Please scroll down for additional all-new interviews with Jeffrey Sanker, DJ Brett Henrichsen, DJ Dan DeLeon and Melissa G
Well, since that spring weekend in 1991, the party has grown to become the largest circuit party in the world. Yes, you read that correctly. Due to the vivid imagination and immense talent of White Party-Spring Break impresario Jeffrey Sanker and his hundreds of faithful employees (most of which have remained the same since the beginning), something different and very special is promised for the desert. Why should this year be any different? He has staged four days and nights of entertainment, booking the most talented and most visible DJ’s in the land, along with top talent to make you want to party like you’ve never partied before. For those who have attended in the past, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those who are virgins to this event, hold on tight because you’re in for a weekend to remember. Sanker’s instincts are boldly intact. After all, he must be doing something right for this party to be the event of the year, not to mention the largest tourist attraction the city of Palm Springs has ever witnessed.
For a bit more insight into this fabulous extravaganza, I’ve managed to round up the man himself, Jeffrey Sanker, who runs this soiree, as well as two very talented and very high profile DJ’s (Brett Henrichsen who will be entertaining for “The Main Event” and Dan DeLeon who is the man on hand for “After Hours”) and the new dance vocalist who’s on the lips of every major DJ around the country, Melissa G, who made a splash at Tea Dance a couple of years ago. Melissa lent her vocals to the smash single “Naked Fame” and now has a new set she’s ready to unleash on the “gorgeous sea of shirtless men” as she prepares for this year’s “Pool Party.”
You may want to sit back and relax while reading the following Q&A’s, because it’s probably the only time during the weekend that you will have time to do just that. C’mon, get out your tighty whities and get ready for some fun in the sun and the hottest white nights you’ll ever experience.
The Lowdown With Jeffrey Sanker
It’s that time of year again. Is this still exciting for you or does it become old hat?
Yes, it’s that time of year again and I’m also in the process of opening a restaurant in LA. on Melrose and we’re opening April 17. It’s called Murano and it’s Italian-French. It will be gay and lesbian central! Okay, back to the White Party. Yes, it’s still exciting because every year it changes and we’re shooting for a younger demographic. I’m bringing in younger performers such as Hip-Hop artist Kelis and then I’m going to have Jody Watley and Melissa G performing at Tea Dance.
Sounds great! Is Kelis performing at the main event on Saturday night?
Yes, she is performing for the main event and she’ll be doing all of the dance remixes of her songs. We have Brian Friedman who’s a big choreographer. He’s choreographed Britney Spears and he’ll be choreographing ten boys for her. It’s going to be very boy oriented. We’re also flying in Offer Nissim, who’s a very big DJ from Tel Aviv. This will be the first time for him playing a big gay festival…so to go back to the original question…No, I’m definitely not bored.
How do you try to make each year different, or do you stick to what’s tried and true?
I think what makes White Party so successful is that I don’t stick to what’s tried and true. I try to change it out every year including the Tea Dance. This year I’m doing a “Pirates of the Desert” theme, which is a take-off of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” White Party’s theme is called “Temple of Sound” and the whole theme is “Apocalypto.” We’re taking movie themes that were big hits. The whole White Party will be like a giant Mayan Temple and the two DJ’s will be Brett Henrichsen and Offer Nissim on top of a pyramid.
Your name is synonymous with gay circuit parties and entertainment but not many people know how you began. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea in the first place and how you’ve turned this event into an international juggernaut over the years?
I think it’s because I was doing so many club promotions and I was personally bored being in a club inside four walls at night and that’s what led me to Palm Springs because of the weather. The pool parties during the day are so much fun and the Tea Dance is my personal favorite of the whole weekend. It also gets people out of the small stuffy clubs that they go to every single week into something new. That’s how I got started.
Well, it grew into one of the biggest events in the gay community.
I think it’s the biggest party event in the gay community. I think of all the parties that are left, because there’s not that many, I think people are going to parties less and going on more cruises. There’s a White Party on every Atlantis cruise that are almost as big as my White Party. I think these events are fewer and far between and there’s just a handful that are left. I think my White Party event works so well because everybody is so gay friendly, the city of Palm Springs is so gay friendly. People walk around and feel comfortable, they feel free. The hotel, the convention center, you don’t need to drive, you can walk everywhere. You’re not in a big city where you have to get a cab and I think those are some of the many reasons why it works so well.
