Rack ’em up3/6/2013
Jeana Calvert’s a Des Moines native who’s worked in and around Des Moines’ clubs for a decade now.
“I’ve always wanted to be in the ‘men’s’ roles,” she said. “I wanted to be the manager. I wanted to run the bar.”
Calvert jumped into one of the most male-dominated scenes around last year, and you can now catch her at various downtown clubs, where she spins as DJ Rack City. It wasn’t an easy transition. The society can be insular, equipment’s expensive, and it’s not an easy art form to perfect. But Calvert was dogged.
“I’ve been around DJs for a long time, but no one wanted to teach me,” she said. “After a few years of harassing people, I finally just sucked it up, spent the money and bought some really nice equipment off a great DJ — ET — before he moved away. And that’s when DJ Bui was like, ‘OK, you’re serious. I’ll teach you.’ ”
After trying for so long to find a mentor, Calvert wasted absolutely no time once she had.
“(The club I worked at) was failing, and Thursdays had gotten really bad. So I was like, ‘You know what? Thursdays can’t get any worse. Give them to me.’ I mean, I couldn’t ruin them any more. So me and Bui trained straight through for 48 hours. And in those 48 hours he taught me enough to get through my first set.”
Calvert’s trial by fire — just like her initial attempts to learn the craft — was met with plenty of nay-saying.
“Little did I know, everyone in the DJ scene was making fun of me,” she recalled. “There’re not a lot of female DJs (in town), and the ones that had come before hadn’t been willing to put the time in. So everyone was expecting me to fail. But I pulled it out. I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Even now, after a year of regular work, acceptance can be slow.
“(The scene’s) hard to break into,” Calvert admits. “You’ve got the older veterans who’ve really put in their time, so you have to respect (them). You have to know when to shut your mouth and listen and take criticism well.”
Calvert’s payoff is in the crowd reaction. She loves connecting with her audience, and, as many of her initial detractors have learned, she’s serious about her craft. She’ll devote long hours to getting her sets just right.
“I think about it like a person would write a paper,” she explained. “I do a rough draft and start with a pool of songs that fit the theme for the night. Then I edit, just like doing revisions to a paper.”
The result’s a set that’s as unique to Calvert as a fingerprint.
“You could listen to my set and be able to tell that it’s mine as opposed to another DJ’s,” she says. “It’s an expression of who (the DJ) is.”
If a DJ’s set is a reflection of his or her personality, the name under which they perform is the frame for the music’s mirror. It’s equal parts business card and persona, telling the world who’s spinning the records.
“DJ Rack City” is about as self-referential as they come.
“I have a really weird sense of humor,” she admits. “Men make comments about my chest all the time, so I was like, ‘You know what, this is who I am.’ So I gave myself a silly name and decided to have fun with what I knew people were already going to be talking about. ‘Hell yeah, I’ve got big tits.’ ”
Then she laughs.
“That’s just my personality. I’ve never taken life too seriously.” CV