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April 17, 2014

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DJ Spotlight: Tina T talks DJ camp, women in EDM and five survival tips for spinning a L.V. pool party

After winning the L.V. Spin Award for ‘Best Female DJ’ three years in a row, the ‘less skin, more skill’ DJ weighs in on what’s next

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DJ Tina T is conquering Las Vegas one beat at a time.

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DJ Tina T at Vanity in the Hard Rock Hotel.

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DJ Tina T is spinning good music and good works in 2012.

Consider DJ Tina T the first lady of Las Vegas DJs. With 13 years of spinning experience under her belt, it's no surprise that the Seattle native (born Tina Turnbull) has kept crowds moving for more than a year now with her Friday night residency at Marquee's Library, and she's showing no signs of slowing down.

Last week, she won the 2012 Las Vegas Spin Award for "Best Female DJ" for the third year in a row; her DJ summer camp for teenagers, Camp Spin-Off, kicks off its third summer this July. This month, she's taking her turntable skills off the Strip and into the local community by hosting a DJ battle on May 24 with guest judges Jason Strauss and DJ M!ke Attack to benefit the Las Vegas Boys & Girls Club with camp scholarships.

I caught up with Turnbull over the phone while she was preparing to host the grand opening of Little Tao nightclub in Texas; she weighed in on life as a female DJ, the challenges of running a summer camp and the top survival tips for DJ'ing a Las Vegas pool party.

Andrea Domanick: Congratulations on the Spin Award -- what does winning it mean to you?

DJ Tina T: This one is different from others because it was determined by a voting process, not from critics or an organization, so it really means a lot. It gives me a lot of confidence to know that I have the support of fans and other DJs and others in the community like that.

A.D.: How do you feel about winning for "Best Female DJ" as opposed to just "Best DJ"?

T.T.: Yeah, I definitely want to break out of the "female" category, but at the same time, I’m also honored to be picked to represent female DJs. I don’t want to not be grateful for something like this. But it is an ongoing challenge, especially for me at this point in my career. I’ve been DJ'ing for as long and have put out as much stuff as most of these other guys, but I can’t break off of the female tagline. It’s always, “She’s really good ... for a girl.” But it’s just one of those challenges that we girls will have to face for a while, and I do see it evening out eventually.

A.D.: How has your style as a DJ evolved since being in Vegas, especially with the rise of EDM?

T.T.: Vegas changed my style literally as soon as I got here. I knew I had to put in work. I wasn’t used to playing such long sets, spinning until 4 a.m. You’re at 110 percent energy for such a long time. You also have to have hits that are up-to-the-minute current in addition to the classic stuff you like to play personally, so people will always be surprised. The last thing I want when people see me play is to think they know exactly what I’m going to do.

A.D.: What is the biggest challenge of having a weekly Friday night residency at a big-name club like Marquee?

T.T.: The pressure of the management and knowing that you have so many other people’s jobs on the line is more than anything I’ve ever dealt with. You have five different people at any given time telling you to do polar opposite things, to play polar opposite songs. So a lot of it is figuring out who is the right person to listen to -- the high roller, the celebrity or the management? But I figured that out pretty quickly. If you can’t handle that kind of pressure, you probably shouldn’t be a DJ, let alone a DJ in Vegas.

A.D.: You've been in Las Vegas for about four years now. What have been your favorite venues to play?

T.T.: I love Rain. It's just such a classic club, it's been there forever, but it has the best lighting system, I love the fire, the layout. In terms of other spots, I do miss Prive, that was just always a fun place to play. I love playing Pure. But there's one place in Vegas that I haven't done that I've always wanted to do, which is Rehab. I always want to be at the craziest possible party, and I just want to conquer [Rehab], just check it off the list.

A.D.: With pool season coming up, that probably has its own set of challenges. What are you Top Five tips for DJ'ing in the summer heat?

T.T.: DJ'ing pool parties can be grueling!

One: Build or buy a laptop stand with a fan under it, especially if you’re playing all day. Otherwise your laptop might not be able to handle the heat.

Two: Have buckets of ice on hand. You use it for everything -- to keep your drinks cold, to drop down your shirt, any way to stay cool.

Three: Switch your laptop type to make it all white on a black background, otherwise it’s impossible to see your screen in the sun.

Four: Have some good house songs on your playlist for ammo. I call them "big splash" songs -- pool party crowds just go wild for the build-up, and when it hits, the crowd always makes a huge splash in the pool.

Five: Don’t wear tight clothing. It’s all about loose clothes, cotton. Maybe this year I’ll try wearing a sweatband.

A.D.: The DJ camp you founded, Camp Spin-Off, is coming up on its third summer. How has the camp evolved? What’s the hardest part of running a summer camp?

T.T.: This year we have campers coming from all over, we have a kid coming from Denmark and also a lot of return campers. So the challenge is to teach them how to use many different kinds of DJ formats while keeping the equipment and software practical, stuff they can access when they’re not at camp. With the return campers, there’s also pressure on me to keep the programming new and fresh and evolve it to the levels they’re learning.

But I would say my biggest challenge now is to find good staff and counselors. A lot of DJs are amazing DJs but don’t necessarily enjoy working with teenagers and waking up at 7 a.m. It’s a very un-DJ lifestyle, but that’s what I love about it. We can be submerged in DJ'ing, but without the pressure or exhaustion of a club environment.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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