SNEAK'S VALENTINE BEATS with DJs HEATHER, SNEAK, BEAR WHO?, GRYPHON and JASON HODGES Saturday (February 14), at Kool Haus (132 Queen's Quay East). $15 advance, more at the door. www.tripledecks.com Rating: NNNNN
You'd think that 10 years into her DJ career, Chicago's DJ Heather would be sick of her gender coming up in interviews, but instead she approaches the topic openly and thoughtfully.
"For me, being a woman has never been an issue, and I've never thought of myself as a woman DJ," Heather explains from her Chicago apartment. "Gender has been made into an issue more as an afterthought. People might be surprised to look up at the booth and see a woman, because they've never seen a woman do a traditionally male job.
"I used to be one of the few who were known, but over time I've seen the girls who used to just come out to the parties starting to DJ themselves."
Now when her name comes up, people think first of her superior mixing skills and creative techniques, without qualifying their praise by saying she's "pretty good for a girl." Heather is simply a very skilled DJ whose name has been made the good, old-fashioned way, through word of mouth.
"I've been fortunate to play as much as I do just on the strength of my DJing, as opposed to production. Not many people are able to do that right now.
"Playing outside of Chicago was more of a lucky thing; friends looked out for me, suggested me for gigs, passed on mix tapes to promoters overseas."
Her sound fits firmly into the framework of Chicago house, but for those not immersed in the culture, that term can be ambiguous. As Heather explains, the Chicago sound isn't as much about what records you play as it is about how you play them.
During one of her sets she could touch on harder, techno-influenced sounds, but she's just as likely drop some vintage disco classics if the mood is right.
"The Chicago sound has an element of aggressiveness, and takes the approach of making something extraordinary out of the ordinary. Chicago DJs will take the same records someone else might be playing and use the EQ, layering records, sound effects and whatever else is at their disposal to bring a uniqueness to the mix.
"It's about pulling all these sounds together, whether it's garage, techno, classic disco or house, and making it all flow into one piece. You might have a record from 1979 that goes really nicely with a brand new track, and when you hear them in a set they become part of the overall sound."