April 2004
By Steven M. Housman

The White Thing To Do

It’s springtime, and in Palm Springs that means that the grass is a little greener, the skies are bluer than blue, and the White Party is back. And this time around, the 15th annual extravaganza is promised to be bigger and better than ever.

Let’s go back 15 years, when the first party was held. The creator, Jeffrey Sanker, informed me that it consisted of one truck, four speakers and a few lights. To say that this has become a big event would be a big understatement. The White Party Palm Springs now spans five days, encompasses six luxury hotels and attracts more than 30,000 attendees from every corner of the globe. The City of Palm Springs now rates WPPS as its number one annual tourist revenue generator, surpassing even their largest trade conventions, film festivals and golf tournaments.

Just so all the details were kept Kosher, I spoke to the man himself, Jeffrey Sanker, along with his top DJ’s, that include the legendary Manny Lehman, the outspoken Tony Moran, and the gorgeous and charming Kimberly S.

The questions were geared mostly towards The White Party, but when I asked Manny, Tony and Kimberly about the music itself, it was obvious why these three are so popular. They don’t just play the music; they eat, breathe and feel the music. As a last question, I thought it would be interesting to ask these three where they thought music tastes were headed. It was interesting to see how very different, and how strangely similar, they are. Tune in to these glorious people - just like the party, it’s a blast!


Looking back to the first White Party... if someone had told you then that 15 years later it would still be happening, what would you have said?

I would have said, “Not on your life!”

What was the inspiration for the very first White Party?

I came out to the desert for the Dinah Shore weekend and I saw a bunch of lesbians dance around a ballroom and I thought, “Well, I think gay boys can do this better.”

Did the AIDS movement have anything to do with the parties at all?

Well, I think the big crunch of it had already passed and people wanted to get out of dark, dingy nightclubs. I think the people were ready for something bright and fresh.

Do you have objections to the use of drugs at your party?

Yes, of course I do. It’s against the law.

Do you feel that responsible use is possible?

Well, we’re pro-active, and you can only lead a horse to water and can’t make them drink it, so, we do everything in our power to prevent drug use. But, there are those people who are going to do it anyway. You can’t control everybody all the time.

How long does it actually take to organize one of these events?

Probably about four months. There are about 500 people who work at these parties.

What new joys do you find in making these happen? How do you keep it from simply becoming a job?

For me, to see people enjoy themselves. Meeting people from all over the world that they’ll be friendly with the rest of their lives is a very meaningful experience.

When you have new parties, what people are still there by your side? Are there many friends from the past?

Oh My God, yes! The same people who are the sound and lighting people from 15 years ago when we started with four speakers and one truck. Now we have four offices - my decorating guys I’ve had for 10 years. A lot of the same people over and over.

Can we expect any surprises for White Party 15?

We have a lot of surprises. This is the 15-year anniversary and we have our first openly gay Mayor. And we’re there to fully support the Palm Springs community. We’re really expecting to pull out all the stops.

Do you see yourself organizing White Party 30?

(Laughing) You’ll have to wheel me in with my oxygen. But yes, I see it as an institution and I think it will go on for as long as people want to go to those kinds of parties.

In closing, I have a question that’s off the topic of the White Party. I understand that you’re starting to organize parties down in Rio. Could you fill me in?

I just did one for Carnivale and I’m doing one for New Years Eve. I’m renting out an entire hotel and we’re putting together a new hotel called The Purtinari. It’s a brand new boutique hotel, we have the entire property, and we’re going to have a big party.


Do you still have the same excitement and energy for the White Party that you always had?

Yes! I love the energy and the fact that circuit parties create opportunities for people to meet each other. I’m totally energized by it because I get so much love and I give so much love to people.

Is there anything special you bring to each individual party, or do you basically play it the same (with newer music of course!)?

When I DJ these events, I’m always trying to bring a very energetic and positive thing to what it is I’m doing, but I really don’t like to duplicate myself. Put it this way, if you see me 15 times in different venues, hopefully you’ll feel something different each time.

Is the drug thing a myth or is it as prevalent as it used to be at the parties?

(Laughs) Well it would probably be a myth to say it wasn’t a myth. People, whether they’re straight or gay, people go out and try to enhance their evening. Some people manage to do it responsibly and some don’t.

Who are your current favorite artists that you are spinning these days?

I just finished a new Deborah Cox and I really love the new production of what we did from “Aida.” Elton John and Tim Rice actually let me rewrite a bunch of it and create an anthem out of it, which I literally finished late last night. I just know that’s going to be one of my biggest tracks. I have something new by Donna Summer, a new mix of “You’ll Never Stand Alone” by Whitney Houston, which I had remixed once before.

Tell us about your upcoming projects.

I’m working on a new Lara Fabian. I just did a mix with Cyndi Lauper. I also have my Winter Party CD coming out - I did a couple of new singles off of that, and I have this new record that I just started working on called “Sanctuary” by Origiene, they came out of Australia.

