One thing to love about D.C. is the abundance of dance floors. And when Pride rolls around, those dance floors go from simple platforms to launching pads for queer love and joy.
With June peeking its head around the corner, excitement for Pride month festivities are at an all-time high. But along with typical rainbow paraphernalia and parades aplenty, citizens of the District are also in store for two of the best dance nights to ever hit the DMV: MixTape and BENT.
Both started with the goal of diversifying D.C.’s dance scene with an ever-expanding playlist of queer favorites and hidden gems, MixTape and BENT’s abundant influence on the District comes from the efforts of their tireless organizers: DJs Shea Van Horn and Steve Lemmerman, better known as Lemz.
Already an active entertainer with his amazing drag persona Summer Camp, the year 2008 found Van Horn sensing a desire for different music in the D.C. clubs. Although clubs featured the firm roots of queer Washington, the music being played wasn’t what the community actually listened to.
“Some of [club music at the time] was, no shade, middle of the bell curve and I wanted to hear something with different influences,” Van Horn says. “I met fellow DJ Matt Bailer and he had the same feelings about parties and music, so we picked this [now closed] Eritrean restaurant that was a cool incubator for new events. We had 50 people and played an unpredictable mix of ’70s disco to ’80s goth to 2000s electroclash.”
Thus MixTape events began and lasted a whole decade before Bailer and Van Horn decided to take a hiatus, citing that the D.C. dance scene had grown so much since MixTape’s inception. And that growth only continued after Lemz’s BENT took charge.
Explains Lemz, “MixTape was one of the most life-changing moments that I had in nightlife because I also wasn’t feeling seen musically and it was a lonely time. So to have DJ’s like Shea and Matt was really influential. BENT is very much inspired by MixTape.”
“We pitched this unapologetically queer show that’s focused on putting all of our amazingly talented locals onstage and had these wild imaginations like a runway, crazy visuals and a [one-way] see-through scrim that the DJ would be behind so people would focus on each other rather than the DJ.”
While speaking with Lemz and Van Horn, it’s almost impossible for them to not praise D.C. talent.
Lemz and Van Horn are incredibly vocal about how much they love their fellow Washingtonians (MixTape/Bent features like DJ Tezrah and Vagenesis to name a few) and conveyed even more pride about the venue that not only welcomed their shows, but their community as well: the 9:30 Club.
“I remember thinking how amazing it was,” Van Horn resonates. “Being invited to play on the same stage where I saw so many of my music idols.”
“The immense support [9:30 Club] gave us…the opportunity to showcase our amazing local talent and bodies of all kinds…it’s almost too much to talk about.” Lemz says.
As upcoming BENT and MixTape events are creeping up on the horizon, all three of us touched upon favorite queer anthems and the artists that bolster our identities.
For Shea, it is the Eurythmics and John Waters collaborator Divine.
And for Lemz, influences range from disco dynamo Sylvester (the track “Stars” to be specific) and the late producer SOPHIE, a musical force whose legacy prompted tears in Lemz’s eyes and my own.
Pride means so many things to so many people. But for Van Horn and Lemz, one of the prominent parts of Pride is hitting the dance floor and communicating with others on a level that doesn’t require the same language.
It’s refreshing to know that this duo is still so excited after working Pride for some time. And it was even greater for them to invite a young queer person like myself with such enthusiasm and care.
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