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We Got Next Empowers the Next Generation of Portland DJs

By RACHEL GOOD // Jené Etheridge and Shira Dennis (DJs Black Daria and Shi Shi) are helping to shape the Portland DJ community.

For most Portland DJs, 2020 has been a particularly dire year -- covid-driven venue shutdowns and strict social distancing measures have made most live DJ performances a thing of the past. For Jené Etheridge and Shira Dennis (DJs Black Daria and Shi Shi) however, it’s been an opportunity to help shape what the Portland DJ community looks like in the years to come.

The summer launch of We Got Next, a platform and educational resource for DJs and artists that centers folks who identify as women, LGBTQIA+, or BIPOC, built on nearly two years of conversations between Etheridge and Dennis. “I want to see more DJs that look like me in the scene,” Etheridge says. “And anytime we’re at a dance party or at the club, I have the most fun when I feel safe, and that’s usually in POC/femme/queer spaces. I feel like women and femmes are usually the first on the dance floor and the last to leave -- they should also be the DJs.”

Early planning conversations led them to apply for a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), with an initial vision of bringing interested DJs together for a three-day weekend event that included technical training sessions, advocacy panels, and a live party. While the pandemic necessitated a change in event format, Etheridge and Dennis see an upside to the no-cost online workshop series and digital community they kicked off instead. “There’s more potential for there to be a real community aspect,”

Dennis says, since attendees and instructors continue their conversation and share work in the We Got Next Slack channel between sessions. Led by instructors DJ Ambush and Deena B., the 90-minute Sunday workshops focus on the fundamentals of DJ equipment and tools, from setting up turntables to creating a digital mix. From the moment workshop registration opened, the community’s need for We Got Next became clear. “The response was amazing,” Etheridge remembers. “Our goal was just to get 50 people to sign up and now we have 70."

Etheridge and Dennis began dreaming of We Got Next in the early days of their co-hosted show on XRAY.FM, Everyday Mixtapes. The station immediately felt like home. “We got to find our sound and continue to develop our sound in a place that allows us to be creative,” Etheridge recalls. When they began booking gigs outside of the station, however, conditions felt less safe. In addition to the harassment and sexism they often encountered at bars, they quickly realized the need to learn their way around audio equipment to fend off the condescending sneer of “Do you know how to set this up?” They also began thinking about the importance of resource-sharing and community empowerment.

“As a white DJ, I’m very aware that all the popular music I play comes from Black culture,” Dennis says. “Once we have a platform, we have a responsibility to share what we can.” We Got Next seeks to open the Portland DJ landscape to people not typically represented in the mainstream, with the ability to connect interested bookers and venues with a network of trained, diverse DJs. The structure is inspired by similar collectives in other parts of the country, including Discwoman, a booking agency, and events platform for women and gender-nonconforming DJs and electronic musicians.

We Got Next’s first six-week workshop concludes with a September 26th celebration hosted in partnership with Escoteca music production, featuring livestream sets from DJs in Portland, Brazil, and New York City. Etheridge and Dennis are also hoping to use this opportunity to support Rose Haven, day shelter and community center serving women, children and gender non-conforming folks, through product or monetary donations. Etheridge and Dennis hope that workshop participants -- a group that is 90 percent femme or nonbinary, specializing in genres that range from goth-wave to ‘90s hiphop to electronic Colombian music to drum & bass -- will quickly be connected to gigs. “Sometimes people intentionally want to book a Black woman DJ and call one or two of us,” Etheridge sighs. “Next time, I want them to have too many people to choose from.”

We Got Next’s future plans may be as fluid and flexible as the sounds of the DJs it empowers, but Etheridge and Dennis show no signs of slowing down. “Hopefully this inspires people to collaborate to create new spaces,” Dennis says. “We want to challenge the homogenous music scene in Portland.”

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Jessica Dennis

Congrats Shira and Jene!!!

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