One of New York nightlife’s true legendary luminaries, Lina Bradford is now dropping happy beats the whole world over. Born across the street from Carnegie Hall and making her name firstly as dancing queen Girlina and later as Fire Island superstar DJ Lina, she is about to come full circle with a slew of stellar local gigs and a return to the stage alongside another legend, Ms. Candis Cayne. Thotyssey is honored to bask in the rays of Lina, the Princess of Light! [Cover photo: Santiago Felipe]
Thotyssey: It’s truly an honor to speak with you, Lina! So it’s hard to believe, but 2019 is nearly behind us. As a world traveling DJ, did you get to play or visit any spots across the world for the first time this year?
Lina Bradford: Thank you very much for taking the time to interview, it’s a pleasure! I feel very blessed in my life–to be able to travel this amazing globe and bring people together with music, light and love. And believe it or not, my first time to DJ in Ibiza this summer was quite monumental and amazing, and I will return again next year.
Do you see similar trends with nightlife culture and club music happening all over the place, or is every city / scene entirely unique?
I do think that it’s different everywhere. Each city has its own niche, its own vibe. But one thing is synonymous: people love good house music!
Do you have a favorite venue to spin in, out of anywhere in the world?
I think that when you say that, you kind of make everybody else feel like, “I thought it was special when you were with us!” So I make every experience a fun and a beautiful one. Therefore, you’re never going to be disappointed… and every experience is going to be a beautiful one.
You really became well-known as a Fire Island Pines DJ around 2005, with your nights “Lina’s Lounge” and “Twirlina.” Do you miss spending as much time as you used to there?
Well, there was a whole generation of kids who were coming up who didn’t know all of the hard work and different lives that I had led before coming to Fire Island in 2005. You know, I really helped put it on the map and change it, because it was very desolate by the time that I had gotten out there. When I started working with Eric Von Kuersteiner, they have never had high tea before… and that’s when Lina‘s Lounge was born. I was there for two years, and then moved over to the other side where I created Twirlina [which lasted] for 8 years. So in total, 10 years. And on my last year, I decided it was time to leave. I was only supposed to be there for one gig, and what I’ve created for 10 years will go down in the history books. But I spent seven months every year for 10 years of my life out there.
I don’t miss it, but it will always be a very special place in my heart. It was amazing, but I don’t live in the past; I just go forward. I’m a grinder! And I’ve got a lot of love to give to the rest of the world.
Originally, you’re from the Upper West Side–as often noted, across the street from Carnegie Hall. Were music and dance always a part of your life?
Music and dance had always been puppet strings to orchestrate me through my life. You know, I have been dancing since the age of four, and then I was with companies. So when I was approached to DJ, it was such a perfect marriage… because that’s all I knew!
You came out as trans very early in life, and received lots of support from your family… which I imagine was unusual for that time and place. You credit this in large part to the guidance of your grandmother, who in addition to being an opera singer was also a Wiccan witch. Are gender identity and spiritually kind of intertwined for you?
Really good question… and you know, I only grew up with the labels that were on my back. I don’t ever like to feel limited with somebody slapping a label on me as a person. Who I am is what I bring to the table before gender. And I find that most people who need that don’t really want to do the homework to find out the essence of the person. They have to have them pigeonholed. Spirituality has a huge part to play: it has landed me everywhere in my life, to take me to where I am today and keep me away from darkness. And that’s why I am the Princess of Light.
In NYC, you began your nightlife career as dance performer Girlina, where you interacted with many of the now legendary drag queens and nightlife performers. This was a much grittier, more underground scene then what we have today. What do you think kids who grew up on Drag Race and YouTube need to know about the NYC queer scene at that time?
That’s also a very good question! If you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know where you’re going. It’s just so commercial and homogenized now; there’s no artistry in it for me. Not [the entire drag scene], because there are some amazing ones. But most of the girls look exactly the same, they perform the same music, and very few really bring it. But that’s not me judging, that’s just me assessing from what I came from to where I’m at right now. I have the right to say what I say, and mean it with only love.
