Known today for bringing the beat to local bar parties, retired dancer JRoc has DJ’ed the big clubs from back in the day as well. Here, he shares how his Pride and trip to Thailand went, what he’s up to now, and the future of dance music.
Thotyssey: Hello JRoc, thanks for chatting with us today! So you had a busy Pride last night… how did it go?
DJ JRoc: It was amazing! So many people, and so much positivity in spite of what’s happening in the world. And I was super nervous.
Yes, I think we all had this awareness of possible problems happening given the political climate. But it wound up being a glorious day filled with positivity for most… and a nice little break from our reality! What were you playing, Pride anthems and otherwise?
Well, I’m obsessed with Brazilian funk beats right now. But I have this remix of J Balvin’s “In da Getto” that has the vocals of Megan the Stallion’s “Thot Shit” that I can’t quit right now, lol! But Pride-wise, I love anything Dua Lipa too.
And recently, you were also in Thailand.
Oh yes, for a much wanted vacation… and also getting content for a future possible YouTube channel. I also got to DJ some places while I was there, which was amazing!
What’s hot out there now, musically? Are they kind of on the same page as us?
Thailand loves Western music; they are super into hip hop and rap! I was at a bar and heard reggaetón! They love all the pop stuff, too. When you go to the tourist spots, it’s so current — it’s crazy. These days with the connectivity we can achieve, it makes it so much easier for other countries to influence each other. The artist there use a lot of Western styles now for their music.
So, “JRoc.” I’m guessing that’s a play on whatever your real name is?
I got that name when I was younger; my real name is John Lewis. So normal, right!? Lol! I was at a school party dancing, and someone said I “rocked it,” and a friend as a joke kept saying “JRoc” — “J” is from John. So when I started DJing, I decided that would be my name. No one really called me that before, except close friends from when I was younger. But now even my mom does, which is hilarious because she was super against it!
Where are you from originally, and was music always a part of your life growing up?
I was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas and lived there ’til I was 18. Music was always in my life: I would play piano by ear, and I also grew up learning to play the trumpet and the saxophone (haven’t touched them in years, lol). But I remember Saturdays, my mom and dad would play Motown classics on a the record player (God I’m old, lol), but I grew up with an eclectic sound. I love big band music, Motown, R&B and pop.
And for a while you were a dancer.
When I was 14 I started training in tap, jazz and ballet. I’ve always been kind of “athletic,” so it felt natural to me. I did musical theater in high school since freshman year; performing always felt like home. I love dancing, and got to see the world because of it. I never hit it big, but I got to do small things with some artists: Britney, Janet, Christina, Missy… but never anything major. I wish, lol!
How did you eventually become a DJ, and a New Yorker?
So my dad is a teacher; when I was young he used to DJ school dances, and I would help him take his music. I never thought to be a DJ until I retired from dancing. I left Kansas when I was 18 to travel in a show. Eventually I came to New York in ’98 to be a choreographer for a boy band that never happened, lol! But I did some small things with MTV, and started getting connected with clubs and working as a barback and bartender. And I was hanging out with DJs and thought, I can do this… it speaks to me. And I started grinding; some gigs were just, like, 25 dollars, just to get a spot to be seen. It was rough, lol!
What were some gigs, residencies, moments, etc. that were personal highlights for you over the years?
OMG, there are so many! Ugh, where do I start? DJing Limelight back in the day! Heaven, Splash, Exit… one day at the Roxy! Just being able to be close to the greats is amazing. It was awesome to be at Splash when Kylie was there, and Kelly Rowland popped up another night! Christina came through, too. I think Splash and Limelight / Avalon were the best times for me. But I love the places I work now, too; they give me the best memories also.
Do you think nightlife is a little less “fun” though, in these days after most of the big clubs have gone? Or is it just different?
I’m a firm believer that you make the fun where you go. At my age, you learn that everything has its merits. I think we were more free and less regulated in the past for sure… but different sandbox, still a great playground. At lease we get to play! I think smaller venues are great because it’s more intimate for us as artists. From my side I get to interact more with people, which gives me so much joy to see people love it. Bigger clubs in the past were more of a “universal fun” feel, if that makes sense. Like, you got to lose yourself in the crowd. But something about now is so awesome in it’s own respect.
So Boxers in NYC started as a gay sports bar in Chelsea with hot shirtless bartenders in signature red boxers, but it’s evolved over the years into a franchise and includes other elements like drag and dance parties. These days, the original Chelsea location still stands, and a new HK location just opened last week. Tell us about where and when we can find you spinning in the Boxersverse nowadays, and what that whole vibe is like.
So I’ve been with Boxers for like 8 or 9 years. I love it because they focus so much on diversity; the types of parties and employees run the spectrum. I love that they are always thinking about the next step, and they stay active in the community — which is super important. I also love it because as a DJ, they encourage me to be just as diverse because they know that’s the crowd. As a community, we are everything and everyone! I feel it is very much a “come as you are, because you’re beautiful” vibe; no pretensions, no muss, no fuss.
Right now Chelsea is home. We are figuring out if I can fit into the HK location… which is gorgeous, by the way. But every Thursday from 7-12 and Saturday from 6-10, you can find me at the Chelsea location. Both Chelsea and HK are gonna try some new things! I’m so excited for it.
And talk to us a bit about your other residency at uptown neighborhood bar Toolbox, which recently expanded its space to accommodate more dance parties and shows! Janae SaisQuoi hosts and performs there on Friday nights, which you DJ. Have you enjoyed the changes in the space?
So, funny story; I had never visited Toolbox before, and started working there a year ago because my friend DJ Nandi asked me to sub in a couple of dates. After that, they asked me to come on. So I never saw it before the renovation… but I absolutely love it. It reminds me of when I worked at Posh in regards to it’s size, but the new lighting and shows are so awesome! The sound system is killer! People literally have been amazed at the changes after Covid, and I think they are absolutely killing it right now. We are even moving into getting gogo boys for some added eye candy on Friday nights when I’m there.
Where else can we find you, now or in the future?
Tuesdays this summer I’m in Cherry Grove on Fire Island, at The Ice Palace, for “Take a Shot Tuesdays” with AndrogyNY and Lauren Ordair. [Other than that] I’m just trying to make it through the summer! I want to look into making a YouTube channel that focuses on giving people hope and joy, if I can find the time; I’m gonna call it “Between a Roc and a Happy Place.” [But for now] just come and support me at Boxers, Toolbox and Fire Island, and stay tuned for future developments.
So finally: “Break My Soul!” Does this truly indicate “the return of house music,” or is that just hype?
OMG, it is so the return of classic house, in the sense of it being on people’s radars! Let’s be honest: the show Legendary has helped to usher this back into the world. Even though that’s not the exact genre of music… it’s part of the culture! Black queer culture has given so much to the world, so it’s nice that it gets a spotlight. But it’s always been there; it’s one of the foundations of dance music. I say, bring on the remixes! Lol, not that they need them… but let’s go!
Thanks, JRoc, and have a great summer!