Stonewall’s house DJ Chauncey turns 40 this month. He reflects with Thotyssey on his long and varied career, his club days, his other pursuits and his bar family.
Thotyssey: First of all, happy birthday! Having a solid career in nightlife at 40 is kind of an amazing accomplishment. Do you feel the Age Hate in the community, or are you above that?
Chauncey Dandridge: Thank you! I don’t think there is much ‘age hate’ in the community, or haven’t really experienced any. But I do find there is a level of respect from my younger peers that I find endearing. Since I began my career back in 2002, I am proud to say I have consistently had a weekly residency or a monthly gig without fail. If you stay somewhat malleable with the times, but remain true to your “artistic integrity,” you maintain your force in the business. Totally, flexibility is key! Lots of performers get stuck in their ruts over time, and that’s like career suicide!
So, where are you from, and when did you get to NYC? I heard you started out as a club kid here.
I grew up across the pond in Jersey and used the Path train as my chariot to freedom. The West Village was my original stomping ground in the early 90s, and after conquering Chelsea, the East Village and HK I managed to come full circle during the height of The Christopher Street Renaissance. I was a regular in The Cha Cha Room at Limelight on Wednesdays, and many other clubs throughout the years.
Dancing is certainly my favorite sport. Unfortunately I don’t get out to dance to my favorite DJs as much, because I am working a lot. A blessing and a curse, I guess.
You must have seen some crazy stuff during that time, especially at the Limelight. Anything (or anyone) stick out today?
Yes there was always something outrageous to see back then. My eyes have seen a lot, though lately I have noticed a big burst of old school club kid magic and anime fantasies popping out of the scene, especially from Brooklyn, and as always from Susanne Bartsch’s kids. I feel that nowadays, though, the focus is more on genderfuck, queens with beards (on purpose) and stuff like that. With all the unnecessary controversy between trans vs. drag and adhering to the gender binary, it is comforting to see androgyny making a strong comeback as well. That’s definitely an interesting thing that’s happened… It might change the (literal) face of drag as we know it!
You recently posted some of your headshots from when you were an aspiring actor in your teens. Did you intently pursue acting in the city before you pursued music and dance?
I was a Theatre Arts/English Major at Rutgers. Definitely always wanted to act either in film or on stage, and still would like to, but like most people I got distracted. It was actually one of my resolutions to get back to the theatre in some way. I have always been a part of some sort of production over the years, either as a stage manager, lighting/audio tech for plays, [or a] production assistant for films and stuff. I have recently tried out stand-up comedy, live singing and also did a burlesque performance, but I definitely miss acting and need to pursue that again.
A Renaissance man! So, when and how did you get into DJing?
I was always the person who put the music on at parties and loved finding the songs nobody heard before. Underground electronica and unknown artists were my specialty. The days of Napster were golden for me. I would make compilations for my friends so when a spot opened up at the now closed East Village haunt Urge my friend Adham summoned me over and the rest is history.
So Urge was your debut! When did you start at Stonewall?
I had a short-lived Sunday night gig at Stonewall in 2005 called School Daze but started working there again in August of 2013 and have been there since.
One thing that I find very endearing about Stonewall is that the staff all seem to love each other like family. They’re always going everywhere together, and one doesn’t get the notion that there’s a lot of tension there, like with other barstaffs. What’s the secret to happy nightlife work relationships?
I think there are always a few people that either won’t get along or won’t get too close. But when you’re in this business, you deal with a lot of unpredictability, and you have to look out for one another on many levels, from helping a coworker clean up at the end of the night up to breaking up a fight and everything in between. You naturally get close to people you have to depend on and trust. Plus, late night after-work drinks always lead to opening up and letting down your guard about what is going on in your life. Working at one of the most iconic bars in LGBT history also adds a sense of pride while working there that I guess attracts and holds onto the right people.
You deejay The Invasion there every Sunday night, which features a new performing queen each week and her guests. Is it a challenge to deal with all those working styles and personalities on stage? And, do you have a favorite Invading queen?
Yes I do The Invasion on Sundays, Svetlana Stoli’s show Class on Tuesdays in March, Logan Hardcore’s Throwdown on Thursdays, RIOT! Drag Show & Dance Party every second Saturday as well as sound tech for many of the other variety shows and fundraisers held there. The challenge of different working styles and personalities is what keeps me young! I am also building up my reputation as one of NYC’s biggest drag queen aficionados and cheerleaders…along with quite a collection of mixes and tracks! I’d be murdered if I divulged a favorite for sure…each show and experience has its high points and low points. I’ve witnessed both some magic and tragic from my booth and often in the same night. The amazing part about The Invasion is that I get to meet and work with a lot of the big names as well as those just getting their heels wet for the first time. I hope they all love working with me as much as I love getting to know them. There are equal levels of trust and abandon they have to share with me and I do my best to make them sparkle.
