Turning the Tables: Dallas Female DJs Are Hitting the Kill Switch in a Man-Powered World

Casie Farrell remembers the moment she decided she’d make a living by chasing the high of music. She was fitted in all-black — from her signature bangs to her sleek leather pants — and found herself among more than a thousand people entranced by the high-tempo, pulsating rhythm of techno on the basement floor of Berlin’s underground club Tresor. The spontaneous outing during a 2016 work trip introduced Farrell to the high-energy, intense electronic sets and elevated her into a bliss unlike any other. The night went hard until the break of dawn, when work obligations forced her back to Earth.

“This crowd of at least 1,000 people was just enjoying themselves, letting loose, enjoying life, and it was all because of this DJ who was creating the ambience for this evening — actually a whole weekend, this club stays open all weekend long — but I could only stay there till 6 a.m. because I had to do workshops and lectures for this trip that I was on,” Farrell says. “It was just unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The audience, the crowd was entranced by the music. And I was sober, I was completely sober. People were vibing, giving us such good energy, everybody was so into the music, I had really never seen anything like it.”

Farrell returned to Dallas craving the embrace of rave culture. A visit to Deep Ellum’s It’ll Do solidified her fascination with the peace, love, unity and respect (PLUR) tenets of the scene. Seeking to immerse herself in it, Farrell made it her ambition to become a house and techno DJ.

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DJ Casie Farrell was inspired to become a DJ after visiting a Berlin nightclub.

Mike Brooks

In 2019, Farrell won a seat at DJ S.O.U.L.jah’s The DJ School Dallas through an Instagram contest. After the first few days of her term, pandemic lockdown restrictions prevented the class from meeting in person. Farrell’s class, an unintentionally all-female group, finished the program after sitting in limbo for about six weeks.

On Fourth of July weekend 2020, shortly after lockdown restrictions were lifted in Texas, DJ Casie Farrell debuted poolside on the Canvas Hotel rooftop and welcomed party-goers with an upbeat set, joining a wave of female DJs trailblazing through a male-dominated industry.

To date, the most successful DJs worldwide are male and include household names such as Paul Oakenfold, Calvin Harris, Skrillex, David Guetta, Steve Aoki, The Chainsmokers and Zedd. Plenty of successful female DJs work around the globe, such as Nina Kraviz and Anja Schneider, but unlike their male counterparts, the female DJ names that are most recognized (and not necessarily most lucrative) by average music fans are the likes of Paris Hilton, Samantha Ronson and Leigh Lezark, women who earned fame and press for their personal lives and styles, not for their work.

Nationally, women account for 23.8% of DJs and make 0.99 cents per $1 earned by a male, which is closer in parity than the national pay gap, with women earning 84% of what men earned for similar jobs in 2020.

With pandemic lockdown restrictions behind, Dallas venues, clubs, restaurants and parties have been seen a rush of talented female DJs, both emerging and longstanding (Sarah Battle, Ursa Minor, Sissy Ross), claiming their thrones behind the deck.

“When I see little girls come to my gigs or they are there with their parents, they just stare at me,” says Lily Haynes, who spins by the name DJ Luv Ssik. “I used to look at radio DJs like that and they were always male. I always looked up to them like, ‘Wow, look at them.’ Now I’ll see little girls staring at me. I hope I’m influencing them and letting them know like hey, they can do this too.”

“When someone says, ‘You’re really good for a female DJ,’ they are meaning it as a compliment, but it stings. People overall still can’t believe girls can DJ.” – Lily Haynes, aka DJ Luv Ssik

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Like Farrell, Haynes’ career trajectory was not always directed toward the turntables. She graduated from  college with a degree in telecommunications, but once she got a job she found herself sitting inside her cubicle daydreaming about music all day.

“One day, I was watching TV and I saw someone or I heard someone use the phrase, ‘Do something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,’ so I actually sat myself down and asked myself that question. And the one thing that just kept coming up was music,” Haynes says.

click to enlarge Lily Haynes, aka DJ Luv Ssik, just wants little girls to have someone to look up. - MIKE BROOKS

Lily Haynes, aka DJ Luv Ssik, just wants little girls to have someone to look up.

Mike Brooks

She first began her pursuit of DJing as a hobby, slowly buying equipment and practicing after work in her living room. Soon, Haynes was obsessed with the euphoric feeling that accompanied creative expression.

In September 2016, she bet on herself. With the support of her friends and family, Haynes quit her job and dedicated one year to learning the craft. She practiced up to six hours a day, and one year and two days after making the commitment, Haynes performed at her first gig at Club Dada in Deep Ellum.

“I had rocked the crowd. I was just so pumped, like, they couldn’t get me off,” Haynes says. “[Management] kept telling me, like, one more song, just one more song, and I was ignoring them. I just kept playing and I was just so pumped up. It was a lifelong dream, and when I did it, I felt like ‘Oh, I actually can do it.’ I just haven’t stopped since that day.”

