Animal isn’t your typical dance party.
The Richmond-based collective’s dance nights are more like live performances than DJ nights. Crowds gather wherever it holds above- and below-ground dance-floor stimulations because the collective does what DJs and bands are supposed to do: It gets the room on its feet, inducing a throbbing blur of beats and bodies with little distance between the mixers and the masses. They are one in the same.
The other thing that sets Animal apart from the rest of the disc jockey pack is that most of the people involved are unapologetically and proudly queer.
Animal started in August 2012 when Connie Sue, a 36-year-old DJ who spent more than a decade working for independent punk site Interpunk.com, started spinning music Thursday nights at Babe’s of Carytown. Sue doesn’t think in terms of male and female. The pronoun currently preferred by Sue and some others in the transgender community is “they”, although it's different for everyone. Sue identifies as queer gender.
Having made the decision to start hormone therapy earlier this year, Billings will marry partner Brandy Thurston as Mr. Conley Thurston Billings on Sept. 5.
The Manassas native first started spinning music at house parties and bars in Baltimore before moving to Richmond is 2010. Sue credits the experience of playing music at the “Are We Not Men” dance parties at the Depot with as the initial inspiration for Animal. But the death of Sue’s older sister Robin from kidney failure in 2007 put those plans on hold for a couple of years. Then in April of 2013, Lou Gehrig’s disease claimed the life of Billings’ mother.
“Losing my sister and mother put things into perspective for me. DJing just for fun no longer felt right. I wanted it to be more meaningful,” Sue explains. “I took a long break from DJng and did regular grown-up stuff, bought a house and tried to settle down. The idea was always in my head to do a dance party that also involved fundraising, raising awareness and being involved in the community.”
Billings met future collaborator Joseph Whitfield when he came to pick up a couch Connie had put for sale on Craigslist.
“I was in the market for a couch and she seemed cool,” the 28-year-old Norfolk native says of his first meeting with Sue. A month later, Sue gave him a flier for dance night at Babe’s. “I asked her what she was playing and she said Crystal Castles, Goldfrapp and others I liked that I never heard in clubs and especially not in gay clubs, unfortunately.”
Whitfield asked how he could get involved and helped build it into something more, he says. Since then, the loose-knit group has grown to include contributions from Eric Tomlin, Christopher DeNitto, David Miller and Wes McWillen.
“We pretty much opened it up to where you can be as involved as much of you want,” Sue says of Animal’s growing ranks. “There are different levels of involvement; some people want to DJ, some people help out more in organizing the events. We all work together based on how much time and commitment each person can give.”
First and foremost, they want to provide a platform for queer artists and DJs that might not otherwise play Richmond.
“We want to help the Richmond LGBTQ community as much as we can. We do fundraisers and work with any organization that wants to collaborate at our events,” Whitfield adds. “We are pretty passionate about that.”
Animal is promoting a show by the high-energy queer electro-hop duo Double Duchess on Saturday, July 25, at Strange Matter. Electronic dance music two-piece Normaling is also on the bill with Animal DJ Christopher “Night Stalker” DeNitto spinning a selection of club bangers between the band’s sets.
On Saturday, Aug. 1, at Strange Matter, the collective holds a show by Home Body from Northampton, Massachusetts, Richmond bands Toxic Moxie and Skirts, with Connie Sue spinning tunes.
Animal Top 10 Dance Hits
JD Samson — “Who Am I To Feel So Free” (Tomahawk Remix)
Brooklyn Is Burning — “Percolatin” (Eli Escobar Remix)
Trust — “Capitol”
TT The Artist — “Giddy Up”
Mark Wundercastle — “Bring Me Joy”
Moullinex & Peaches — “Maniac”
Boody & Le1f — “Sweet Tea”
Leikeli47 — “F**ck the Summer Up”
Double Duchess — “Good Girl Freak Out” (Normaling Remix)