Aces: Lauren Franchi, aka DJ Lolo
The Madison-based DJ discusses some of her favorite disco and house tracks and her new pop-up dance party.
While we here at Tone Madison would never expect a DJ to simply dump their entire record bag full of secrets out in front of us, our goal with this column, Aces (as in “aces up the sleeve”), is to chat with some of our favorite local residents, as well as visiting guests, about a few of their favorite, fail-safe floor destroyers.
For this edition of Aces, we spoke with Madison-based selector and serious vocal-house proponent Lauren Franchi, who spins at her various residencies and one-offs as DJ Lolo. In contrast to the more abstract selections of our prior subjects, Franchi homes in on the sugar, blending powerful disco cuts with heavily polished and modern vocal-house pop jams. Franchi has been a longtime Madison fixture at various pop-up dance parties over the years and can currently be heard at her handful of residencies: every first Friday at Tavernakaya, every last Friday at Gib’s, every last Saturday at Merchant, and every Sunday at Robinia Courtyard. Franchi will also be opening for Xenia Rubinos on September 8 at The Frequency.
Additionally, Franchi is launching a new pop-up dance party called Miss Connections on August 20. The goal of Miss Connections is to create a safe and inclusive environment for folks who have a hard time finding clubs in Madison where they can dance comfortably. Franchi says all proceeds of this upcoming installment, which will feature DJ sets from herself and Austin’s Bree Rose, will be donated to the Wisconsin Women’s Network and that each of these pop-ups “will hopefully always take place at a female-owned or queer-owned business.” She hopes to keep the party somewhat low-key, but encourages folks who are interested to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details. We chatted with Franchi about the impact that the now-defunct Indie Queer parties had on her, why she yearns for the Paradise Garage, and the importance of pacing a long DJ set properly.
Tone Madison: What pulled you into electronic music?
Lauren Franchi: I used to go to the Indie Queer Night dance parties at the Majestic when I was underage. They were legendary. Did you ever go to IQ?
Tone Madison: I did. I remember going to see that bloghouse DJ, OCD Automatic, at a couple of those parties before he moved away. But, it seemed like they covered a bunch of different stuff there and those parties were huge. [Laughs] I can’t believe this was like nine years ago.
Lauren Franchi: [This was] so long ago. Erin [Keefe, OCD Automatic] is great. He and [Milwaukee-based DJ] Asher Diamonds were big inspirations for me. I remember being on the dance floor one night, looking up, and realizing that all of the DJs were men and thinking, “I wanna do that too.” So, I bought turntables and taught myself.
Tone Madison: Yeah, I definitely remember a lot of the IQ DJs being dudes.
Lauren Franchi: They were all dudes and Lizzy [Tymus] was the promoter before she started DJing. But yes, those parties pulled me into music in a big way.
Tone Madison: The first time I heard you mix, you were spinning some vocal-house at a pop-up house party on Willy Street several years ago. Now, in addition to the pop-ups, you’ve got a bunch of residencies together and you’re also doing road gigs. When did you start to really put yourself out there as a DJ?
Lauren Franchi: I wrote a music blog for five years called Warm Warmer Disco. It was small and was mostly about Madison’s music and DJ scene. I had also been playing [records] in my room for over a year and was like, “Maybe I should do this somewhere real.” I transitioned into DJing by throwing a party called Sparkle that I promoted with Lizzy [Tymus] at The Cardinal Bar. This was like 2010.
Tone Madison: When you started, what were you focused on musically?
Lauren Franchi: I would listen to old mixtapes of Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, and Junior Vasquez. I was like, “Why can't I stand in line to go to Paradise Garage, The Power Plant, or The Tunnel?” I started there, but was also very into bloghouse, of course, which was pretty much at its peak when I started going to parties and getting into DJing. I basically wanted to live in both 1979 and 2010 and I think I did that through music. It felt like a really good time to be coming on to the scene. I think that style that I found back then still hangs on a bit. I’ll still catch myself playing Tensnake’s “Coma Cat” or Flight Facilities’ “Crave You” every once in awhile.
