Photos: Tronster Hartley and courtesy of Baby Alcatraz’s Twitter account

DJ Baby Alcatraz Keeps Vinyl and Soul Alive in the Nation’s Capital

When talking to DC area favorite DJ Baby Alcatraz, you immediately feel a breath of fresh air that seems like it’s sweeping the neon and glow sticks out of the room. Then you realize that’s just wind from feet on the dance floor caught up in the off-the-beaten-path rhythms of a smooth soul tune. Songs 50+ years old yet still able to get bodies on the dance floor – that’s where this DJ’s story begins.

In an era where computers play electronic bleeps, bloops and drops, seeing Baby Alcatraz’s name on a local lineup ensures that you’re probably going to hear something entirely different, and see a rare 45-rpm vinyl record – or 10 – along the way. A classic era throwback in a new age, she’s certainly worthy of our ears, feet and time.

Analog appreciation goes back a long way with Alactraz, known as Alyssa Bell when she’s not performing.

“I’ve always felt surrounded by music,” she tells On Tap. “[We] always, always had music on when I was growing up, and my Walkman was my most prized possession. I had backup batteries for my backup batteries to keep that thing going 24/7. Getting a stereo with high-speed cassette dubbing is still one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.”

Alcatraz’s sets involve spinning 45-rpm vinyl record singles of rhythm and blues songs that were often released prior to 1970. Given that the typical DC partier of late places their date of birth sometime after 1990, her skill set presents an intriguing dichotomy. Alcatraz notes that “to have people dancing to those records when there’s much more familiar music being played at surrounding venues still inspires me.”

Alcatraz realizes that all-vinyl gigs are “not for everyone.” She’s had people leave her sets “because they didn’t hear exactly [what they wanted to hear].” To aid in branding who she is as a DJ and what she does behind the decks, she even has a “No requests” sign because people unfamiliar with all-vinyl DJing don’t always realize that she can only play the records she has with her on any given evening.

Sticking to her guns has allowed Alcatraz to join alongside a crew of vinylphiles including Ian “Name Names” Svenonius, Sean “Mad Squirrel” Hissey, Tariq “Pharaoh Haqq” and “Soul Call Paul” Vivari, who are all doing their best to keep classic era vibes locally relevant in the modern era. As well, her skills and talent have afforded her the chance to play gigs at venues as diverse as U Street’s Velvet Lounge and Brookland’s Dew Drop Inn to the Capital Fringe Festival and the Kennedy Center Atrium.

“I’m also still so happy that people know that I do this odd thing and still invite me to do just that at their venue, with zero input or suggestion that I do anything differently.”

In full, Baby Alcatraz has carved a unique niche in a difficult market to do so, and is thankful for the opportunity.

Catch her at Velvet Lounge’s All-Vinyl Dance Party on July 8 or Shout Bamalama at Haydee’s Restaurant in Mount Pleasant on July 23.

Follow DJ Baby Alcatraz on Twitter: @BabyAlcatraz

Photos: Tronster Hartley and courtesy of Baby Alcatraz’s Twitter account