During Gay Days in Orlando in June of 2001, at one of the weekend’s after-hours parties, DJ Susan Morabito closed out her set by playing REM’s “Shiny Happy People.”
Following hours of non-stop dance music, it was the perfect song to play given all the gay revelry that descended upon Mickey’s hometown that weekend, surely making Orlando the “happiest place on earth.”
But knowing the perfect song to play and hitting just the right notes are par for the course for Morabito.
A professional DJ since the mid-1980s, Morabito has worked hard and attained (and maintained) a level of success that is the envy of many of her peers.
This staying power has primarily resulted from her incredible creative abilities in the DJ booth that has allowed her to successfully carry on a musical conversation with dance floors all over the world for more than
While some other DJs have succeeded on the circuit scene due in large part to good looks, self-promotion, and a well-executed marketing plan, it is primarily Morabito’s DJing talents that have lead to sold-out appearances and packed dance floors when she’s commanding the turntables in the DJ booth.
In anticipation of her upcoming appearance at the 2004 edition of Chicago’s Fireball,
ChicagoPride.com set out to discover a bit more about Ms. Morabito.
In our interview with her, a variety of topics were touched upon, including the rise of female DJs on the gay club/circuit scene, what her typical week is like, her early DJing influences, and some technical aspects that affect her in the DJ booth.
As well, she identifies the one song that she always takes to each and every gig and describes what the perfect Susan Morabito set would sound like.
Your face and your “sound” are quite familiar to those of us in Chicago: over the years you’ve had numerous club dates here, including most recently at Hydrate, and you’ve had a long-time association with Fireball/Hearts Party and the Hearts Foundation.
Why do you think that you and Chicago have been such a good match over the years?
I really don’t know.
Maybe it’s because I’m originally from the Midwest.
Chicagoans, for the most part, seem to be nice, polite and considerate.
Contrary to popular belief, so am I.
Of the seven headlining DJs during this year’s Fireball weekend, female DJs comprise a majority (four).
What do you think about this development?
Another step up in the equality for women.
Has a certain level of equality been achieved by female DJs on the gay club/circuit scene?
CERTAIN LEVEL, are the operative words.
I don’t think it will ever be completely equal, at least not until Hilary Clinton becomes President.
It always has been and still is a “white man’s world.”
We’re gaining respect but... we have a long way to go.
CP: So the large percentage of female DJs at this year’s Fireball is more of an anomaly on the circuit at this time?
Yes, I do believe it is.
What, if any, was the significance of you DJing the Black Party in New York City last year?
Being the first woman to play that event in 24 years was a breakthrough for me and I hope it was for other women.
I think that anytime a woman does a “first” in a man’s world it opens the door for more to come.
It has to start somewhere.
In general, is there too much made of the DJ gender issue?
I do think there should be an issue made about it regarding breakthroughs and other changes that women have made on a professional level.
A woman’s accomplishments will have a powerful effect and encourage other women in the future.
We need a lot more professional breakthroughs before we’ll really reach true equality in the work force.
I do find that people have a tendency to compare us to each other because we are women.
If I’m going to be compared to other DJs, I’d prefer to be compared to ALL my peers, not just the women.
Let’s all be on equal footing here.
Many of today’s DJs on the gay club/circuit scene cite you as being a major influence on their DJing styles and careers.
Furthering the DJ family tree for them, who were some of the big influences on your style during the early part of your DJing career? Did you have a mentor-protégé relationship with anyone?
Their where certain DJs (Michael Fierman, Robbie Leslie and Terry Sherman) that I learned from just by listening to them so I guess they where mentors.
About ten years ago, Michael Fierman and I began to develop what still is a close friendship. He shared his experiences, musical theories, history, traditions and his personnel and professional thoughts with me. I guess looking at that, I may have been somewhat of a protégé to him.
To whom did people compare you to back then?
I guess Michael Fierman and Buc.
Can it be said that you started your own DJ family tree?
I didn’t start my own family tree.
I was definitely part of a particular tradition.
In turn, that tradition has been passed on to others.
What’s weekly life like for a successful DJ such as yourself?
Digging in record store crates a couple of days per week?
Production and remixing projects?
SM: I spend an obscene amount of time record shopping.
I’m a bit obsessive and anal about it.
I must listen to well over 100 tracks per week.
I like options and want to choose the best of what I hear.
After I choose what’s offered, I spend time listening and getting to know the records.
Other responsibilities include business dealings on various levels with promoters and club owners, maintenance of my web site and a little PR.
In addition, I spend a good amount of time learning and exploring the various software programs that are available for production and remixing.
Recently, I’ve started a production project with another DJ that I hope will be completed sooner or later.
Do you have any current club or party residencies?
Or do you primarily just do guest DJ appearances around the country?
I guess I have some party residencies.
There are a few parties I seem to play every year.
I play the two morning parties at Crobar in Miami over the Winter Party and White Party weekends while Halloween in New Orleans has become another staple of mine.
I’ve played Blue Redo for about 6 or 7 years over Blue Ball Weekend in Philly and I’ve played the Pavilion at Fire Island every summer for the past 11 years or so.
For over a decade, I’ve done monthly Sunday afternoon events at various places here in New York City.
I may have another monthly fairly soon but it’s a bit premature to mention where.
Other than Chicago, of course, what are your Top 3 cities to DJ in and what makes them special?
I’m going to pass on this one.
Over the years, have you seen a general trend, either positive or negative, with regard to the technical aspects of the venues at which you spin?
Are the owners and promoters investing in “the music” or are they just worried about raking in the cash at the door and the bar?
I’m not going to loved for this one but….I’d have say that there are less promoters/club owners who are interested in investing in music than there are more of them.
