I like to make people dance. People are in a much better place when they’re dancing, they’re not thinking about much, except for dancing, which is perfect because sometimes we just need that release. Meet one of the baddest girlboss DJs in Chicago, Westside’s finest: Rae Chardonnay. The 28-year-old Lawndale native has been providing the Chicago party scene with good vibes and energy for some time now, and continues to build her resume with her latest events Party Noire and AfroFuturistic Dance Party. Being a creative at heart, Rae knew her life path would involve music and community work from the moment she left University of South Florida and transferred to Columbia College where she received her degree in Art & Entertainment Media Management. That one decision helped set the stage for her blossoming career as a DJ.
What made you want to become a DJ?
Well first, I love music, from the deepest part of my heart. Second, I had an affinity for turntables, and still do. It’s not something that I use for the general public ’cause I’m still working on that skill-set, but turntables is what really turned me on to DJing. That, and my love for music.
Is DJing what you want to do in life?
For the most part yeah. I want to continue to build on the things that I am currently doing, which is a lot of community programming work, and program facilitation for non-profits. Also developing my own programs for marginalized communities and traveling with those. But yeah, event planning and DJing are two things I’m most passionate about. So I want to be able to continue to do those sorts of things throughout the duration of my time here [laughs].
How does DJing come into play with establishing community service programs?
For me, music is such a powerful tool, you know? And so I find most times when people are in a gathering space, music is what they relate to in that one collective time. If you’re in a particular space and you hear a song that a lot of people know, that is a moment of togetherness and you’re not even paying attention to it in that way. So with event planning and community development I can always incorporate music because it’s that much of a tool.
How long have you been DJing?
I started back in 2010, so six years.
Do you remember your first DJ gig?
I do. I DJed for my friend David’s birthday party at Lokal in Wicker Park, and that was lots of fun. He trusted my judgement in terms of music and that was like one of my first public gigs. Then after that, the next thing that pushed my career forward was when I DJed for Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation events and a lot of his private events. After that things just kinda started to slowly build up.
How does one get their name out there and land gigs as a DJ?
That’s an interesting and semi complicated question, in a sense. Just because, first off, you need to think about what kind of DJ you want to be and take certain things into consideration. Like, sometimes it helps to be more of a people person rather than to just hide behind your decks all the time. For some people that’s cool, and for some it’s not. I feel like for me, what helped to push me forward is the relationships I build with people, honestly. But of course there’s a lot of other work that goes into it. I do all of my own marketing and promo, if that’s what you wanna call it. But I don’t necessarily consider it to be marketing and promo, I’m just telling people what I’m doing, you know? It’s just me sharing my passion.
DJing seems like one of the most fun jobs ever: you get paid to play music, drink and party. Are there stressful moments?
Yeah absolutely. Sometimes you’ll have gigs where people might have certain expectations of you, and that’s always interesting. Usually those kind of things are like weddings and stuff where my nerves might get a little bit more jittery. Other than that, I don’t really experience it that much. But when I do go off on people, it’s when belligerent people, unfortunately, have this expectation of what some DJs do, which is called quick changes. That’s when they change the song every damn near thirty seconds, and that’s cool, depending on where you’re at and what you’re doing. But I’m not that type of DJ. Sometimes people will show up with expectations of a certain type of DJ and that’s when I start feeling some type of way.
What goes into becoming a DJ?
Practice. A lot of practice. Finding your niche. And building relationships with people.
Describe what a typical day/night on the job looks like for you.
Usually two days before the gig I don’t do much. I’m really just in the house chillin, maybe exploring my music library to see what’s all there or finding new music. Then on the night of the gig I’ll probably have a nice decent meal [laughs], and then do a little bit of promo. I’ll pack up my equipment and bring along some incense or healing stones with me. Once I get to the gig I’ll have a nice beverage of some sort, and then I get started! I usually try not to complicate things.
Do you do any other work alongside DJing?
I do. I work a 9-5 that I am quitting once I finish this interview [laughs]. I will be sending my letter of resignation! But yeah, there’s that job, and I’m also a program facilitator at the School of Art Institute at their Homan Square space in North Lawndale. I teach youth ages 14 to 18 different skills in media.
Does it ever feel like you’re living a double life working a 9-5 and being this free spirit DJing?
Absolutely! Which is like 90% of the reason why I’m leaving! It’s difficult to do that and manage this DJ life. I definitely am feeling like I’m living a double life. They’re just two completely different environments. It’s been a struggle for me as things began to progress in my DJ career, but at this point in my life I’m not ready to pursue DJing full time just yet. It’s still a very interesting career and interesting market to be in. But I’m always going to do what makes me happy.
How supportive are your friends and family, particularly your parents, in your career move as a DJ?
My parents and my family have always known that I’m pretty much a creative. They’re really supportive so I don’t ever have those issues of doubt or backlash. Thankfully.
Pursuing a career in a creative field involves a lot of risk. Do you ever get nervous?
I just try to be as brave as I try to be, because I do get nervous. You know how long it has taken me to quit this job? I’ve been trying to quit this job forever. Probably for like the last year I’ve been working there lowkey. So yeah, I definitely get nervous, but I think that because of how hard I’m willing to grind for it, I’ll be fine.
What motivates you to keep going?
My family and my friends, and the fact that DJing is something that I’m really passionate about. That’s really a key component. Passion. It’s what really drives me the most.
