From the Soul Preservation Society of Charleston’s Pam Huseby, who has over 20 years of slaying the ones and twos, to Samira Miche, who’s brought nothing but fire since her DJ debut earlier this year, meet five of Charleston’s most phenomenal disc jockeys.
Real Name: Samira Miche
Genre: Hip-hop, Funk, Soul
Likely to find her spinning at: Purple Buffalo, Royal American
Hip-hop and rap have nurtured the idea of DJs since the beginning. Someone had to put the beats over the speakers, someone had to be the turntablist and scratch records, and someone had to mix the music live. And all were a DJ’s forte. So, it’s good to see hip-hop-leaning disc jockeys like Samira Miche jump on a soundboard and spin music that’s been integral to DJ culture for so long.
“I am a ’90s baby,” Miche says. “I’m a hard ’90s hip-hop fan.” Known as Sista Misses to the masses, Miche describes her sound as “dense, smooth, and atmospheric beats with a slight groove.” Expect nothing less from someone whose favorite artists are producers like underground idol Madlib, experimental hip-hop king J Dilla, and North Carolina’s own 9th Wonder.
Like a lot of music fans, Miche’s passion started early with a little help from her family. “A lot of the influence is a part of my upbringing,” she says. “My family is literally 50/50 from New York or from the South, so I grew up with that balance.” Rap and soul were big hits with her from the get go, but the music she loved wasn’t limited to genre or geography. “My grandfather — he would pull out records that were maybe African records or Spanish records. Very old ’70s music, ’60s Temptations.”
Even though hip-hop and rap influenced beats are a large part of what she performs, Miche puts a big focus on funk and soul, as well. “I’m an old-head,” Miche says. “I’m only 25, but I like a lot of old music.”
Having as many genres as possible to pull from is a huge help for Miche’s brand of DJing. “I look at the way I DJ as improvising music at that time,” she says. Sista Misses plays up the versatility of DJing, while still sticking true to the soul and rap beat-making that inspired her. “Sometimes I have my set ready, sometimes I just go off the vibe,” Miche says.
Although she’s performed at the Royal American, Purple Buffalo, and Charleston Music Hall, Miche is a true believer in the behind the scenes work, as well. “I’m more into creating my own mixes online,” she says. That mindset works well for the laid back beats and mixes she dispenses. “I’m more so on the side of appreciating the music, overlapping beats, that type of stuff,” Miche says. Her most recent mix uploaded to YouTube is titled “foryoubaby,” and it crosses the Game’s “Wouldn’t Get Far” with Madvillain’s “Eye.”
While she’s performed at a variety of venues, Miche continues to see a disparity in hip-hop centered performance spaces, which is obviously hard on a hip-hop centered DJ.”The genre has a lot to do with what Charleston likes to portray as the majority of what should be played in clubs,” she says. “They very well want to hear hip-hop, but that goes into the stigma of how venue owners want whoever to fill up the clubs.” A lack of focus on rap music in local venues has been a much discussed issue, and it continues to affect many music communities, even within the DJ scene.
Miche has channeled her creative talents and love of music as a member of local culture curators IllVibeTheTribe. And, while she’s the in-house DJ for IllVibe, Miche does consider Sista Misses to be a separate project. “It’s something for me to enjoy, right now, while it’s growing,” she says. “I’m enjoying the journey.” —Heath Ellison
DJ Tuff Girl
Real Name: Kristin Halvorson
Genre: Dance, Breakbeat, Punk
Likely to find her spinning at: Tin Roof
Clichés about DJs are a dime a dozen. Images of burned-out, tank top-clad Deadmau5 fans that peaked the year they could buy alcohol are easy to come by. Obviously, it’s not the reality, and DJs like Kristin Halvorson are walking proof. Twenty-three years into her tenure as a record-spinner, Halvorson’s become a hobbyist in subverting expectation. The encyclopedic music knowledge she kicks for fun has led her to the usual DJ venues (clubs, raves, house parties), but how many DJs can say they’ve opened up for punk bands Agent Orange and Guttermouth?
The beginning of Halvorson’s DJ career is found in the center of music geek church, a.k.a. the record store. “I’ve been collecting records since I was in fourth grade,” she says. The elementary school vinyl devotee didn’t know it at the time, but she was priming her future self to become DJ Tuff Girl.
