BENT is coming back! The 9:30 Club’s seasonal celebration of D.C.’s queer nightlife culture is kicking off 2020 the right way with a party on January 4. There’s going to be everything you’ve come to expect from a BENT dance party, including awesome local DJs and performers, but we’re especially for the return of D.C.’s very own Summer Camp AKA Shea Van Horn!
In honor of Shea’s return to the city, we reached out to another one of our favorite local performers, Chaz from House of Sonique, and had him come up with some killer questions for Shea. Keep scrolling for a look at the past and future of D.C.’s queer nightlife scene and grab your tickets for BENT now. Think of it as NYE’s part two.
Feature image by Jason Edward Tucker
When did you first start being a DJ?
My first time DJing was in undergraduate school in Seattle in the mid-90s. The guy I was dating and I tried it out playing acid jazz and trip hop music. I wasn’t very good and quickly moved onto other creative pursuits—drag!! My second foray into DJing came around 2006 at a queer party called Taint at DC9. The programming was an opener and closer split with a performance. Because I was hosting a variety show called CRACK (also at DC9), we decided to have Summer Camp (my drag persona) DJ the opening set and also do a performance to promote our CRACK show. At first it was a novelty, but eventually, I started getting better and decided to start a gay dance party called MIXTAPE with Matt Bailer in 2008.
How would describe your sound/aesthetic?
I have an eclectic taste in music, but I think the through line is dark, synth-driven, and electronic with a disco dance beat. I was born in 1970 so the first music that I was exposed to was disco (Donna Summer, ABBA, The Bee Gees), rock (David Bowie, Queen), and folk (Judy Collins, Anne Murray). Then in the 80s I started obsessing over new wave bands like Dead or Alive, The Eurythmics, Human League, Culture Club, Duran Duran, New Order, and Depeche Mode, early Prince. In the late 80s, I was a goth and soaked up everything on the Wax Trax and 4AD labels. This moved into Acid House and the sample-heavy sounds of bands like S’Express, A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State, and KLF. Moving into the 90s, I was definitely not into the pop sounds, instead I gravitated toward brit-pop or house: Blur, Elastica, Rentals, Pulp, Moloko, Deee-Lite. I also loved grunge…I was living in Seattle. I remember seeing Nirvana when they opened for the Melvins—there were probably about 40 people in the audience. In the 2000s, I started to get into a little more pop sounds: Kylie, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Sugababes, Robyn. For the last decade, there are so many amazing bands, and I’d say my setlists could best be described as “indie-pop” “electro-dance,” or retro (70s/80s). Even if the tracks I play are pop singles, they’re usually remixes that take the listener to a darker, harder, and definitely more electronic place. Oh, and also Peaches! Peaches! And more Peaches. J Sorry if that was a really long answer, but I could talk about music for hours.
When did you start Mixtape? Is it coming back to D.C.?
Matt Bailer and I started Mixtape in September 2008. It was a monthly dance party that we hosted all over the city for 10 years. We decided to bring it to a close as a regular monthly party in 2018. But we decided to make it an annual Pride event hosted at the 9:30 Club. We will be there in June 2020.
Who are some of your favorite DJ’s at the moment?
I’m not a big follower of DJs other than our amazing local DJs. To name a few, I always love sets by The Barber Streisand, Wess the DJ, Jacq Jill, and Keenan Orr. But really, we’re very fortunate to have a lot of amazing local DJs.
What’s the biggest difference between your first DJ set ever created and your most recent one?
My transitions are a lot better. LOL. But seriously, I’ve learned a lot over the past ten years. I don’t claim to be as technically proficient as many of my DJ peers in D.C. I think my style is more about playing a variety of music and focusing on sounds that you may not typically hear in gay spaces. Basically, my set lists are like a mixtape. Most of the time, I have no idea what song is on deck until I start listening to the current track and get an idea of what I’d like to hear next.
What was your highlight of 2019?
I can’t pick just one. From an entertainer perspective, hosting the Night of 1000 Moiras at Trade with Aaron Riggins was really special. I love working with Aaron—we have come up with a lot of great ideas as well as lot of weird ideas that’ve never seen the light of day. At this event, we had a built-in surprise that the cast of Schitt’s Creek was going to come on stage. I love that show and getting to see the crowd’s faces light up when the cast came on stage was incredible. And then I got to share the stage with Dan Levy. From a personal level, bringing the 2.5 years of living in India with my husband to a close by traveling to the remotest area of Kashmir was breathtaking. We spent two nights sleeping in a tent accompanied by our two local guides trekking around snowcapped mountains and wading through ice-cold glacial water. Each day ended with a hot cup of Kahwa (green tea infused with saffron, pistachios, cardamom, and cinnamon). The people of Kashmir are incredibly hospitable, warm, and have been forced into a terrible situation by the Indian government. If you’re reading this and aren’t familiar with the current conflict in Kashmir, I hope you’ll take some time to learn more.
What are your big plans/manifestations in 2020?
2020 is the year that I turn 50. I want to end the year feeling more connected: to myself, to my family, to my friends. I think the more connected and grounded that I am will lead to more fulfilling experiences: professionally, creatively, and personally. I don’t have any specific plans in place to help me get there. Just to work to be a more open, patient, and authentic person.
For your next gig, will you be combining live-performances with DJing?
My next gig is Bent on January 4th at the 9:30 Club. That performance will just be performing as Summer Camp. Most of my upcoming events are either me DJ-ing as Shea (usually at Trade) or performing/hosting as Summer Camp. But I have combined them before. One idea I have that is inspired by the last time that I saw Peaches perform at the 9:30 Club. It’s to do a one-person show that is me mixing music live and performing at the same time. Maybe it’d be a 30-second loop of a song followed by some dancing, followed by fuller-length tracks. There’d be a narrative and costume changes. I love a spectacle!
What are your thoughts on the lack of alt-gay spaces since Mixtape has ended?
That’s a tricky question. Certainly, the last couple years saw the closing of Town and Cobalt, but there are a lot of alt-gay spaces and/or parties in nontraditional venues. Of course, Trade comes to mind. But also you’ve got Sleaze at Wonderland Ballroom. You’ve got Desiree Dik throwing parties at Red Bear Brewing Company and Slash Run. When I think back on the decade of Mixtape, we were more often at spaces that weren’t gay by definition: Dahlak, Rock & Roll Hotel, Black Cat, 9:30 Club, Warehouse Theatre. During that decade, a lot of the folks who were also experimenting with queer parties were also testing out the possibilities of spaces. Of course, I’d love for more “alt-queer” spaces owned by queer community members, but until we get there, I think the community is showing great perseverance and creativity.
You have one wish for our queer community: what is it?
More support for each other’s craft and more humility in one’s own.
View this post on Instagram