Since launching on March 17, 2010, U Street Music Hall – DJ-owned and operated dance club and live music epicenter – quickly achieved DC institution status and inside that tempest was Morgan Tepper aka DJ Lxsa Frxnk. Nothing promotes the health of a scene like fresh, vibrant blood, so up-and-comer Tepper’s informed passion and professionalism are good news for us devotees of electronic dance music.
Born in Lake Forest, Illinois, this Bears fan was the daughter of an attorney father and politician mother who loved to entertain. “Our basement had a Parquet dance floor, piano, jukebox and a full bar,” says Tepper. Dad played piano, ragtime to Rolling Stones, and Mom was at the original Woodstock. Morgan took piano lessons from 4 to 15. “My parents have been unbelievably supportive of any musical aspiration I’ve had” – including pitching in for a drum set in college, and later Technics turntables and Pioneer CDJ’s.
When she was 15 they moved to Lynchburg, Virginia. “I went to a conservative high school where dancing was wrong, we couldn’t go to R-rated movies, and dating was discouraged. That area had a large punk and hardcore scene which was a great escape.” Morgan briefly played drums in a punk rock band while attending Liberty University where she earned a degree in clinical psychology in 2006.
“Growing up in Chicago, on FM radio there was a lot of hip-house. One of my favorite songs when I was 10 was ‘Booty Call’ by Fast Eddie and DJ Sneak, so I’ve always been into dance music but really got back into it half-way through college. Listening to Justice and Daft Punk and the “French touch” (house) stuff of the moment got me thinking about dance music again.” In 2008 she moved to DC to study communications at American University, where she hosted the WVAU dance music radio show “Pop, Lock & Drop @ 6 O’Clock” from 2008 to 2010. Spinning on her show led to a gig at the Science Club with DJ Lil’ Elle, and eventually a U Hall internship.
DC promoter and deejay legend Will Eastman recalls, “I met Morgan three years ago on her radio show at AU and the thing that struck me was people were really listening! When we did the ticket give away people called in right away and each time I appeared I gained a lot of new Facebook fans. There were always lots of students in the studio for the deejay set. She was obviously doing something right. Morgan started writing for my blog, Blisspop.com, and shortly after when we opened U Street Music Hall, I invited her to intern with us. Within six months she was heading up our promotions.
“I've seen Morgan take her great enthusiasm for music and fine-tune her tastes. She likes a lot of different music, a great asset for a DJ, and she's focused primarily on deep house and techno. She's been excelling in those genres and people are gravitating to her because Morgan delivers with great finesse and passion. She's always on the prowl for new tunes and continually spots great new tracks well ahead of the curve.
“Morgan’s also supportive of other deejays and is always willing to step in and lend a hand whether it's advice, filling in for a gig or whatever’s needed. That caring spirit makes her someone people respect and look up to. It's starting to catch on in other cities, too. She recently played a gig in NYC and I think it's just the first of many.”
On Tap caught up with energetic, frequently jovial, Morgan Tepper at her office (a folding table on the dance floor!) at U Hall recently:
ON TAP: When did you first think you wanted to be a deejay?
MORGAN TEPPER: Growing up, seeing deejays on TV – like on “The Grind” on MTV – I didn’t see a lot of female deejays and thought it would be cool. I had deejay friends in Lynchburg who spun deep house – DJ Hanik who used to play at Five and Sammy (Khosh) who goes by Soul Sway. It was something I wanted to pursue, not necessarily seriously, but to see what it’s like. I asked for turntables for my 22nd birthday, and a year later moved on to CDJ’s. I received a lot of guidance on how to set up equipment and beat-matching from DJ Hanik – and Google.
OT: What were your first vinyl purchases?
MT: Daft Punk’s “Discovery,” Missy Elliot's "Ching-A-Ling" and Ace of Base's "The Sign" – wanted to start practicing with a few tracks and albums I was really into at the time and ones I loved when I was younger.
OT: What parties did you go to when you came to DC?
MT: Besides Will Eastman’s Bliss at Black Cat, I went to Club Five with Hanik and Soul Sway, and Gavin Holland’s Shorts Party at Asylum. Honestly, I didn’t go out much since I was busy with my radio show and college. Bliss and Shorts were my favorites. Will has always been a person I trust as far as music taste goes. Every time I’d go to Bliss I’d hear something fresh and that’s what hooked me. Will’s also very young at heart and has great energy and that added a great vibe to the party.