Over the years, her number of vinyl crates began to swell. And, thanks to an encounter with her roommate’s DJ-ready turntable, she began putting those shelves of records to good use. “I started in 1994,” says Halvorson. “The ’90s was huge for the club scene.” After relocating to Charleston in 1996, DJ Tuff Girl found a home in the Liquid Lounge. She was one of the now-defunct hotspot’s weekly DJs, rotating record after record for waves of club kids. That’s not to mention the raves, the parties, and the after parties she was also working. “I kind of miss those days because I don’t think there’s a lot of dance clubs going on,” says Halvorson.
Thanks to her “vinyl junkie” status, Halvorson has the equipment to play to most types of crowds, and it’s a skill she’s used often. “I was doing primarily breakbeats, ’80s, dance, reggae, because I had dreadlocks down to my knees,” she says. “I was really into playing dance stuff, but I’m really an old punker from the ’80s.”
Tuff Girl’s proclivity for all things punk led her to Charleston’s skate scene in the early 2000s, where her eclectic tastes helped her thrive. “Once a month, we’d throw pay-the-rent parties and it would be all punk-rock bands, and I would DJ in between all of them,” says Halvorson. “I’d play punk and metal, and skateboarders are also super into reggae and hip-hop.” One of these pay-the-rent parties led to the Agent Orange show, in which the surf-punk legends graced Tuff Girl’s very own P.A. system with classics like “Bloodstains.” How did they get Agent Orange to play their rent-paying throwdown? The show organizers asked the band nicely.
As if her musical repertoire and scene involvement wasn’t enough of a mixed bag, the DJ daylights in College of Charleston’s history department as an Egyptologist. The busy schedule provided by the academic world and a perceived lack of dance clubs has Halvorson performing once or twice a year. “My last show was in March at the Tin Roof. It was the after party for the opening of SK8 Charleston,” she says. “I do not have a place that I usually perform.”
For a seasoned veteran of the DJ scene like Halvorson, it can be tough to not see as many gigs as the old days. “It does bum me out a bit that there are not that many places specifically for dancing,” says Halvorson. “If there were more, maybe the dance culture would start thriving again.” Until then, Halvorson is hopeful that DJs, especially from her scene, can meet up in the future. “It would be nice to have some old school night where we can throw down some ’80s and ’90s dance stuff.” —Heath Ellison
Real Name: Duolan Li
Genre: Dance, House
Likely to find her spinning at: Faculty Lounge, Purple Buffalo
There’s an element to DJing that’s often oversimplified. Dropping a needle and watching a party start is only one step in the process. As Duolan Li points out, DJing is just as much about the music selection process. “I think DJing is an artform in itself because it’s so much about the love for music and curating music,” says Li.
Known by her DJ booth moniker Auntie Ayi (Chinese for “auntie”), Li’s an electronica/dance kid through and through. “There’s a connection you feel to it. There’s a soul element. So, if I hear something and it makes me want to move, that’s a track I want to DJ,” says Li. “I think that has a lot to do with how I curate my music — do I actually have a physical response to it?”
The Auntie Ayi manifesto reads: dance, dance, dance. “I do curate dance music,” she says. “For me, I’ve always loved dancing and it’s always been about the music.”
Li’s love of music and dance parties comes pretty naturally, thanks to her Seattle upbringing. “During that time, it was the early ’90s. That was when the rave dance music scene was really big, but there was a really fun iteration of it on the West Coast,” says Li. “A lot of times, I would go to a punk show and then later on in the night, I would go across town into a little warehouse dance party.”
Her time in the rave scene made Li a talking library of electro, referencing subgenres of house (garage, acid, minimal) and techno like it’s common knowledge. Her Soundcloud is stacked with mixes that show off the deep dance songbook she’s got hidden away. “I do a lot of ’90s house and techno, but I’ll mix it up with some recent stuff, as well,” she says. Each mix, like her set that was recorded live at the Purple Buffalo, is almost an hour (or over an hour) of funky keys, spacey samples, and classic four-on-the-floor foot movers.
Although she’s a lifelong music fan, Li didn’t start DJing until the summer of 2016. “I had been wanting to DJ for a while because I don’t get out much and I had been playing a lot of the dance music I like at home and just kind of having these solo dance parties,” Li laughs. In response, she created an alter ego that puts her best alter-ego foot forward in an extroverted way. “Auntie channels my love for dance music. I’m a pretty private person, so Auntie allows me to share the quirky, kid-at-heart side of me,” says Li.
Part of Auntie’s mission is to share the music she loves with the city. “I didn’t feel like I was hearing much of what I wanted to listen to at the time,” says the DJ. She digs deep to pick tracks and sounds that aren’t the typical modern disc jockey fare, in large part through her past knowledge of rave culture and European and Asian dance music. “My ultimate goal is really getting people interested in music that they haven’t heard before,” Li says.
