While DJ Soul Sister's name scrolled across the Essence Fest stage in multicolored, 4-foot-tall LED lights, 50,000 fans were swaying and bopping, buoyed up between acts by her choice cuts. As probably New Orleans' most recognizable DJ, Melissa Weber " aka Soul Sister " spins deep funk and rare groove at least three times a week. She also is a stalwart on WWOZ 90.7 FM's international airwaves and Internet broadcast, with her Saturday night Soul Power show, which is celebrating 14 years and counting.
New Orleans is a hot spot for live music, so it stands to reason that the city is ground zero for a plethora of hard-core music fans and collectors. Luckily for us, they share, via the somewhat undersung DJ population " die-hard party-starters who tote boxes of vinyl, CDs and even iPods to local bars and clubs to share the fruits of their obsession. New Orleans spinners run the gamut from tricky turntablists scratching and mixing live to rabid crate-diggers with obscure vintage 45s. From bounce to bossa nova, whether you want to shake your booty or drip a tear in your beer, there's a reason to save your jukebox quarters out there almost every night of the week.
As the hardest-working DJ in New Orleans, Soul Sister's got the market cornered with three regular nights, each tailored for a particular vibe. There's Hustle, a party that's been funking up the upstairs of Mimi's in the Marigny with underground disco for four years' worth of Saturdays. Unwind is a Sunday-night, downtempo soul-jazz event, also at Mimi's, which she alternates with Super Cool DJ Kazu (who spins deep house at the Hookah Café on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Free Spirit, her Wednesday-night 'mellow midweek affair" at Hookah, eases partygoers into the end of the week with atmospheric jazz, chill breaks and soulful rare grooves.
As the longest continuously running DJ night in New Orleans, the monthly Mod Dance Party has been rocking till the sun comes up for more than seven years. Run by a fraternity of like-minded nostalgic DJs " Kristen, Matty and Pasta " MDP offers a dependable menu of vintage northern soul and hot R&B for dancing. The party has been noted in SPIN magazine and traveled to Atlanta and Baton Rouge to spread the gospel of signature platters like the Mighty Hannibal's 'The Truth Will Make You Free" and 'These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" in Spanish. Currently in residence at the Saturn Bar, MDP celebrates its eighth anniversary on Aug. 30.
Mod Dance Party DJs Matty and Pasta also curate Sunday country nights at the Saint and the biweekly Alligator Chomp Chomp Friday at Mimi's. Country night is the perfect soundtrack to drink your way into Monday morning, with weepy or witty old-school tracks from the likes of Loretta, Conway, Ernest, Faron, Johnny, Porter, Dolly, George and Tammy. Alligator Chomp Chomp fires you up for the weekend with '50s swamp pop and bayou-style blues and R&B.
Any New Orleans hip-hop fan will know the name DJ E.F. Cuttin, whose name is stamped on dozens of local hip-hop tracks and remixes. He spins hip-hop Wednesday nights at the Hookah Café. New Orleans has a fine roster of hip-hop DJs ands producers whose appearances are difficult to pin down. (We suggest listening to Q93.3 FM if you want to catch the up-and-coming producer Raj Smoove, or the voice of the excellent, now-defunct hip-hop station 104.5 FM, DJ Blaq n Mild.) Luckily, the block party wizard and undisputed King of Bounce, DJ Jubilee, now has a weekly gig. He can be found on the wheels of steel Sunday nights at the Cricket Club (formerly the Red Room) hollering out the steps to the Eddie Bauer and Monkey on a Stick.
Fans of '90s jams and contemporary indie dance rock can choose from a couple of floating nights, Action Action Reaction and Jock Se Bloque, for an eclectic mix of recent vintage sounds. At the Republic every Friday, Throwback ups the theme quotient with free Ms. Pac Man and a gratis bar tab for anyone who can solve a Rubik's Cube. Local turntablists like Beverly Skillz and Tony Skratchere cut and scratch live on top of electro club jams, techno and hip-hop. For dependably massive record collections it's worth keeping an eye on names like Brice Nice, DJ Pasta and Prince Pauper, who'll bring anything from old-school hip-hop to '60s ska to crunchy metal. And of course, '80s night is still in residence at One Eyed Jacks every Thursday.
- DJ Kristen has been spinning for the Mod Dance Party for seven years.