DJ Shannon Blowtorch: Applying heat to the beat

  • Article by: MICHAEL RIETMULDER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 26, 2014 - 2:59 PM

At Twin Cities Pride time, busy DJ Shannon Blowtorch goes into turntable overdrive.

Shannon Blowtorch doesn’t dance (anymore). But she’s made a career out of making people move.

The north Minneapolis resident is one of the Twin Cities’ most versatile DJs. One night she’s bumping Santigold in a dive bar to an indie-centric LGBT crowd. The next she’s spinning metal records for woolly bearded Surly Nation or riling up a First Avenue full of politicos with top 40 at former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s Un-auguration Party.

“It’s quite the balance, but I enjoy the challenge,” said Blowtorch, sitting in front of a laptop at Muddy Waters in Uptown. “I’ve never been a one-trick pony with music.”

Her party-rocking portfolio expanded last year when she joined blossoming hip-hop crew Grrrl Prty — something Blowtorch swore she would never do. Having worked as a sound engineer at local clubs, she grew leery of collaborating with oft-difficult rap groups, she said. But something about the all-female posse, anchored by fiery rappers Lizzo, La Manchita and Sophia Eris, was different. “I just bonded with the women so much that I gave in to my vow to never do it,” Blowtorch said. “I like their music, I believe in them. They’re some of the dopest emcees that I’ve heard.”

The explosive rap crew has been a popular summer block-party booking, having already played Memory Lanes’ Memorial Day weekend bash and with upcoming slots at Barbette’s Bastille Day (July 13) and Pizza Luce’s block party (Aug. 9) — not to mention a recent smash-mouth set at Northern Spark’s opening ceremony. But for Blowtorch, who identifies as queer, Pride week is one of the busiest of the year.

Grrrl Prty’s tattooed turntablist has been gigging all week, including Thursday’s Transmission in Berlin at Hell’s Kitchen — a combo party merging her indie-leaning, LGBT Berlin monthly with Jake Rudh’s hit Transmission series — peaking with Friday’s Grown & Sexy Pride party at First Avenue. Helmed by Blowtorch, Sweetpea and Nadine DuBois, the fourth annual dance party features pop-up drag and burlesque performances every half hour, with appearances from Willam of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race,” Seattle’s the Luminous Pariah and Iva Handfull, plus local troupes Suck It! Gag on the Drag, Dykes Do Drag and the Vigilantease Collective.

“I swear I’m high for like a month after that party,” said the full-time DJ, who celebrates her 38th birthday this weekend.

“I’m always on stage on my birthday,” Blowtorch said. “All my friends try to embarrass me and make my face turn red.”

You wouldn’t think it from the cool and controlled party purveyor, but it usually works, she admits.

Grown & Sexy launched in 2011 after Blowtorch had a Pride week gig fall through. Rather than take the night off, she rallied local burlesque stars Sweatpea and DuBois for an event of their own. The party quickly outgrew its Hell’s Kitchen beginnings and moved to First Avenue’s main room the following year.

“Pride for some of us independent contractors is a big deal, and we make a few months of income in one month,” Blowtorch said.

Since landing in Minneapolis 12 years ago, the Wisconsin native has become a Twin Cities nightlife fixture. She fell in love with the local arts community, and discovered Bedlam Theatre, where she eventually helped throw the infamous Bomp parties. The former exotic dancer found her way into Venus DeMars’ band All the Pretty Horses as a dancer and manager for 10 years. Blowtorch credits DeMars with giving her a crash course in the biz, but her dancing days are officially over.

“Everybody tries to get me to go out on the dance floor. I’m like, ‘Nope! No thank you,’ ” she said. “I danced for years. It’s my turn to make people dance. I bounce around behind the turntables, I’ve got my castle walls around me. That’s the only time you’ll catch me doing it.”

As long as she keeps serving up artfully blended beats, we’re not complaining.

Michael Rietmulder writes about bars, beer and nightlife.

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