OT: What inspired you to do your radio show?
MT: I’ve always been obsessed with music – it’s my favorite escape. Having the radio show pushed me to delve further into electronic music and it was a great way to meet people. It showcased many local deejays like Nadastrom, Will Eastman, Jesse Tittsworth, Nouveau Riche, Chris Burns. It also gave me the opportunity to interview artists like Diplo, Passion Pit, Cut Copy, Miami Horror. The station didn’t really have an electronic music show at the time so it was cool to start something new and fresh from scratch.
OT: How did you hook up with U Hall?
MT: Will’s Bliss parties at the Black Cat were my favorite parties so I asked him to spin live on the show and a year later he spun another dance party in the studio. He knew I was finishing up at AU and emailed me at 4 a.m. I woke up to an email that said, ‘hey, I’m opening up a club, you want to intern here?’ I flipped out and I think I even started crying.. I was about to start sending out resumes to every venue in DC so to be considered for U Hall blew my mind.
At first I worked non-stop, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., then artist hospitality if we had a show, go until 2 or 3 in the morning, then get up and do it again. It was great! (laughs) It was crazy. It’s a good bunch of people who really know their stuff here. It’s cooled down a lot because we hired more people, but I was so excited to be here, I didn’t care if I had to go to Dulles and wait three hours for someone because, oh my God, Dimitri from Paris in my car! Little nerd-out moments like that. It was doing something I loved. Now I handle media relations, some artist relations, PR planning and occasionally assist with artist hospitality. Everyone’s well-versed and creative in all areas. It’s a great environment.
OT: How did you become Lxsx Frxnk?
MT: (laughs) I’m nostalgic by nature and always loved the bright, colorful neon pop-art stationery from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
OT: Now that you mention it, that’s what your Twitter page looks like.
MT: (laughs) I either get, wow, this is awesome, or aagh, I’m having a seizure! But yeah, when I was first deejaying I was playing a lot of colorful, really fun electro indie-dance types of tracks so it fit. I put the X’s in there so people wouldn’t think the actual Lisa Frank was going to make an appearance at a party.
OT: When was the first time you played out?
MT: It was a bar called Bull Branch in Lynchburg, with Hanik and Soul Sway. It went really well, though it took awhile for me to understand the process – the flow of the night, setting the vibe or tone, and how if you’re deejaying with a deep house deejay you shouldn’t be playing banging electro before they get on. (laughs) But I was very excited. I was nervous but I was practicing obsessively. The second time I deejayed I got kicked off the decks by the owner of that same spot. I was whipping out all these bangers. This bar has a grown and sexy vibe, with candles and incense. In retrospect what I was playing wasn’t appropriate for the crowd. Hanik took over and I went outside, devastated. Sammy said, baby, don’t worry about it, this stuff happens! I didn’t know but sometimes this happens to big deejays. Sammy said, go back in there and have a good time. So I toughened up, went back inside and had fun. It was a great learning experience and I’ve been back to play there since.
When I first started deejaying I was more of a mixtape type of deejay. I’d just play random tracks I liked and people had a good time. I loved being able to share my favorite dance tunes with people and seeing that they liked them, too. Having that connection with a large amount of people over music is one of the most amazing feelings in the world. Sharing something you’re passionate about with a lot of people and whipping out a track no one has heard yet and seeing them like it, too, is what hooked me on deejaying. It’s exciting.
The first time I played out in DC was at the Science Club with DJ Lil’ Elle who used to do the Kids party at DC9 with Jackie O, and Starks and Nacey. I think she saw I was doing my radio show thing and deejayed once or twice on the air, and was like, hey, why don’t you come deejay out in the city with me. I don’t think I’d ever been that nervous before a gig. With Hanik and Sammy if I screwed up they were like my brothers. I didn’t know Lil’ Elle that well at the time and I really wanted to impress her. I played a slow disco set and although it was hard for me to really get in the zone since I was so nervous, she said I did great.
OT: How was it opening for DC legend Sam “The Man” Burns at U Hall?
