Tracy Young’s 25-year career is a history lesson about Miami’s infamous house scene and the woman who spread it worldwide.
It’s hard to imagine the legendary DJ — who has worked with Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Gloria Estefan — as anything but an electronica virtuoso. But Young decided to make beats despite knowing little about the genre or its production. “I was self-taught,” she says. “I was somebody that enjoyed nightlife. When I heard that the record never stopped and it kept going into one song... I was like, God, how are they doing that?” It was 1990. “I made my way to the DJ booth, and once I saw how it was done, I was obsessed.”
A Washington, D.C. native, Young first visited Miami in 1994 for that year’s Winter Music Conference. She was already a connoisseur of electronic music. “I started making roots here from the moment I stepped off the plane,” she says. “I remember thinking, I gotta live here. It’s paradise.” She started doing sets at Liquid, newly opened by her friend Ingrid Casares.
Then Young blew up — not only as a DJ but also as an anomalous female trailblazer of the club scene. As a young woman coming up in the scene, she says that “it’s always been difficult.” Young describes this negotiation as an internal one. “I’ve had to be that much better in my mind. Nobody said that to me, but I’ve always felt that way inside, because there weren’t any girls doing it when I started.” Some did, however, explicitly tell her that “girls don’t do this.” Yet Young persevered and then some, becoming a celebrated figure in the LGBTQ club scene and a model for aspiring woman DJs. (Young also became the favorite DJ of Casares' buddy Madonna.)
Over the course of her 25-year career, Young notes a regression in modern pop and EDM to the genre’s masculine focus. “Now I see fewer women in the forefront again,” she says. “There is no female Calvin Harris or David Guetta.”
Her groundbreaking staying power in the scene despite sexism and homophobia has resulted in unwanted tabloid attention. The media became so confused by Young that they diminished her achievements by identifying her by whom she was dating. “I never really talk about my personal life because for me it wasn’t about gender; it wasn’t about my sexuality," she says. "It was about the music.” She identified herself wordlessly yet confidently on the dance floor and in the many LGTBQ organizations for which she advocated.
During her career, Young has succeeded in adapting to the swift tide of technology that has changed both music production and its discovery. She has expanded to the airwaves with her iHeartRadio show on 93.3 FM (Saturdays at 9 p.m.). “It’s totally different from what I would do at a nightclub,” she says. She's also planning her 15th-annual Genesis party on New Year’s Day.
Young recently began producing her own original music, such as her chart-topping and oft-remixed “Peace, Love, and Music.” Her passion is just as strong as it was the day she first stepped into the DJ booth. This fall, she’ll release a 25th-anniversary compilation of her remixes and original work that celebrates that core through various avenues over the years.
Her plans for the future are to “just keep rockin’ it.” If the stars, as it turns out, really aren’t just like us, maybe their favorite DJ is. Young had only just gotten power back in her home a day before this interview. She is at heart a clubgoer, a dancer, and a new friend you meet on your best nights out. Her friendships with Madonna and other celebs come second.
“I’m just lucky that people still want to hear me after all this time.”
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