After being an icon in the business for close to two decades, do you feel you have an obligation to the gay community?
Yes, I think I do. People look up to these functions. We hand out safe sex kits at every party because we still need to promote safe sex because there are a lot of younger people who don’t know. They haven’t had friends die. We need to promote safe sex all of the time…24/7! That’s something I feel obligated to do and also as a gay culture we’re losing our community. I mean, The Roxy in New York just closed. There aren’t any dance clubs left in New York. There’s one in Miami. We have more dance clubs in Los Angeles than there are in five cities across the country. I feel obligated to entertain gay men. As a culture, we like to dance and this is what I’m offering people.
Do you still find joy in presiding over this event? How do you keep it from simply becoming a job?
Yes, because it’s only once a year and I’m just about to launch White Party Las Vegas in October and it’s going to be another three-day weekend dance party with a host hotel, the new Planet Hollywood. But since I only do White Party once a year it’s so exciting to work on because it’s months and months of preparation and coming up with themes and working with the hundreds of talented people that I work with, the DJ’s, the sound and lighting companies, etc. If I did it once a month it would be boring but since it’s once a year it’s still so special for me and I’m so passionate about it.
Let me see if my math is correct. Is this the 18th year?
Yes…maybe we shouldn’t tell people that (laughs). About three years ago we started calling it “Spring Break.” I feel it was reborn again!
The reason I’m asking is because I want to know if you’re still working with any of the same people you began with.
Yes, and I’ll tell you how shocking that is. I have the same sound and lighting company for eighteen years. I have a lot of the same principals of the hotels, The Wyndham and The Hilton and the people who still run my Tea Dance, all for eighteen years.
If you had to call someone your “right-hand man (or woman),” who would that person be? Is there just one person you rely on more than anyone else?
Not really. I mean I have a lot of people who are really great in their category. A lot of the same people like my set designer. I’ve only had two set designers in eighteen years! It’s great! Once I hire people to work with it’s a long relationship and they get excited. They’ll say things like “remember we did this seven years ago let’s not do that again.” Where as if you keep bringing new people in - they don’t know your past.
And finally, do you ever consider winding things down, or do you see yourself doing these events indefinitely?
You know, a couple of years ago, I thought how much longer could I do this? I have to tell you that every year I do it - it keeps me young. The older I get, the more I want to continue to do it. I’m more on the scene. I’m fresher. I listen to music. I go to the movies. I think if I didn’t have this, I would fall into stale behavior. You ask how much longer can I do this and I feel as if I could do it forever.
DJ Brett Henrichsen : The Main Event
Definitely! It’s getting harder all of the time because one of the big goals of the circuit parties and Jeffrey with his “rebranding” of White Party is “Spring Break” to get a younger crowd to come out. We’ve all noticed a dwindling in the parties over the last few years because the younger generation isn’t going out and the older generation kind of stopped going out, too. The new generation is much more into Hip-Hop and slower music and not so much into the circuit music that us DJ’s and the older generation is used to so it’s getting hard to please both crowds. You throw on a Hip-Hop song and the older generation that loves the music and the vocals run screaming and you play that all night and the young crowd doesn’t want to come. The way I’m getting around that is I’m finding a lot of underground mixes by unknown DJ’s of the Hip-Hop songs that I consider playable. Personally, I wouldn’t play the regular Hip-Hop music, I’m just not into it and I don’t consider it music and it’s not what the DJ’s and our crowd is into. I get around it by finding some cool mixes of Hip-Hop music that I can throw into the sets and then the younger crowd can relate. That way I can appeal to all groups of people.
Have you heard any new artists lately that excite you?
There’s a couple. There’s a girl named Sara Atereth from New York that I really love and we licensed and used one of her songs on one of our last CD’s. The other artist is Sun, who’s a Japanese girl who’s had a couple of major hits and one of her songs “Gone” will be on our “White Party” CD this year.
