Even the endless gay dance circuit has its seasons, and right now spring is in the air. Up-and-coming DJs are blossoming, and the entire scene blooming in new ways, as new generations make it their own.
San Francisco-based DJ Lee Decker represents the next generation of the circuit, which is seeing major milestones this year, as the White Party turns 20 and the Black Party turns 30.
Decker himself is about to turn 30, just as heís making a name for himself in San Francisco and discovering his signature sound. His high-energy mix of progressive house, vocal house, and tribal sounds is getting play at Gus Presents parties like Colossus, where heíll be sharing billing with Floridaís Twisted Dee this Saturday night.
In addition to a weekly spot on Saturday nights at Social Club, Decker also spins at Palace (the Friday weekly at MIST that kicks off this weekend), Paradise (which returns at the end of this month), Adonis, and Underworld, along with some of the biggest names in the business. He's had the opportunity to work with DJs like Manny Lehman, Phil B, Roland Belmares, Alexander, and Kimberly S.
Heís ready to try his hand at remixing, willing to study to learn his craft, and able to turn his longtime love of the circuit into true passion for re-creating the kind of memorable musical experiences that are made only on the dancefloor.
How did you get started as a DJ?
Iím still fairly new at it. I started about 2 years ago, when Gus gave me my start at The Crib. But basically I got into it because, for a long time, my friends and I would go to different circuit events together, like the White Party, and after weíd get back Iíd always make mix CDs of songs that reminded us all of the trip.
I got so into it that, after a while, a friend suggested I try being a DJ, and he gave me a mixing lesson as a present. I touched the decks for the first time and immediately fell in love with it.
What kind of sound are you trying to create?
Well, if you come to Saturdays at Social Club, youíll hear me play happy vocal house and pop, recognizable stuff. But I also love progressive tribal sounds.
I like to think that my sound blends tribal and progressive, along with throwing in fun vocals. Especially with the younger generation, people arenít as interested I having a flat tribal sound last for hours and hours. A lot of people are wanting more peaks and valleys, and I say thereís no rules. Thereís nothing to say that, even if youíre playing afterhours, you canít throw in some vocals.
Thereís a huge generation gap right now, and while I want to be big and to play for everybody, at the same time Iím young, and Iím still building a name for myself. I donít have a signature sound yet. People are looking for up-and-coming DJs, and right now I just need to appeal to that. Iíd rather work on just being good right now, or being the best that I can be.
Who are some of the DJs you listen to?
I really like Manny Lehman and Joe Gauthreaux. Joe Gauthreaux doesnít release a lot of mixes, so you really need to hear him live, like I did in Miami. Heís someone I really look up to.
Iím also a huge huge fan of Twisted Dee. I think sheís amazing, and every DJ out there is playing her mixes.
I also really like (Italian DJ) Alex Gaudino. Heís got a track called ďCalabria,Ē with a sax sound, and most people know him from that. His is a great mix of progressive and electro in one sound thatís nice and refreshing, so I am trying to keep following his stuff.
I also love the Freemasons and DJ Escape.
Is it hard to shift gears from being a circuit boy to being the one providing the soundtrack for the circuit boys?
I definitely love to be out there dancing, and I get a lot of compliments about how Iím often dancing in the DJ booth. But when youíre dancing in the DJ booth youíre still working, and it can be stressful sometimes.
I worry a lot about putting on the wrong tracks, because itís like if you make one wrong move, youíll see everybody walking off the dancefloor. And every time I play, I worry that Iím accidentally going to hit pause and everythingís going to go silent.
Still, when Iím working and Iím a part of the nightís entertainment, thatís its own rush.
Youíve said you love T dance especially, and that DJ Phil B (San Franciscoís T Dance king) is one of your mentors.
I like working with Phil B a lot because we get along really well. Every time I have a DJ-related question I go to him first. Opening for him makes me happy, and sets a certain mood, because I know Philís really into it, and I know that the music will be upbeat.
I do love T dance. I love Fresh, for example, and I definitely love 1015 Folsom. I was really excited about Paradise and the idea of a new T dance in such a great venue, and I ended up getting a huge break the night I got to spin in the front room while Phil B was spinning the main room. There were sound problems and they couldnít pump Philís music into the front room, so Gus gave me a call.
Phil has such a distinctive sound, so when I thought about playing at the same time as him, I thought Iíd play something different. I had the opportunity to spin at peak time and then finish out the night, and the crowd really responded to what I was doing.
It turned out to be a fun, fun night for me. Itís really tough to get a break as a DJ, and it was definitely one of those right-place-at-the-right-time things. My MySpace and Facebook requests after that went crazy!
(A note from the Original Fag Hag: That night at Paradise was the night I fell in love with Lee Decker. He played an impressive run of Beyonce and Mariah, and we danced ďtogether,Ē for quite a while, him in the DJ booth and me on the floor right in front of him. Swoon!)
What kind of night moves you on the dancefloor?
I love Beyonce and Mariah. You canít really top that, but the dancefloor divas have taken a bit of a backseat lately. I love vocalists, probably because when I was younger there was a lot of Broadway influence on me.
Iím all about powerful vocals. Theyíre the reason that I put those CDs together for my friends after our circuit trips, to remind everyone of those special moments that we have together on the dancefloor, and the songs that make them happen. Now that Iím spinning, I feel like thereís many times when my friends would kill me if I played a set without an anthem, without something like an ďUnspeakable Joy.Ē
My friends and I, we are a very close group, and thereís something about being out there on the dancefloor with everybody and enjoying the night with the people you love the most. Itís just beyond words, especially if you get to travel. My goal as a DJ is just to keep people on the dancefloor, and to try to create that experience that Iíve had with my friends.
Iím hoping that I develop a lot in the next couple of years, and that I find a sound I get known for. I hope that sound will bring younger people out and get them involved in the circuit scene more than they are now, and I feel like Iíve lucked out on my timing in that regard. I feel a resurgence in the air a little bit. Itís nice to be a part of it and to be getting my name out there at this time.
If you could travel anywhere and spin at any party, what would that dream look like?
My dream party would be to play down in Rio for Carnaval. Aside from the high of being able to say I spun at Rio Carnaval for thousands of hot guys and girls, there are a lot of Latin DJs that really inspire me and that I play close attention to, like Alan Natal, Ana Paula, and Luis Erre. They are putting out beautiful sounds.
Whatís next for DJ Lee Decker?
After Colossus, Iíve got Adonis in April with DJ Phil B, and Iím spinning at Underworld for Pride. Doing a Pride weekend event is something really special for me, and Iím so glad to know that Gus has faith in me to pull something like that off.
Beyond that, I do all of my mixing on the spot, and I havenít produced any remixes of tracks myself yet. Iím hoping to get into that soon.
I also havenít spun outside of San Francisco yet, and I would definitely love to, though Iím doing pretty well here just gaining experience. In the grand scheme of things, Iím so new that itís nice right now just to get the experience.
I listen to sets I did just a year ago and think how much Iíve grown in one year. It makes me excited to think about what Iím going to sound like in another year!