MT: Will asked Chris Nitti and me to play for his birthday party here last year, opening for Sam and Cosmo Baker. By then I was spinning house, deep house and techno. Chris and I did a back-to-back set and I was the last to go before Sam. It was time for him to go on and I said, “Sam, you want to go?” He said,”No! I like what you’re doing! You keep going!” So I got to play a few more tracks and later that night he told me – I typed it into my phone: “You’re going to be around for a long time. I can tell. You're my 'sh-hero.' Every time you get on the tables, you could be saving someone's life. You don't know what they might be going through. Women have a special touch and you made it really easy for me to get on the decks after your set." That was one of the most inspirational things anyone has ever said to me.
He always puts it into perspective. Someone could be having a horrible day and want to go out and have fun and feel better, and that’s your job. Being in an encouraging environment like this, it’s ridiculous. Sam is awesome, and Will is amazing, and Brian Miller (Brian Billion) is a big inspiration as well. They’re always very positive and have this amazing faith in what people can do and what I can do. They’ll say things like, ‘do you know how talented you are, how special you are, or you’re doing things we couldn’t do yet at your age?’” Because they’ve been around a long time and know a lot, I look up to them.
OT: How did you get the New York gig at Tammany Hall?
MT: Volta Bureau’s manager in New York was friends with the promoter – Ana Popescu of A.POP – who said, I need a good deejay for my party, and he recommended me. It was cool being in a new environment. It was a new adventure and a great party. I learned things from a work perspective, too. Here I’m on the side of taking care of an artist. Being on the other side of things I was reminded of how special and important it is to make sure you’re taking care of someone the right way, how important hospitality is. I was also reminded of how I feel good about what I’m doing and that I’m not afraid to take risks.
OT: Do you identify as a Washingtonian now?
MT: Absolutely. I felt like I was contributing to the community after I had Nouveau Riche on my radio show and Gavin Holland told me, you’re doing good things for our community. Even more so when Will, who’s been a staple in the DC electronic music community for over a decade, noticed what I was doing. That’s when I truly felt part of it. And now being a part of what U Hall has done in the community.
OT: What is your view of U Hall’s place in the DC scene?
MT: U Hall filled a void that DC had as far as dance clubs. Most of the spots that had good sound systems were bottle service types of bars and clubs, kind of showy. When U Hall came along, Will, Jesse (Tittsworth), Brian (Miller) and everyone focused on this being a spot for dance music and dancing – not about caring what you look like or who you are or who you’re with and all of that. The focus is just on what you hear and how that makes you feel. U Hall has been a beautiful addition to the community.
OT: How did your guest spot on NPR talking about the Detroit Electronic Music Festival happen?
MT: I was planning to go because I was getting more into techno and deep house and Detroit is the techno mecca. A few months after I bought my ticket, Sami Yenigun, a friend who works at NPR with “All Things Considered” asked if I could help him cover the story. So we kept an eye out on things at the festival and were almost fresh off the plane for the interview. We were so tired, we had no sleep. Bob Boilen said we were “crispy.” (laughs) Wasn’t sure what he meant but it was cool speaking on NPR and the interview was well-received.
Detroit was probably the best musical experience I’ve ever had. It was nonstop. You never wanted to sleep because it was so exciting. I didn’t see or hear one bad set, which is unbelievable for a festival. Jeff Mills, one of the legendary techno pioneers, did an all-vinyl set closing out the festival on the main stage. It was just awesome to watch – huge stage, huge lights, 20,000 people – he’s effortlessly switching up vinyl and he went from Old School freestyle to disco to hip-hop – all across the board – and ended with techno. I’m getting the chills just thinking about it! (laughs) It was definitely the real deal.
OT: What do you think of the new technology which allows people to look like they’re deejaying but some are actually playing pre-recorded sets?
MT: Well, I’m not against people using computers or controllers or whatever they want to do, but as far as playing out pre-recorded sets, I don’t think that would be very fun. (laughs) Part of the fun of deejaying out and part of the challenge is picking up on the crowd’s vibes and – I don’t want to say “taking them on a journey” because everyone says that, but that’s what it is. You’re riding that journey with them. I think if you’re playing a pre-recorded set, you’re cheating yourself out of a cool experience and a cool connection you could be having with the crowd. It’s not very challenging. I like to be challenged. (laughs) I like that aspect. Also I’m not afraid to screw up. If I don’t beat-match perfectly I’m not going to be upset for a million years. It’s impossible to be perfect every single time – we’re human.
OT: What do you aspire to now?