What’s your current favorite song?
It’s a year old but it’s the dance mix of Natasha Bedingfield’s song “Unwritten.” The dance mix was never released so whenever you play that, the people still go crazy for it.
Is there any artist that you haven’t produced or worked with yet that is still on your wish list?
Madonna! Everybody wants to work with her in some way.
I know you’re a fan of diva anthems. What new diva has excited you lately?
One of my favorite divas to work with is Deborah Cox. She’s a true diva and she’s pleasant to work with. I’ve become friends with her, worked with her, having had her for New Year’s last year and she just performed for us at the Winter Party in Miami. She’s still a new fresh artist and somebody who really cares and focuses on the gay community.
Who’s your favorite diva of all time?
Whitney’s my favorite of all time. I look forward to her comeback.
Speaking of diva anthems, I spoke with you a couple of years ago about Erin Hamilton. She was your biggest cheerleader. Are you still in contact with her, and if so, what she’s up to these days?
We were just exchanging messages on My Space yesterday. She’s doing great. She just had a baby boy and she’s going to be performing this summer at L.A. Pride. I’m also hoping to release new mixes of a couple of her songs this year.
What music have you been playing and listening to lately?
Oh, nothing but dance music. I have a thousand songs sent to me every two weeks and I’m a Billboard reporting DJ so I’m getting hit from songs from every label and every artist to chart them on Billboard, so it’s like a never-ending project to keep up on the music. As soon as we finish this interview I’m going to lock myself in my house and go through the last stack of CD’s.
Do you see any newer DJ’s that you’re impressed with?
Yes, there’s one I just heard in Miami and her name is Twisted D and she lives in Orlando. She’s actually been doing remixes and she has a great sound I was excited to hear her.
We just barely released Winter Party 2007.
Besides Palm Springs, what other cities do you absolutely love to play?
I love New York and my all time favorite is Sydney. I’ve been able to play down there three or four times in the last couple of years, I got headlined which is a highlight of your DJ career playing to 18,000 people. It’s the largest party in the world and the people are just so appreciative down there. It’s like going back in a time warp and stepping back ten years ago here. It’s a fun cute young crowd and it’s all vocal happy upbeat music and it’s just great.
When you’re not spinning for the parties, what is it that you like to do?
I’m always at work working on the record label.
You must get out some time. What do you like to do in your personal time?
Yes, I love to ski and I love to snowboard. I’m a fan of the outdoors.
No, I have a boyfriend of four years,
I’m going to ask you a question I ask all DJ’s all the time. Where do you feel music tastes are heading these days?
I think it’s coming around full circle and finally going back to more vocal and melodic music. It went really hard and dark for a few years and the DJ’s that played hard and dark are starting to come back to heavy vocal music, which is good. I don’t know if the Hip-Hop is influencing that a little bit but the younger generation is going Hip-Hop and our circuit DJ crowd is going back to more vocals, so hopefully we can meet somewhere in the middle.
What does your choice of music say about you?
I think the happy progressive vocal music that I love shows my personality as fun and fun loving and very energetic.
Dancing The Night Away With DJ Dan DeLeon
Do you go into an event such as White Party with any expectations?
Well, White Party is one of those well-known circuit events. There’s a few of them around the country, throughout the year that are known for being good and for every event being good so I definitely go in knowing I’ve got to bring my A game and seeing it as a an opportunity to reach a lot of people with what I do and with my sound and presentation. It’s definitely a very important moment in my year to do this event.
In and of myself, I’m kind of an anomaly within the gay circuit scene and within the gay club culture scene. I have a sound somewhere in between what you would hear at a straight club on a night that is more tribal influenced, meaning that my sound is a little more global, a little bit more worldly influenced by a lot of progressive house so it’s unlike what the boys are used to hearing but yet it’s very acceptable to the gay audience. But remember, I’m very in tune with gay life and gay culture so I definitely bring something that’s very unique to every set, but I definitely do my own thing.
