by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
DJ Almond Brown is easily one of Seattle's most recognizable disk jockeys. And that's not by accident. He paid his dues, learned what he could from whomever he could whenever he could, and in 2012 saw his name and notoriety climb in ways he never thought possible. Seattle Gay News sat down with him to talk music, Seattle nightlife, and what it is like to spin in a club that Beatport.com listed as having one of the 10 best sound systems in America.
'The DJ is the most vital part of the customer experience,' DJ Almond Brown told SGN. 'We help define the most recognizable part of a property's reputation with what we present.'
In fact, Almond maintains, 'You can have the sexiest, most groundbreaking space, but if you don't have your programming aligned, and people walk away unsatisfied with the music consistently, it's all for naught.
'The moment you leave the confines of your home to become a club DJ, you have to be prepared to compromise and become less self-facing,' he explains. 'I'm not trying to educate or patronize my audiences, I'm simply charged with obeying the floor and putting asses on it.'
If you haven't already figured it out, DJ Almond Brown gets to the point. And the point that he is trying to make, more often than not, is the truth. In this particular context I think Almond has hit the nail on the head - DJs who don't give the people what they want clear dance floors all across this city.
Almond is not one of those DJs.
DJ Almond Brown's energy is infectious to be around. He is always in 'GO' mode. And I happen to think that is exactly how a DJ - a good one, anyway - is supposed to be. The way I see it, if you can't get excited about your own set, then why should I bother to get excited for you?
TIMES ARE CHANGING
Now is certainly not the time for mediocre skills. Something is happening to Seattle LGBT nightlife. Bar and club owners on Capitol Hill have been forced to raise their game as the throngs of Gay men who once filled their venues from corner to crevice no longer need the bar to get the boy. Due to the advent of mobile phone hookup apps, online dating and hookup sites, and a bad economy that is producing a generation of young men facing chronic underemployment, nightclub promoters have seen lines thin and crowds dwindle. Now, they actually have to work for it. So do the DJs.
'Gay nightlife in Seattle is in a state of transition,' DJ Almond Brown told SGN. 'I think it's been on the decline ever since the Timberline closed its doors.'
'The definition of what a Gay club is, is rapidly changing with the influx of straights,' he added. 'More specifically, straight women.'
Almond says that, locally, many venue owners and club promoters are 'forgetting to market to the male aged 25-to-45 demographic.' Over the past few years, he observes, everyone seems to be catering to bachelorette parties or straight couples. While Almond thinks that the Gay community should be welcoming to everybody, he believes that entrance into our community, including our bars and clubs, should come with a warning.
'Just come in the club and act right,' he said. 'And leave the heterosexual entitled attitude in Belltown.'
TOO MANY AMATEURS?
Almond describes the Seattle DJ scene as 'simple yet complex.'
'There are so many talented DJs, and there is a history that seemingly connects many of us in some way,' said Almond, who's been DJ-ing on and off for 25 years. 'It's political, entertaining, and brilliant.'
On the other hand, 'the market is oversaturated with cats fresh from Guitar Center with a new version of Serato, that don't respect the game's history and legacy,' he continued. 'It's further worsened by inept, self-proclaimed promoters that are more dedicated to elevating their personality than supporting the music and the genre.'
So how does DJ Almond Brown get ahead? Something he calls 'Werk!'
'Baby, I 'work' at Starbucks,' he explained. 'I 'Werk' the children when I step in the booth.'
NO APOLOGY NECESSARY
Seattle has a handful of Gay DJs who could be considered stars. Everyone knows their names. We know when and where they are scheduled to play. While Seattle struggles for a post-grunge, hipster national identity, the city's LGBT entertainers are lucky to get a paying gig now and then. The Gay DJ scene is no different from the drag scene when it comes to bookings. The good gigs go to the seasoned, more established DJs, while the 'starter DJ' gets the slow night or startup project. It is what it is, and to make it on the scene you've got to play the game.
For DJ Almond Brown, however, bucking the system has been par for the course. He is not a shit-stirrer or malcontent by a long shot. But he isn't a punk, either. The fact remains that he has, for whatever reason, challenged many people's preconceptions of what is a good DJ. When Almond spins, people listen. He is in control and people who were once naysayers end up singing his praises by the end of his set. They leave the club happy and Almond adds them to the number of clubbers he's made into House music converts.
House music is a genre that Almond says is most definitely not David Guetta. Instead, he describes it as 'payback for the demise of Disco.'
