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Gaining ‘Momentum’

DJ Alyson Calagna kicks off Cherry with Apex party



DJ Alyson Calagna says she likes to start her sets slow and work to a boil. (Photo courtesy of the Cherry Fund)

Cherry Fund’s annual charity circuit party may have officially kicked off Thursday, but the party has barely started with more events all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The big party tonight is Momentum hosted by Miss Foozie at Apex (1415 22nd St., N.W.) with lesbian DJ Alyson Calagna and DJ Steve Henderson.

With a line-up of mostly male DJs, Calagna, who has been spinning for 19 years, kind of sticks out of the crowd, and she likes it that way.

“It feels pretty good … now things have changed and it’s a lot easier to be a girl DJ,” Calagna says. “I have a much more masculine essence so its good to be among the boys.”

She doesn’t stay at one club and spin, but tours and goes somewhere new every weekend, with fans sometimes traveling to hear her at the bigger parties.

Circuit parties don’t seem to be as big as they once were, and Calagna thinks it’s just the way the club culture goes every five or six years with peaks and drops.

“Right now, I think we’re in a bit of a reorganizing phase, weeding out what’s not working, changing things,” she says. “There are some circuit parties that do really, really well.”

Music has always been a part of Calagna’s life.

When she was young, she wanted to be a radio DJ, until she started clubbing.

She became a resident dancer at a teen club, getting close to the different DJs there. One night, she went up to the DJ and just asked if he’d teach her.

“The first time I went to his studio where he practiced, that was it … I knew the moment I touched a turntable, that was what I wanted to do,” Calagna says, adding she almost gave up dancing right there.

This isn’t Calagna’s first turn at Cherry.

“I play a lot of circuit parties … Cherry is one of the ones that really still stands for something,” Calagna says. “I really like what they’re doing.”

Her style is house-based, but Calagna doesn’t stay in a single genre or follow a set list when she spins, rather going with the vibe of the crowd, comparing what she does to a chef visiting another country and changing regional recipes to fit his style of cooking.

Don’t expect the music to be fast and rocking right away tonight. That’s one of her biggest DJ pet peeves, time-appropriate music.

“I start deeper and more soulful and melodic in the beginning because I don’t like to bang out clubs until there’s a lot of people in there,” Calagna says. “I like the music to start slow and kind of build.”

Calagna does get paid for her appearance at Cherry, but she gives the organizers a big break and she donates a large portion of the money she receives to the Cherry Fund, which benefits AIDS charities.

Calagna is probably looking forward to seeing the other DJs on Saturday night at the main event the most.

“I’ve always really enjoyed playing in D.C.” she says. “I love the city … I’m looking forward to having the next night off.”

DJs Oscar G, BennyK and Town’s own Wess will be spinning at Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. with performances by Macaviti and the Ladies of Town.

Friday also has two other events, a fashion show at Caramel Boutique (1603 U St., N.W.) with local designer Andrew Nowell from 2 to 8 p.m. and a bachelor auction at Town with DJ Bandit and D.C. Bear Crue from 7 to 9 p.m.

After the main event on Saturday is an after-hours party at Fur (33 Patterson St., N.E.) with DJ Peter Rauhofer from 4 to 9:30 a.m.

Sunday continues with a Tea Dance at Cobalt (1639 R St., N.W.) from noon to 4 p.m. with DJ Mike Reimer and Ovation with DJs Stephan Grondin and Sin Morera from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. at Ultrabar (911 F St., N.W.).

For more information and to purchase tickets to events, visit

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PHOTOS: High Heel Race

Spectators cheered along drag queen contestants for the 24th annual event



@dragqueenathena and Dan won the 24th annual High Heel Race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 34th annual High Heel Race was held along 17th Street on Oct. 26. The winners this year were @dragqueenathena and “Dan.” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee and members of the D.C. Council joined drag queen contestants and hundreds of spectators for the event.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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New music documentary is ‘Velvet’ perfection

A piece of pure cinema that exemplifies its genre while transcending it



The Velvet Underground (Photo courtesy of Apple TV)

When it comes to great music documentaries – the ones that stick with you after you watch and make you want to come back to them again and again – there is one ingredient that stands out as a common thread: immediacy.

From D.A. Pennebaker’s fly-on-the-wall chronicle of young Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of the UK in “Don’t Look Back,” to Martin Scorcese’s joyful document of The Band’s final concert performance in “The Last Waltz,” to Jonathan Demme’s thrilling cinematic rendering of the Talking Heads in performance at the peak of their creative genius in “Stop Making Sense,” all of these now-revered films have endured – indeed, even grown – in popularity over the years because they captured the talent, the personality, and the power of their subjects on celluloid and preserved it for the ages, allowing generations of audiences, fans and soon-to-be-fans alike, to feel as if they were there.

But none, perhaps, have ever done it quite so viscerally as Todd Haynes’ “The Velvet Underground.” This is a remarkable feat when you consider that the films listed above, as well as most of the other highly regarded “rockumentaries” of the past, were all concert films, showing the performers at their center in the full bloom of their musical gifts, and Haynes’ film is not that. It’s something else, something singular, a piece of pure cinema that exemplifies its genre while transcending it entirely.

