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Embracing the ugly: DJ Big Ugly sets the beat for Capitol Hill

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DJ Big Ugly — Courtesy photo
DJ Big Ugly — Courtesy photo

Being "ugly" has never been so cool, thanks to event coordinator DJ Big Ugly, who has also been performing in Seattle as a DJ, specifically for the LGBTQ+ community over the last 15 years, although even that's not all he does.

"I'm a picture framer," he said. "Picture framer by day, DJ by night. I'm a lighting designer ...and stage managing burlesque as well. Managing multiple hats there."

When Big Ugly isn't at Frame Central, he is usually crafting the perfect vibe at late-night locations all over Capitol Hill.

Redefining "ugly"
His stage name may sound silly, but he has a backstory.

"Big Ugly is just because everybody is like, 'aka Little Cutie,' and I'm like, 'Yeah,'" he said with a laugh. "Sometimes I'll sign my emails like that. I'm not big, and I don't consider myself ugly. At the same time, I think seeing that on a headline and then seeing who I am gets my personality across."

The name has also inspired one of his favorite events to host: Bump Uglies. "I love, as is the tradition of Re-bar and old Queer culture, just being tongue in cheek. 'Bump uglies'... used to be an old, clean way to say 'sex,' but I also think it identifies the Queer experience," he explained. "I think people specifically talk about gender and genitalia.

"When I think Bump Uglies, it is just like everybody's dancing, people are looking for hookups, but we're all out there."

Like many in the Queer community, Big Ugly finds power in recontextualizing a word associated with negativity and shame. "I also want to retake the word 'ugly' as not being a bad thing," he said. "It's okay to be weird and ugly and have a good time."

Courtesy photo  

Every letter in the rainbow
For Queers on Capitol Hill, "ugly" is becoming synonymous with "good vibes," thanks to Bump Uglies. "It is a Queer dance party. It's for every letter in the rainbow," Big Ugly said of his regular LGBTQ+-focused event.

Although there are locations like Wildrose or the Cuff that appeal to specific identities and kinks, Big Ugly wanted to create a space where Trans people can feel welcome and safe. "I wouldn't say there's a lot of exclusionary vibes [in Seattle], but there's not a place that can bring everyone together, specifically, as someone who identifies with the Trans experience. I want Bump Uglies to be a place where people can not only see Trans people but also dance and be free and comfortable in a space with other Queer people who aren't TERFy."

Not only does Bump Uglies center Trans people and experiences, but DJ Big Ugly has also worked hard to make sure it is a space that uplifts BIPOC people. "I also love highlighting people of color... I feel like a lot of ownership of venues is typically through cis white people, so I like to bring out big stars that I know in the POC and Queer communities.

"For me, it's just for every letter of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow to feel comfortable and connect."

Lo-Fi Performance Gallery usually hosts Bump Uglies. While the event has been on a hiatus, it will be back this week. "Bump Uglies is back on February 16, and I am excited about that," Big Ugly said. "The lineup is just stacked."

The performers will include T Reverie, Kween Kaysh, Justice Manslayer, Hyper Poppers, and, of course, DJ Big Ugly. "It's just going to be a very fun night, good dancing for sure," he said.

Access to the party is easy. "It's a pay-at-the-door situation. I would just follow on Instagram @Bump.Uglies to find that information."

Before Lo-Fi closes for good in the spring, DJ Big Ugly wants to plan on one more Bump Uglies for April. "I'm bringing it back, because Lo-Fi is closing in April, so I'm doing it there. Then I want to move it to a space that is completely Queer owned and operated if possible. I've been talking with a few places."

Courtesy photo  

Preserving Seattle's unique Queer culture
When DJ Big Ugly isn't planning Trans-centered nightlife events, he can be found in some of Seattle's most established Queer venues.

"I've been trying to 'Make Neighbours Gay Again.' I've been playing most Fridays at Neighbours. [We are] trying to bring that space back to its Queer roots more than it has been previously," he explained. "Supporting Queer is still very important. We need to band together right now, because the canvas of Seattle is changing very rapidly. After Re-bar closed, it was heartbreaking for me. I think supporting original Seattle venues is so important, specifically Queer spaces and Queer folks. We've got to stick together."

DJ Big Ugly's favorite gigs are the ones where he is surrounded by members of the Queer community, regardless of the space. "I did a beautiful wedding over the summer," he said. "It was the first time I worked at a Jewish wedding. It was up in Leavenworth at a beautiful outdoor venue, and that was a highlight for sure. They found out about me through a friend, [not] through a company I work with. That was rewarding. I still talk to the couple."

Aside from classy wedding venues, he also loves performing at high-production parties. "I was a part of the two Valtesse Halloween parties at the Ruins before that venue changed over. That was just so cool being a part of this whole experience. The whole thing was the coolest thing I've ever seen or done."

As a DJ, he works at both big and small events. The most important part of the gig for him is connecting with other people through music.

"I love when you connect with somebody over a song, creating a mood and vibe," he said. "I love curating a space. I sometimes don't like playing in venues where it's all about dancing. I like curating the experience... connecting with people over music and vibes, that moment when you go, 'Oh, you know this song?' 'Yeah, I know this song.' Stuff like that is great for me."

Well-established Queer venues are the perfect places for forming these musical connections. "I love playing at The Rose, he said, "just because it has such family vibes. It's a fun space. It's very close and personal to my heart. Lo-Fi has been a very special place for me as well, not only for burlesque but also DJing. Re-bar was also a great spot. As somebody who goes out, I love the Kremwerk complex. I've also been getting to know Neighbours as well.

"I love places that are older but still have their roots, especially Queer culture in Seattle."

Y2K forever
While he's been DJing across Seattle for nearly two decades, there's one genre of music Big Ugly says will never go out of style: "The early 2000s. Those hits will never die. Especially within my lifetime, the era of the music video, stuff like that."

The 2000s are meaningful to Big Ugly because of the emphasis on music videos at that time, which he likes to incorporate into his work when he can. "I've been doing more VJing lately," he said. "When I play out, I like to play electronic house music and a little bit of throwback hip-hop as well. I'd say my style is the early 2000s and house. I like to play it all. ...I'm a music librarian first and a DJ later."

DJ Big Ugly is changing the scene while also working to preserve the heart of Capitol Hill's Queer history. His talent is only matched by his versatility and ability to blend into different scenes while still staying true to himself and his identity. As Queer Seattle continues to change, his name will remain cemented in the beats of our culture.