Chicago DJ celebrates Pride's radical roots

Prior to performing at any event, DJ Ariel Zetina takes time to consider the setting, the history of the venue and the time of year before assembling a potential playlist. And when it comes to Pride, this legwork intensifies, owing to the history of an event that started as a riot and has gradually evolved into a family friendly affair where revelers march alongside floats advertising banks, hardware stores and politicians.

“I always connect Pride to many things, including the capitalist, whitewashed, huge money event it's turned into,” said the Chicago-based Zetina, who will be spinning the Little Beat Pride Party alongside Jarvi at Double Happiness on Saturday, June 17. “But in the U.S., at least, it started with Stonewall. It's interesting to me, acknowledging the actual history of Pride, which was started by trans women and stemmed out of [the Stonewall Inn], a space that was a safe haven for trans women in New York, but then also critiquing what it's become and how there are large companies cashing in.”

Some of this commentary surfaces subtly in Zetina's sets — perhaps she'll spin a song by Rihanna that could be heard at any run-of-the-mill Pride event, only to interrupt the track with caustic bursts of noise — while other points are made more directly.

“I think words are powerful in sets, and I try to use actual words you can understand, even if sparingly,” said Zetina, who embraces her music as a means of telling her story as a trans woman, much as she had previously coming up in the performance art and poetry scenes. “A large percentage of my set is [made up of] songs produced by trans artists and songs produced by women. I never wanted to be specifically like, ‘I'm only playing songs by women,' or, ‘I'm only playing songs by trans artists.' But it's an underlying fact that it does change the mood of a set, just because the creators are different.”

One song that served as a source of inspiration for Zetina's Little Beat turn is City Fitness' “Life Bright,” a glitchy, pulsating track that comes on like a damaged CD of glitter-heeled house music, all chopped and stuttered vocals, piano chords and punchy kick drum. From there, Zetina allows her imagination to wander. There are certain flashpoints she knows she'll hit (disco, warped takes on Top-40 pop, etc.), but the musician allows plenty of room to improvise and feel out a room.

“I'll pick a few tracks and kind of let myself wander from there,” said Zetina, who was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and started creating electronic music as accompaniment for the radical performance art shows in which she took part.

And even though the music will inherently carry a message, revelers should have no issue remaining on the dance floor for the entirety of the set. Or at least that's the hope.

“I always think about this one drag queen event I played where there were two go-go dancers onstage, and I was playing some weird, arrhythmic track that they totally didn't know how to dance to,” Zetina said, and laughed. “I think you have to get a room to trust you before you take them on a journey. I like when I get people to dance to some kind of social [or] political commentary, or if I'm doing something arrhythmic, but first and foremost I always think playing parties is about making people move and making people dance. You need to offer people that experience.”