You DJ at the Party Noire event that you curated along with Lauren Ash and our previous Around The Way Girl Nick Adler, what separates DJing at this event from the others you’ve worked?
It’s much more of a free feeling. It’s normal to deal with patrons of a space, but in terms of doing my own event, I don’t have any promoters or any managers telling me what type of energy to play or they’re not feeling something. There’s always a desired energy for a space, and if somebody else is running that space or event, then they’re looking at me most times to provide a certain energy. Which is cool ’cause that’s what I do, I provide energy, but when I’m in someone else’s space, sometimes they’re telling me how to play my music and I can’t do that.
How did Party Noire come about?
Party Noire came about because we all sort of knew each other and what we were about, and Lauren wanted to do a day party and was like, would ya’ll be interested? And Nick and I both agreed. The first time she mentioned it, it kinda went under the radar for a little while. Then I circled back like I’ll help facilitate it as well as DJ it. So then we were like, cool we got a lil team. Then from there it just kinda started to happen. We had relationships with certain establishments and with people that were willing to support it. So that was a major key.
How do you decide what jams you’re gonna play?
I don’t know, honestly, ’cause I don’t pre-plan my sets. It’s really how I’m feeling at the moment and like what the crowd is telling me in terms of energy, as well as time. It’s a couple of components that go into it. Being a DJ there’s a control thing. When I first start I do whatever that comes to mind at that moment, and then when it’s time to go, I’ll start winding down ’cause people are gonna slow down, you know? The energy is just gonna change. It’s really an internal feeling.
Do you get annoyed when people ask for requests?
[Laughs] Well, sometimes. I actually recently just explained to somebody at what point I get annoyed with requests. I get annoyed when A) you just got to the party, or B) I just got on the tables. You know? Like, the party just started, you have like four hours to go. If people are like, ooh you doing you’re thing, and put in a request, I love it. Like sometimes requests really do give me ideas and a direction of where to go. But I’m straight up with it. I’ll ask what the request is and hit ’em with a “Maybe.” It depends on how I feel. But usually I don’t get many requests.
What has been your most memorable event thus far?
I’ve done some pretty fun stuff, but I’ll say in terms of honoring my roots I have to say AfroFuturistic Dance Party that I started with this DJ here, Sean Alvarez. That party really set a tone for me in terms of what my niche would look like, and that was dance music. I like to make people dance. So in that party, that’s what I really discovered about myself as a DJ, be it funk, soul, hip-hop, house, disco, any genre I like to make people dance. People are in a much better place when they’re dancing, they’re not thinking about much, except for dancing, which is perfect because sometimes we just need that release.
Is this what you envisioned yourself doing at this age?
[Chuckles] Maybe not particularly DJing, but I am definitely on a path that I started seeing for myself, especially when I first moved back to Chicago from Florida. Before I moved back here I knew I wanted to plan creative events and do festival work and stuff like that. So in a sense yes. Did it involve DJing particularly? Not necessarily, but I was always fascinated by DJs.
Where would you like to see the future of your career?
I just wanna be able to run my own stuff and collaborate with people who have an understanding of what I consider myself to represent; which is living a life of open-mindedness. Of course I wanna grow and go places, but I’m just kinda going with the wind and not forcing anything. I’m just enjoying it for what it is but still put in work.
Have you experienced any challenges working in this male dominated industry?
I feel like I have been lucky enough to not yet experience those challenges, well not “yet,” but you know what I mean [laughs]. I’m hoping that times are changing.
Are other female DJs supportive of one another or would you say they’re competitive?
I definitely think there’s a lot of support among women DJs. I think of course like anything it could be a little better and the industry overall could be a little better. In terms of support from other women DJs, I don’t know if it’s just the ones I’m wrapped up in, but I think we give each other a great amount of support.
How supportive is Chicago’s music scene when it comes to women?
Hmmmm. Maybe to an extent. It’s increasingly happening more. I think people are starting to recognize that there are a lot of talented women in the city that goes hard as any guy if not harder.
What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a career as a DJ?
Do not be afraid to work hard. Don’t be shy, ever. And LOVE music. You have to genuinely love music to actually make a life of it. If you’re just doing it just because, then it will be temporary and short lived.
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
20-year-old Rae was super T [laughs]. 20-year-old Rae was always lit. Basically. On one at all times. I would probably tell my 20-year-old self what I’ve learned at this point of my life that you don’t always have to be on 10 all the damn time, ready to pop off on anybody. Learn some self control lil girl!
What’s your favorite thing about Chicago?
The black people here [laughs]. My people here on the Westside and the Southside, man! I’m from the Westside but I spend a significant amount of time on the Southside. I just love my people here. They’re just way more fulfilling. We have our struggle but what I know about Chicago versus what the rest of the world knows about Chicago is that we have some of the most amazing black people in the city. Amazing people of color too! Our Latino community is also dope as hell.
Find out where Rae is spinning at by following her IG @djraechardonnay and @blackeutopia! You can get more info on her website http://www.raechardonnay.com. Be sure to check her out at these upcoming events:
AfroFuturistic Dance Party: Soulful Cosmic Indigenious Dance music
Friday May 27 10p-3a –Facebook Event
Party Noire: Dancehall Jukejoint
Saturday June 11 9p-3a
AMFM Mag/ Black Eutopia/ Party Noire Black Independence Day Collaborative Event for Allied Media Conference
Detroit June 17-19