Heidi Lawden | Resident Agrees to Make Noise at All Hours
I’m sitting with Heidi Lawden (DJ Heidi) in her charming Venice home, sharing biscuits and pouring tea into big porcelain mugs. Hers sports the iconic I <3 NY, while mine reads I <3 Berlin. We laugh at the fact that we’re wearing a nearly identical black-and-white striped Levi’s shirt. The mugs are a testament to her city-hopping, globe-trotting lifestyle. “I grew up in a small town with a small town mentality, but my natural inclination was to want something bigger,” she says.
Lawden chose the Westside neighborhood for the proximity to the beach and the respite it offers as she prepares for the inaugural edition of Dusk—a three-day “intimate, off-grid, queer” camping and music festival, taking place on Native American land between LA and San Diego in May. She’s teamed up with fellow nightlife impresarios Masha and Jeniluv to recruit leading electronic acts from across the States and the EU.
Her love for the club scene began when she was a fresh- faced 17-year-old, newly arrived in London, where she absorbed what would later influence her genre-bending practice at drag cabarets like The Black Cap. “I found clubbing as an escape,” she says. “Moving to London, my first clubbing experiences were largely gay, a little goth, and a little Donna Summer, so I got my music from that perspective. I had both girlfriends
and boyfriends.” She was dedicated to the queer scene, even entering a “lavender relationship” with a gay man to prevent him from being attacked.
Meanwhile, Lawden was working as a hairdresser and fashion assistant with Paul Smith. She eventually moved into marketing, where she navigated the corporate doldrums of administrative and managerial work. After clocking out, it was back to the club, where Lawden and friends dressed up in their best nightlife attire, emulating their favorite icons from the magazines they read. “You don’t see color, creed or orientation at a club—that’s not a club to me,” she recalls. While it was vital for the scene’s sustainability to observe what was new and fresh, Lawden made sure not to lose her sense of self, either. “I don’t want to be too inspired by anyone in any direction. You may not have the same trends, but that’s what makes me, me.”
Now in Los Angeles, Lawden’s commitment to freedom and expression in the nightlife scene continues, and DJing and promoting parties in the city’s hallowed network of warehouses has reaped rewards. Slated to play at Coachella this year, her performance will surely attract dance-goers. “I want to represent me. I am disco- leaning and Hi-NRG, but I also want to honor that I’m a Brit. I’ve got a little UK Garage that I know is going to creep in with some drum and bass. I want to pull from all the things I like.” When I ask Lawden what she felt the vibe of her music was, she appropriately tells me, “no fucking idea.”
Lawden’s unpredictable track selection is a testament to her diverse, mercurial sound. She refers to her performances as divine DJing—letting go of all fear and playing what instinctually sounds good. “I like the idea that wherever you are you have to surrender to something else, because it really shakes off anything you have going on. I don’t sit around with disco balls and flashing lights all day, so it’s an instantly altered space which changes my mind.” She’s enamored with the idea that a proper DJ set and club environment can happen during the day at Coachella, made possible by the Yuma Tent’s enclosed structure.
Balancing her schedule between residencies, festivals, and underground parties, Lawden also recently spent a year playing at Panorama Bar, the house-and-disco-focused dance room located above Berlin’s fabled techno-cathedral, Berghain. The club was “full of absolute freaks, and just about anything goes,” she says with a smile. Here, freedom and hedonism intersect, and everybody takes care of everybody. Lawden explains that in Berlin, clubs like Berghain/Panorama Bar are classified as art venues, and taxed and supported accordingly. “Money coming from the nightlife is valued and support is given back... you feel reminded that what you do is an art.”
Despite her wide-ranging ambitions, stints abroad, and an increasingly busy performance schedule, Lawden stays focused on the local. She’s dedicated to elevating the music and festival scene in Los Angeles. Unlike in other countries—or other American cities for that matter—LA has outdated laws that hinder dance-music culture. “Right now, we are essentially partying in illegal spaces and we do our best to make them safe. We see some shit, we call it out. Ultimately, we are unlicensed and there are no guarantees the club will be there next week,” laments Lawden. Proposed laws such as California Senate Bill 58, keeping bars open and serving alcohol until 4 AM, could alter how people party and lead to a safer nightlife in general. In the meantime, between residencies and festivals and from Coachella to LA warehouses, Lawden will be doing her part
to make sure the club scene remains a tolerant, free space for uninhibited self-expression.