At a hastily planned 1997 rave in a low-scale sports arena in Bloomington, Illinois, Chicago DJs Colette, Heather, and Dayhota found themselves obligated to rock a disinterested crowd drawn by cheap Xeroxed flyers. Working against the odds, Colette spun a thick house set and sang her own lyrics over the mix, her voice resonating one second, then swelling, full and throaty the next. Of the meager 100 attendees, a majority had gravitated to the dim corners of the warehouse in search of back massages. A sense of futility dominated the air as Colette continued, invoking the listeners with strains of “Rise up, Rise,” her head thrown back and eyes closed, to an oblivious crowd.
Three years later, on a packed Saturday night at Chicago’s well-established Metro club, SuperJane is in control. Dayhota contorts a loop into constrained tech-step acrobatics, creating a beat pendulum that swings wider and wider into final release. The thick silver rings on her index fingers catch light and glint at intervals, accentuating her dexterity as she tweaks the bass knob with each break. She hops and struts behind the turntables, looking sultry and satisfied.
As hundreds of dancers swarm to the hardwood floors, Dayhota drops a tune with a strapping bassline and an abandon that translates into limb kinetics in the crowd: arms flail and toes everywhere are smashed as rhythm consumes all present. Despite the sweaty and crowded conditions, everyone is dancing. No back massages are taking place in the corners of this club.
It’s refreshing to see appreciation, finally, for the artistry that is SuperJane. At the above mentioned sports arena gathering, there may have been 100 tweaked-out clubbers searching for Ecstasy pills rather than good beats. Here, listeners have gathered in search of one thing: aural sex.
The support evinced at the Metro is consistent with SuperJane’s growing global popularity. In recent months, the crew has been featured in multiple magazines (Spin, Time Out, URB, BPM), and their productions mixes are surfacing on several music labels (Seasons, Afterhours, Shroom, Classic, and Nordic Trax). So who are these four in-demand DJs?
Dayhota, Colette, Heather and Lady D have been involved in the Chicago music scene for numerous years, and their partnership grew out of both mutual appreciation for each other’s style and a solid foundation of friendship. SuperJane’s members met at raves and clubs in the mid-1990s and became intimate through their home city’s infamous 2418 North Avenue and Aberdeen loft parties, where they spun records alongside such producers as Gene Farris, Mark Farina, Freak, J-Dub, Diz, and DJ Sneak.
“We all became close in 1995, through those loft parties and clubs and shared musical taste,” recalls Dayhota. “Colette got turntables that year and we started practicing together. Our partnership naturally evolved.” Indeed, the group has spun as a collective at raves and clubs throughout the nation and plans on touring Europe next year. The SuperJane 2000 tour graced several clubs in cities ranging from Seattle to Detroit, and the next tour will eventually hit London and Paris. Although they share a common affiliation, the crew is far from homogenous. Dayhota spins barefoot, Colette simultaneously sings and spins, Lady D is both a record executive and mother, and Heather regularly spins in the international circuit. Together, these personalities and their quirks comprise a charismatic, colorful, and capable collective that reaches beyond novelty of their gender.
“SuperJane is an attempt to re-educate people about forgetting the whole mystique of being a female DJ. When SuperJane began, we were trying to mirror the approach of most parties going on, but with female promoters and female DJs instead of males. I’ve never really thought of myself as a woman DJ, but just as a DJ that happens to be a woman. I’m hoping people will be receptive to that.”
It seems that the music world has been nothing but receptive to DJ Heather Robinson’s authentic and discerning Chicago approach. Robinson’s been spinning for over 10 years, experience that affords her the ability to mix tracks seamlessly and effortlessly, one of the numerous skills required for DJ success in Chicago: “The number of DJs per capita there is high, regardless of gender,” she notes. “There’s a very high talent pool, and being in that environment requires you to fine-tune your style if you want to spin anywhere.”
Robinson’s talents have launched her on countless adventures, including appearances in clubs nationally and internationally. She has traveled with Mark Farina as a member of the San Francisco Sessions tour. In Europe, she’s spun in clubs such as London’s Bar Rhumba and at parties like Berlin’s Love Parade.
Like the other members of SuperJane, Robinson keeps a busy schedule. When she isn’t touring across the world, she works on music projects like her mix CD, Tangerine, released last year on Afterhours. “Even though I travel a lot,” she notes, “I try to make time for music.”
“When I first started spinning, there was a lot of recognition because I was a girl. Early on, I recognized that as a woman, being a DJ was both a help and a hindrance.”
So says Darlene Jackson (a.k.a. DJ Lady D), a woman who manages to come across unhindered and carefree despite the dance music media’s representation of her gender. In fact, there are several variables that could quell Jackson’s carefree attitude. The mother of a two-year-old child, Jackson juggles careers as both touring DJ and a full-time career as A & R representative for three labels managed by Strictly Hype Records (SHR).
