Two Turntables and a Gender Gap

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What has become a way of life for Cabrera is also a mainstay for Shannon Henry, who goes by the name DJ Shannon. Tall, solidly built, wearing blue denim overalls and an orange sleeveless top, she has a constant smile on her face. Sitting in her living room in Miami Beach, she enthusiastically relays the tale of how she came to be one of Miami's busiest female DJs.

Like Cabrera, Henry, now in her early thirties, began collecting 45s as she grew up, in Oakland, California. She bought her first album, Parliament Live -- P-Funk Earth Funk Tour, at the age of eight and nurtured her affinity for soul, hip-hop, and funk at elementary, middle, and senior high school. She was one of the few whites in a predominantly black school district. During high school she began to work as a vocalist for speed-metal bands. "Basically it was screaming as opposed to singing -- threatening the audience," she chuckles. "But I realized while I was singing that I was never really happy with my vocals. I thought I was a really good performer, but the way I sounded was not like people who gave me chills when I listened. I didn't have that type of voice."

After graduating from high school, she lived in Europe, San Francisco, and finally Los Angeles. She went from being a vocalist to a fan, then to a more serious collector of recorded music, becoming more and more passionate about electronic music and hip-hop. "That was in the mid-Eighties, and at that point hip-hop was blowing up," she says. "Everything was breaking out. Hip-hop was so innovative and so geared toward the dance floor. I became more of a fan than an actual performer."

All the while her already vast record collection continued to expand and she began throwing theme parties and promoting events. She self-produced a movie, Wild Vixens, starring a slew of drag queens. But California had gotten old. She looked for a new home that would be near the beach and would have an active nightlife. Miami Beach was perfect, and five years ago she decided to make the move. "I figured I'd been doing this so long, why not just take my records and see if I could spin them in Miami," she explains. "It was in the back of my mind. I didn't vocalize it to anybody because I wasn't sure how it would go. I was pretty determined, but I thought I wouldn't talk about it until it happened."

Compared to her now-colleague and friend Snowhite, it happened for Shannon rather quickly. She earned money first as a waitress and bartender at LuLu's restaurant; six months later a friend introduced her to the ubiquitous Mark Leventhal. He invited her to bring some of her records to Hercules, his funk night at Lua. There she became fast friends with Snowhite, who by then had already been working with Leventhal for some time. She spun, loved it, kept coming back with more records, and soon she had a regular -- albeit nonpaying -- job.

Henry believes that being a woman has rarely been a hindrance to her work as a DJ. "In some ways it helps," she says. "People will go, 'Oh, that's cute, a girl who likes to spin music,' but once you're able to show you're skilled at it, you're able to gain respect. I work with a lot of guys and luckily I have had nothing but support. I can see, though, how in certain formats like hip-hop you don't get the respect. You have to be twice as good as a guy."

Having a name that could be mistaken for a guy's can also lead to surprises for some of her listeners. "Sometimes people will hear me and they'll say, 'Yo, man, this is dope! You're a girl?'" These days nightlife hounds usually know that Shannon is a woman. She has performed at many private functions and clubs all over town, including Lucy's, where she got her first paying gig courtesy of DJ Sugar; 821, where she spun retro tunes at two nights dubbed Seventh Grade and Top Secret Lounge (the latter along with male DJ Ursula 1000); and Virtua Cafe, where she was the resident weekend DJ and where she at last found her stylistic niche when a record promoter handed her a stack of records of a new type of music called jungle.

"It was the sound I was waiting to hear. It's what break beat had evolved into," she effuses. "Jungle was completely down my alley. It spoke to me on so many levels. It's more hyper so it had that energy, and I felt like that was a format I could represent and really show skill. When I discovered it, it was just beginning to branch out in so many directions: drum and bass, and techstep, and jumpup. I like to mix all the different styles together."

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Nina Korman
Contact: Nina Korman