I think there’s an advantage to playing an after hours event vs. a primetime event. Certain events that I had to headline such as “Nation” in Thailand last October, which was more focused on a youth oriented event, I would say most of the audience was in their 20’s and early 30’s so it was easy for me to play primetime headlining slots and do my thing and not do so much worrying about the diversity in age.
Yes, there’s a difference of those who began going to these parties in the early 90’s to those who started attending in 2000 and beyond or to those who are attending their first circuit party ever. There’s a different palate between these generations and I think the older crowd is more tuned into vocals and a little bit more of the traditional circuit sound whereas the younger crowd is more willing to listen to new sounds and tuned into what’s hot in a European sense.
It’s really interesting, as my career has progressed I definitely sense that the people that were very much into the drug scene are going out less and that segment of the gay club culture has moved online to a large degree. I have witnessed myself but that section of the audience has been going out less and less and have been venturing out less and less. I just got back from DJ’ing the RSVP cruise in the Caribbean and I have to say that it was a very healthy crowd. There was a lot of the older set and you had a lot of these younger guys that are very new to the club scene and by five or six in the morning everybody was asleep. I think it’s very telling how the culture is changing and people are very much in tune with being healthy and not staying up 24/7. In an event like White Party, it’s so large and there are so many people there I think you’ll always have a crowd, even at the wee hours, there will always be some who are willing to keep going. But I definitely think that the drug use has gone down and it’s made for decline of ticket sales for parties everywhere and people are seeing new people now coming into the events, going out earlier, staying out earlier, going to bed and larger attendance of people at pool parties and I think that’s attributed to the slow-down in the drug use. I think when people stay out later, it’s because they want to stay out later and not because they’re high on a lot of drugs but because they truly enjoy the music and that’s been a big boom to my career. I’m more music centered and if it was purely about the drugs and purely about going out to a gay party and being high I don’t think I’d be doing as well as I’m doing. I do have a large number of people in my audience that like me for what I do that don’t need to be totally up on drugs in order to stay out later because they’re enjoying the music I’m presenting to them.
There’s a couple that come to mind right away. There’s a brand new track that Eddie X just finished for Alyson that’s called “Forever.” It’s a great track that really showcases Eddie’s evolution as an artist as well as Alyson’s. Her vocals are spectacular. There’s a lot to be said for the stuff that’s coming out from Chus & Ceballos and Victor Calderone, they did a mix recently called “Superfly” and that’s still high on my list.
Well, I have a new track coming out next week called “Show You” by a vocalist named Breathwaite and I’m totally crazy about what we’re doing production-wise. It’s a very exciting collaborative effort and I think it will be very big.
Oh, I definitely think spinning live is what it’s all about. It’s kind of like any art of what’s in the moment. There are no second chances and you get that immediate feedback from the audience and that’s the best mode you can be in as a DJ. If you’re in top form while spinning live that’s truly the test of what you’re made of.
Being part of my audience is challenging. I try to remain as accessible as I can and as I’ve developed as a DJ I’ve definitely gotten better and better at educating the audience while keeping them on their toes while they’re dancing and keeping them totally engaged. It’s almost like tricking them and being engaged even if they don’t know what they’re listening to and getting them to accept the journey the way that I want to present it.
Any of these large circuit parties it’s going to be a little more traditional and the scope of it is geared toward safer material in general because it does involve so many people, but like I said, at the after hours you have more leeway and to go further so it’s at those events you’re going to get more new music and more eclectic sounds as opposed to the main event regardless of who the DJ is. It’s just the nature of the party.
I’m not a huge fan of diva anthems because I more about the global pulse of music opposed to just what’s happening on the gay music scene. I do play my diva anthems once or twice within the larger portions of my set. You’ll hear vocal divas come out at you but it’s mixed into an array of other tracks.
I work a lot and that is now my priority. In between gigs I focus on music production and developing this side of my career.
One of my favorite cities is Washington, D.C. The east coast in general, whether it’s Atlanta, Miami, New York or Boston. I love it there. Especially the southern cities such as Atlanta and Miami, they’re so hospitable and I always have a great time when I’m in those cities. I find the east coast very accepting of the newer music and the newer sounds. I feel like I have more people jumping up and down and jumping in the air for the newer material.
