On Point With: DJ ARRA

This gorgeous new queen of the DJ booth is spinning in New York’s hottest spaces this summer… so go get your ARRA on!

Thotyssey: Hello DJ ARRA, thanks so much for chatting with us today. Happy June and Happy Pride Month! How are you enjoying it all so far?

DJ ARRA: I’m ecstatic! This month is so special to our people to celebrate ourselves and the amazing people around us. Not to mention, it’s a time where we have the world looking in and seeing us shine in our own light. That being said, it can be stressful… especially when you’re balancing family and friends alongside back-to-back bookings! Still, I’m exceedingly grateful for every opportunity.

Yes, this is truly Grind Month, and you were already booked and blessed as it is! Do you ever have a moment where you blank and are like “wait, where am I going tonight again, what am I doing, where am I?”

Omg, yes! Let’s just say, I’ve developed a very intimate relationship with my calendar. It can feel like a whirlwind sometimes. I’ve learned to keep my laptop by my side, because I will leave one venue and be downloading new music in the Uber on the way to the next. It’s very much giving “no sleep, bus, club, another club,” and I couldn’t be happier about it, lol!

How long have you been a DJ now, and a New Yorker?

So, I’ve lived in New York for, I think, five years. I’ve honestly lost track, which is kind of embarrassing… but time has definitely passed me by in a blink. My first official gig DJ’ing was with Ty Sunderland for his boat series last summer. He gave me the most amazing opportunity to play “Gayflower: The Chromatica Cruise,” which seemed fitting being that it was a Gaga theme, lol. I remember spending weeks and weeks preparing for that set; I’m actually laughing right now, thinking about how nervous I was versus how much experience I’ve gained over only one year.

Well done! Where was your original hometown?

I grew up 45 minutes outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. That was where I first got my introduction to gay nightlife and where I first got a job working the door at a club named Legends. I’d been living on campus at William Peace University, after being accepted into their musical theater program. Unfortunately, that was short lived— I started being pulled into another direction, and found that wasn’t where I belonged at the time.

A Raleigh native… just like another recent interviewee of ours, Dawn! So, music was always a part of your life?

Music has always been my first love. I would write songs and think of music video concepts constantly, and I really still do all of that… but it’s kind of my alt girl persona, lol. My friends are always asking me about these two songs that I’ve been sitting on for a while, wondering when I will (if ever) release them. Maybe I’m just not ready for that step yet! It’s definitely still on the table.

[Photo: Gustavo Toledo]

Is there an origin to the name “ARRA?”

The truth is really nonsensical. When I was coming to terms with being trans and what all that entails, I would try on a few different names and nothing ever stuck. I know a lot of trans women take their dead names and transform them into what feels right for them, but that never felt true for me. I couldn’t really see myself or who I was becoming at the time; I would close my eyes, and I saw nothing. But I felt this overwhelming feminine presence, or “aura,” and I knew “she” was always there. The spelling was the artist in me putting a spin on it to feel more original, but that might just be the Aquarius energy in me bleeding out.

I love that! So these days you’re spinning big club nights, intimate bar parties and everything in between. Do you have a favorite vibe, as far as spaces go?

The bigger, the better! If I can capture a larger audience and run with it, that’s my favorite space. I love being anywhere that has a packed out dance floor. There’s really no feeling like it! I really thrive in a pop or disco environment. It’s like I get the chance to see the music through the eyes of the artist. It’s all about the fantasy.

There’s a growing scene of trans femme rave nightlife that we can see right here in NYC (largely in Ridgewood), but for the most part DJs in queer bars and clubs are still often shirtless muscled cis guys. You’re well-known and busy all over town, but did you ever feel discrimination for not being that “expected” cis type when you started as a DJ?

I think it’s valid to say that masculinity occupies most queer spaces, as it does in every aspect of life. You didn’t hear this from me, but DJ’ing is very much a boys’ game! You really have to be prepared to fight and prove your worth… and even then, you will be met with resistance. It’s not easy, especially when there isn’t a ton of representation. There are so many growing trans DJs and artists that I hope receive the same opportunities as me within these spaces, because they are more than deserving.

You are in regular DJ rotation at HK’s newest hot spot sister bars, The Q and Hush! At Hush, we can basically find you every Saturday for “SHUSH” along with DJ Nandi.

I can honestly say that holding that weekly spot has given me a strong sense of pride. We just talked about the difficulties of being a trans DJ in these uber-masculine spaces, but I stand to say that it’s possible… and clearly profitable. SHUSH has been a unique experience because it is a predominantly masc environment, but I keep the energy high and the dance floor full while the boys line up for the dark room!

This Saturday, you’re actually pulling double duty with SHUSH as well as the second floor at the Q! How’s that gonna work!?

My head will be spinning, that I know for sure. Sometimes, you have to try to do the impossible… and that’s what I plan to achieve this weekend! I will be opening with a short set at The Q, and switching out just before my set at Hush. Everything has to work out just right for it to run smoothly, but I’ve got all my bases covered. And the truth about it is: you just have to communicate honestly and clearly with all parties involved. Lucky for me, they’re only about two blocks apart!

Then on Sunday (June 12), you’ll be at Brooklyn’s 3 Dollar Bill for “Spritz,” featuring Rosé!

“Spritz” is a party that 3 Dollar Bill approached me to produce. That’s been the most pressure of all I’ve done this far, but I’m confident that it will be a success!

And later at 3DB on June 18th, it’s “Doll!” that Bobby LeMaire is producing which will celebrate trans Pride!

“Doll!” is an exciting opportunity for so many trans women to come together and celebrate ourselves. I’m looking forward to it, because it will bring so many of us together to connect or reconnect with other women who’ve shared our experience, and shine a light on an often hidden part of our community.

Another trans femme-driven party you often DJ is “Paul’s Dolls” at Paul’s Casablanca on Wednesdays!

That’s another party I’m proud to have been a part of almost every week since its conception. [Host and producer] Linux had the idea to hire the dolls, and only the dolls. We started at Paul’s Baby Grand, but grew to the point where we needed a larger venue… and have been at Casablanca ever since. I prioritize these environments — not only because I’m trans, but because they’re always the most entertaining.

All amazing! And looking ahead, you’ll be back at the Q for Pride Thursday’s party, “ErotiQa!” Is there anything else coming up for you?

June 23rd, I’m doing a set at The Civilian Hotel in Hell’s Kitchen — 6pm-10pm — before my set at the Q! I’m not sure if that’s been announced yet, but it is confirmed! Other than that, I think that about covers everything!

Excellent! Okay, last question: what’s your favorite track to play right now?

“Deeper and Deeper,” by Madonna! Something is laced in that song that I cannot get enough of right now. It makes me feel a form of liberation!

It’s a true anthem! Thanks ARRA, and have a great Pride!

Check Thotyssey’s calendar for DJ ARRA’s upcoming appearances, and follow her on Instagram.

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