The first song DJ Joe Gauthreaux remembers hearing on the radio was “Material Girl.” He was 5, it came on the car radio and made an indelible impression.
“It’s the first song I ever remember listening to as a child,” he says during a phone chat from Ft. Lauderdale. “My dad was like, ‘Ugh, that’s that Madonna,’ and … of course because they hated it so much, that made me love it all the more.”
He also feels kinship with Madonna because they share the same birthday — Aug. 16.
Gauthreaux — pronounced GO-troh — has gradually made a name for himself in the gay club scene over the last decade or so. Named “hottest DJ of the year” by Out Magazine in 2005, he’s remixed tracks for Kristine W., Jeanie Tracy and Tony Moran. Working with Joey Arbagey, an A&R rep at Universal, he’s broken into the major label world doing remixes for NeYo, The Wanted and Melanie Amaro. Three of his remixes are on the official maxi for teen idol Justin Bieber’s No. 2 (Hot 100) hit “Boyfriend.”
Now living again in New York after five years in Los Angeles, Gauthreaux is closer to D.C. He’s DJ’ed at Cobalt about four times in the last couple years and has now accepted a residency there that commences Friday from 10 p.m.-3 a.m.. It won’t always be the last Friday of the month — the next two installments are slated for Feb. 15 and March 15 — but Gauthreaux (djjoeg.com) will be there monthly. Cover is $10 and includes free vodka drinks from 11 to midnight. Keenan Orr spins downstairs (cobaltdc.com).
“After I moved back to New York, I talked to (Cobalt manager) Mark (Rutstein) about the idea of starting my own party. I really like the idea of playing somewhere regularly. On one hand, you don’t want to get too exposed, but the flip side is you can really build on it and go somewhere with the crowd over time.”
Rutstein says Gauthreaux’s move back to the East Coast makes it easier to get him down here.
“It’s a lot easier, we don’t have to fly him in from L.A. each time,” Rutstein says. “It’s really super exciting to have Joe here all the time. He has a strong following in D.C. and always packs the house.”
Rutstein also says Gauthreaux is one of the most accommodating DJs he’s worked with.
“Everyone is really different,” he says. “Joe and I just text each other and say, ‘Hey, you wanna spin?’ Drew G is the same thing. Others, like, say Junior Vasquez, take several several several e-mails and calls. Then there are others, like Peter Rauhofer, who has never once even returned my calls, so it just depends.”
Gauthreaux is established enough, he says, that crowds are willing to go where he takes them musically — within reason.
“I’ve been around awhile, so there’s a sense of trust there I think,” he says. “I’ve done my fair share of events so people know, ‘Oh, we’re gonna go hear Joe,’ they almost expect me, I think … they almost expect something a little different. Of course, I’ll play Rihanna, Madonna, but it’ll usually be a different mix they haven’t heard. You don’t want to do a whole hour of stuff they don’t know, even a really adventuresome crowd has a limit, but there’s definitely a happy medium you find. I’d feel guilty if I didn’t throw in at least a few things everybody knows. You tend to think, ‘Oh, the crowd just wants to hear the hits,’ but there’s always 10 people there who want to hear something new, so you have to find that balance.”
Erik Lars Evans, a local DJ who’s followed the gay club scene for years and considers himself a Gauthreaux fan, says Gauthreaux’s willingness to adapt has worked to his advantage.
“He’s very good at what he does and can really energize a dance floor,” Evans says. “I’ve been going to hear him spin as far back as 2002 … and he does exactly what a good DJ is supposed to do — he’s adapted. I’d say his current style is more a mix of progressive beats, house classics and circuit energy and I’d say that’s what makes him stand out in his own way and keeps fans coming to hear him.”
Evans says one of the most noticeable differences in dance music over, say, the last decade is a gradual increase of pop infiltration in gay clubs and not as much the niche artists one traditionally heard on gay dancefloors but nowhere else.
“In modern times, we’ve seen the breakdown of that barrier and you’ve seen mainstream music take over,” Evans says. “You still hear niche artists, but it’s not like it used to be.”
In some ways — and though they share the same Billboard chart — the explosion of dance music in straight culture with Deadmau5 showing up on the Grammys and on the cover of Rolling Stone with a strong rise in popularity for DJs like Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia, Avicii and Tiesto, is its own phenomenon, happening apart of gay DJs.
“I think the separation is just more apparent now because their scene has gotten so big,” Gauthreaux, who’s gay, says. “Dance for straight people was pretty much non-existent 10 years ago. I don’t want to pigeonhole them, but a lot of them were just so into hip-hop, which nowadays has gone more underground, but dance music is on the radio. I mean if you listen to Rihanna’s new album, half the songs are already club ready. Before that would never have been the case and you had to remix everything. It’s just a natural thing with the way music changes. In five years from now, it could be totally different, I’m not sure.”
Gauthreaux says the genres are distinct because gays and straights party differently.
“At the end of the day, there’s a certain comfort at walking into a club and knowing 99 percent of the people there are people you could go up and buy a drink for,” he says. “Nobody wants to be guessing, ‘Is this guy straight?,’ ‘Is this guy gay?’ It’s just a different clubbing culture altogether. Gay people go out and party. They’re not into VIP booths and champagne bottles and buttoned up shirts and girls in high heels. It’s also more violent, typically, at the straight clubs. In the gay clubs, you don’t have to worry about fights breaking out. We don’t care about champagne service. We want a DJ box and we want to get down. I think there’s a long way to go before it’s all intertwined.”
The ‘treau triv
Current relationship status: Single
Any tattoos? Yes, one. My sign — Leo.
Do you follow astrology? I don’t follow every sign, but I certainly know my sign and I’m so 100 percent my sign, it’s not even funny. I also know the compatible signs for Leos.
But just for fun or seriously? Let’s say this — if I meet somebody and they’re not one of the compatible signs for me, I’m a LOT more cautious. I know that sounds ridiculous, but there’s an aspect to it that I very much believe.
How much of your set is live? “I’ve never not played live. That would just be so weird. It’s not like I’m remixing everything live right there on the spot, of course. If you want to do a mash-up or something, of course, you do that ahead of time on the computer, but that’s just one track. It’s such a creative art form, you have to feed off the crowd and you can’t do that at home by yourself.”
How long do you typically spin? “Usually four to five hours. Sometimes less if there are other DJs on the bill. But you have to take time to get a good grove going.”