Meet Tina Romero, DJ (under the moniker DJ TRx), filmmaker and dance enthusiast. We caught up with Tina at her home in Brooklyn to chat about how she got into DJing, the role that music plays in her life, and her latest project, a zombie screenplay that pays homage to her filmmaker father, George A Romero.
Tell us about yourself?
I’m currently bundled up underneath two blankets - one around my shoulders like a grandma shawl, and the other over my lap. I’m also wearing a hat, scarf, fleece tights under my jeans, and wool socks. I’m a complete wuss about winter, and most years I wear long johns from October to May.
I’m a filmmaker and a DJ, and occasionally dip my toe in the performance art pool. I moved to NYC in 2006 after graduating from Wellesley College. I love projects, animals, costumes, and the Hanson brothers. I’m into kindness and optimism...and my goal as an artist is to excite people. I want to make you feel good and alive and moved to take that energy into the world. What most people don’t know about me is that I love organizing...especially closets. I’ve been known to whip out a tape measurer at house parties when intervention is in order.
How did you get your start DJing?
I‘ve always been obsessed with music and making playlists and often had the thought that I’d love DJ-ing. One day I just decided to go for it. I signed up for an intro class at Scratch DJ Academy (where I learned the fundamentals), got myself some equipment and started spinning house parties for anyone who’d have me.
In 2011, Emily Smith-Maresca (who I met at Wellesley) started a queer party called Confession at Mission Dolores in Park Slope and suddenly I had my first official DJ residency. We had a confession box in which people could drop anonymous handwritten admittances and every hour I’d read a handful of them aloud- it was a great and funny and weird. Spinning publicly every month gave me the opportunity to develop my performance chops and crowd-reading skills, and I’d say Confession is where I truly learned to be a DJ.
What role does music play in your life?
Music accompanies me throughout my days. I love listening to music during commutes. One day I decided to stop giving myself grief for not being more “productive” on the subway, because I realize that for me, the experience of listening to music while taking in the world around me is a sacred part of my creative process. Music is where my ideas start…
music is also survival. I use it to push myself, to motivate, to transform a bad mood, to get out of bed, to get to the gym, to get over a girl. Music can inspire self-confidence when mine needs a boost, or prompt tears when I know I need to cry.
Music stokes my soul...I have no fucking idea what I’d do without it.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I think about this question a lot, and am often re-working my “routine,” because my days are truly colored by the type of project I’m working on. The rhythm of video editing, for me, is so different from writing a screenplay, or prepping for a dance rehearsal...so my “work day” frequently shape-shifts. But what you can always find in them is a cheesy gym class, CNN, a session addressing emails that I totally begrudge, and a trail of popcorn.
Let’s talk about Hot Rabbit, a weekly LGBTQ party you’ve been really involved with for the past few years. How did that get started, and how have you seen the party evolve over the years? What’s important to you about being a part of the queer party scene?
After Confession, Emily Smith-Maresca went on to create Hot Rabbit, now in its seventh year, and still going strong. It’s been amazing to watch Hot Rabbit evolve, outgrowing venue after venue. It’s truly become a staple of LGBTQ club culture in NYC.
Emily is a natural host- she’s hugely dedicated to creating fun, feminist spaces that are safe and welcoming to everyone; where people can hang out comfortably and be their most authentic self...it’s no surprise to me that her parties are such a success. Hot Rabbit brought back a consistency to queer nightlife. It’s a meeting place; a home base, where you know you’ll find people who will accept you, who will have your back, and who will lift you up. It’s also a damn fun party that showcases the wide range of talent in our community. Every Hot Rabbit party includes a performance, usually just after midnight- drag queens, bands, burlesque dancers, aerialists….Emily has landed some major acts in recent years (Rye Rye, Frenchie Davis, Russell Elliot, Rica Shay), but she never ceases to give crucial exposure to up-and-coming artists as well...it’s one of my favorite things about Hot Rabbit.
