A veteran bi-coastal beatmaster and disco daddy, Steven Cunningham specializes in bringing sexy soundscapes to cruisy landscapes. And this Pride weekend, he returns to the three most wonderfully raunchy venues in town to bring to us all the ecstasy!
Thotyssey: Hello Steven, Happy Pride Month! You often travel for gigs… are you in NYC now?
Steven Cunningham: Hi Jim, Happy Pride to you as well. I am in NYC, and have been here since the shutdown. Pre-pandemic, I would spend a majority of my time here in NY and travel back to LA to spin for 2 weeks every other month. So usually six times a year.
Oh werk! You recently returned to Rockbar in the West Village with your long-running “Crisco Disco” monthly affair… how did that go?
That was a great day. I spent the last year researching music, and part of that was researching disco circa ’74 to’82. I discovered so many lost tracks, and was finally able to play them live this past Sunday. The crowd was great, and I had a wonderful time.
Curation is key! So where are you from originally, and was music always a part of your life while growing up?
I’m from Southern California, born and raised 30 minutes out of LA. And yes, music was always a part of my life. My mom would always have music playing in the house– everything from Donna Summer to The Rolling Stones–so I grew up with a wide range of music. I was buying 45’s by the time I was 7, and was clubbing at 15.
Wow! What was that scene like, when you first started going out there?
I’m dating myself, but it was 1984 when I first stated clubbing. It was everything you could imagine: big hair, eyeliner, New Romantic outfits. I think the thing I remember the most is how much amazing music was continuously coming out: freestyle, new wave, reggae, ska, rock…. it was such a diverse landscape of new sounds. I’m just so grateful I experienced it all.
Those were the days! When and where did you start DJing?
My first real DJ gig was as the Alternative Monday Night DJ at Rage in West Hollywood in 1999. It was quite popular in LA. People from all the suburbs would drive in to dance. I would play everything from Nirvana to Hole to Chemical Brothers to Bjork to The Rolling Stones to David Bowie to Nancy Sinatra to Tom Jones. It was the only place where LGBTQ individuals could go who didn’t want to dance to the usual “gay” club music.
A perfect start! What ultimately brought you to New York? And what did you see was different about the scene here upon your arrival?
My partner brought me to NY. We met in LA; however his business connections were more East Coast-based (he’s a documentary film producer). So, I figured my line of work was easier to move than his, so five years ago I came to NY. And the two biggest differences for me are the hours (9-2 as opposed to 10-4) and the speed of the music played in clubs and bars. In LA, it’s very common for DJ’s to be spinning music at 128-130 BPMs, where as in NY I hear DJ’s spinning music closer to 122-124 BPMs.
That’s a sharp difference! What have been some of your all time favorite gigs that you’ve played over the years, either in New York or beyond?
I did a night (pre-pandemic) called “Rough Sex” at The Eagle LA and The Eagle NYC the first Friday of the month with Host Q in NY and Jeff Rasul in LA. That was a very fun party; it’s exactly what it sounds like. I also got to DJ a five day cruise, which was an amazing experience. And I’ve DJ’ed both LA and Long Beach Gay Pride, as well as the float for The Eagle for Gay Pride. All those were also great experiences as well.
I think most folks in New York associate you with The Eagle these days. How long have you been there now?
Before I left LA I had been there for around ten years. I’ve been at the NY Eagle for the last four years.
Toward the end of the pandemic, The Eagle’s house DJs were playing to a crowd of socially distanced… sitters, lol! Was that super weird?
The social distancing was weird. However the most interesting thing happened on my third night of DJing at The Eagle NY. On my third round, restrictions had been lifted for outside events. So I started spinning at 7pm. At midnight, the inside part of the bar closed and all customers were moved to the roof–hence making it an outside event, hence staying open until 4am. However, I was spinning on the first floor. So from midnight till 4am, I was alone spinning to an empty room. It really tested me on knowing the music, and what I needed to do to create a fun experience. From what I’ve heard, everyone had a great time on the roof that night.
Love that! How about pre- and post- pandemic naughtiness, when everyone around you is being all, um, biblical? Is that very distracting?
To be honest, it’s one of the best parts of the job. lol. I’m going to be DJing Pride Sunday at the weekend opening of The Cock. I’m confident “biblical” things will be happening.
You’ll actually be in two places on Pride Sunday. First off, Folsom Street East couldn’t happen this year, but they will be sponsoring Rockbar’s afternoon Pride party!
Yes, I’ll be at Rockbar from 3pm to 8pm.
And as you said, The Cock is reopening this weekend after more than year of being closed down! This is of course NYC’s most notoriously “Biblical” spot, and you’ll be there on Sunday from 11pm to close!
I always have fun DJing The Cock. The notorious nature of The Cock makes it quite enjoyable to let people know I work there–especially in LA, where people always ask me about it. And of course, The Cock is an iconic New York nightspot, so I feel very fortunate to be part of that family.
On a sad note, it’s going to be strange to navigate that space without DJ Nashom, who was a legendary fixture there and was shockingly one of Covid’s first casualties in New York. Did you know him well?
I knew Nashom as a co-worker–we would talk, but we didn’t see each other outside of work. I was his go-to DJ if he needed a fill-in DJ for his bartending shift. The thing I loved about him was his honesty. What he said, he meant… and there was no second guessing. His passing was very shocking to me when it happened, and really drove home the severity of Covid. I believe that Nashom’s passing saved many, many lives because it really brought the crisis home for people.
That is definitely true, he is someone we should all be remembering and celebrating this Pride season. So, is there anything else coming up for you?
Looking forward to seeing BUMP return to New York–that’s my 90’s House night. And putting together a few more ideas… just grateful to have so much going on so fast.
Yes, it’s a lot! So lastly, regarding your music research: what is the best song you discovered, or re-discovered, this year that could slay all the children?
Wow, that’s a tough one. I managed to make 350 original mixes for my MixCloud page over lockdown with music spanning six decades. However, the song I keep singing since I discovered it is called “Wasting My Love” by Sticky Fingers from 1979. I just love it. Quick runner up: Robin S. covering the Yaz song “Midnight” from 1997–the Tony Moran remix.
Happy Pride, Steven!