Turning the Tables

Meet the Minneapolis DJ who might take the men's club out of clubland

So what do you do? You second-guess yourself. You second-guess every instinct. And, if you're tough, you torch the gender ghetto. "I used to wear, you know, the baggy pants and the baggy T-shirt--standard rave gear, or whatever--because I'd be up there and I'd be nervous," Crouch says. "Guys would be checking you out, which obviously wasn't the point. But as I got better and more confident as a DJ I just stopped and said to myself, 'If I want to look good, then I'm going to look good.'"

Yet the weird dynamics of club culture can be indistinguishable from the salacious rituals of the come-on. "Obviously it's odd," Crouch says. "When I do a good set guys come up and hug me."

Diana Watters

It's a half hour before another show at the Front and Crouch is sitting on the floor of her bedroom in the tiny Uptown apartment she shares with her boyfriend James Everest of the Sensational Joint Chiefs, a musician/promoter who stands at an appealing distance from the DJ/rave scene. Right now, she's filing through her crates, pulling out records: "Laid In Full" by Mousse T and Matthias (Matty) Heilbronn, "DRLS" by DJ Cam, "Ain't" by Armand, "The Deaf Squad Lick" by Buckwild, and, of course, "What's My Name" by Bizzy B. and DJ Pugwash.

Classics every one. But for now, let us do the funky chicken on the flimsy limb that assumes you've never heard these fine waxworks--these records no self-respecting Pillsbury employee (temporary or otherwise) would dare leave behind en route to the corporate cookout. It's all good. Don't feel left out. She hasn't quite heard them all either.

"I wonder how this will sound. Haven't heard that. This is supposed to be good. Hmm...oh, you gotta hear this one, this is the absolute shit. We'll be good to go in a minute." Crouch says all this with a soul-girl-on-the-Iron Range timbre--"Funkytown" meets Fargo.

"They don't care when you show up," Bionic says, moving with the pace of a saunter and the posture of a hurry. "Besides, no one's there for the first set anyway. OK. I'll have my drink, you finish yours, and we'll go." Oh yeah, and her Bloody Mary could snowball a sailor.

Fifteen minutes, three epiphanies, and two Camel Red lights later we're freezing our asses of in her humongous 'n' heaterless Ram van, driving downtown, listening to her semifunctional stereo. "This is an old tape I made when I first started mixing records. It totally sucks."

She's right--at least for a while. A dreary trip-hop beat rattles the dashboard. Damn sleepy stuff. But she isn't a bit embarrassed. After all, when you first start mixing you're destined to "totally sound like crap." Today, that stage has long since passed. The sleeper wakes.

In 1990 Crouch's parents pulled the tall, gawky "freaky hippie chick" out of Duluth and away from an uncool boyfriend, and shipped her off to boarding school in D.C. "This did not fly well with me," she says in a tone alarming in its sudden seriousness. But she stuck it out. College, on the other hand, was not in the works, and she bailed out of tiny Trinity College after a semester. For a while she killed time, waitressing at a cabaret, "making mad money," listening to the Roches, waiting to head home.

Back in Duluth, Crouch started going to raves, which she loved "for the community first and the music second." Soon that relationship flip-flopped, and, after a while, she started dabbling with the "boys'" equipment. She'd been around the fellas and the turntables for months, but when one of them asked her to get up and give it a spin--this was a startling development. "I'd been interested for a long time, but no one had ever asked," she says. "It was always kind of a guy thing."

But she kept at it. And hippie chick became raver became DIY DJ.

Bionic's public glory--the junglist's jouissance, if you will--started with slice of magic straight out of The Natural. She'd been mixing house records for a while when her roommate and close friend DJ Kevin Craig--THE ONLY JUNGLIST IN DULUTH (luth luth luth)--let her get on the turntables at a show and started passing her jungle records. She'd never heard them before. She'd barely been around the music. Yet she mixed them seamlessly. So well, in fact, that DJ Kevin Craig became jealous and decided his charge was all talent and no real passion. See, he was a jungle purist: "You're not like I am," he told her. "You're just doing it 'cause it's easy for you." A couple months later Crouch had lost a friend and DJ Kevin Craig wasn't the only junglist in Duluth.

"That's something that's come up a few times. And this is where it gets really tricky," Crouch says as we pull up in front of the Front. And while she has nothing but love--sorry, "nuthin' but luv"--for the "boys" she left up North when she moved to Minneapolis last summer, she does admit that her ascendancy in talent and status has sometimes been as alienating as it has been exhilarating.

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