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The TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race has bought mainstream attention to the drag world unlike any other show before. But just like any other reality or competition show, it is what you do with the platform that determines where you end up. Born Aaron Cody and growing up in Iowa, Sharon Needles rebelled against his conservative upbringing by moving away, creating her character Sharon Needles, and incorporating goth, punk, and the macabre into his drag persona. Her style of drag attracted a massive fan base and she won Season 4 of the show. Rather than rush out a melodyned club track like most of the contestants have, she wrote and recorded a full-on artist album that blends rock and electronic music in a unique and cohesive way. What’s really impressive, aside from the quality of the album, is how active she was at the Winter Music Conference – speaking on panels, hosting the IDMA, and making her presence known. She is also a pleasure to speak with, respectful of those who came before her, and not afraid to speak her mind about anything you ask her.
DJ Ron: Listening to your album, I’ve been wondering what your songwriting process is. Do you start with a track and write to it or do you write your own lyrics first?
Sharon Needles: I write all of my own lyrics, but it really depends on the song. A lot of songs, especially “I Wish I Were Amanda Lepore,” was something that I wrote when I was 18 years old. “Dead Girls Never Say No” was also part of my old poetry. I get my tracks in advance and I write my songs according to my tracks. I have a great topliner named Ashley Levy who helps me make sure that everything sounds phonetically correct and that the timing of words is correct. My production company, Killingsworth Records, are phonetic Nazis. The way that they look at timing and think of vowels and words in a song is very important to them. It is all my writing, but they just kind of chop it up and help me make it “correct.”
The whole genre of EDM progressive vocal tracks has become a bit trite, what with everyone using the same plug-ins, ideas, and (most likely) ghost producers trying to emulate hits by Zedd or Avicii. Every so often, a real musician/producer comes along and shakes up the formula with their own unique twist. If you don’t know Westfunk, he’s the British producer/DJ who prides himself on “pimping” out the tunes you love for the dance floor. On his own and together with Steve Smart, he’s remixed everyone from Rita Ora and Britney Spears to Chicane and Sander Van Doorn. On his new track Apollo, he starts with a really engaging piano intro and pretty vocals (maybe Bright Lights?) with a great emotional effect. The buildup may be a bit typical, but the main structure of the chorus is quite special. Rather than having one rhythm structure dominate the full section, there is a call-and-response of two rhythms going back and forth. He basically did twice the work of an average track and excelled with it. That he went with a big beat break instead of a dubstep one is mere icing on the cake. Since “Apollo” isn’t out for a few weeks, head over to his Facebook and satiate yourself with a few downloads of his mashups and white labels.
Image Courtesy of Katnip Records.
There were several different reasons why I decided to go:
Networking: Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many fellow DJs & VJs & industry people in the online world, so I was looking forward to doing some networking and finally meeting many of them in person.
Bring your business cards, and carry them with you at all times, whether you’re at the conference where you might expect to meet people to network with or just walking down the street. While out and about we ran into legends like Crystal Waters and Ultra Nate. So, you never know who you might run into. One of my big takeaways from the week was how friendly everyone I met throughout the week was.
Music: Of course I was expecting to hear lots of great music from all the best DJs in the world who would all be in town for the week.
Aside from the bigger events going on around town, most DJs have numerous gigs scheduled throughout the week. Make sure you look through the conference guide to see who’s performing when and where so you don’t miss your favorite DJs during the week. Without having to fight the big crowds at Ultra, I was able to catch Martin Garrix, Sander Van Dorn, DJ Riddler, Tommie Sunshine, Reid Stefan, Steve Aoki, Afrojack, the original DJs of Studio 54, Matthew Koma, Cedric Gervais, Audien, and so many others, live, throughout the week.
Also do some research and ask your fellow DJs and industry contacts prior to going to find out what kind of private events are going on that you could potentially be invited to attend.
Conference & expert panels: With all the renowned music industry people in town, I was also anticipating some great panel discussions and learning from the best in the business.
I ended up attending about a handful or so of the panel discussions, and some were better than others. But there are a lot of expert panels during the week, so take a few minutes to check out which ones are on the schedule to find out if any of them are of interest to you.
The WMC pass I received at the conference I ended up using only once (outside of the conference center) to get into an event. Some of the bigger events that were supposed to give a discount to WMC badge holders did not, in fact, honor that discount.
Travel suggestions: I would recommend booking your trip as early as you can. The closer you get, the more expensive everything will get. I used airbnb.com to reserve my accommodations for the week, and ended up renting a nice room for just a little under $80/night, compared to hotel rates that were in the $200-$300/night or more range. I’d also strongly recommend staying close to where you are planning to spend most of your time.
Overall, my first WMC was a great experience. I got to meet just about everyone I was hoping to, and then some. I heard lots of great music during the week, from classic disco at the Studio 54 night to the latest and greatest in EDM. My best advice if you’re thinking of going: make sure you know what you’d like to accomplish while there, and plan ahead. If you play your cards right you will have a great time without breaking the bank.