This week on Queers You Should Know, We’ve got the undisputed queen of New York City lesbian nightlife, DJ Whitney Day.
DJ & Event Producer Whitney Day is a classically trained musician-turned party-rocker leading the pack of a new generation of DJs. Her career exploded in the NYC club scene, and she’s since built a name for herself as a music taste-maker across the US and internationally. Armed with an exploding fan-base, coveted residencies and an impressive gig list (including Cielo, Barclays Center, Webster Hall, Pacha, Marquee, Madison Square Garden, Tenjune, The Abbey, Hudson Terrace, Soho House, Avenue, Greenhouse, PH-D and more), Whitney’s momentum is unstoppable.
Hey Whitney, tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a born and raised New Yorker. I come from a long line of native NYC-ers. These days I split my time between New York and LA, and I travel a lot throughout the year as well. I love to travel. I think it’s one of the most important and rewarding things you can do in your life. My wife and I spent six months in South America with absolutely no plan and very little Spanish. It was one of the best (if not the best) experiences I’ve ever had. I’m so lucky I get to incorporate my two biggest passions in life, music and travel, on a fairly regular basis.
That’s incredible, I’m so jealous. South America was one of my favorite places to travel in my pre-blogging days. What do you do when you’re not DJing?
When I’m not DJing, I love to kick back, have a drink and be silly… or veg out at home, cook and go to the beach. But when it comes to work I’m a total perfectionist and I’m a hard-ass. I obsessively think about my events. I’m always coming up with ideas. But in general, I set really high expectations. Mostly for myself.
I mean… with the parties you throw, I have no doubt about that. What do you have coming up?
Right now I’m feeling extremely proud and excited that Pride is nearing. I can’t even believe the venues I was able to secure for June. Literally, not only the best clubs in New York, but all world-renown. Because of the music, the lights, the layouts, the vibe… I’m not even sure which party I’m most excited to DJ and to just experience.
How did you get your start as a DJ?
I always played music in some shape or form since I was a child. I would go to the NY Symphony every month with my grandparents. There was always funk, soul, motown and disco playing in my house growing up. I took piano, sang, and when I was ten I started playing trombone. I ended up playing until I was twenty and because of that instrument, I was admitted into LaGuardia High School, which led me to performing twice at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. I also received a scholarship to play in college, though I ended up pursuing a degree in Philosophy. I joined an acapella group there and met my now wife. I wrote the arrangements for the group and lead the rehearsals. While we weren’t very good, it was fun, and certainly a good life decision on my part.
During my Junior year, I bought turntables and Serato (a professional DJ software). I was already recording sounds, and creating more abstract tracks and beats with protools and ableton (music production and recording softwares). I started to collect vinyl and practice beat matching and mixing in my room. Once I graduated from school, I worked with a film score composer that I had had an internship with the previous summer. There, I began writing music for him, and mixing and creating sound design for various promos, indie films and tv shows.
When the recession hit, my job hours got cut in half, and so I picked up a second part time job. It was assisting an established DJ, who was also a known event producer in NYC. It was a short-lived but valuable experience. I got an interesting look into the business side particularly, and I also connected with another DJ through this (who, side-note, was my wedding DJ). He encouraged me and helped me out, and at around the same time a friend of mine from high school began managing a new bar that was just a couple blocks from my apartment in Brooklyn. It was called Sweet Revenge (now known as ‘One Last Shag’). He offered me a weekly Wednesday gig through the summer, and as time went on I improved, and the party became more popular.
From there I started booking other gigs in Manhattan. Lesbian parties, gay bars, boy parties, LGBT galas and charity events. There were points in the beginning where I would play more, a lot more for gay guys then I did for lesbians. But once I made the decision to start producing my own parties after a few years, my focus as a DJ and event producer shifted.
Honestly, Whitney, you are one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. I have a lot of respect for your work ethic and dedication to our community. Your work in events has definitely inspired my hustle. What kind of music influences you? What inspires you?
Oh wow, thank you Meg. Honestly, I’m moved by all types of music. But the common thread is always soul. Not as in the style, but the feeling. I find a lot of EDM or pop music to be rather ‘soul-less’ … it’s just missing that groove, that depth and humanity. When you listen to a track and it evokes some feeling (any feeling) inside you, then you know it’s worth listening to. That inspires me.
You’re well known for boosting other queer DJs and Entertainers. Can you speak to your philosophy on empowerment and community building?
I see a lot of talent coming up in the LGBTQ nightlife scene, and particularly with queer women. When I go out, I can’t help but really listen consciously to the DJ. If I like their style and sound, I’ll book them. Because my events are women-focused, I like for that to be reflected in the entertainment as well. I also try to mentor and advise some up-and-coming DJs. There are times this industry is a little tricky to navigate! I’d rather the people who look up to me learn from my mistakes. And I’m still always learning myself.
You mentioned in Vice that this Pride season is going to be big for you. What do you have in store for us for Pride?
Where to begin?! Well, I have four parties in June to celebrate Pride. Each party is unique from the other - the location, the DJs, the entertainment, the vibes… but the common thread is that we’re celebrating. It’s all about positivity, music, empowerment and raising the bar to the next level in Lesbian & GBTQ nightlife.