But that's not to say that along the way he hasn't taken a fall, hit a few walls, or had to go back to the drawing board and rethink his approach. In 2010 Almond tried a stint at Neighbours Seattle but his audience from Cuff didn't follow him there and the nightclub did little to promote his set, ultimately causing the DJ and the nightclub to go their separate ways.
One of his undeniable successes happened at the most unlikely of places - the Cuff.
'Years ago I heard that Cuff simply wouldn't hire Black DJs or support House music,' Almond said. 'The Cuff made the devil a liar, because the manager, 'Puppy,' was nothing but supportive and enthusiastic about giving me a shot.
'As a Black DJ spinning House music, in regards to the local Gay club scene I've had success,' he continued. 'It's the barrier between that scene and the straight House music scene that's been a bit more tedious to navigate.
'I've made inroads there as well, and if it weren't for Karl Kamakahi looking past my sexuality and simply at talent, I'm sure these past 18 months would have been much more arduous,' said Almond.
'There are a lot of Black House music DJs - there just aren't that many that straddle as many House genres I try to,' he said. 'Because I come from the Gay community, traditional 'heads' think I'm gonna come out playin' Sylvester and Gay anthems all night!'
Conversely, he continued, 'I don't go out of my way to fit into the 'Seattle House' sound. I'm still hacking away at the stereotypes, as I also had my share of resistance. But I'm hacking at it, and in the end, I won't apologize for my Blackness or others' ignorance.'
Twenty-five years ago, DJ Almond Brown did not exist. Well, he did physically exist, But he did so as Tacoma-raised Sidney Wayne Woodruff - a teenager who was eager to learn how to DJ and bought Van Halen's 'Jamie's Crying' and 'I Just Want To Be' by Cameo.
'I was born right outside of Tacoma at Madigan Hospital,' said Almond. 'I was born in a year that would make me a grown-ass man today. I'm old fish, bitch!'
Seattle means a lot to DJ Almond Brown because, he says, 'it helped put me on the map.'
'But I'll always be a Tacoma, 253 guy in my heart,' said Almond. 'Tacoma helped mold my musical tastes and provides that extra sliver of 'Please don't make me snatch you' attitude I live by.
Music has always been a part of his DNA. 'I don't do many things well,' he admits. 'But I live and breathe this music.'
'In many ways I thought of music as an escape as a child,' he said. 'Being bullied as the only Black kid in an all-white school, I would retreat to my room for hours listening to music. It's always been my escape and comforter.'
'I'd listen to everything from Elton John to Parliament,' said Almond. 'I think my parents thought I had a very mature musical taste. They would ask, 'How do you know about certain artists as a 5th grader?'
'Right now I listen to a lot of House,' he said. 'I'm constantly searching for music. But I love jazz, and have been getting into a lot of gospel too, lately.'
FINDING A HOME AT Q
Currently DJ Almond Brown spins at Q, the new Capitol Hill club that is grabbing headlines as Seattle's premier nightclub - Gay or straight. Although the venue has only been open since September, Q has made an impact on the Capitol Hill nightclub scene with an assortment of talented resident and guest DJs, a state-of-the-art Funktion One sound system, and world-class lightning design.
'Q is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence that I'm proud to be a part of,' said Almond, who currently spins on Thursday nights at Q and during special events for the nightclub as well. 'Q is complex, magical, and committed to music and me as an artist.'
In February of 2012, DJ Almond Brown played the biggest party of his career, the Seattle Red Dress Party with Deborah Cox as its headlining act and Gaysha Starr as host. Still, Almond vividly remembers the moment when he realized that Q was the place he always wanted to be - but never knew it until that moment.
'When I first played Q a few months ago I swear to God I felt like I was out of my body,' he said. 'I try so hard to connect to the crowd and transfer my energy. From the moment after I dropped my intro, everything just worked. I found myself shaking with anticipation. Every track seemed to elevate the crowd - they kept moving closer and closer to the booth.'
'I looked back at one point and C. Scott Smith, the owner of Q, just looks at me and mouths 'fuck,' and gives me a thumbs up,' he recalled. 'At the end of the night I was so overwhelmed from the experience and love I received, I was near tears. I could have done an eight-hour set that night.'
Although last year was a great time, Almond told SGN he plans on having an even bigger 2013. 'I have some great music coming out this year,' he said. 'I'm excited about a release I'm doing with John LePage and Paul Goodyear, which will be out in February. I have a great track with local recording artist Michael Allen, who also happens to be the first artist on my label.'
'If I keep up with the increase in demand, it will be a notable year for my music, and help get some more attention for our House music scene here in the Northwest,' said Almond. 'Production is my thing, and I'm definitely focusing on that much more in 2013.'
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