DJ Almond Brown ’WERKS" the Booth at "Q"
"The DJ is the most vital part of the customer experience," DJ Almond Brown, one of Seattle’s most popular spin doctors, told EDGE. "We help define the most recognizable part of a property’s reputation with what we present."
"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," continued Almond Brown. Brown is a DJ that has paid his dues, ultimately landing him a regular gig at a nightclub that Beatport.com has listed as having one of the "10 best sound systems in America" in 2012.
If you’re a quick study, you will notice that DJ Almond Brown likes to get right to the point. And the point that he is trying to make today is that something is happening to LGBT Seattle nightlife to change it forever. That something is Q.
Q, a new nightclub club that opened for business in Seattle’s gay neighborhood of Capital Hill last September, isn’t considered to be a gay club. Conversely, it isn’t a straight club, either. Q represents a new breed of Seattle nightclubbing; Q provides its customers with an atmosphere where a drag queen can drink with a politician and a business man can chat up a go-go dancer and everyone feels fabulous.
Inside Q it doesn’t matter what you do outside, what matters most is whom you allow yourself to become once inside. And if DJ Almond Brown has anything to say about it, you will become a serious House-head.
’Baby, I ’Werk’ the children when I step in the booth," he told EDGE.
Q boasts a state-of-the-art Funktion One sound system and world-class lighting design. But years of experience (he’s been a DJ on and off for over 25 years) has taught Almond that while the place might look great, the DJs, in turn, must be great.
And make no mistake about it - DJ Almond Brown is great!
"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."
Now is certainly not the time for mediocre skills. 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 wall to ceiling 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.
Almond says that many Seattle venue owners and club promoters are "forgetting to market the male aged 25-to-45 demographic."
"The definition of what a gay club is, is rapidly changing with the influx of straights," said Almond. "More specifically, straight women."
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. "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."
Seattle’s Changing Sound
Seattle has a handful of Gay DJs who could be considered stars. 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 a good DJ is. 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 hit a few walls. In 2010 Almond tried a stint at Neighbours Seattle, the largest gay nightclub at the time, but his audience from Cuff didn’t follow him there and the nightclub did little to promote his set. This ultimately caused 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!’"
"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."
Breaking Down Brown
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."
"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 EDGE he plans on having a big 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."