DJ Paulette Welcomes Us to The Club [Exclusive Book Excerpt]

In an exclusive excerpt from DJ Paulette’s new book Welcome To The Club: The Life Lessons of a Black Woman DJ, the famed UK artist pays homage to the powerful, pioneering women behind Strictly Rhythm and Maxi Records.

6 min
DJ Paulette Welcome to the club Beatportal Header 1
Feb 8, 2024
DJ Paulette

Over her 30-year career bringing immaculate vibes to dance floors across the globe, the pioneering and award-winning UK artist DJ Paulette has collected her fair share of humorous anecdotes, unique stories, and hard-hitting insights into the inner workings of the electronic dance music industry. Putting pen to paper, the celebrated Haçienda DJ has chronicled her tale in the form of a new book, Welcome to the Club: The Life and Lessons of a Black Woman DJ.

This new self-penned autobiography tells the tale of a passionate selector from Manchester who has fought tooth and nail to overcome the exclusion, misogyny, racism, and classism she has confronted as a queer Black woman in clubland.

Featuring additional contributions from influential names such as Annie Mac, Gilles Peterson, Dave Haslam, Jaguar, and Jamz Supernova, this book is an essential read for dance music historians, politic enthusiasts, sociology buffs, clubbing fanatics, and beyond.

From the genesis of her iconic Flesh party (the first LGBTQ+ night at Haçienda) in 1991 to the challenges of being a DJ during the COVID-19 pandemic, DJ Paulette tells her story with authenticity, humor, and fascinating wisdom while also celebrating the scene’s fresh female talent and paying homage to the unsung heroes who have made such tremendous contributions to the dance music space.

DJ Paulette was kind enough to offer Beatportal an exclusive excerpt of her new book, which pays tribute to two of these overlooked music industry legends in A&R: Strictly Rhythm co-founder Gladys Pizarro and Maxi Records founder Claudia Cuseta.

Get your copy of DJ Paulette’s book Welcome to the Club: The Life and Lessons of a Black Woman DJ here.

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Chapter 4: FAQ (female asked questions)

One of the biggest influences and role models to us as DJs and record label executives was Strictly Rhythm’s Gladys Pizarro, a five foot four, Latina lesbian and self-starter who, from 1989, took the world of independent record labels, branding, licensing and A&R to another level. Alongside her business partner, Mark Finkelstein, she launched the global careers and chart hits of some of the world’s most celebrated and famous artists (mainly Black, Latino and Hispanic) including Roger Sanchez, Masters at Work, Armand Van Helden, Erick Morillo, India, Barbara Tucker and Ultra Nate.

Of starting Strictly Rhythm in 1989, Gladys says:

This was all trial and error. We didn’t have a book on this, I loved it. I was there seven days a week 365 days a year. It was my Cheers; that place where I felt most accepted, where I could be me.

I made the tribe. I started working with Todd Terry; then he brought in Kenny Dope Gonzalez, Kenny brought in Louie Vega and it started to create a snowball effect. It was never just a business deal, it became a friendship, a family. I’m lucky that I still have relationships with practically everyone on that label and what’s really special is that they are all still relevant. I’m a street kid and proud of it. The business of doing busi- ness out there, I brought that in here. Let’s be real here. Let’s break bread.

Community forged their relationships far better than the corporate machine.

Judy Griffith recalls:

I didn’t really have any Black female role models growing up, apart from my mum, whom I worshipped. I was a massive vinyl junkie and Strictly Rhythm was a label I used to buy all the time. All my Strictly records had this woman’s name on. This myth of a name. Gladys Pizarro. I saw this woman’s name and that was enough for me to feel like I could work for a record company. Maybe I could be an A&R. I’d never seen A&R with any woman’s name up until this point … For me to end up working at that same record label was – is this really happening for me? … If I hadn’t worked at Strictly, I could never have done Fabric and If I hadn’t done two seasons in Ibiza meeting people and getting all those contacts I would never have been able to do that job with Strictly.

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Throughout the nineties and noughties, native New Yorker and Maxi Records’ owner Claudia Cuseta was my stateside inspiration, motivator, cheerleader and guardian angel. In an environment where women were considered either property or administrative cannon fodder and knowing nothing about the industry but being a ‘House of Fields’ club kid, she rose through the ranks from Tommy Boy Records where she was inspired and worked alongside the mythical Monica Lynch (Vice President), at the New Music Seminar, and as the Club Promoter responsible for all the labels through Maurice Levy’s Roulette Records. She then worked for Profile Records, which like Strictly Rhythm was a small label where everybody does everything. In 1990 she started Maxi Records with business partner Kevin McHugh who brought a fresh perspective and new contacts to the mix of her full understanding of where a record came from and how to get it through from concept to distribution and licensing.

Maxi was a force to be reckoned with alongside Strictly Rhythm, Nervous and Tribal. By the power of word of mouth and some outsized mariachi shirts, Claudia and Kevin also notably introduced the party aspect to the Miami Winter Music Conference, holding a costume party at the Cama Drag in the first years when it moved from Fort Lauderdale to Miami Beach. Up until then the Winter Music Conference had been a serious affair. Claudia cites her love of performance-art-heavy Danceteria and its resident DJ Anita Sarko as an inspiration. She says it was female DJs that she looked up to, and while there was a culture of parties using female DJs in New York, it wasn’t really acknowledged, and it is not surprising that those women didn’t get their due.

Tune in with DJ Paulette’s ‘Welcome To The Club’ Discography below or check it out on Beatport.

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