Lauren Zwicky is all about aesthetics, something that’s evident in her work as a hair stylist as well as in her efforts as a DJ and event organizer. For her, music can influence the way we present ourselves to the world as much as the way we look can have an impact on the art we make. Whether she’s behind the styling chair or the turntables, Zwicky is constantly innovating, hoping to be part of the personal transformation of both her clients in the salon and her followers on the dance floor.
“The motivating force behind anything I do — whether it’s deejaying, doing hair or throwing parties — is to just give people the chance to be themselves,” says Zwicky. “There are so many beautiful, fierce people out there who have been ridiculed their whole lives and don’t have that opportunity to be who they are.”
Through her work, she strives to give people the freedom to be themselves, one track or trim at a time.
Zwicky’s taste in music is simple: Anything bass-heavy goes, and that includes everything from Rihanna to Shamir to Brenmar. She loves old-school ’90s house, Baltimore house and UK funky. “Anything with a diva vocal; anything fierce,” she says. Her crowds go crazy for it, too. Her ability to blend lesser-known tracks from Top 40 artists with local beatmakers’ music and songs from off-the-beaten-path international acts puts this mixmaster in a category all her own.
As a DJ and promoter, Zwicky — who goes by Tha Bitch Prince — has been curating equal-opportunity dance-floor atmospheres for more than five years. Her goal is true inclusion and acceptance; she wants to create “safer” spaces for her party-goers and give members of Denver’s queer community a place where they can truly let loose and explore their individuality.
In 2011, not long after she started deejaying, Zwicky was approached by friend Israel Oka about starting a dance night that catered specifically to the queer community. Their shared wish for a booty-shaking, friendly place to call home was realized in the monthly dance party Damn Gurl. From the moment Damn Gurl opened its doors, it was clear that Denver needed a place to let loose, free from judgment. Familiar faces were grinding side by side with strangers, creating a wild, colorful dance floor, one that kept growing bigger with every edition of the event.
“If I’m deejaying any party, my first thought is, what is my motivation behind it? What is it focused on? Is it focused on a particular community? Is it focused on the type of music we’re playing?” Zwicky says of her approach. On the dance floor, she made sure that people were having a good time — but most of all, she made sure they felt secure in coming to a party where they wouldn’t be excluded or ostracized for showing their true colors. Because of its emphasis on inclusion, Damn Gurl was extremely successful and became a destination disco. By its first anniversary, the shindig was welcoming hundreds of folks through its doors.
Those doors, though, were temporary: Zwicky says Damn Gurl’s troubles began when she and Oka were unable to find a permanent home for their party. Then the event suffered a spell of overexposure, attracting the wrong kind of attention — the kind that shifted Damn Gurl’s once-safe space into a realm of unwanted spectacle.
“At some point, people started to hear about us in a way that wasn’t organic,” recalls Zwicky. “It started to feel like a dance party where some people were coming just to, like, ‘look at the freak show’ and ‘stare at the queers.’ It almost became a novelty, and the moment it feels like that or I feel like I can’t keep the vibe of the space going well, I just shut it down.” Damn Gurl was a goner.
But Zwicky says Damn Gurl didn’t fade without a fight. She and Oka tried instituting peer-to-peer security to keep an eye on things, but at some point, it got beyond the party-throwers’ control. “It just ran its course,” says Zwicky. “It served its purpose and we had a blast, and then it just kind of dissolved.” Still, she never gave up on the dream of constructing a safe space for dancing and fun that was truly by and for the queer community.
Post-Damn Gurl, Zwicky continued her DJ pursuits. She could be found playing her eclectic jams through big club sound systems as well as the shitty P.A.s of underground DIY spaces. But it was a trip to Berlin one summer that brought hairdressing — an art form now inextricably linked to her life in the music world — into the mix.
“[Hairdressing] has always been in the back of my head,” Zwicky says. “I had my undergraduate degree in psychology, but there was something missing. Once I put it all together in my own mind, it was like, ‘This is it.’ I get to talk to people, which is what attracted me to psychology, and I get to work with my hands, which is something that is a must.” She found a beauty-school program that fit her work ethic and immediately began assisting in a salon while attending classes.
Now a credentialed cosmetologist working under the name L.A. Zwicky, the artist has finally got her work life in line with her art life. The majority of her clients are people from her music world; her wild style graces the heads of DJs, promoters, venue owners, musicians, visual artists and fans. She sees the time she gets to spend with her music-minded clients as the dream scenario for her tandem careers: Zwicky’s clients are often her collaborators, and a haircut can double as a business meeting.
“We have the ability to network once somebody is sitting in my chair,” says Zwicky. “Yes, I’m creating something on their head, but on another level, we might be talking about a party or the new music we’re into. It literally brings every single part of my world together.”
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Back in the DJ booth, Zwicky’s vision for an inclusive party space is still alive and well. During the past year, she’s helped establish a Denver edition of Blow Pony, a radical queer party machine that has been lovingly churning out safe-space events in Portland for close to a decade. While on tour in the Pacific Northwest as a DJ and dancer for the local freaky fitness-performance outfit Werk Out Palace a few years ago, Zwicky met Blow Pony founder Airick X. Together they revived the idea that Denver could also be a place for total, equitable freedom in a party-for-all environment.
Blow Pony’s penchant for bringing breakout DJs, rappers, dancers and drag performers to a hungry audience was just what Zwicky had wanted to create after Damn Gurl’s dissolution. Coming up on its one-year anniversary, the high-plains edition of Blow Pony is thriving at venerable LGBTQ-inclusive bar the Compound. Airick X and Zwicky often deejay, but they’re also responsible for bringing talent such as Baltimore underground hip-hop star TT the Artist and New Orleans-based visual- and drag-performance master Vinsantos to the Denver stage.
Whether she’s working her magic on a sound system as Tha Bitch Prince or constructing daring ’dos in the barber chair as L.A. Zwicky, this artist’s aim is true. As a freedom-of-expression facilitator, her mission is clear: Find a place for everyone to be comfortable in their own aesthetic and make the world more beautiful in the process.
Blow Pony Denver One-Year Anniversary
9 p.m. Friday, March 25, The Compound, 145 Broadway, $5, 21+.