Thirty-five-year-old Cleveland, Ohio native Kellie Thomas doesn’t necessarily play records as DJ Cleveland Browne because she’s a football fan. However, not unlike the franchise which inspired her name, she’s an old-school throwback that preaches the fundamentals of her craft, eschews defined emblems for her work and perpetually aims to create excellence defined by a classic ideal. At a time in DC where there’s just as many DJs as there are venues for DJs to showcase their craft, her adherence to creating value by upholding standards has allowed her to gain acclaim within four years as a professional DJ spinning in the nation’s capital.
Thomas describes herself as “tired” when talking to On Tap, as in both holding down a nine-to-five job and DJing in a city that routinely is a seven-day-a-week party locale – the balance is daunting. From brunches to happy hours, and late-night soirees to sweat-soaked weekend dance fests, the DC area boasts something for everyone.
“I think I bring a refreshing vibe to DC,” she says. “I like a party that’s not super big, where people can just kind of fall through and discover something organic that they weren’t expecting. Sometimes you want to play sets for people who just want to have a nice evening of music and not feel bombarded with a lot of the same sounds you hear everywhere else.”
That desire to find something different and something more has defined her time in the DC metropolitan area. Before becoming DJ Cleveland Browne, Thomas moved to DC in 2006 and found herself in what she defines as the “wrong spaces,” a.k.a. parties that were not necessarily delivering insofar as her nightlife desires.
“I didn’t know anyone when I moved here,” she continues. “I went to places like [Northwest DC destination] The Park at Fourteenth and [one-time Northeast DC nightspot] Love, and they didn’t feel like my kind of places.”
What eventually became “her kind of places” were the parties being thrown by the likes of soulful house and classic rap lover DJ Stylus, as well as event promotion company Lil SoSo Productions.
Describing a DJ Stylus set as “one of the most amazing and transformative experiences [she’s] ever had” at a party, she decided that she wanted to be able to provide the same party experiences for others. Musically, her sets steer in the direction of the 70s soul and funk of her parents, plus a heavy dose of 90s-era Midwestern and Southern rap music. Her tastes have evolved to jazzy house sounds and afro-beat as well.
“Being able to rock a party by transitioning between genres and having the set make sense is important,” she says. “Anybody can match beats, but creating an experience for people and a journey that crosses genres is what inspires me.”
She also tells On Tap, “In 2016, everyone is a DJ. As much as you need people who cater to the crowd that’s popping bottles and buying up the bar, you need people like me who try to create a warmer and more relaxed vibe. There needs to be more spaces that are open to developing DJs who want to do something beyond what a lot of people think is the expectation.”
Thinking about the future, Thomas says, “I want to get technically better [as a DJ], so I’m constantly practicing. I want to find my own niche, though. I want people to hear my sets and say, ‘That’s DJ Cleveland Browne!’ That’s going to require me to keep an ear and eye out for new sounds and how people react to them.”