DJ LeahV is hustling. The last few years she's spent juggling events all across town, dropping mixtapes that tackle everything from Dolly Parton's "Jolene" to Wu-Tang Clan's "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'," hosting a weekly hip-hop show on online UNregular Radio, and paying forward the positive energy that helped launch her career. It's gotten her a 2011 Boston Music Award for Best DJ and a similar nomination in this year's Phoenix Best '12 poll, as well as solid recognition in the male-dominated world of Boston nightlife.
CLASSIC MIX-UP "I thought it looked cool, and I knew it was something girls didn't do," says LeahV about DJing, "so I was automatically drawn to it."
When I catch up with Leah after her Saturday brunch set at ZuZu in Central Square before she runs off to teach a DJ workshop at Ladies Rock Camp, she's easy to spot — flat brim cap, ponytail, swag. Her current residencies include Milk & Honey at the Good Life, Shakewell at the Milky Way, and Thursdays at 28 Degrees, and she's starting another one at An Tua Nua next month. But ZuZu is still her home base. Even when she's not here, co-DJing Work! with Justincredible every other Tuesday (Zuesdays, in ZuZu parlance), or just chilling at the bar, she's spreading the venue's attitude of inclusivity, one dance party at a time.
"The culture here in Boston is really sexist, alpha male, misogynist in structure, and I'm trying to break down the barriers of that," she says. As for her own orientation, and her role in ZuZu's queer-centric Zuesdays: "I don't want to be known as a queer DJ. I'm just a DJ. I happen to be queer, but that's like saying I'm a DJ and I have brown eyes."
Growing up in Medford in the late '90s, Leah hit adolescence at a prime time to get into DJing. Hip-hop was killing it, and vinyl culture was still unchallenged. "A lot of the neighborhood kids had older brothers that were DJs," Leah notes. "I thought it looked cool, and I knew it was something girls didn't do, so I was automatically drawn to it." She bought her first turntables at age 14 with money she saved up from teaching karate. "I had this warped idea when I first got into it," she laughs. "I wanted to do ska/hip-hop fusion."
That idea was quickly nixed. But Leah still keeps it eclectic — she'll flow from Ghostface into Fiona Apple, throw in the Beatles with bass popped in, round it out with deep house, funk, moombahton, and maybe some Top 40 to keep people's attention.When Leah came back to Boston in 2009 after doing residencies in New York and spending a couple of years in Miami, ZuZu's open-minded approach was a perfect fit. "The people downtown don't look at ZuZu as a legitimate venue because they're stuck up," she says. "That's cool. I've played at Royale, I've played at District and Estate. . . . We've created a movement in a place that used to only hold 75 people."
ZuZu's Tuesday-night parties took off in 2009 with a monthly queer night known as Fruitcake, which formed as an alternative to both the bro-town glitzed-out downtown scene and the more exclusive LGBT nights. But it didn't come together in its current Zuesdays format until January 2010, when promoter Colleen Finnegan moved Work! from the Milky Way to switch off with the more dancehall- and bounce-oriented NuLife, hosted by DJs D'hana and Rizzla.