When Madeline Farrell and Wilson Vance took over as Wednesday-night DJs at the Riot Room a year ago March, their rap- and R&B-themed night at first had "a really intimate house-party vibe," Farrell says.
These days, not so much. Every week, a huge, diverse crowd swells and bobs on the Riot Room's patio. Bodies bounce to tracks like "Blow the Whistle" by Too Short, "Ayy Ladies" by Travis Porter, "Are You That Somebody" by Aaliyah, and "Like Whaaat" by Problem. Marilyn Manson stopped in one night. In October, Tech N9ne went onstage to tell Farrell and Vance that he dug the vibe and to keep doing what they're doing.
They plan to. The Pitch sat down with the duo last week to talk about the growing popularity of the party, a woman's right to shake her ass, and what exactly qualifies as a booty jam.
The Pitch: Can you describe the first night of Booty Jamz?
Farrell: The first one that I did, I did solo. It was February 1, and it was inside and didn't go very well. I did one more and I think maybe five people showed up. I was confused because I was playing really good music, but not a lot of people were coming out. So I decided I needed someone fresh, and that's when Wilson came in. That was in March, and a lot of our friends showed up. It had a really intimate house-party vibe. It wasn't until the summer that it became a block-party vibe.
The Pitch: Do you think that's a reflection of what you play?
Vance: Yes, and we try to cater to women. We try to make women feel comfortable dancing and safe, because it is so crowded. There's definitely been an emphasis, I hate to say this, but on girl power. Mostly making sure women feel safe and playing maybe more female-empowering songs, which I think is vital.
The Pitch: But at the same time, you do play some hood shit.
Farrell: For sure. I've DJed with a lot of guys before, and they tend to play a lot of music that you can just bob your head to. And what we play is music that you dance to with your whole body. You can just get real loose. There's definitely a lot more emphasis on movement. We're careful about selecting those kinds of songs. There are a lot of really good rap songs that we just won't play because they aren't a booty jam. They don't have emphasis on having fun or hanging out with your friends or getting inebriated.
The Pitch: How do you feel about being identified as a woman DJ in Kansas City?
Farrell: We don't really get included in a lot of the women DJ nights or girl DJ nights, which is fine. I would rather be considered a DJ on my own, nongendered.
The Pitch: When did you start DJing?
Farrell: I actually started DJing for KKFI back in 1999, so I came from a radio background. Then, a few years later, I started DJing at Karma with Jacob Sharp for a night called "Don't Stop the Rock." When Karma closed down, I didn't have any regular gigs. I got a call from the manager at the Riot Room in January 2012. They needed someone to fill in for their Wednesday night, and I decided to do an R&B and rap night.
The Pitch: How did you two meet each other?
Vance: It's a small town. I would always go to Madeline's DJ nights and kind of backseat DJ. I'd let her know what I wanted to hear. I knew what I wanted to dance to as a girl, listening to hip-hop or rap. So I think that's probably why she thought of me.
The Pitch: Who came up with the name?
Farrell: I had actually used the name Booty Jamz before, with Jacob Sharp way back in 2007. It was whenever the smoking ban happened. We had a couple of good nights there. The last night we did it was when the smoking ban started, so that just kind of killed it for us at McCoy's. I had to put it on the shelf.
The Pitch: Madeline, why did you decide that you needed a partner?
Farrell: For me, because I had been DJing for so long, it had started to become formulaic. I didn't want to do the same thing, where you see a DJ and they just play the same 10 songs over and over again every week, and they look so bored when they're doing it. I definitely wanted somebody who liked to dance. And that's where Wilson was so essential to helping me out. She just brought a really good face and a really good attitude.
The Pitch: It's a good dynamic.
Farrell: Yeah, I'll turn to Wilson all the time and ask her what I should play next, and she always has a good answer.
Vance: Yeah, we both do that. Sometimes Madeline is feeling it a little harder than I am and vice versa. We're a really good team.
The Pitch: Do you ever disagree on what to play?
Farrell: Yeah, sometimes. Like toward the end of the night, I'll be like, "I want to work this in," and she's like, "I need to play some Bone Thugs!" And I'll be like, "I just want to play some E-40!" But then there's been tons of time when you [turns to Vance] have suggested songs that I didn't think were going to be really big, and then all of a sudden they blew up. You have a great ear for that.
The Pitch: So sometimes it's about the people.
Vance: It's about reading the crowd.
Farrell: Yeah, it's all about reading the crowd and figuring out what they're going to get hyphy on.
Vance: Once you have a good vibe going, keeping it is the hardest part. Once you have people dancing, it can be stressful to maintain. But people love middle-school jams. People are like, "Oh I haven't heard this song since I was 13!"
The Pitch: So should we define what a booty jam is?
Vance: A booty jam is something that you can't help but shake your ass to.
Farrell: And we may get shit-talked on us for how we DJ, but it's worked out really well for us, and we've proven it by how popular we are on Wednesday nights. When we first started out, we got a little crap for being white, but that easily got squashed. We just play what we love. The stuff that we play is what I listen to at home.
Vance: Yeah, it's not meant to be ironic.