I find that those who do invest in the music go all the way and do their best to accomplish it.
I am grateful to those who REALLY care about investing in the music.
Several big name DJs – Victor Calderone and Danny Tenaglia come to mind – seem to really be talking up the desire and need for clubs and promoters to pay much more attention to the technical aspects of sound at their gigs: the sound projection equipment that is used, their placement within a venue and around the dance floor, and the specifics of the DJ booth.
What are your thoughts about this?
I’ve been bitching about proper sound and booth equipment my entire career.
ALL DJs took issue with it, the promoters would have no choice but to do it right.
For the most effective results, regardless of where we play, we must stick together on insisting that we have nothing but the best.
We, as professional DJs have earned this and the crowd deserves it.
Sound should NEVER be compromised; it’s the pulse of a dance club.
What technical aspects do you typically request, prefer and/or require during your DJ performances?
Two crystal clear bi-amped booth monitors and a bass speaker.
Good booth monitors are extremely important to mixing and help to limit eardrum damage.
Are you mostly a vinyl DJ?
85 % - 90% of what I play is on Vinyl.
The only things I play on CD are my own Re-edits.
I would assume then that Technics turntables are a must, or at least preferred.
I have yet to walk into a club that didn’t have Technics.
CP: Which CD player do you like to use? Pioneer series – 800s and 1000s? A Denon dual player?
I prefer the Denon dual player when I do play CDs.
It’s all about what I’m used to and comfortable with.
What’s your preferred choice of mixer while in the DJ booth?
A Rane? Pioneer? Maybe some other lesser known brand that you have discovered?
Urie or Rane rotary mixers only. Both, especially the Urie, are top of the line in electronic quality.
Why bother with anything else?
For me, the right equipment is extremely important.
If I don’t have the proper professional equipment, I may very well have technical handicaps that in turn can effect my performance.
The mixer also plays a very big role in the quality of the sound and why compromise that?
At your gigs, do you use the standard set-up of turntables (and/or CD players) and a mixer?
Or do you also like to plug in a sampler, keyboards, synthesizers, a laptop, etc.?
I’m very basic and simple: a standard set-up, but the equipment must be top of the line.
I don’t use a sampler, keyboard or any of that.
I’m focused more on creating a mood.
Name your Top 5 favorite dance songs of all time? And what makes them your favorites?
How about a top 100?
I possibly know over 10,000 titles and it’s difficult to come up with only five.
I could possibly name them but it would take me at least a day to pick them.
Then which 3 records are with you the majority, or all, of the time when you go to a gig?
You may not play them that often, but you feel secure knowing they are in your record bag, ready to be played if and when the time is right.
The only record I seem to bring with me to every performance is Alison Limerick’s “Where Love Lives.”
No matter where I am playing, it seems that it always works regardless of the type of crowd or city.
It’s at least 10 years old but it is so well produced it’s held up with time.
It’s lush, sophisticated and very tasteful.
Which artists and/or remixers have made you smile the most during the past 18 months?
Layo & Bushwacka, DJ Gregory, Miquel Migs, Blaze and Julius Papp.
Any particular record labels in recent years that stand out in your mind for the quality of their output?
Loveslapp, King Street, Stereo, and Vendetta to name a few.
Describe your ultimate DJ set wherein you could play anything you wanted and the crowd was guaranteed to go with you.
The ultimate DJ set is when I can play just what I want from beginning to end.
Musically, this would consist of soulful house, progressive house, tribal, some trance and some classics to complete my journey.
Classics inspire wonderful memories for others as well as myself and introduce people to part of our gay history and culture.
A good record is a good record regardless of when it was released.
The ultimate BPM (beats per minute) range would be anywhere between 100 to 138 or so.
I find it can be quite difficult to bring the energy (BPM range) down these days.
In the old days, at the end of the night, people would dance for hours to records that where under 120BPM.
It was pure magic.
I miss that.
What day of the week and time of day for this ultimate set? Saturday night peak hours? Sunday afternoon T-dance? Is it a nightclub setting? Outdoor rave party venue?
Large indoor circuit party event venue?
SM: A club setting, always.
I seem to be able to get away with more of what I want to at either smaller clubs and after-hours parties.
Of course a well-produced beach party is quite lovely.
What would be the length and flow of the set?
A 2-hour power set? 6-hour set where you program and create a “journey”?
Or a 24-hour Danny Tenaglia type of marathon where you play any and everything?
Marathons of course.
It’s hard to create a full journey and have it make sense with different musical styles in limited hours.
During long sets you can musically go to many different places and back, stretch out, explore and go off in a marathon.
I’d start off with sophisticated music in a lower BPM range, slowly build up to the peak, and then bring them back down.
You recently completed a compilation for Centaur in conjunction with the Blue Ball in Philadelphia.
What was your stylistic goal going into the project?
A peak-hour mix? After-hours set? Tribal beats or vocal anthems?
Or a combination of grooves?
It’s a mix of cool and groovy house music with a European progressive edge in addition to some tribal tracks.
It is not a peak hour mix, but more pre or post peak.
Did the goals change at all during the project and how did the finished product match-up to your expectations?
Any major licensing problems from labels or artists?
We didn’t have any major licensing problems but...doing a commercial licensed CD has its limitations.
You can’t get EVERYTHING you want.
In most ways it did match up to my expectations and I’m pleased with what I did.
During Fireball 2004, you can catch Susan Morabito as she DJs the “Blaze” party at Crobar on Sunday, February 15, 11pm – 4 am. "Blaze" is currently limited to VIP Pass (Blue) and 4-Party Pass (Yellow) purchasers only.