We didn’t have computers and devices. We were out there in the trenches doing our homework: and touching it, and feeling it, and smelling it, and getting life experiences. We were speaking to our elders, and finding out where music and fashion references came from. Some of the new school kids don’t do that. And why do we only ever give homage and wanna find out about someone until after they’re dead? We have a lot of amazing, legendary–and that word is use very loosely–performers still here. Get to know them now, before it’s too late.
In addition to the first Wigstock documentary, you appeared as Girlina in a few movies, like the 1998 film WOO with Jada Pinkett Smith and Dave Chappelle! What was that whole chapter of your life like?
Well, I had done probably about 10 movies. So right before I got asked to film WOO, my sister Candis and myself did a movie called Always Something Better, and it was just such a high going from one movie to the next. And we were doing all of this before people were trying to label us and say, “oh, you were the first to do this!” But if you’re living that way, you’re living your life. Saying “oh, I’m the first person to do this…” are you really living? You can’t ever compare yourself to anyone else, or to bring up your accolades. You do it because it speaks to you as an artist, inside–to do the things not for the roar of the applause from the people, or the homage. Because Honey, you’ll be disappointed every day of your life if you live like that.
What really made you want to transition from being a dancer to a DJ?
Well, I think once you’re a dancer, you’re always a dancer. And it was a dare from Legendary DJs I had away been working with for a very long time, and I had been hosting a lot of great parties with them. They said to me right before my birthday, “you would be an amazing DJ.” I took the dare, and here I am 25 years later!
More recently, you produced a long-running night at the gorgeous and now-closed Gilded Lily. Is it distressing to see all these larger venues closing in NYC, or is that just a part of life?
Honey, that was not nearly as long lasting as some of the other parties that I did back in the day in New York. It’s sad to me, just to see all the legendary places close that most of these kids will never even know about. Honey, that’s when nightlife was real nightlife. Now it’s just a snooze fest, and there’s just a few people who are out there being creative and doing some fun things. It’s just kind of become less about making great content and more “let’s just do a party to make money.” So wherever I’m at, I just make it about my life history and keep it kute: great energy, people who have no attitude, rock, fun, fashion… and here for good music!
Well… I think that at the end of the day, if you’re doing things for your own benefit and putting other people to the side (when that’s not really what you’re trying to portray), that negativity will definitely catch up with you. So you can call it what you want, but God don’t like ugly!
You come to your DJ nights without a playlist, reading the room and improvising throughout the night. That used to be the norm with DJing, but maybe not so much anymore. It does sound intimidating, though! Don’t you ever get stuck with what song should come next?
See, that’s just the thing… this new generation relies on “what’s next? I have to have something planned.” I come from the school of keeping it organic, and knowing how to read a room. I will never get stuck in any situation, because I have life experiences to draw from underneath my belt. That will always keep you on your toes. I’m ready for anything at any point, anytime… especially when it comes time to my music. That’s living, and that’s why you’ll get your life when I’m DJIng.
Isn’t it incredibly irritating that DJs are expected to just be everyone’s Top 40 Spotify in so many venues today… particularly the gay bars?
I don’t know that life at all. I mean, I’m not a jukebox DJ. I never have been, I never will be. Next!
You’ve been known to play anything from Donna Summer to Nine Inch Nails in your sets. Are there any new artists, DJs, genres or remixes that are inspiring you recently?
My opinion: every good DJ that I know is very eclectic and open to all different vibes and genres. I’m a classic rock girl at the end of the day: Led Zeppelin is my favorite band of all time. So you know, I take a lot of that into where I go with my music on the journey that I take you on.
When it comes to music right now… I mean, aside from soulful house music, there’s nothing that really inspires me except for that genre. Real deep house music will always continue to build and inspire, and be fresh and new, because of where it comes from. Its roots are so deep into the soil. And everything else… it’s just, you know… pots and pans, and stolen from other places, and the children don’t even know where the references are from.
