Woman-first DJ collective Chulita Vinyl Club has spent the past year spreading its message of empowerment and intentionality in nightlife, garnering new members and press attention in outlets across the country. That commitment to empowerment became all the more necessary on Friday, July 28, when the crew became involved in a seemingly discriminatory incident at newly opened Austin, Texas venue Upstairs at Caroline.
In a Facebook post uploaded yesterday morning, CVC explains that they were booked to play the opening of Upstairs at Caroline on a bill alongside Superfónicos, a local Colombian funk act. They started with a two-hour set of mostly pop, R&B and Motown, then launched into the final 45 minutes — dedicated to Latin music — once the band wrapped up.
But with only 10 minutes remaining, they were shut down. According to the Facebook post, the assistant general manager of Upstairs at Caroline – a man named Michael Childress – approached the DJ booth. CVC’s statement explains that Childress claimed he was the general manager of Upstairs at Caroline, and “aggressively” requested they cut the Latin music entirely, claiming “the vibe was too low” and that “the hotel did not want [them] to play Latin music anymore.” The statement explains that Childress threatened to turn off their music and play the house feed if they did not cease to play Latin music. Chulita Vinyl Club members decided to pack up and leave.
After the incident, CVC members confronted hotel staff, as shown in a video posted to YouTube. In the clip, the group calmly asks for answers, explaining that the crowd had been dancing, visibly enjoying the set, and patrons had verbally conveyed support and enthusiasm for the Latin music they had played.
CVC’s questions are met mostly with backpedaling from Childress, and apologies from Adam Slyter, who noted his active role in booking CVC. The pair expressly admits that none of the guests present at the event had asked them to change the music — essentially, it was management’s call. Towards the end of the clip, the venue’s General Manager David Meisner steps in to explain that certain times are delegated for live music and specific styles, implying CVC had simply run over into the designated “DJ music” schedule. The collective responds by reminding all parties they were stopped 10 minutes shy of their agreed-upon end time of 11 p.m., and that the approach of Childress, who at the time claimed he was the general manager, was “disrespectful.”
In their Facebook post, CVC characterize the hotel staff’s remorse as disingenuous. “CVC recognizes that apologies are empty when actions do not follow and condemns the commodification and objectification of elements of our culture,” they state.
In response, Upstairs at Caroline posted an apology on Facebook. “There was a miscommunication between the hotel team and the musicians at the end of their set, which led to the musicians leaving feeling unappreciated. Our hotel welcomes everyone, and we enjoy musicians of all backgrounds and styles. We truly regret Chulita Vinyl Club left feeling otherwise, and would like to work with them to discuss how we can ensure a similar incident doesn’t happen again.”
Fans rallied in support of the Chulitas on social media, both on the CVC post and in response to Upstairs at Caroline’s statement on Facebook. A patron named Whitney Devin writes, “I was right there when Michael approached Chulita and there was no ‘miscommunication.’ What occurred was disrespectful and rude, at minimum. He was very CLEAR in forcing the premature end of their set – ‘we don’t play Latin music in this hotel’ – there was no room for misunderstanding.” Meztli Yoalli also writes, “Being racist is not a misunderstanding.” Another fan named Mónica Teresa Ortiz explains, “It really is quite pathetic when people try to rewrite narratives and attempt damage control once they realize there are consequences to their actions.”
In their statement, CVC explains they were so uncomfortable with the “non-inclusive attitude” that they refused to accept payment from the venue. They also emphasized their commitment to being intentional about the nightlife spaces they play. “CVC will not play or support spaces that naturalize aggression and acts of discrimination towards our culture or people.”
Update, 7/31/2017, 7:00 p.m.: David Meisner, the general manager of Upstairs at Caroline, has responded to Remezcla’s request for comment with the following statement:
“We specifically chose the Chulita Vinyl Club to play at Upstairs at Caroline as part of our music series because we like their work. We were honored to have them DJ last Friday night. In preparing for the last couple hours of service at the restaurant, we wanted to switch the tempo of the music, so we asked them to end about 10 minutes early. The request was not about the genre of music but we did not communicate or handle the situation appropriately on our end. We apologize for offending Chulita Vinyl Club and the community and we deeply regret the way the situation was handled. We have reached out to Chulita Vinyl Club to apologize in person. We are sorry for our actions and are actively working with and re-training our team on creating a safe, inclusive, respectful environment where everyone knows they are genuinely welcomed and valued.”