There’s a dynamic between electro music because electro sounds are very big in the European scene right now. I’m not into straight up electro but it’s a very big genre like trance was a few years ago. Tribal music has always been popular, especially in the gay scene. It always had an underground status. It’s interesting because it’s now becoming more popular in the straight scene with Victor Calderone becoming a bigger DJ in the straight scene and Chus & Ceballos gaining so much global popularity right now. Tribal is definitely taking on a new prominent position within the dance culture and it’s a new Tribal sound having hard and aggressive electro sounds mix with the Tribal beat.
I like being the cool underground mysterious guy in the corner and that’s what my music is about. It’s sexy and it’s dark, and not dark in an evil way. It’s aggressive and it’s deep. I’m outgoing on the surface but very deep on the inside and maybe that’s what it’s trying to say.
Rising Star Melissa G
What type of expectations do you have about performing at this year’s White Party?
Well, I have never performed at pool party so I really don’t know what to expect but I know when I’ve been to Tea Dance before there were a lot of gorgeous men with their tops off. So I’m just expecting a full pool and people out to have a lot of fun and I’ll be there to let them hear some of my new music.
I understand you’ve recently recorded two new singles, “Scheming (Release Me)” and “Just The Way You Like It.” Have you ever performed these songs live before or will White Party be their grand debut?
“Just The Way You Like It” will actually be the debut at White Party and “Scheming” I have actually performed a few times. I performed it at L.A. Pride last summer. I like that song because it’s a lot different than my first song, “Naked Fame.” I think it’s a little edgier. “Just The Way You Like It” is definitely a feel-good song that I think would appeal to many different people.
What was your first experience performing at White Party like a couple of years ago?
I was definitely overwhelmed. I mean I went there for the rehearsal earlier that day and didn’t know what to expect and then I came back that night and as soon as I stepped foot on that stage and I just saw a sea of gorgeous shirtless men. For any straight girl, even though they were gay, it was still a lovely sight! I just saw a lot of smiling faces and people just having a great time dancing. I’m definitely to be happy to be asked back this year.
When I interviewed some of the most famous DJ’s a couple of years ago and asked if they heard of anybody new and exciting on the scene, your name was at the top of their list. How does it feel to be on the lips of some of the most famous circuit DJ’s?
WOW! I’m excited and really, really ecstatic about that. One of my goals is to have the leading DJ’s know me as well as the up and coming ones. I have a lot of respect for Brett and Manny Lehman who I’ve gotten the chance to work with, which is great.
I learned that you’re a veteran in the business, having your vocals used as a young “CC Bloom” in the film Beaches when you were just eight years old. How did that come about and was that your first foray into show business?
Yes, that’s true. I had done a few national commercials and a couple of films before that but I had never worked on that level and went down to audition to play the young CC Bloom and it came down to me and the girl who got it [Mayim Bialik]. I think that Bette thought she looked a little bit more like her, but when it came down to it, Bette was not happy with her voice so what they did was have another audition and I was brought out of a couple of hundred kids or so and we were told to learn “The Glory Of Love” which is what I sang and I went in and I was told that Bette chose my voice.
Did you grow up in L.A. around the business?
I actually grew up in Diamond Bar, which is on the line where LA County and Orange County meet.
Did you have a “Stage Mother” to get you started in the business?
I used to watch my Sister (who is six years older than me) dance and my Mom realized that I was watching and picking up the moves a lot faster and quicker than she was and I said, “I want to take dance class.” Then I was performing and then booked in a local show and I was spotted and was asked to join and I did that until I was eleven and then got tired of it and just wanted to be a kid for awhile. I have to tell you that I actually got to meet Bette Midler two years ago and I knew one of her back-up singers and she said, “I have to go and tell Bette, she gonna die.” So she told her and Bette said “Please bring her back I would love to meet her,” and I did and she made me sing the song to her (laughing). I was so nervous. At first I forgot the words then I pulled it together and she was really, really nice. She was in a good mood that day!
Would you like to cover the gamut in the business and do more acting, or is singing your priority?