You just closed out this year’s Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. That must’ve been wild!
I got to tell you, this is my second year doing Folsom Street–it is amazing! That party is so fly, the vibe is so cool… and the children are definitely there for the music! My boy Mario Diaz turns that party out, and I’m honored to be amongst three of the DJs that he has yearly.
As far as your upcoming local gigs go: I see that you’ll be starting a residency at Gitano’s Jungle Room on Sunday, October 27th.
Yes! My boys Francisco and Jorge and I are starting a monthly soirée at the Jungle Room. It’s going to be off the hook. You can’t go in to anything without being optimistic! I mean, the places has a great reputation, and the three of us together? Shazam!
And Halloween night, you’ll be DJing one of the biggest parties in the city: VooDoo 849, presented by Kayvon Zand, Ariamnes and Frankie Sharp! She Wants Revenge are gonna perform! It’s going to be nothing short of epic.
This is my first time doing Halloween with these guys; it should be a lot of fun. I mean, what a great lineup! This is one of the things that I was saying earlier: when new New York comes together like this, it feels like old school New York!
Dominique Jackson of POSE will be emceeing that night. POSE has been a great platform for not only trans women of color, but also NYC nightlife in general.
I love Dominique! A lot of good friends are on [POSE]. I’ve never seen it, but I’ve lived it the first time around! So any visibility for people who didn’t know about a world other than their own is always a good thing at the end of the day!
Then you’ll be in Massachusetts on November 2nd.
I am doing the big Halloween party in PTown, Black & Gold, which I’m really excited about!
And this is exciting: on November 8th and 9th, you will be headlining Life Becomes Her at the Laurie Beechman Theatre alongside another legend: your West Coast Judy, Candis Cayne. Do you still get to see Candis a lot these days?
My sister Candis and I grew up in New York together, and have been sisters for over 30 years. We speak every single day, as I live bi-coastal between New York and LA. We live very close to each other [in LA], so that bond of sisterhood is stronger than it ever has been. we’re really excited about doing Life Becomes Her!
The first night is already sold out! I know you don’t want to give away too many details, but this is gonna be a great show.
We love Chip who does Spin Cycle [the company that produces and markets several Beechman shows]! And we have already been asked to add dates on for 2020, and to take it on the road. So it’s going to be pretty monumental!
My SISTRIX Ladyfag came up toward the end of when New York was really good, so she gets it. Every time I do her party, it really feels like a New York Skooling 4 The Children because she’s not hiring DJs to play top 40; she’s bringing the real deal up in there. And the kids come correct–they come up in there to get educated. It’s going to be the perfect way to end Life Becomes Her on Friday and Saturday, and then Sunday let’s fuck it up for Battle Hymn! My SISTRIX Candis will be hosting alongside of me DJing.
What else should the kids be looking out for, as far as your appearances or special projects?
My third docu-season of In the Dollhouse is moving to a new network, which I’m really excited about! That I can’t speak about at this moment in time. I also have some other great projects, some I can speak about. Well, one, as most of you know, is my documentary Linish that’s still traveling throughout the film festivals. I also have a podcast that I’ll be working on developing in 2020. And a book–not an autobiography, but definitely kind of a skip through the years. It will give somewhat of a backdrop of how I started, and how I continued to stay successful over a very long period of time. But I’m really excited about the new home for In the Dollhouse with Lina. And a couple of movie roles that will be filming in 2020 as well.
Finally… you always seem to maintain this really positive, life-affirming attitude, even during these dark times with both our dismal President and even our own community’s tendency to attack itself across the subgroups. How can we all be more like you?
You’re so beautiful, that is so lovely! I just don’t keep myself around negative energy. What’s the point of being upset and negative about a situation in your life, when you have the ability to keep yourself around positivity and live your life like that on the daily? It’s really as simple as that. And drinking lots of water! And I have no time for mascara… except for the time I put on my lashes!
Thank you, Lina!