations Jen advises, “Keep at it. Practice, practice, practice. If it’s your dream follow it, man. I never thought when I was playing Eddie Grant’s Electric Avenue on a 45 that in the year 2002 I’d actually be playing a remix of it live as a real DJ.”