PRIDE 2022: A MASH NOTE TO DJ PAUL V (PART ONE)

In addition to being one of our favorite people, Paul V. Vitagliano—known as DJ Paul V in L.A.—has had one of the most diverse and fascinating careers we can think of. A boundary-smashing DJ who put rock, punk and pop front and center in a gay-club context, on-air champion of the mashup, erstwhile promo exec, manager of alternative bands, drag-soap star and author (of the kid-fabulous blog and book Born This Way), Paul is foremost a lover of music and community. We asked him about his career, his coming out, his adventures (and misadventures) in the biz and more.

Let’s talk about DRAGSTRIP 66, which is where we met.
Dragstrip 66 was co-created by myself and Mr. Dan, aka Gina Lotriman. We were best friends who moved here from Boston. Around 1989, we did a few L.A. events that drew a small but loyal crowd, but they never caught on. So we said, “Let‘s try one more club, and if this thing bombs, we’re done.” So the concept was for people to dress in drag, we’d have a monthly theme and hopefully create a place that we would want to go to ourselves. We identified it as a gay club but made it open to everybody who got it and wanted to be there. And in 1993, drag was still very underground and radical, and gay clubs were not playing alternative music or rock ’n’ roll.

The atmosphere was unlike that of any other communal gathering I’d ever attended. It was very drag but very inclusive and welcoming.
It was punk, it was DIY and it let everyone express themselves without judgment or attitude.

How long did it run?
We launched it on January 9, 1993, and ran it the second Saturday of the month through 2013. So 20 years! The first one had a modest turnout. The second one was better. And the third one was the Jan Brady theme, which sealed what Dragstrip was. From that night on, the club was packed every month, solely from word of mouth. Somehow, we managed to catch lightning in a bottle, and it was the patrons who made the club so special. Our philosophy had always been, “We don’t need the most people; we just need the right people.” And we maintained this really loyal original crowd for our entire run.

I loved that it was so diverse: alternative queer guys, straight girls, lesbians, enlightened straight guys, indie-rock scenesters, trans women. And I loved that we could have this party that’s completely LGBTQ-identified, but if you’re cool and can add something to the energy, you are more than welcome regardless of your gender or sexuality. So if you want to help us finish the documentary about it with a tax-deductible donation, go to DS66TheFrockumentary.com.

You have one of my favorite drag names of all time.
Ha-ha! Yeah, I DJ’d in drag as Cody Pendant, then as Tureena P. Soup, which was the name of a character from The Plush Life, our live drag/queer soap-opera serial, which we wrote and performed from 1993 to 2002.

A lot of what I ended up doing in L.A. was informed by a Boston club called Man Ray that I worked in from ’85 to ’87. From the start of my career, I wanted to be known as a gay DJ who was not playing what was in every other gay club. I wanted to play new wave, punk, industrial, and rock ’n’ roll. My friend Tom Walker was the other main DJ at Dragstrip, and we created a different monthly event called Spit that ran for eight years at the Faultline. And that was kind of the gay-male-cruising version of Dragstrip. A lot of the Silverlake crowd would be at Dragstrip on the second Saturday, then come to SPIT the third Saturday, which was also packed every month.

Tell me about the mash-up part of the equation.
For eight years starting in 2005, I was a co-creator and co-promoter of an all-mashup event at the Echo and Echoplex. Then [cutting-edge L.A. station] Indie 103.1 came on the air and completely blew me away. I thought, I have to be on this station in some way. I pitched them something called “Mashup of the Day.” Then, that led to me doing the “Smash Mix,” a weekly 22-minute DJ mix of mashups and the indie bands the station was playing. Then, in 2007, they gave me a late-night indie-electro mix show called Neon Noise, which was a dream come true.

Coming up in Part 2: Paul kinda-sorta-accidentally becomes a major-label promo guy, manages a cutting-edge band, finds L.A. club glory and writes a book.

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