Andre Shannon is a California native making his mark on San Francisco's dance scene by way of Canada and New York City. Hailing from Sacramento, a place he describes as "a great place to grow up and die in," he headed for San Francisco but then kept on going when a career in fashion called him to The Big Apple. Fast-forward 15 years and he ends up in Toronto, where a cute boy with turntables and a mixer introduced him to a new passion that replaced his passion for fashion.
He had always been a club kid lurking around DJ booths, but it wasn't until he immersed himself in boy beats that he realized spinning was his true calling. Breaking out at an underwear party on Fire Island, Andre took New York by storm and continued playing Toronto and Montreal. Three years ago he returned to San Francisco to share his unique sound and style with his hometown. This time, he says, he's sure of his future: "It's in the music."
I recently had the pleasure of stomping New York City's dance scene with DJ Andre Shannon, following him to Splash and Hiro, 2 clubs of legend where he easily jumped the line and cleared the velvet rope to take me into what had been his world. We danced our asses off and bonded heavily under the discoball, and Circuit Suzy couldn't wait to come home and tell everyone how lucky we are to have him back here by the Bay, where he hosts 2 parties at the Cat Club: the "dirty house party" Salon every 3rd Saturday, and Pornstar, a special event that features guest DJs and showcases the boys of porn. Check him out as he mixes up his East Coast sensibilities with his San Francisco sweetness to bring us a new flavor that's filthy, fierce, and fun.
When and where did you get your start as a DJ?
My first DJ gig ever happened back in 2000. Louis-Alain Robitaille, manager of the original Unity in Montreal, happened to hear a mix tape that I had recorded for his then roommate, DJ Giles Jr. Croteau. Based on that tape, Louis felt that I could handle a packed house of gay boys in Montreal. I thought he was crazy, but I couldn't say no to an opportunity like that. I made mistakes at first, but after 3 months I was offered my first residency, and it lasted a year. Living in NYC and being flown to Montreal once a month to my own residency did wonders for my self-confidence. I was officially a DJ.
How has the scene changed since you've been part of it?
In New York, the "big club" days are over, with the exception of places like Hiro, which is amazingly huge. These days it's about having a more friendly, less circuit feel, and the trend of smaller, more intimate spaces is finally making its way to San Francisco.
I welcome the change, because smaller venues, like the Cat Club, Mecca, and SF Underground, allow people to connect more with each other. That is something the dancefloor and we as people are losing. Being able to have that connection is what makes the vibe of any party. For my parties, the Cat Club is the perfect space. It's big enough to move around in, but not too big that you get that "OMG I just lost my friends" panic. BeBe Sweetbriar calls us "a big garage party," and, for me, that's a huge compliment.
What do you look for in a dance party? What kind of music gets YOU moving on the dancefloor?
To get me on the floor, the DJ has to make me feel it in my hips. Not so much in a tribal way, but there needs to be a beat and a bassline that makes you want to have "relations" on the dancefloor. It has to be sexy for me to dance to, or else I'm sidelined for the night.
If I go to a circuit party, 2 things need to happen: I have to have my friends there, and the DJ has to be fierce. One without the other won't work for me. I'm still going to The Black Party in New York, The White Party in Miami, and The Saint at Large's Halloween party ("Salem," with DJs Peter Rauhofer and Junior Vasquez), but in general the circuit scene doesn't really appeal to me anymore. I used to do those parties quite often, but I guess I've outgrown it. There's not enough of a range of music at those events for me, and I feel it's a scene that has come, or is coming, to an end. It's also really hard for me to watch these young boys (and a few men, too), overdose and fall out. To see that just kills my own well-maintained high. NOT cute, honey!
What's the biggest difference between spinning in San Francisco and spinning in New York City? What would you like to take from one scene and bring to the other, and vice versa?
The people that come to Salon have that New York attitude already - they want to party. That feeling of spinning to a musically educated crowd, like I did in New York, is still there for me. I could use a little more drama on the dancefloor, though. When you and I went out a couple of weeks ago in New York, we experienced the power that New York has when it comes to the club scene. The drama of it all! That basement at Splash surprised even me. It was such a rush, and you just felt it down below. That's the feeling I want to bring to my parties.
(Circuit Suzy interjects: I'll NEVER forget that basement at Splash, where we witnessed ballerinas busting out Vogue choreography, danced all over railings and staircases with the most amazing professional dancers, and werked the runway until we could barely even stand up anymore. And that's the "tourist" circuit in New York – on an "off" weekend! That's what *I'd* like to take from New York and bring to San Francisco, and from San Francisco, I brought glitter, flowers in my hair, and the concept of teeny-tiny workout wear as the only acceptable fashion option for really throwing down on the dancefloor.)
What's your signature sound?
Bebe calls it "sinful music that makes even those bodies without sweat glands pour salty fluid." I would have to agree with her there. My sound is dirty. That's what I like to spin, and that's what I like to dance to. My love for music crosses many genres, so I spin house, remixed hip-hop, and filthy electro, and sometimes I sneak a little tech in to give the mood a musical plateau. I blend it all up and it just somehow comes out dirty. Hopefully my music makes you want to strip down and dance close to that stranger next to you. That uninhibited feeling is what I want to convey – freedom to just be.
How do you respond to the crowd on the dancefloor and feed off that energy?
When my crowd is just swaying but not dancing, I know I have to add a little more funk into the mix. And I like not having to worry, when I play a new song – one that I know is really good – that people will shy away because they don't like dancing to songs they don't know and feel like they have to leave the dancefloor. At Salon, I have the kind of crowd that wants to educate themselves more about music, which is the perfect crowd for me.
How has easy access to digital music changed your job as DJ?
Over the years, music, especially dance music, has become more accessible to the people who frequent the clubs, so getting that "wow factor" on the dancefloor has become much more difficult for DJs. Back in the day, it would take months before the public, or DJs for that matter, could get their hands on a new Junior or Victor (Calderone) remix. If you weren't in the DJ community, the club was the only place you could hear that song. Today, you can hear the remixes on the radio or have them downloaded in seconds to your iPod.
Lately, I've been getting my tracks from a European website. They are so much more musically advanced than we are. For example, the song "Let Me Think About It" by Fedde Le Grande & Ida Cor was released in Europe in the early spring of 2007. Unfortunately, I had nowhere to play that song at the time, but now I can get my "wow factor" back, at Salon and Pornstar. I'm able to premier the music that I search out right in my own San Francisco club, so I'm living the American DJ dream, baby. Bring it!