MT: I think there are always things that could be better whether it’s with deejaying, career or life in general. My current goal is to be able to deejay any genre well. I’d love to be a master of all genres. Actually my next gig is spinning a bass-oriented party run by Expansion Broadcast at the 9:30 Club Backbar with Harry Ransom. I’m not afraid to try new things so I’m excited for the challenge.
OT: Are you interested in producing?
MT: I’ve thought about it. I have a few friends who produce ask if I want to learn but at the moment I’m trying to take things slow. When I feel the time is right to start pursuing production, I’ll go that route.
OT: Most amazing deejaying experiences?
MT: Recently I was spinning the Sunglass Sundays brunch party at District. It’s like the after, after, after party, people still going from the night before. I was really tired. I was happy to play, but I couldn’t get into the mood or groove so I’m like, I’m just going to do this and didn’t even have mental notes of tracks I might throw in. It was one of those real, genuine moments I was talking about when I connected with the crowd and everything clicked. I picked tracks spontaneously and it was one of the best sets I ever played. It reassured me of what I could do, that I can read a crowd well. That’s one of the skills I think can be hard to attain, watching crowd reactions and seeing what works and what doesn’t, paying attention to that in addition to whatever else you’ve got going on in front of you.
Another time was when Will asked me at the last minute to open up for Volta Bureau and Treasure Fingers here. I was still spinning banging electro, indie-dance stuff. Will was like, ‘hey, I need a deejay, can you do this?’ I’m like, ‘yeah!’. He says, ‘I want you to play deep’. I had no deep house tracks. None! (laughs) And two hours to get ready, so I went home, listened very quickly to some deep house tracks, didn’t get to practice, and played one of my best sets ever. It’s up on Soundcloud (“Warm Up II”). That was insane because it was something I thought I could never do because before then I didn’t really like house. But I went up there and loved it and that moment switched me over. Spinning that opening deep house set tuned me into a deeper state of emotion, rather than one that’s high-energy and excitable. It was great.
OT: What’s the most gratifying thing about deejaying?
MT: One of the most gratifying and also the scariest parts about deejaying is making yourself vulnerable enough to build a connection with a crowd, because at this point when I deejay it has to be a full-body experience. I have to be able to let loose and pick up on vibes and really be in tune with my surroundings so it’s like letting down the walls and really being open to what the crowd likes, what you like, and connecting.
When I get compliments, I love it but I try not to get like, oooh, I’m so good! I try to keep grounded. But when people you look up to say stuff, because of the quality and the calibre of the person, that’s extremely meaningful. I think when people see deejays play out often they think, oh, they don’t need to hear that they did a good job because they already know, but it’s always nice to hear, good set, or thanks for playing that track or something. It’s still nice to hear feedback no matter who you are or how great you are. I try to remember that for my other deejay friends.
OT: How do you see the role of dance music in society?
MT: Oh, God. Actually I learned a lot about this in Detroit. Detroit was great because it was amazing music, but even more importantly there was such a large community aspect – people of all shapes, sizes and colors, of every socio-economic status, coming together because of dance music. And it’s not expensive – $60 for three days – so you get everyone from all walks of life. That’s the most important role of dance music – bringing people together. We use the same aesthetic for U Hall. It’s cheap to come here. We don’t care what you look like, if you’re hot or whatever because it’s not about that. It’s about a community, having fun, and sharing this great experience with other people. Not worrying about what’s going on in your life, just having a good time. When you mess with that mentality and make it into a money-making machine, that’s what screws it all up. As long as there are spots like this and festivals like Detroit that keep that aesthetic, preserve that aspect, dance music will be an important part of society.
OT: Ever feel like you’re using your psychology degree after all?
MT: When you’re thinking about what you might play, you might wonder how is this track going to make someone feel or think? Is this going to hype them up? Make them feel sexy? That’s a fun psychological part about deejaying because you’re kind of in control of how people feel – if people are open to what you’re playing. It definitely helps with my job. (laughs)
Pop, lock & drop with DJ Lxsx Frxnk on Friday, July 13, opening for Tim Green and Simon Baker at U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1880; www.ustreetmusichall.com; and at Lost & Sound with Chris Nitti on Saturday, July 21, at 9:30 Club Backbar: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com. Follow DJ Lxsx Frxnk at www.facebook.com/morgan.tepper and www.twitter.com/lxsxfrxnk. Download Lxsx Frxnk mixes at www.soundcloud.com/lxsxfrxnk.