That party is currently on hiatus but honestly the most distracting part of that was me being in my underwear. I’m not much of an exhibitionist. It also cracked me up that 10 years into my career is when I finally started DJing in my underwear.
That’s probably the best time to start! As a rule, everybody wants to sleep with the deejay. Is this annoying, or can you roll with it?
That’s just a rumor…a big fat rumor, hehe! Besides I am currently in a happy relationship. Lately any kind of attention is weird because I finally have a legitimate reason to say no without lying.
You additionally spin at Carry On, a party every last Saturday of the month with Ruby Roo at Macri Park in Brooklyn. You’ve spoken a little bit before about the scene, but how do Brooklyn crowds behave differently from Manhattanites? Or don’t they?
I’ve DJed in Williamsburg over the years and always had a blast. The kids in Brooklyn are usually edgier and grittier.They honestly have a deeper taste in music. They would rather hear Robyn over Beyonce. There are less tourists over there than in Manhattan. I love a good pop song, don’t get me wrong, but I prefer to play the lesser known divas and artists. It’s more thrilling for everyone.
Back to Stonewall for a bit, because I want to talk about three upcoming events there you’re involved with. The first is Ladyqueen, a showcase for Crimson Kitty and other bioqueens (cisgendered female drag queens), that you’re DJing for on Mar. 20th, right before Tina Burner’s Invasion. What do you think of the bioqueen scene?
At first it was a bit alarming because it’s not as much of a conquest for a woman to put on women’s clothing and perform. Biological men go to great lengths to create their illusions. But then I saw how much further Crimson and her girls take it and that made it special. It definitely has its roots in burlesque performance-wise, without the nudity, and takes things to a hypergender level. I’m glad I am in the scene while bioqueen drag is coming to fruition. There’s a lot going on in the city right now…you just have to pay attention. Crimson is the hardest working kitty in the business and has a big future ahead of her for sure.
The other two events are both on March 26th. First, the March Madness Homo Erectus boy burselque revue, featuring Viktor Devonne and several other dancers. Boylesque seems to be on the rise in the bars lately, what do you attribute its success to?
Boylesque is a wonderful thing. It’s body positive. It’s gender fluid. It’s the right combination of silly and sexy. Matt Knife is the ringleader of NYC Boylesque and has certainly changed the burlesque landscape of NYC in the same way Crimson is leading a movement. So honored to call both of them friends! I think it’s successful because it is one of those art forms that looks easy to do but is quite the opposite. It’s not just stripping which definitely requires a ‘perfect’ body and a sense of rhythm (the latter obviously not a requirement in some bars). It is more cerebral and mindfucky. I’ve seen some good boylesque and I have seen some fucking amazing boylesque. Each vignette from each performer is an experience.
The other event follows immediately after: The Madonna worship party, and your birthday celebration! How much do you love Madonna?
That’s an impossible question to answer. I grew up with her. She has been there for each of my big moments in life. She introduced me to so many cool things and artists and films and fashion. I guess I grew up with her, and somewhat because of her. She came out when I was 6 years old and still ruling the world. She’s “constant as a northern star.”
Are you going to prepare a specific Madonna setlist, or will you just bring all her albums and wing it?
I have pretty much every song and remix she has ever done. Will definitely play the classics but definitely throw in the rarities and devout fan pleasers. My cohort Lorant and I work well together. He will be in the booth with me that night.
I see Ari Kiki, Crimson, Viktor and a few others are going to be interpreting Madge onstage, and also… Chauncey Dandridge, with live acoustic accompaniment! Can you tell us what you’re gonna sing?
It’s a secret! You have to be there to find out!
Tease! Anything else you’re involved in that you want to mention?
I have a lot going on in May. I am one of the producers of The Annual Dance Parade on May 21st, and involved in making Urban Bear Weekend happen the weekend before. I also recently became a member of The Imperial Court and volunteered at The Night of a Thousand Gowns.
I do social media and marketing for various companies, fundraisers and upcoming events like the Pines Party, and a jewelry company called Winky & Dutch. I like to keep my dance card pretty full, obviously.
Oh my gawd, that should keep you busy til your 80th! Thanks so much for talking, Chauncey!
See Also: Chauncey Dandridge (8.15.2017)