The first event ‘WE ARE Brooklyn Pride’ is coming up on Saturday June 13th from 10pm-5am+ (yes, we are going into the after-hours for this one). The location is the newest Clubland Paradise in Williamsburg, known as Verboten (‘Forbidden’ in German, btw). It’s a 10,000 sq. ft. converted factory warehouse, now state-of the art electronic music venue, housing 2 rooms - the Cabaret Bar and the Control Room, which has a surround LED screen and state-of-the-art sound system. This venue brings the some of the biggest, cutting-edge names in the DJ, production and club music world to play on their stage. The location is right off the Bedford L train, 1 stop from Manhattan, and in the thick of it all. I’m expecting close to 1,500 attendees, and we plan to put on a special night for them. I have 6 DJs in total, mostly NYC locals - M.O., Robi D Light Colby B, Amber Valentine and myself, one from Sydney, DJ Sveta, plus live dance & music performers. Like all of my events, the focus is always centered on the killer music.
The next event is my annual Pool Party at The Beach located at the Downtown Dream (hotel). It’s on Tuesday, June 23rd, from 6-10pm, so after work you can come over and enjoy a nice evening swim! I love this party because it’s not like anything else I’ve ever experienced during pride. ‘Hot & Wet’ (oh yes, I did!) is limited to 250 guests, and takes place at one of the coolest and most beautiful outdoor pool oasis in NYC. There is literally sand! And lounge chairs, cabanas, a glass-bottom pool, and DJs spinning outside! I set up some awesome drink specials, the food is awesome (and not crazy expensive), and most tickets are only $10 ($15 for you last-minute types) and they’re only sold in advance, not at the door. It’s really a chill, fun way to ease into Pride week.
Friday, June 26th is a BRAND NEW event called SHUT UP & DANCE. I am so beyond excited for it. I still cannot believe I got this incredible venue on a Friday night. Cielo is one of the top rated venues not only in NYC, but in the world. Every notable DJ has spun here, and once you hear the sound system, you’ll know why they love it so much. It’s actually a more intimate space, just one room, but it’s one amazing room. From the design, to the layout, and the lighting at Cielo puts the experience over the top. OH! And there’s a sick outdoor patio if you need a breather from the dance floor. It really is the quintessential New York Club. For this night I have a ridiculous DJ line-up. Miss Betty Ford from Germany is back (she spun @ Marquee’s ‘THE PARTY’ last Pride), as is DJ Amanda Louise from Australia (who spun at last year’s ‘Hot & Wet’ pool party), plus myself in there and DJ Theresa, Producer and Resident DJ of the Global Circuit Brand Matinee. These are some heavy hitters, but it doesn’t stop there! The hottest dancers who can MOVE that you’ve ever seen and a VERY special Live performance by vocal powerhouse, Niki Darling, singing her new Summer Dance Anthem ‘DONE’! Advance tickets are $15, $20 at the door. Space is limited, advance tickets are recommended.
Sunday, June 28th is the grand finale, ‘THE PARTY’. In its third year, this epic 9 hour Pride closing is the way you want to end your Pride, no matter what. Starting right after the parade from 5pm-2am, we blow the roof off of Marquee the #1 super club in New York and one of the best clubs in the world. From LEDs, to lights, screens, effects, and powerful sound system this venue has all of the bells and whistles. This year we’ve got a line-up to match. DJ’s M.O., Rocstasy, DuJour (Australia) and Myself spin through the night, but don’t forget to look up for a high-flying and rarely performed aerial act by Phoenix! Special appearance by NYC’s all-female Brazilian-Samba Drum Battalion, BATALA and live Performance from rapper Dai Burger!
WHOA, thats a lot! What if I can’t make it to NYC? Where can I buy your music? Do you have sets available to download?
I have a couple of mixes you can stream on mixcloud.com/whitneyday but I really encourage people to come out for a live show. Experiencing a live and on-the-fly set is the best way to hear any DJ.
Okay I feel that. Can I ask you a personal question? We see photos of you and your lovely wife all over the internet. Tell us a bit about your love story…
Hillary and I met in college singing in an acapella group, and it just stuck! We’ve been together through so much now, it’s like we’ve really grown together over the years. We moved back to NY after school, and stayed there for years. We got married nearly two years ago in Brooklyn, close to home and now we’re living a bi-coastal life together, with our two persian cats, Sonny and Ryan. It’s been a real adventure, as it should always be! Our love honestly does grow stronger as time goes on. We balance each other out, and we have a deep respect and understanding for one another. We feel really lucky everyday to have found each other.
Awe that’s so incredibly sweet. I know what you mean about that deep mutual respect. It very similar with Lindsay and I. We have very different professions, but are each other’s biggest fans. Speaking of fans, I saw your incredible crowd at Dinah Shore. Have you ever been recognized as a “Celesbian”? How does that feel? Cool? Weird?
Uh, yeah, haha. It’s interesting. I think I’m fairly low-key, but from DJing a ton and also playing a lot of the big lesbian festivals in the US and in the World, my name and photo has been floating around for a while on flyers, in LGBT and other press, so people will recognize me from time to time. It’s definitely sweet and flattering when people want to take pictures with you, and when they tell you that you’ve inspired them in some way, or that they love the way you DJ. That’s so cool. The best is when I’ve been traveling, particularly to these small cities in Germany, and people will come to my gigs with piles of professionally printed photos of me, all blown up and glossy and ask me to sign them. Like tons of them. I really wonder, what are they going to do with all of those autographed pictures of me? lol.
Hahahaha You’ll know what happened if they turn up on EBay… that gives me an idea… girl can I get your autograph?