When she’s not donning the Auntie Ayi persona, Li stays busy as the co-owner of Xiao Bao Biscuit, which she runs with her husband Josh Walker and their friend Joey Ryan. The trio will soon open a new restaurant, named Tu. Sure, her day job will give her plenty of activity, but it won’t stop Li from keeping Auntie Ayi alive and well behind a soundboard. —Heath Ellison
The Soul Preservation Society
Name: Pam Huseby
Genre: Soul, Funk, Jazz, Hip-Hop
Most likely to find her: Special events and OHM Radio 96.3
She’s created the soundtracks for memorable, dance floor-filled Charleston nights for over 20 years but has never had a DJ name, technically. One friend calls her DJ Mama P but most know her as Pam Huseby, the wonder behind the Soul Preservation Society of Charleston — a live concept that began in the early ’90s and was revived, in a new form, two years ago when OHM Radio hit the local airwaves.
“You’ve been listening to Luscious Jackson,” a soft-spoken Huseby speaks into the mic one recent morning as the Soul Preservation Society (SPSC) begins its ascent into the Sunday brunch time slot. On this particular day, she follows with a cool little history lesson about how Luscious Jackson, which consisted of founding Beastie Boys (punk-era) member Kate Schellenbach, was the first band to get signed onto the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label, and Luscious Jackson’s first live performance was opening up for the Boys and Cypress Hill, New York City, 1991. That’s around the same time that Huseby really began filling her arsenal with such anecdotes — she has a million of ’em — along with countless dog-eared records.
In the early ’90s, Huseby and friend John Elder opened up record and skateboard shop Big Edna’s, formerly at 283 Meeting St., the current site of Pounce Cafe. “That’s when skateboard-influenced art and culture and music were all colliding,” she remembers. In that era, skateboarders like former Charlestonian Shepard Fairey started making alt-graphic art, and Big Edna’s sold it alongside the music.
Two particular skateboarders/artists — Blaize Blouin and Alfred Hawkins — would become instrumental in the development of Huseby’s musical taste, the one that very much defines her now. The two wandered into the shop one day for records and wound up painting a mural and becoming fixtures at the store, where Huseby says they discovered a lot of music together. She says, “They were introducing me to this resurgence of jazz that happened because of hip-hop and hip-hop artists digging into their parents’ records.”
Names like Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Digable Planets were in their prime, converging the worlds of hip-hop, funk, soul, and jazz and capturing the attention of music heads like Huseby, Blouin, and Hawkins. “Back then there was no way to search for who sampled this or that on Google, but we’d listen to these records we were surrounded by, and we’d be listening to this random jazz record and we were like, ‘Oh my god, that’s the sample from, whoever,'” she says. “It was exciting. It was different. You happened upon things, and you went and sought them out.”
From that circle emerged parties at James Island’s Med Deli, owned at the time by Lee Ivey, who Huseby and friends revered as a sage. That’s where Huseby first put a needle on a record for a crowd, honed her DJ skills, and debuted the Soul Preservation Society. So where’d the title come from? “My friend Nicole Antonacci and I were driving down King Street one day, and we were already seeing changes in Charleston,” Huseby says. This was in 1996. They looked around and wondered what the city was really preserving — and who would preserve the soul of the city that, as they saw it, was disappearing. “And we decided the next Med Deli party theme would be the Soul Preservation Society,” Huseby says. “We made fliers — there was no Facebook — and Blaize passed them out on King Street.” Back then the cover was $2 and the evening’s promise was simply “DJs, a cash bar, and good beer.”
A few years later, Huseby became a mom and gradually DJ’d out and about less and less, the late-night reveling a thing of the past. That’s why the opportunity to bring a SPSC radio show to OHM was so appealing. “At parties and bars, people want something upbeat, but with the radio you can play all kinds of stuff — like maybe I’m playing something upbeat and you’re sweeping your floors or it’s something weird and you’re chillin’ on the couch,” she says. As for the Sunday slot — well that’s simply the undebatably best time to spread the gospel of soul (and soul-inspired-and-infused records) to the masses. Huseby says, “If I can’t have Sunday brunch with all of my friends, then I can be there for their Sunday brunch and play music for them.”
SPSC is never recorded and uploaded online, for a reason that is fitting with the nostalgic format of a vinyl-only radio show. “It’s a moment in time,” Huseby says. “Once it happens, it’s gone.”
