I have the pleasure of working with DJ Lily Vanilli on Thursdays at Hotel Chantelle. I spin for the dinner crowd on the enclosed roof before I go downstairs to rock the rockers. Lily spells me up there. I never know what she is going to spin but it always seems to be perfect. I spend a lot of time asking "why didn’t I think of that?" when she spins. I don’t worry too much because I learn as I go, and Lily Vanilli is the best kind of teacher. With CMJ looming, she is producing an event this Thursday that will shock and awe. I’m being bumped to 12:30pm to make way for Luc Carl who will surely wow them. I’ll oreo Sam Valentine, who’s going from 1:30am till 2:30am. You can keep up with all her events by following her on Twitter.
I asked Lily to tell me all about the event and her DJ philosophy.
Tell me about what’s happening this Thursday.
I’m turning Hotel Chantelle into a place of worship – our religion: live music. On two floors, all night long. A total of 10 acts hailing from as close to home as Brooklyn, New York and as far away as Oslo, Norway will be performing, including rockin’ bands, soulful singers, beatmakers, hip hop emcees, and two very talented DJs: Mike Swing from Austin, Texas and Manuvers from Miami, Florida. It’s going to be a glorious night for music. All the details are on the flyer, and here. Show starts at 7pm, and there is complimentary Balls Vodka from 6:30pm to 7:30pm, so get there early!
How did this come together?
It all came together in about four days. A band I love asked me if I knew of a place where they could play after they were finished with their official CMJ showcase, and Hotel Chantelle was my first thought. My second thought: why not more bands?
You’re one of the resident DJs at Hotel Chantelle. How did you become a DJ?
I have always had an ever-growing knowledge and curiosity of music, and I think that’s the foundation. But honestly, I’ve always been a party girl in the most positive sense, and I think that’s how I really learned how to get a party poppin’. Before nightlife was my office, it was my playground, but I didn’t realize until later that it would also be my classroom, an education. Dancing all night with my girls, the adrenaline that pumps through you when you catch the first few bars of your favorite song on a sweaty, crowded, and lively dancefloor – that was where I learned about what makes an amazing night out. And the DJs were my professors. My closest friends were, and still are, some of the most talented DJs in the world.
Several years ago, a friend invited me to a mixtape exchange event where DJs and producers swapped music and mixes, etc. I planned to go just to pass out my friend DJ Sober’s CDs. Just for fun, I also put a mix together that morning and uploaded it to the Internet.The tracklist was a marriage of various tracks rotating on my iPod: Eric B & Rakim, a Beatnick & K-Salaam remix, Mark Ronson, Fitz & The Tantrums, a David Rubato remix, The Private, MC Hammer and a nod to my Texas roots, Mista Madd, Big Moe, Slim Thug. I went person-to-person at the event with my Blackberry emailing the link to everyone. The next day, my inbox was full of feedback, and the general consensus was “You should do this, you just need to learn how to spin.” So, I learned. I was blessed because some of the most revered DJs in the game became my mentors. They taught me to respect the craft. And never stop digging – in every sense of the word.
How did you get the name Lily Vanilli?
I started off going by Lilypad. Just a childhood nickname, nothing special. Lily Vanilli was born from a joke about those vinyl control records with the Louis Vuitton monograms imprinted on them (No, I’ve never owned them). The name stuck with me. People’s reactions when they ask me my DJ name is priceless. It’s always a big smile.
As a female, do you think it’s harder to get gigs and respect?
Not if you don’t suck.
Where do you currently spin?
Thursday nights on the roof of Hotel Chantelle. Best damn Thursday party in NYC; all three floors are alive. Every week since January, and still going strong. I’ve held residences all over the LES, including a stint last year at DJ Soul’s famed Big Fun party. A new party is always in the works so stay tuned. My events calendar on my website is helpful.
What is your game plan going into each gig?
The game plan: have fun. When you’re bored, so is everyone else. I make it a point to always try something new and grow my overall sound. Especially in the LES, people have discriminating taste. Cookie-cutter is not respected here.
Where do you see music played in clubs heading?
To all new astronomical heights, with intergalactic speed. There are kids producing hot tracks in basements all over the country; some of my favorites are right around the corner in Brooklyn. Their creative output is unparalleled, and pretty soon a lot of traditional producers are going to have a hard time keeping up. In my opinion, they are the future of music. The formats for DJing that we’re used to will soon be obsolete. I can introduce you to some of them on Thursdays.
Aside from your parties, what other projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
I recently became involved with Nine West, and we’re collaborating on a few projects together as the brand moves toward more entertainment and music-integrated content. My events calendar has been so full this past year, but now I’m finally working on a new mix that should be released by the end of the year. In a couple weeks, I’m spinning at Terry Urban’s renowned monthly, I Got 5 On It, in Cleveland. Also, my DJ collective Nana Chill is in the development stages of a big event for SXSW in March.
I read that you opened for Wu Tang Clan at SXSW. What was that like?
Last year, I did a series of shows with Marz Lovejoy, a hip-hop artist from Los Angeles, in support of her debut EP. We made it onto the bill for the Village Voice/Frank 151 SXSW showcase at Austin Music Hall, which has a capacity close to 5,000 people. And it was packed. Others on the ticket were Erykah Badu, Yelawolf, Trae the Truth. It was really exciting to be a part of that event, but also surreal to be standing in front of thousands of people, not being able to see their faces, but knowing that they’re all staring right at you. Marz and I had practiced a fantastic call-and-response tribute to The Pharcyde for her closing. She had thousands of people singin’ “Passin’ Me By.” DJ JayCeeOh (who I think was touring with Wiz Khalifa at the time) and I took turns doing sets in between acts. I got to spin before Wu Tang took the stage. I think I played Outkast.