As far as the changes, Hot Rabbit has grown up to mirror the queer community’s own evolution. In the early days, Hot Rabbit was attended mostly by lesbians - now, the environment is more mixed and identity-agnostic...in the crowd you’ll find the full spectrum of sexuality and gender presentation. More and more I notice how kind everyone is to one another at Hot Rabbit...simple things like apologizing for bumping into someone, or shooting a smile toward a lone wall flower...it makes a difference.The devastating mass-shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the horrific hate-crimes against trans men and women, and the current political atmosphere of our nation in general...one outcome I see is a renewed sense of community. We’re better, and stronger, together. It’s an honor and a privilege to contribute to the celebration of one another as a DJ.
Another major change for Hot Rabbit is a recent venue move back to the East Village. I was beyonded psyched to DJ (alongside DJ BBARI) the official relaunch at DROM in December. Emily never stops looking for ways to enhance the experience and she’s outdone herself with this relaunch- if you’ve never been to a Hot Rabbit party, you must check it out!
What has been the highlight of your DJing career so far?
Hands down, the highlight of my DJ career so far has been spinning the official Tony Awards after party for “Hello, Dolly!” this past summer, with the divine Miss Bette Midler in attendance. I don’t often get nervous before I DJ anymore, but wow was I nervous. Thankfully, a high-profile security guard called “Big Daddy,” gave me an awesome pep-talk, and reminded me that celebs want to dance and let loose to great tunes just like anyone else. After that, I was ready to jam. Having just won the Tony for Best Musical, the cast and crew came into the Carlyle Hotel pumped and ready to dance. I love showtunes, but I can’t say I’ve ever played “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” at a party before...I had a blast spinning for such a musical-lovin’ crowd and incorporating a bit of Broadway in my set. I even used audio clips from some of Bette’s movies (Gypsy, Hocus Pocus) in my transitions. It was a night of sequins, pirouettes, and Britney requests that I’ll never forget.
Where are a few of the best places to dance in New York City?
Of course, Hot Rabbit at DROM and Bad Habit at Lot 45. I love PAT at Union Pool, Misster at the Woods, and Peggy at the Rosemont. I love the funk night at Baby’s All Right, and if I’m looking to really dance my face off, I’ll head to The McKittrick Hotel or House of Yes.
You went to Tisch to get an MFA in Film Production, and have since made several short films and music videos. Is filmmaking something you’re concentrating more on these days?
Filmmaking is my first and greatest love. Over the past couple of years I’ve been focusing on making music videos more than narrative film. I truly feel in my element when I get to create a collage of image, color, choreography, music and camera movement. But I also love storytelling, and it is true that I’m concentrating more on film these days. In fact, it’s my main thing right now- my current passion project is a feature film that I’m super excited about….
Yes, you’re writing a screenplay called Queens of the Dead; Tell us more about that project?
Queens of the Dead is a fusion of two huge parts of my world: zombies and Gay nightlife. It’s a tribute to my father as well as my entrée into the genre he grandfathered. I can’t say too much yet, but what I can tell you is that this film will have all the hallmarks of a George A. Romero classic: farce, politics, heroes, assholes, and most importantly, herds of silly and slow moving walkers that you can’t help but love. But I’m doing it Tina-style, and bringing the glitter, choreography, queers & queens.
What can we expect to see from you in 2018?
The first thing I have on deck in 2018 is the 4th annual Never Before Never Again festival at Triskelion Arts. I’ll be joining forces with Rebecca Hidalgo (aka Ondina), international performance artist, gogo dancer and aerialist, in a improvisational exploration of the relationship between DJ and Gogo dancer. We call our duo FabGrandma because in the heart of each of our stage personas lives a grandma with flare, confidence, style and charisma. The Festival lineup looks rad. You can catch the debut of FabGrandma on Saturday, January 27th.
Also coming in 2018...Queens of The Dead!, a new TRx rabbit mask, and bigger biceps.
Check out Tina Romero's Playlist:
Interview and Photography: Emily Saunders - @thesaunder