SPSC isn’t confined to the airwaves, though. It’s also a collective of DJs comprising Huseby, D!Z (a one-time customer of Big Edna’s who DJs solely with 45s), Marcus Amaker, and Jason Layne, who bring a blend of classic and rare soul, R&B, jazz, funk, and hip-hop to special events and venues like the Royal American and the Pour House.
Huseby’s been told that her record collection is like a museum that no one visits, and that’s another reason why the show is so special for both she and her audience. You can catch her, and a revolving door of guest DJs — she even let yours truly sit in once — live this Sunday, and every Sunday, for three hours beginning at 11 a.m. on OHM Radio 96.3. —Kelly Rae Smith
Real Name:Loni Lewis
Likely to find her spinning at: Tin Roof
Take a second and picture the stereotypical librarian. What do you see? Perhaps an older lady, hair greying, glasses on a chain around her neck, reserved and soft spoken. You wouldn’t imagine her leaving school to go DJ the New Year’s Eve party at Tin Roof.
Loni Lewis is not the stereotypical librarian. Under the moniker DJ Lanatron, Lewis has built a reputation, driving people to the dance floor with a style and repertoire emphatically her own.
Lewis began DJing in 2004. “I was always the person who wanted to control the music in the room,” she says. “And so it just clicked in my head that that was what I wanted to do.”
Back then, as a secretary at a hair salon, Lewis saved money from each paycheck until she was able to purchase her own equipment. Then she began the arduous process of learning and perfecting the craft. So as a book lover, where did she turn? “This is funny because I’m a librarian now, but I checked out every book on hip-hop and DJing from the Charleston Public Library system.”
Thirteen years later, 2017 may have been the most prolific year of her DJing career — at least the most diverse considering the venues where she’s performed. She’s DJed on boats, on a float for the Pride parade, at a 5K for the Ryan White Wellness Center, and at the local Women’s March on Washington rally at Brittlebank Park. “That was amazing,” says Lewis. “I’d never played to an audience that big before, and I didn’t even think about it until I was there and I looked out at the crowd and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there are so many people here.’ It was really exciting and it was a cause I could really get behind.”
With her day job at Deer Park Middle School, it only seems natural that Lewis has also been DJing more school dances and proms. “I really enjoy DJing for kids,” she says. “Something goes viral on Youtube and they all know how to do the dances. Obviously I’m not going to play music that I listened to in middle school, because they would be like, ‘What is this old people music?’ But I really love playing their songs and watching them all do the dances.”
She’s even taken her educational duties a step further, beyond the realms of literature and poetry. “I’m teaching a sixth grader at my school how to DJ,” says Lewis. “He was asking me for a full year about it and finally I was like, ‘OK, he’s really serious about this.’ So we just DJed at our middle school together last week, and it was really great.”
As a librarian, Lewis brings a unique perspective to the world of DJing. “The way I think about music is similar to the way I think about books because my brain is so into cataloguing and finding connections,” she says. “It’s like a puzzle, piecing together eclectic playlists and finding weird songs that go together that you wouldn’t think go together.”
Exhibit A: “I realized one day that Modest Mouse’s ‘Tiny Cities Made of Ashes’ can mix with Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean.'”
That sort of juxtaposition isn’t unusual for Lewis. While always remaining cohesive, she ambitiously chooses music that crosses genres and eras. “[The music I play] widely varies and I think that is both a blessing and a curse, because I don’t think people can necessarily pin down my style,” she says. “I can play to a crowd. I can be fluid to the situation, but if I’m given freedom to just play a party and not have structure, I generally really enjoy songs around 120 to 130 beats per minute, and I’m OK with jumping across decades.”
Lewis has even begun to incorporate the synthesizer into her DJ performances. This past spring, she DJed at Ecstatic Dance, and bringing the synth along just felt natural. Ecstatic Dance is a global phenomenon that in essence pairs meditation with dancing, encouraging anyone and everyone to express themselves freely through dance, without judgment. But as a DJ, the performance actually had pretty specific guidelines. “It tells you the tempos you should be playing and for how long,” says Lewis. “It builds to a high beats per minute and then it comes back down and loses the beat completely, so it made the most sense to use the synthesizer so I could fade the music out and have just synth tones remaining.”
It’s a concept Lewis plans to explore further in the future. She’s performing this Sat. Nov. 25 at Tin Roof, sharing a bill with Loi Loi, Electric Grandmother, and Infinitikiss. And on Dec. 31, she’ll DJ her fourth straight New Year’s Eve party at Tin Roof, which is undeniably one of her favorite gigs. The theme every year? Middle-school prom. —Matt Dobie
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