Haynes classifies herself an open format DJ. Haynes has rocked crowds to the sounds of reggae, hip-hop, ’70s, Latin and funk, adapting to the crowd’s energy with only one goal in mind: keeping everyone on the dance floor singing at the top of their lungs.

click to enlarge Natural Hiiigh is a DJ in Dallas who takes listeners to another place. - MIKE BROOKS

Natural Hiiigh is a DJ in Dallas who takes listeners to another place.

Mike Brooks

Aside from generating a captivating ambiance from behind the booth, DJs wear many hats. Many function as independent contractors managing, promoting and handling all negotiations for themselves. In a male-dominated field, female DJs’ self-advocacy makes all the difference in the business side of the profession.

“Negotiating and standing up for what I think I’m worth has been the biggest challenge,” Haynes says. “Sometimes people hire you a lot of times based on looks. I get to a gig and perform [and] then they’ll say ‘Oh you’re a real DJ!’”

Even at this point in the 21st century, the ugly business side of the music industry continues to devalue women.

“It’s an insult,” Haynes says. “When someone says, ‘You’re really good for a female DJ,’ they are meaning it as a compliment, but it stings. People overall still can’t believe girls can DJ.”

Haynes has established boundaries, among them refusing to give out her personal phone number when she’s DJing. Early in her career, Haynes quickly learned that having her number on business cards was not a benefit. She says conversations that centered on networking would transition into her being asked out on dates.

Female DJs need to be more mindful of their own safety during and after events, Haynes says. She keeps a close rapport with staff at her gigs so she can quickly alert someone if someone in the audience is lurking too closely to the booth. When gigs are over, Haynes has either a friend, bartender, staff member or security escort her to her car, something she’s never seen her male colleagues do.

“I love Dallas for the DJ culture because it’s been welcoming towards women. I know a lot of female DJs out in the city that are absolutely incredible.” –Christy Ray

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Among peers, however, local DJ culture is a far cry from misogynistic. Farrell and Haynes credit local veteran DJs S.O.U.Ljah, Titan, Sober, Izm, Rasta Root and Blake Ward for mentoring, inspiring and embracing female DJs.

Jaslynn Steele curated her DJ persona, Natural Hiiigh, under the guidance and mentorship of DJ Big J in 2012.

“He was one of the first people to sit down and kind of explain mixing and blending and stuff like that,” Steele says. “Big J was a big help when I first started.”

Steele premiered at Denton’s BoomBox alongside Big J in 2012 with equipment she acquired from her second job at Guitar Center. Her primary job was in promotions at Radio One.

Her big break into the scene came in 2016 when she became a staple at the now defunct Lower Greenville live music staple Crown and Harp by hosting events such as “Bring Your Own Vinyl Night.”

“It was where my start began to happen, that’s why it [Crown and Harp] has a big place in my heart,” Steele says. “I was there as much as I could be there, even if I wasn’t playing I was there supporting the events they were putting on. They definitely helped a lot of local artists and helped a lot of local DJs and gave people an opportunity to showcase their talents and stuff. Crown and Harp is missed, definitely missed.”

Gaining exposure from her regular presence at Crown and Harp, Steele got to DJ the 2016 women’s rally in Dallas. She also earned a weekend slot on 97.9 The Beat and Majic 94.5.

Steele also considers herself an open format DJ with trap, Nigerian and Latin sets under her belt. Her aim is to get the crowd to flow with a natural high through her smooth blends and transitions of R&B, rap, hip-hop and neo-soul. Steele entices the audience with the positive vibrations  as the soulful sounds of Erykah Badu lead into the East Coast lyricism of Nas and Lauryn Hill and return to the grit of the South with Big K.R.I.T in Steele’s signature New Moon New Mixes events.

Steele maintained her position in promotions with Radio One until she was furloughed during the pandemic. Since then, she’s focused solely on her DJing career.

The COVID pandemic transformed the music world, and with their headphones unplugged, many DJs saw opportunities slip away.

“It was literally the day that COVID shut everything down in Texas that I was signing my second contract with Coachella to play there again, and that was really devastating to know that I wasn’t going to be playing there,” says Christy Ray Anderson, who performs as DJ Christy Ray.

Ray, daughter of legendary DJ Spinderella (a former Salt-N-Pepa member), questioned the trajectory of her career as the ramifications of the pandemic loomed over the music industry.

“It’s been an interesting ride to see, COVID; it definitely made me think about my career as a DJ differently,” Ray says. “Last year was very hard, especially for the nightlife industry. So there were definitely points in time that I had to kind of pivot and think about if I was going to continue because we didn’t know what was happening, or what was going to happen in that COVID space.”

Ray earned a degree in broadcast journalism from Hofstra University, but after graduating she moved from New York to Dallas to be closer to her mother.

