New York City’s DJ JCLEF is doing his own part to redefine what it means to be a DJ in 2019. Not only is he helping throw some of the biggest bashes in the city while filling his dance floor with his own patented brand of “love”, but as a trans man, he is showing the world of nightlife in New York City and beyond, that as long as they can throw down some fierce beats and keep the party pumping, there is truly room for everyone. I sat down to talk with DJ JCLEF about his beginnings in the world of DJ’ing, the queens he gets to work with on a regular basis, and how with equal parts glitter and hard work, you can accomplish almost anything.
Michael Cook: Right off the bat, how did you get into the world of DJ’ing?
DJ JCLEF: I’ve always been a musician. I’m classically trained and have a background in audio engineering, but I started DJ’ing kind of by accident. As all good stories start: Once upon a time, I was at a drag show. The Queens needed someone to play their tracks, so I offered to help out. I started showing up every week, and one thing led to another. A few months later, I was asked to play a party at Rocks and became a regular DJ there. I fell in love with nightlife and haven’t looked back.
MC: For those that have never heard your sound, how would you describe it?
DJC: I believe Martin Mull said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”I would describe my sound as a feel. I know this is gonna sound really cheesy, but I want my audience to feel LOVE! When I spin, it’s a musical journey. You’ll hear my signature sound in the way I put music together.
MC: New York City is a hard place to break into DJ’ing. What was your path to becoming one of the most high profile names in New York City?
DJC: My DJ start was actually in Albany. Drag queens are a huge part of my story. The first New York City girl I met was Horrorchata, at Isis Vermouth’s Ego Party at Rocks. I made my first trip to Brooklyn in 2013 and attended my first *Be Cute* party at Littlefield. I knew immediately that I had to be a part of the queer magic that was happening here. I came down every chance I could and introduced myself around the city. Albany is three hours away, though, so I knew I had to move closer. In 2015, I moved to Philadelphia so that I could take more work here. I commuted, often a few times a week, for two years. I finally became a resident of NYC in late 2017. I’ve said yes to almost every opportunity, and have created my own events. In retrospect it’s all a blur. Lots of hard work, glitter, self care and enthusiasm.
MC: What have been some of your career highlights thus far?
DJC: Winning this year’s Glam Award for Best DJ has definitely been the biggest highlight, so far.
MC: You spin for some of the biggest drag queens in New York City! Any favorite queens that stick out for you and why?
DJC: I really love the queens I work with. I could go on for days, but I’ll try to keep it short. In no particular order (with no disrespect to the long list of people I’m not mentioning):
Coco Taylor. The heart of Rockbar. Coco puts a tremendous amount of work into her shows and into the bar itself. I love what it’s become. She makes me laugh every single Tuesday with her “drag journeys”, and is helping me create a space for new performers!
Bella Noche. New York City’s mermaid queen has recently been appointed as the head of the Long Island Drag Queen Story Hour division. We have to teach the children!
Miz Jade. She’s so much more than just a dancing queen. Her title may be “The Queen of Shade”, but she’s one of the most genuine people in nightlife. She’s a champion for the marginalized population in nightlife, especially AFAB (assigned female at birth) people, which is still a surprisingly unique stance. She’s extremely professional, a lot of fun to work with, and has given me a lot of opportunities.
Honey Davenport. The QUEEN. She recently took a public stand against racism, at the cost of her long-standing job at The Monster. I admire her passion for the community. I stand with Honey. Racism and hatred have NO place in our community. She’s one of the hardest working, genuine people I’ve ever met. I’m also really excited about all the new music she has coming out!
Kareem McJagger. A visionary, producer and legendary host. When Kareem is around, everyone has a good time. He has taught me SO much about nightlife and throwing the best parties.
Brita Filter. THE entertainer. I am so inspired by her work ethic and the brand she’s created for herself. I have always had time of my life at her shows.
Horrorchata. The mother of so much queer culture. I am so inspired by the Bushwig movement and everything she’s created. Bushwig is an Annual Drag Festival that started in Brooklyn, and now also takes place in Berlin. It’s a beautiful manifestation of love, art, and community.
MC: You snagged the award of 2018 Glam Award as Best DJ. What was that honor like?
DJC: I will never forget the sound of the crowd. I’m still blown away by the love and respect I’ve gotten as a result.
MC: As a trans man, how does that part of your life figure into your career as a DJ? Have you encountered any resistance from clients or has it benefited you in any way?
DJC: I started medical transition (taking testosterone) about a year before I started DJ’ing. So while building my career, I’ve also gone through a second puberty. I wouldn’t use the word “resistance” to describe the experience. I’ve had to work extra hard for respect because male privilege is a real thing. I also have to treat people how to treat me. Being who I am definitely benefits me now. I don’t think the fact that I’m trans is what sets me apart, but my personal journey has. I have a unique common ground with drag queens because of my gender experience. I am very passionate about creating safe spaces for everyone, which is an important part of my brand. I continue to be out and proud about being a gay trans man, because there aren’t a lot of us that are visible. I know this is a little off topic, but I want people, who don’t feel like they “belong” to know that they are welcome and safe at my parties.
MC: What’s next for DJ JCLEF?
DJC: So much! I’m about to start traveling. My first little tour will be to Chicago this spring. I’m in talks with promoters for Pride events in the UK. I’d like to speak that and a European tour into existence. I also plan to start writing my own music and making remixes in the near future.
MC: What would the DJ JCLEF of today tell the DJ JCLEF who was just starting out in New York City as a DJ?
DJC: You have every right to believe in yourself.