That’s the thing with a lot of performers. They start doing one and then get bored and start doing the other but right now everything is important to me. I do a lot of dancing still and the singing is just as high of a priority.
What other singers did you look up to as you were growing up?
Madonna, of course! She was definitely a big inspiration and the fact that she is who she is. You either love her or you don’t, and that’s how I feel I am. Michael Jackson is another artist that was a huge inspiration. I remember watching his videos as a kid and I just loved them. When people ask me about who I want to be, I always say if you could merge Gwen Stefani and Kylie Minogue into one person, that’s who I think I am.
What other singers do you presently listen to for your own enjoyment?
I definitely listen to Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. His last CD was amazing.
There’s a new group called M.I.A. that I just came across and I really like their stuff. I did a musical last year called “Rock Of Ages” that debuted in Los Angeles and I came back to really liking the old school rock and the big hair era.
Why do you think you resonate so deeply with a gay audience?
I think it’s because I can relate to them. I have a lot of gay friends and growing up in the entertainment industry it’s really normal to me. I don’t look at it differently as being anything strange. I love them. When people ask me if I want to go out at night, I don’t say ‘yeah, I want to go to a straight club,’ I want to go to The Abbey! It’s much more fun. I don’t know if it’s because I feel really comfortable and I don’t feel like I have to worry about the straight boys bugging me. I can go out and just have fun.
When and how were you exposed to the gay community and how did you ultimately become involved working so closely with us?
When I left college and I really started to get back into dancing professionally, I started meeting a lot of new people and a lot of them just happened to be gay boys and I just had so much fun with them. We connected really well. They’re like my Sisters! (Laughing). We would play dress up and would do make up. When I put on clothes, I would always go to them for advice. I live with a gay man and I prefer it that way. And I started working with my manager, David Todd, because of one of my really close friends. He introduced us and really pushed for me and said “David, I really think that you need to work with her” and then he introduced me to Chris Long and Scott Anderson who I did my first single with, “Naked Fame,” and that’s how everything got started.
Have you ever played for the events for women, and if so, can you tell me the difference in performing for a group of gay men vs. performing for a group of lesbians?
I have not but we have been in talks about going to Dinah Shore so we’ll see what happens eventually. I know Debbie Gibson and Kristine W have performed so it’s something that I’d really like to do. I’d like for the women to know who I am so a goal of mine this year is to tap into that audience.
Have you set goals for yourself as a performer, and if so, what are your ultimate goals?
I have. I think last year was a time for me to start really understanding the industry and the dance world and getting to understand who I was as a performer, and what I wanted to be , the type of music I really wanted to focus on. So this year, I’ve started to network and seen a lot of interest come in through My Space where I have a page and I’ve seen a lot of producers contact me and DJ’s and I realize that this is something I definitely want to put my heart and soul into. This year I’d like to get a complete album done, really get into the European market because I know that dance music is really huge over there, a lot bigger than it unfortunately is here in the States. Just get my name out there to DJ’s all over the world and get on the Billboard charts. I know they’re really big goals but I’ve got to put them out there.
You have an amazing voice are there other genres of music you’d like to record?
I would like to record Alternative music as well as Pop. I grew up singing a lot of Country music and I was always told that I had a natural twang to my voice. I grew up singing a lot of Reba McIntire and Patsy Cline so I think I’ve picked it up.
Tell me what’s in store for you next as far as recording, and do you have any touring plans?
I don’t have any touring plans. My goal right now is to get several songs down. I would like to have at least six. I have three now, I’m getting ready to go into the studio in the next couple of weeks to record a fourth song, there’s a fifth one in the works. I haven’t written any of the songs and I know that is definitely a goal of mine this year to collaborate and write a song myself, so that’s something I’ve been talking to a few people about. I really want to record before summer to get a summer song out, and once I have at least six songs, I think that’ll be the time when I can talk about going on a tour.
By the time I speak to you next, I have a feeling you will be either working on a CD or promoting one.Thank you! Keep your fingers crossed and I can’t wait to talk to you again about my next project!
This article first appeared in the BottomLine Magazine in Palm Springs, CA.
© 2007 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.