South Beach Sweetheart

In the netherworld of the South Beach dance music scene there are many characters: pimps and hoes, fast-talking hucksters and dolled-up nymphs, drag queens and closet queens, musicians, DJs, artists, photographers, strippers, and many other saints and sinners. It's a weird kind of purgatory that opens its gates between the hours of midnight and sunrise seven days a week.

Among the night walkers who prowl the real estate between Washington Street and Ocean Drive there is perhaps no one more known or loved than Shannon Henry-Latzko. DJ Shannon has been spinning in SoBe nightclubs since 1994, when she began her career on the decks during Mark Leventhal's Hercules party at Lua. Back then the DJs had some colorful names. "Sugar asked me to cover for him," she reminisces. "Snowhite was there too. Mark was very supportive. As soon as I started DJing, I knew this was for me.

"After I played some of the Hercules parties," she continues, "I worked the Top Secret Lounge party at 821 playing with people like Ursula 1000 and Thievery Corporation. Then I met Carmel Ophir. He was doing the Church party then. I would spin a lot of drum and bass. 1996 to 1997 was a very Goth time for me. Everybody had a lot of fun with the makeup and the costumes." During these formative years Shannon developed her sound and carved out her own niche. "I became a party DJ and learned that my eclectic background could become my strength," she says. She also cultivated an attitude that combined humility and poise, qualities for which she is best known today.

Next came her involvement with one of the biggest local parties of the past ten years on South Beach, Fat Black Pussycat at Liquid (now known as Club ZNO). "I played lots of funk. It was great," she says. "Then I stood in for a DJ who played more continuous beats that flowed. That meant that I had to learn to beat mix." Beat mixing is the art of playing songs of similar tempos back to back to achieve a continuous rhythm for the dancers. The technique involves slowing down (or speeding up) the tempo near the end of the current record playing over the loudspeakers to match the tempo of the next record being cued up on the other turntable. It's a talent that requires impeccable timing and an exact knowledge of the tempos and breaks of every record in a DJ's set. "It was scary, at first, but now I love it," she says.

After mastering the basic skills of beat mixing, crossfading, and using effects, DJ Shannon began playing in the main rooms at bigger clubs like Warsaw (now metamorphosed into Jerry's Deli) and the legendary Shadow Lounge. "Once you get into the main rooms, you have all these trainspotters who watch everything," she notes. When pressed to elaborate on what "trainspotters" means she responds, "Trainspotters are people who should get a life, they just sit and stare. Why don't you dance? Go, go, go! There are a lot of trainspotters in L.A."

Over the years, DJ Shannon has played in many cities and venues. One of the more fascinating phases of her career was her involvement in the mid-Nineties rave scene in West Palm Beach. "I think I got too caught up in the scene. I was wearing wigs; gowns; high, high heels; being too fabulous, too worried about seeing and being seen. That was before I became involved with family and more substantial values," she says. "I would spin drum and bass at the raves. Getting paid was a problem, though. Once I played a rave that got raided and I got 'stuck like Chuck' for the cost of the car [to get there] and the room [at the hotel I was staying in]. Another time, I lost my CD case. That was an expensive mistake!"

She finally found her identity at the Back Door Bamby party www.backdoorbamby.com when it was held at Blue. "They wanted rock and roll mixes, which they called 'disco interruptus,' as breaks in the middle of house music," she says. "They gave me the freedom to beat mix seamless music as well as use my knowledge of funk and breaks. Sometimes I use a trippy vocal break to make it all come together."

DJ Shannon is currently a resident along with DJ Gigi for the Back Door Bamby party, which is now held at crobar on Monday nights. She's also the featured DJ at Flute on Sunday nights. One of her colleagues, Ani Phearce, beams, "She's the baddest female DJ in Florida! Original, knows her crowd, and carries them on an energizing trip every time. Perfect fit for Bamby. Nice to see a girl hold her own against the boys!"