With all this to do, when does she find time to relax? “I don’t think about it,” she says. “Between a record career, DJ career, and caring for my child, I keep really busy, so there’s not much time for myself. I find that I enjoy traveling to spin… I get on a plane to go somewhere and relax there, and that’s mostly the time I have to myself.”
Jackson’s recording career alone has been demanding. In the last year, she’s worked on several singles, including the wonderful “Champagne Lady” for Afterhours and a spoken word piece on the Body Music Label titled “Rhythm and Poetry Featuring Lady D.” Her full-length CD, Naked Kaleidoscope, was also released last year on Afterhours.
Jackson seems to enjoy this busy schedule. “I need a lot of change, a lot to keep me busy,” she explains. This desire for change seems to be a pattern in her life—she graduated college with a biology major and went on to medical school with the goal of becoming a podiatrist. After a brief attempt at the graduate life, she decided, finally, to take a break. “I realized I just didn’t want to be in school any more, so I worked all around Chicago… as an aerobics instructor, freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune, retail salesperson, and I even worked the skybox [at United Center] where the Bulls [play].”
Jackson’s odyssey from medical school to motherhood and DJ success has sharpened her resolve. “Although I need a lot of change, I feel I’ve gotten to the point where I’m driven towards one goal,” she says. “I’m resentful that Europe has a liberal radio where there is a place for dance music, and America doesn’t. [My desire to] overcome that is what drives me to get my music out there.”
“We get a lot of press about being women. We want to be known as DJs, not women. It will take awhile to get past the media’s hype about women DJs,” explains Shannon Ialongo, known in DJ circles as Dayhota.
It seems Ialongo has obviously transcended the. She is now locally and internationally respected both for her Chicago style of tech-house, and her residencies in Chicago hotspots like Mad Bar, Karma, Smart Bar and Crobar, among others. Remarkably, Ialongo will be traveling to Macedonia later this year to spin, a unique privilege previously afforded to very few DJs in the world.
Ialongo’s uniqueness is not necessarily specific to DJing: she’s something of a Jane-of-all-trades, with interests ranging from music production and physics to writing and graphic design. “I’m a full-blown Aquarius,” she says of her multitude of interests. “If Lady D is the sensible SuperJane, and Colette is the go-getter, and Heather is the intellectual, then I am the dreamer of SuperJane. I have so much energy and I’m interested in so much that it’s hard for me to sleep at night.”
What, then, does she plan on doing with her insomniac hours in the future? “I plan to have a CD out (titled Kisses and Music Never Lie) on the Music 101 label this summer,” Ialongo says. She’ll also work on a compilation CD with the rest of the SuperJane crew slated for release later this year. Ialongo’s also looking to hit the studio: “I plan on producing some music that is a bit mellower than what I spin. I’m an emotional romanticist, and the music I produce is always a reflection of that. It’s not as hard [as the music I play out].”
And what about that barefoot spinning? Ialongo often begins a set wearing thick black platform stacks and slips them off half an hour later. “Well, when I first started spinning, feeling the bass through the floorboards with my bare feet helped me match beats. I’m really a hippie at heart, and I love to feel comfortable, like I’m at home.”
“As SuperJane, we wanted to take away the novelty of an all-girl lineup,” explains DJ Colette Marino. “We all feel the same about music, and that’s what ties us four DJs together—that and hard work to get where we want to be.”
Marino’s work ethic has proven integral to SuperJane’s success. She became a student of music at nine years old and got involved in the Chicago dance music scene in the early ‘90s. This led to working with DJ Lego and singing freestyle over his DJ sets. Soon thereafter, Marino began working with DJ Sneak and nightclub promoters Deeper Than Blue. Her involvement in the music scene eventually segued to spinning. Marino borrowed an old set of DJ Sneak’s turntables and buried herself in music, practicing singing and spinning at the same time. She’s since partnered up with several labels over the last five years to release singles and a CD, In the Sun, for Chicago’s Afterhours label.
Marino is still managing to maintain a fast-paced lifestyle. She’s recently moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and lives with her boyfriend and fellow producer Angel Alanis. Marino is now on the road two to three times a week to spin. “I usually travel from Thursday to Sunday, and then I generally work in the studio Monday through Wednesday.” Despite this busy schedule, she’s managed to work on a new track for the A-Squared label that is remixed by KC, a.k.a. Kevin Cunningham.
Although the music life manages to keep Marino quite busy, she plans on taking on an even larger workload: starting her own record label. “I feel that if you’re making music, it’s easier sometimes to just do things on your own, especially with the exposure of the Internet. I wanted to take the initiative to start my own label. I’m ready to start my own thing,” says Marino. It seems that she has.
This cover story featured in XLR8R Issue 49.