“Did you know that you can win awards for your work as a 911 operator?” asks Erin Hamilton over coffee. She’s explaining the winding road that led her to turntablism — a path that began with quitting what could have been a longtime career as an (award-winning) emergency dispatcher. She needed to make more time for the thing she really loved to do — deejay — and working graveyard shifts answering 911 calls meant she couldn’t take DJ gigs.
Fresh out of college with a degree in psychology and experience taking calls on a suicide hotline, Hamilton snagged a job with the Wheat Ridge police department. She says she enjoyed it, but after a few years of working in a very conservative environment, she realized that music was her true passion. A longtime dancer and mixtape maker, Hamilton was drawn to do something with sound — she just wasn’t sure what.
“I think I got online and just Googled ‘Denver music volunteer,’ trying to find something I could gain experience in doing so I could quit being a dispatcher,” says Hamilton. That random search led her to KGNU, one of the country’s oldest community-run radio stations. She signed on as a volunteer, learned the ropes of being a radio DJ, and never looked back. Hamilton’s eclectic song selection and expertly curated sets quickly led to better spots in the station’s schedule.
“Just sifting through music and listening — that’s a big part of what I do,” she says. She’s a record-store junkie and an online crate-digger; as Erin Stereo, she uses a massive library of MP3s that are played through a virtual turntable system, allowing her to scratch and mix organically on wax in real time. Hamilton says she’ll go through hundreds of tracks in one sitting, often pulling only one or two songs at a time to add to her sets. “I’m a melody person, and my deejaying is melodic. I think that’s why a lot of women like what I do,” she says. “For me, the beat is innate; it’s easy to find a bunch of songs that go together. It’s too easy to make people dance to their favorite songs.”
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When Erin Stereo is on deck, she’ll play house music, hip-hop, ’90s R&B, Motown — almost anything. “No matter the genre, if people can dance to it, that’s what I like to play. I try to find balance — between the feminine and the masculine, between old songs and new songs, between songs that people know and songs that they don’t know," she says. "It’s a delicate balance.” Her versatility has enabled her to deejay everywhere from the 9News Health Fair to Denver Silent Disco events, where she’s become a regular.
A confident turntablist, Hamilton is also a master of her DJ brand. She’s made multiple promotional videos, making sure her hands are shown at work with the vinyl. She says she’s lucky to not have experienced much sexism in the industry so far, but sometimes people still have a hard time believing that a woman can actually deejay. “I want to be perceived as a practitioner of the craft, first and foremost,” says Hamilton. “But I’m also not stupid. I want to show that I’m an attractive person, because that’s one of the qualities that I bring to the table — I just don’t want it to be the focus. I want my skills as a DJ to be the focus.”
It’s true: She’s a woman who plays music. It might be harder to believe that Erin Stereo was once an award-winning 911 operator.