The basic outline of the band’s story is well known, now. Coalesced in the early ‘60s New York art scene around a pair of charismatic geniuses (John Cale and Lou Reed), the Velvet Underground was swept into the orbit and under the wing of Andy Warhol, who turned them into the house band at his famous “Factory,” added to their mix an exotic European chanteuse named Nico, and launched their record career by producing their first album – and designing an instantly iconic cover for it featuring a banana, to boot. They were, for a while, the darlings of the New York underground set, birthing a handful of additional albums across the latter years of the decade; but their sound, which was experimental, rough, and a far cry from the flower-power sound being embraced within the status quo of Middle American music fans, did not catch on. That, combined with the volatility of the relationships at its core, ensured an ignoble and unsung dissolution for the band; though its two front men went on to forge expansive solo careers on their own, the Velvets themselves remained a kind of blip, an ephemeral presence in the history of rock – and the history of New York – remembered by anyone who wasn’t actually on the scene as nothing more than a buzzy band they never actually heard with a catchy name and a familiar album cover.

As one of the voice-over interviewees in Haynes’ movie points out, however, the counterculture wasn’t actually the counterculture – it was the culture. The rest of the world just didn’t know it yet. Decades later the Velvet Underground is credited with, among other things, providing early inspiration for what would become the punk rock movement, to say nothing of influencing the aesthetic palate of (surely without exaggeration) thousands of musicians who would go on to make great music themselves – often sounding nothing like the Velvets, but somehow cut from the same raw, edgy, white-hot honest cloth, nonetheless. Yet in their moment, they were doomed before they had even begun to become a sideshow attraction, hurling performative realness in the face of a curious-but-disinterested glitterati crowd that was already embodying the superficial fakeness that would be so aptly monikered, both as an ethos and a watchword, as “Plastics” by Buck Henry and Mike Nichols in “The Graduate” barely a year after their first album was pressed.

Frankly, it’s the kind of story that makes for a perfect rock ‘n roll legend, and the kind of legend that deserves to be explored in a film that befits its almost mythic, archetypal underpinnings. There’s nobody more qualified to deliver that film than Todd Haynes.

Haynes, of course, is a pioneer of the ‘90s “New Queer Cinema,” whose body of work has maintained a consistent yet multi-faceted focus on key themes that include outsider-ism, dysfunctional socialization, and the fluid nature of sexuality and gender. Each and any of these interests would be enough to make him a perfect fit as the person to tell the story of the Velvet Underground, but what gives him the ability to make it a masterpiece is his ongoing fascination with music and nostalgia. Beginning with his controversial debut short “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,” the musical landscape of his formative years has been inseparable from his milieu, and films such as his glam-rock fantasia “Velvet Goldmine” or his post-modernist Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” have dotted his career like cornerstones. Likewise, his painstaking recreation of the past in period pieces like “Far From Heaven,” “Carol,” or “Wonderstruck” has proven his ability not just to capture the look and feel of a bygone era, but to transport audiences right back into it.

In “The Velvet Underground,” it’s more like he transports the era to the audience. His comprehensive chronicle is not just the story of the band or its members, but the story of the time and place that allowed them to exist, in which a generation waking up from the toxic artificiality of their parents’ “American Dream” took creative control of the future through an unprecedented explosion of art and culture. Art was a by-any-means-necessary endeavor that now demanded a fluency across various forms of media, and a blending together of any and every thing that worked to get the message across. And yes, sometimes the media itself was the message, but even within that depressingly superficial reality was room for an infinite layering of style and substance that could take your breath away.

That description of the era in which the Velvet Underground thrived, in which Andy Warhol turned the shallow into the profound (whether he knew it or not), in which music and film and photography and poetry and painting and every other form of expression blended together in a heady and world-changing whirlwind, is also the perfect description of Haynes’ film. Yes, there are famous veterans of the age sharing their memories and their insights, yes there is copious archival footage (including the godsend of Warhol’s filmed portraits of the legendary faces in his orbit), yes we get to hear about Lou Reed’s struggle with his sexual identity – and it’s refreshing that Haynes makes no effort to categorize or finalize that aspect of the rock legend’s persona, but merely lets it be a fact. But even though “The Velvet Underground” checks off all the boxes to be a documentary, it’s something much more. Thanks to Haynes’ seamless blend of visuals, words, history, and – always and above all – music, it’s a total sensory experience, which deserves to be seen in a theater whether you subscribe to Apple TV or not. It puts you right in the middle of a world that still casts a huge shadow on our culture today.

And it’s unforgettable.

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PHOTOS: Best Of LGBTQ DC party

Blade’s 20th annual awards celebrated at Hook Hall



Cake performs at the Best of LGBTQ D.C. Awards Party on Oct. 21. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade presented the 20th annual Best of LGBTQ D.C. Awards at a party at Hook Hall on Thursday, Oct. 21. To view this year’s winners, click here.

Event sponsored by Absolut, DC Brau and Washington Regional Transplant Community.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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