It's 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday in April, and the main room at Beta Nightclub is nearly empty. But upstairs, in the back of the club, there's a much smaller, much more brightly lit room, where a handful of kids are congregating even though it's still early. The scene resembles a school dance: Teenage girls with big hair and miniature skirts move about awkwardly next to boys who look like they're dressed up for picture day.
They're here for the first installment of CRLV (pronounced "Crew Love"), a night featuring local DJs Wabberjocky, Narky Stares, Sylent Efx and Private Property. Private Property, in particular, is the one these kids came to see: They were her classmates at the high school she graduated from just last year.
But the DJ, whose real name is Jordan Leone, has plenty of peers who have been out of school and deejaying professionally for more than a decade. Since the age of fourteen, she's been playing whatever Denver venues she could find her way into, spinning Blawan, Pariah, Pangaea and other modern figures of the house movement for increasingly impressed crowds.
Leone's introduction to the kinds of tracks she would one day be playing came while she was sitting in front of her parents' TV. "I remember hearing 'Genesis,' by Justice, in a Cadillac commercial during the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2007 or 2008," she says. A curious and unusually thorough kid, Leone started listening to other acts on Justice's label, Ed Banger. Continued research led to an affinity for the French electro scene. She fell especially hard for Belgian brother duo Soulwax.
By the time she was a freshman at the small Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning, in southeast Denver, Leone had decided to try applying her knowledge of electronic music to the DJ booth. Students at the school engage in a "mini-challenge" each year. If a student wants to learn about, say, being a rafting guide, or an Army nurse, or, indeed, a DJ, he or she seeks out a mentor and spends two weeks with that person learning the craft.
DJ Rex Buchanan was offering lessons at his Elevation Sound Studios, and Leone attended as her ninth-grade mini-challenge. There she developed the method for deejaying that she still relies on today. "There are plenty of people who deejay with controllers and laptops or Serato with vinyl or just straight vinyl," she says. "I learned how to deejay on CDs with CDJ. I've never deejayed with a laptop; I think for the type of music I do, CDJs just kind of work as an industry standard."
Now at least partly comfortable behind the decks, Leone got a gig at a dance for the eighth-graders at the School of Expeditionary Learning. She was bombarded all night with requests from her younger peers, which provided another valuable lesson. "This is not what I'm about," she remembers thinking. "I know that I'm a DJ, but this is not who I am." That same year, she asked her mom to take her to Los Angeles for a Halloween music festival featuring Justice, Deadmau5, the Bloody Beetroots, Basement Jaxx, Crookers and more. Without blinking an eye, her mother booked the cross-generational getaway. During the trip, Leone realized that crowd requests were just one of the aspects of dance-music culture that felt alien to her.
"I was in L.A., I was fourteen years old, but I had no idea what this culture was about," she says. "I was kind of shocked by all the people on drugs and all the girls in skimpy outfits and furry boots."
Today, Leone notes, one of the most common assumptions people make about her is, "Oh, you like dance music? So you do drugs." On the surface, she understands that, "because a lot of it is -- in the mainstream, at least -- a drug culture, which is unfortunate." But for her, the drugs and alcohol associated with the music she loves have never been part of the appeal; in fact, she says, they would take away from the real reason she enjoys these shows, whether as a DJ or as a fan: "The music is fucking great. I don't know about you, but I want to remember things that I see. Otherwise, why am I going to spend all of this money to go to these shows?"
Leone's passion for music extends beyond shows to the industry itself. She spent her junior year's mini-challenge in Sydney, Australia, working for the Bang Gang label (which has since morphed into Motorik Records).
In the span of two weeks, Leone got a chance to write press releases and work on contracts for upcoming records, as well as learn the ins and outs of placing music on iTunes and Beatport. She had a hand in sending raw tracks off to be mastered, overseeing contracts for album art, and placing orders for physical copies of new albums.
Her own voracious appetite for finding new music online helped Leone make her biggest impact at the label, however. She was tasked with watching for illegal downloads of recently released Bang Gang tracks, policing many of the blogs on which she had initially discovered some of her favorite artists. She did so well that the label offered her a job, but she turned it down to finish high school and focus on deejaying in Denver.
Her age made it harder to book shows at conventional venues, which often cater to those eighteen and over. Instead, she found opportunities to deejay at DIY spots like Rhinoceropolis and neighboring Glob, sharing bills with rising stars like Thug Entrancer. She found her way into some low-key bars, too, sneaking onto lineups with the help of fellow turntable-minded friends who could vouch for her. Well-established DJ Shannon Kelly took Leone under his wing and booked her on a few of his successful Neon Knights gigs at the Meadowlark.
"I've never been a drinker; I don't like to drink," says Leone. "So, while [some] people were worried that I would be a liability, all of my mentors knew I wouldn't. But I stayed low -- I had Xs on my hands and whatever. That was fine."
Jordan describes her plans going forward on the next page.
Leone is currently juggling college courses and a part-time job at a local restaurant with her love of deejaying. She was recently accepted into the University of Colorado Denver's music-business program and is considering a double major in recording arts. For the moment, she's focused on perfecting her style on the turntables. "I would mainly say I deejay house, deep house and techno. I started deejaying with a lot of electronica -- a lot of harder, faster-BPM, French-style electronic music," she says. "Over the years, my taste has shifted to deeper...some people describe it as Detroit techno and Chicago house. That's what has influenced me."
The young DJ speaks confidently about the effect of pre-Internet geographical isolation, describing the development of Chicago house, Detroit techno and Berlin techno and the nuances that define those genres. But those regional distinctions are disappearing. "It's funny -- now that the Internet makes everything so broad, you can have Chicago house coming from places that aren't near Chicago," says Leone. "The music that I play -- it really is house. It's the closest thing to Chicago and Detroit and all that old-school stuff."
In Leone's view, many DJs claiming to play house music aren't adhering to those roots. "House music is definitely something that's exploited in the mainstream. There's EDM and these big-room DJs who play high-energy tracks," she says. "That's not what house music is. It isn't what is being advertised on the main floors of big clubs as house music."
Back in the lounge at Beta, it's a little later at night, and the back room is filling up with people. A middle-aged couple walks in, but DJ Private Property is focused on her turntables. She barely looks up to say hello as her parents, Robyn and Jeff Leone, relax against the wall. They look on with interest, just like the rest of the growing crowd. These days, their daughter is earning respect well outside the bounds of family and former classmates. She's finally old enough to take the spotlight in Denver, and that's exactly where she wants to be.
"I was heavily debating moving to Belgium, where a lot of the stuff I like is happening," Leone says. "But I thought if I took what I was doing here to there, I wouldn't be doing anything special. I would just be doing the same thing as everyone. It would be cool for me to go to Belgium, and maybe I'll go abroad, but I love Denver so much. I think it's a really good place for new stuff to happen."
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