Despite her mom’s celebrity status, Ray was not initially inclined to join in the family business. As as child, she was intrigued by DJing, but after college she worked a desk job at an oil transportation company.

click to enlarge Christy Ray is building her own name as a DJ in Dallas nightlife. - MIKE BROOKS

Christy Ray is building her own name as a DJ in Dallas nightlife.

Mike Brooks

Looking to get acclimated to a new city and at the suggestion of her mother, Ray rekindled her relationship with DJing.

“She thought it would be a good way for me to go out and meet people,” Ray says. “I DJed with her … she held a couple residencies at the time, when I moved here, and it kind of just started from there. And then I realized that I actually really enjoyed it, more so than I did when I was 11.”

Ray enrolled at the Keep Spinning DJ Academy in Richardson. Under the guidance of DJ Jay Clipp, Ray practiced to perfection.

Ray says she’s grateful to Blake Ward for setting her up with her first gig. In 2015, Ray performed her first set at Ward’s Jamz at Double Wide.

“I love Dallas for the DJ culture because it’s been welcoming towards women,” Ray says. “I know a lot of female DJs out in the city that are absolutely incredible. Over the past years, so many more women have come through and kind of created their own niche. It’s been really nice to see.”

Ray has focused on developing her individuality and letting her talent speak for itself.

“I tell Christy, as I tell other women doing this, you have to really have a passion for what you’re doing and not just be utilizing the space of trying to keep a job or just doing it just to be cute.” –Spinderella

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“I just always want to be myself and show people that I am me outside of her,” Ray says of her mother. “I always love being connected to her. She’s my favorite person. And I love that she has taught me so much about this, you know about this craft, but I really crave individuality and being able to just show who I am through my love of DJing and my love of music.”

Ray has a natural ability to adapt to any musical direction. She also wants to build a safe space of acceptance through her sets, where listeners can let the music momentarily whisk their problems away.
Ray has performed locally at Ruins, AT&T Discovery District, through a residency at Virgin Hotels Dallas and, living up to her true badass nature, she performed well into her pregnancy at former Deep Ellum hot spot Beauty Bar. Post-pandemic, Ray has opted for gigs in regulated spaces, such as lounges, private events and members-only clubs.

Like most DJs, Ray self-manages her career.

“I enjoy that I don’t need to pay someone 10% to speak for me. I can do that for myself,” Ray says. “And so I don’t really mind that. I enjoy telling people what I want, what I need, and how much I’m worth.”

With her mom’s experience at hand, Ray has been able to navigate the industry with confidence.

click to enlarge DJs in Dallas say it's a woman's game. - MIKE BROOKS

DJs in Dallas say it’s a woman’s game.

Mike Brooks

“I had to gain the respect of the DJ world by separating myself as an artist and growing this brand,” Spinderella says. “I tell Christy, as I tell other women doing this, you have to really have a passion for what you’re doing and not just be utilizing the space of trying to keep a job or just doing it just to be cute. You have to have a love for it. Down the line, your dreams will come true with it, and I know that because it happened for me.”

Despite her status as a globally celebrated DJ, Spinderella says she’s had to consistently advocate for herself as a woman in the realm of music.

“It was rough for me at times having to deal with the man, having to deal with the ‘Oh, she’s cute, you know, for a girl’ and all this other crap,” Spinderella says. “After a while I stopped worrying about all of that. Everything that I’ve learned, I’ve passed on to Christy and to other girls doing it.”

Now, these women hold residencies all over the city. DJ Casie Farrell holds a residency at Nusr-Et Fridays from 7-11 p.m. Haynes (Luv Ssik) holds two monthly residencies both on the first Saturday of the month. She performs at Four Corners Brewing Co. from 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. and at night at Ruins from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Steele (Natural Hiiigh) performs every first Friday of the month at Ruins, every second Thursday of the month at Cheapsteaks and every Tuesday at Wit’s End. Christy Ray holds a residency at Park House, a members-only club.

These trailblazers bring an addictive energy to Dallas’ nightlife that showcases the exceptional talent, diversity and divine feminine energy that’s read to take the local music scene to new territories.

“There’s a lot of us [Dallas female DJs], but there’s also not a lot of us so maybe that’s why we feel the need to be more supportive of each other,” Ray says. “I think everybody has their own lane and their own style, which makes it really great for the city. You know, when you go to a Natural Hiiigh party, you’re not going to get the same set as when you go to a Christy Ray party, and I think that is needed and should be welcomed.”

click to enlarge DJs Luv Ssik, Casie Farrell, Natural Hiiigh and Christy Ray posing together at Top Ten Record in Oak Cliff. - MIKE BROOKS

DJs Luv Ssik, Casie Farrell, Natural Hiiigh and Christy Ray posing together at Top Ten Record in Oak Cliff.

Mike Brooks

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