Keenan Orr and Steve Lemmerman (aka Lemz) have a profound connection that is rivaled by many best friends and even lovers. They finish each other’s sentences, complement each other’s skill sets, and take the town by storm by way of their monthly queer dance party, Sleaze.
Started in April of 2017 at the Columbia Heights dive bar, Wonderland Ballroom, Sleaze boasts a truly inclusive dance floor soundtracked by disco, house, and everything in between. Sleaze is not only a way to pay homage to the legendary disco nightclubs of the past, but also to get party people of all walks of life together on a dance floor under the age-old adage, “if it feels good, do it.”
Keenan: I started out at house parties, basically. That’s where I first learned to DJ. Back in 1997, I was working at a clothes store in Georgetown called Up Against the Wall, and right next to it was Music Now. I would take my paychecks and go over to Music Now and spend them on all the records that they had.
I started out playing strictly house. [I wanted to be] the biggest house DJ there [was]. And then around 2005, Serato came out, which allowed me to play everything I had in my computer, so I was going back to all the soul records that I grew up with. They used to call me “The Barbeque DJ of DC” because I would play all those old school barbeque jams. But I slowly got back into playing disco and house again.
Lemz: I started in 2001. The summer camp I went to when I was 12, Camp Airy, had a DJ clinic so I joined it. I took such a keen interest to it that when I got home, I bought a pair of Technics off Craigslist. Then [I started DJing] the dances at my school because they were like, ‘Oh, cute little hobby! Do you want us to save a bunch of money on hiring someone real?’ So, they would hire me!
I started off obsessed with shitty techno. I was on Kazaa searching for techno music and hitting download on everything. When I started DJing, the only vinyl I owned was a DJ Rectangle battle record, so I was mostly playing beats and samples. Then I started shopping at Record and Tape Traders and buying anything I could get my hands on. Anything that said “remix” on it, I would buy. But when I got Serato, I started playing a lot of blog haus and electro – anything heavy.
I always loved disco but I started to get a deeper appreciation for it as I became more comfortable and more familiar with myself. I think I went through a journey of being in the closet when I started DJing to coming out, and [with that came] a change of taste of music, where I wouldn’t really hide what I was into anymore. Like, playing a lot of Sylvester out as a gay man not trying to be out doesn’t really keep me in the closet, does it? So as I came out, I started to embrace that more. And I think that Sleaze is me as a human fully embracing that.
K: You just had an Oprah moment!
What is it about disco that made you want to anchor Sleaze within that sound?
L: What I love about disco is that one, it’s purely happy; and two, it’s gay as hell. Sleaze is not 100% disco, but it’s really based around it. We’ll play a little Baltimore club and a little techno. But disco itself has such a fun history because it’s mostly music created from people of color. And it will set a dancefloor on fire.
What made you two want to collaborate on Sleaze?
K: Well, we love each other anyway and we’ve been friends for a while now. He just asked me!
L: Sleaze was an idea that was originally created for Baltimore, but then Stuart (Parlier; Lemz’s fiancée and “secret” partner in Sleaze) got [a] job in D.C. A friend of ours who used to work for Wonderland said, ‘We want something new; do you want to do something here?’ So I pitched Sleaze and they loved it.
Keenan was always in the original vision. He said, ‘Yes, I’ll give it a try’ and by the middle of the first party, he said, ‘I’m in this forever.’
What do you guys like about working together?
K: I like his energy and I like the fact that he’s got a lot of ideas and he knows how to execute those ideas.
L: Keenan and I have always had a great chemistry. He’s really just a very versatile DJ who has an insane amount of music knowledge. So when I [wondered] who would understand this vision that I have, I told Keenan my ideas and when he came in on that first set, it just knocked me out of the park. It was so perfect and in line with what I envisioned.
What’s behind the name?
L: ‘Sleaze’ comes from the era of music that we’re inspired by and the era of gay nightlife where it was hedonistic and everyone was free in a time where it wasn’t okay to be free. And it really kinda rings true with like the way politics are now. We’re in the heart of it all doing this crazy, queer, diverse party where the room itself is not just gay men — it’s the whole spectrum – straight, gay, lesbian, and transgender. Although I wasn’t there, it feels very reminiscent of the whole bathhouse era where it was just dirty and that’s when dark disco and sleazy disco was poppin’.
How do you think Sleaze fits into the queer dance party culture in D.C.?
K: I think it’s an alternative to a lot of parties that are going on prior to Town closing in the past year. There are quite a few crews that are flourishing and I think we are able to add to that queer calendar. It’s kind of taken off a little bit now, like with U Sleaze [at U Street Music Hall], which brings it to a wider audience and lets people test the waters of that world.
Do you have any favorite memories from Sleaze so far?
K: On Fourth of July, we gave out [red, white, and blue] Bomb pops. I swear we probably got half the room laid because it was just guys licking Bomb pops. It was so hot in there that steam was coming off of them!
So, what’s next for Sleaze?
L: We’ll take on more outside gigs as long as it’s right for Sleaze. The vibe of what we do has to match. There are definitely DJ crews that we want to work with, like Horse Meat Disco is an absolute dream come true for so many reasons. They were very much an inspiration because they were already successfully executing this vision that I had. It was like, if other people can do it, so can I. The goal here is to play with a lot of those people that inspired us.