Ever since she was a child, Bay Area DJ ThatGirl has been interested in street art and its connection to the hip-hop movement. However, it wasn't until she attended a rave in 1997 that she discovered her desire to channel this creativity into music, most notably turntablism. She soon purchased her own set of DJ tools and quickly gained respect in the community with her turntable skills and ability to uniquely set the mood for events as diverse as B-boy battles and art show openings. ThatGirl is also known as part of the Peaches crew, a weekly all-girl DJ party in the Mission that has been going strong for almost three years. We recently caught up with ThatGirl to talk about her love of art, why she is "that girl," and what we can expect to hear at her parties. She plays Skylark this Thursday for the Peaches party.
Give us a little background on how you got into art and DJing.
It all started off with a fascination for graffiti. In kindergarten, on the way to school each morning, our bus would pass by these walls that were always covered with crazy colorful letterforms. For some reason, I imagined a lone phantom artist behind all of it, who only came out at night to create. Although I didn't understand what I was seeing, I became obsessed with it. I would try absorbing everything I could, and drawing what I saw in a notebook. Pretty soon, I observed that this particular kind of artwork appeared throughout the city. I was amazed at how much this lone artist got around and I wanted to be a phantom artist, too.
It wasn't until a few years later that I really understood what I was actually seeing. My dad took me to the public library one afternoon and I spotted this book with cover art that resembled what I was seeing all around the city. The book was called Subway Art. I soon discovered that it wasn't just one artist behind it all, it was a whole movement of artists. I learned about this whole subcultural explosion called graffiti and that it was part of an even bigger movement called hip-hop. My mind was absolutely blown and my imagination went wild. I dabbled with graffiti for a few years and then eventually got curious about DJing. The '80s were definitely a creative golden era that I was fortunate to have been born and raised in.
How did you come up with ThatGirl as your moniker?
Being active in a male dominated subculture, I was always referred to as "that girl." I would always hear comments like "Oh, it's that girl," or "There goes that girl again." The label kind of just stuck.
How did you get into turntablism?
I got curious about DJing after attending my first rave in 1997. I was 16 years old. The party was held in a warehouse in Oakland called Homebase. The party was a Halloween event called Tribal Massive. Crystal Method and DJ Dan were the main headliners. In another room, DJ Qbert and Kid Koala held down a four-turntable set. On either side of them stood these giant, life-sized lava lamps. The ambiance was out of this world. They were playing all kinds of weird shit; I couldn't really pinpoint one genre. I remember the dancers getting down the whole night until the sun came up. The energy was amazing, and I was fascinated by the way these two DJs were able to move the crowd. After that I saved up to buy my first DJ-in-a-box set.
Since turntablism was so male-dominated when you started your career, did you feel more pressure to be at the top of your game for every gig?
When I first started, I found that some of my male counterparts were very supportive while others were very territorial. I even had one gig where the guys wouldn't let me get on the turntables at all, even though my name was on the bill. Similar to the graffiti scene, I knew that I was automatically under a microscope given the uneven gender balance, and that weak first impressions were very unforgiving. This uneven gender balance is what gave me the advantage of being noticed; however, I quickly learned that riding on gender and sexuality alone wasn't enough to establish respect or longevity. Bay Area music connoisseurs had a knack for spotting the fake and the gimmicky. I learned of the power and responsibility attached to my female sexuality. I recognized that before I could be in a place where I could rework any negative stereotypes into a constructive light, I first needed to be in a place where I could prove myself and be accepted as equal to male DJs skill-wise.
Do you feel female DJs are represented positively these days, or do you see some negative backlash?
These days there are a lot more female DJs in the scene, so gender is not as big of an issue as it used to be.