What does your choice of music say about you?

I think it says that I’m all about letting the energy out and working up a sweat. I put a smile on your face. I’m not there to give you a cavity with syrupy performances, but I’m there to make people enjoy themselves. It’s all about making people feel.

Where are tastes heading these days?

That is a difficult question. Overall, dance music in America is a smaller and smaller genre. I have several dance records with some great artists on them but they’re purchased by a very small group of people. When I first started out, club records and radio records were basically the same - if we sold any less than 100,000 copies back then, it was considered a failure. Nowadays, if you sell 5,000 copies, it’s a success.


How does it feel to be a legend in the business?

I don’t know about that - that’s a big statement. I’m just having a good time being with the boys.

What's new about the White Party this year?

It definitely has a hipper campaign slogan. It just looks sleeker and the artwork is just “now” and happening. And there are new risks with newer DJ’s and there’s some great talent lined up.

Tell me about your new CD.

It’s a condensed version of a night with Manny. It’s all energy and nice and funky. There are some nice progressive beats in the middle and then it comes down. It’s like a night in the club going on a rollercoaster ride.

What's more fun: making a CD or spinning live?

Oh, spinning live. There’s no comparison. DJing is a spontaneous improvisational art form.

I know you like the Divas. Do you still sneak in a Donna Summer classic when you can?

Whenever I can. I love when the time comes for a Donna classic.

Who is your favorite new Diva?

I haven’t heard, as of late, a dance diva that has knocked my socks off. I haven’t been like “Oh my God, Who the hell is that?” I haven’t had that reaction in a long time

Anyone you'd like to work with that has escaped you so far?

I would love to work for Donna Summer one time and record one of her songs. She is my all time favorite diva. Her voice does something to my soul. Her voice is timeless and her classics speak for themselves. When people follow you from the 70’s to the millennium, there’s something to be said for that.

What does your choice of music say about you?

Have a good time and have fun. Don’t take it so seriously. Throw your hands up and just release.

Do you try to challenge your audience?

Absolutely, I have to. If I don’t challenge them, it gets boring and becomes predictable. My job is to entertain, but also make it challenging and educational. Especially when playing cities like Miami, New York, Toronto and Montreal, I have to be on my P’s and Q’s a little more.

Are dancers adventurous?

Absolutely. Give them a little bit of everything. As long as you’re providing something entertaining and viable and stimulating, they’ll go with you!

Where are tastes heading these days?

It’s definitely very track heavy, very tribal and progressive. There’s not a whole lot of songwriting going on, but hopefully that will change. We need to get the best of both of those worlds. There are amazing sounding tracks right now that we could combine with some amazing artists and have a very viable product.


Do you ever feel like you're in a “man's world” since guys seem to dominate the scene?

I am in a man’s world, basically - the people that I play for are guys. They’re my chosen audience. I love it because they love the music, and they show it and that’s what’s important. Appreciation abounding is what keeps me creative and excited.

I know you've probably been asked this a thousand times, but indulge me - What's the difference between playing for the girls and playing for the guys?

The girls always have been really interested in what’s extremely familiar to them, really radio-friendly type music, pop music. The trend is Hip Hop and R&B, and has been for over a decade, and has grown tremendously in Los Angeles and now nationally. Even though I don’t play for the girls that often, I do Girl Bar, of course, because I’m part of that promotion and have been for six years. The girls that really like the circuit type music and the trance tend to hang out more with the boys.

Who are your favorite DJ’s?

For DJ’s on the circuit, I really look up to Manny Lehman. I always have. His diversity, his love for music - he basically reminds me a lot of me. Not so much for our styles of playing, but just in our vast knowledge of music. We both really like to discuss the old stuff as well. I also like Paul Van Dyk a lot,

You’re young and sexy, do you ever look for love while you're working, or do you already have a girlfriend?

Thank you, that’s very sweet. I have a partner, yes, I found my soul mate. She’s amazing and I actually met her through my work.

What does your choice of music say about you?

That’s a really good question. I’m emotional, and I think we’re put on this earth to be who we want to be in a safe way. Not to quote a dance song, but “free to be.” I want the listeners to feel free. To dance how they want to dance, to love who they want to love, to cry if they feel like it. Music is about emotion and freedom and love and joy and pain and sex. It’s all about balance.

Where are tastes heading these days?

It’s really hard to pinpoint it because it depends on the cities I’m playing. In some places I can go out and know that I don’t have to play a ton of vocals. Some places I can play some real hi-energy music, sometimes I can just mix it up. I think there’s a lack of really good vocals - the days of the Donna Summer’s and the Deborah Cox’s. I’m playing a mix of old and new stuff. Some that’s a bit more eclectic and interesting and fun. As far as I’m concerned, House music and Trance will always be around.

© 2004 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.