From the moment Charlene Alcanices picked up her first controller, the Bay Area DJ and plant shop owner knew the world of DJing was where she belonged.
In November, around this time last year, Alcanices—formally known in the Bay Area club scene as Charl3y Beats—established the Bay Area chapter of the Ladies1st DJ Club. The collective set out to change the lack of diversity in clubs across San Jose and the greater Bay Area and inspire more equity and inclusiveness in local nightlife.
Over two decades ago, Charlene met and married San Jose DJ Mike Alcanices. Committed to being a supportive partner, she encouraged her husband’s flourishing DJ career for years, her partner often pestering her to take the hobby for a literal spin.
“One time after a set he asked me, ‘What if you DJed a few hours into my sets? If you like it, you could cover me when I need to take a break.’ And I said sure, even though I was a homebody.”
After experimenting on CDJs (digital DJ decks), Charlene found herself enjoying the art of turntablism and began to hone her own sound.
Eventually, the husband and wife established SOULMAT3S, DJing as a duo in and around the Bay Area, including residencies at clubs in downtown San Jose. Having had prior experience managing her own online business, Charlene took on the role of manager. She says she found herself facing much adversity in the process.
“San Jose is home, and it’s always been great that the nightlife scene here has always had its own culture. But I found that everytime I went out to support an act or went to play a gig, it was overwhelmingly male-dominated, I was the only female,” she says.
She also began to notice that there were unspoken rules when it came to the clubs she could play in specific areas in downtown San Jose.
“I noticed that a lot of my DJ friends kept to certain areas only. And then I started to realize that there was a lot of politics involved.”
In 2019, the couple attended a professional DJ summit, where she says she was one of the only women present. This realization of the inequity and lack of representation she continued to witness in the club circuit inspired her to commit to bettering the local DJ scene. Thus, Ladies1st was established.
The inclusive DJ club originally began in Canada. Having been started by friends, the collective was immediately supportive of Alcanices’s idea for a Bay Area chapter.
A month later, she opened her plant shop, Momstera, which became headquarters for the group’s events and workshops.
DJ Ness Rock is the club’s resident teacher. Ness Rock has been involved with San Jose’s nightlife since the early aughts. For over a year now, the DJ has built the curriculum for workshops hosted at the plant shop, often bringing her own equipment to lend to students.
“She had this brand new space, so the first week she set up shop, Char provided us with turntables and a mixer and we promoted workshops,” Ness Rock says.
Like many DJs, Ness Rock is self-taught. She learned by experimenting on controllers and watching her friends at informal DJ sessions.
“When I started, a lot of DJs were playing because they knew other DJs, and they learned from them. If you’re fortunate enough to have those connections, to know someone that has controllers, or can get you in, great. But if you don’t, where do you start?”
She says many DJs, especially those who don’t fit the mainstream ideal of what a DJ should be gender or image-wise, will often quit before they even get the opportunity to get behind the decks and tinker with the basics, or experiment with different effects and techniques.
“There’s not a place where people, let alone women, can come and do that. It’s very intimidating,” Ness Rock says. “Seeing all these different people come in to learn and pursue DJing because they’re interested, or want to learn more, or want to take the next step in their careers, is cool. You should be able to have a place where you can try it out.”
Ladies1st DJ Club
Thu, 9:30pm, Free
Fifty Five South, San Jose