Tone Madison: I can definitely see how the upfront pop progressions of those styles would mesh well together. I think I understand that feeling of wishing to recreate the vibe of the Paradise Garage or something. I remember first listening to Larry Levan mixes and straight-up trying to find the records one by one. You can still get a bunch of the stuff he played for like five bucks, unless the words “Larry Levan” are printed on the record somewhere to credit him for some kind of dub or remix. What is it, in particular, that you feel those legendary parties offered that a more public club experience at—for instance—the Cardinal Bar does not?
Lauren Franchi: House has roots in resistance and the underground, and the roots run deep with the LGBTQ community too. That is the sort of mentality I went into my first party at the Cardinal Bar with and I think IQ was doing that, which is what I liked [about it]. With accessibility and inclusivity in mind, house brings everyone together, and so does the dance floor. That’s what drew me to DJing and promoting. Sister Sledge will always be there for you with “We Are Family.” That’s how I feel about it.
Tone Madison: In reading about the Paradise Garage, I’ve gleaned that they had to find effective ways—out of necessity—to ensure the safety and comfort of their attendants through membership cards and an interview process for attendees. I'm pretty sure that if you held a card and brought a guest, you were held accountable for that guest. I’ve always thought that was awesome.
Lauren Franchi: It is. Because they were carving the path, they were able to set their own tone—a standard to harken back to and acknowledge, but also move forward with.
Tone Madison: So, is this what you're hoping to achieve with Miss Connections, your new pop-up party? To create a totally curated experience?
Lauren Franchi: I'm looking to create a space that nods to house music's past—a history rich in underground and resistance, but also freedom and accessibility on the dance floor. I like the idea of curated, but maybe only in the sense that the music won't be your standard fare.
Tone Madison: I will say, as someone who greatly prefers attending private parties to the more public club scene, it seems like people take care of and look after one another on a different level at the private events.
Lauren Franchi: I've even noticed that this [upcoming Miss Connections party] has already become a bit bigger than I expected by nature of word of mouth. Over 200 more people were invited than what I’d included on my initial list. Of course I also have the classic “what if no one shows up?” jitters, which would also be fine, but of course I want it to feel intimate and safe—that's the whole idea.
Tone Madison: Who all is playing this first installment and how can folks find out about this series?
Lauren Franchi: I’m DJing and so is Austin, TX’s Bree Rose. She originally got started in Milwaukee. She’s so great. I’m having her out to some of my other residencies in town, as well. These parties will happen every third Saturday of the month and people can send an email to email@example.com and get a response with that month’s info.
Tone Madison: What else do you have brewing currently, in terms of residencies and gigs?
Lauren Franchi: I love the spots that I play at now. Merchant continues to hold a special place in my heart. Every time I get the bartenders to rock the lights, I know it's been a good night. I also play at Lucille, Gib's, and do a summer Sundays event in the courtyard at Robinia regularly. And I just started a residency at Tavernakaya. I played there last Friday and it's one of the happiest dance floors I've played to in so long. I’m also opening for Xenia Rubinos [on September 8 at The Frequency] and I’m excited to do that too.
Tone Madison: OK, so let’s dive into these tunes you picked out. First up, we’ve got a polished, modern vocal-house tune in Oliver $ & Jimi Jules’ “Pushin On.” What drew you toward spinning this one?
Lauren Franchi: So, Bree [Rose] played this at Merchant the last time we DJ’d together and I came back to the booth like “What is this?” Vocal house just gets me.
Tone Madison: Do you tend to stick with more pop-format stuff with vocal hooks in a set?
Lauren Franchi: I would say so, yes. I'm sort of a sucker for all of that stuff. And piano. I could be a mono-format DJ who only plays piano house and I’d be in heaven, too. [Laughs] I think lyrics help carry a track. It gives folks who aren't as interested in just the beat something more to hold on to and relate with.
Tone Madison: What is it that pulled you into this track? It has kind of a melancholy vibe to it and that main vocal hook is pretty is pretty hard to shake out of my dome after listening.
Lauren Franchi: It has a really long intro, so I’d assumed that it was going to be a track without vocals, but then it wasn't and I was like “Yass!” It’s a slow build, building a vibe, if that makes sense.
Tone Madison: Totally. it feels akin to that one Moby track, “Natural Blues.” Usually when I compare something to Moby, I’m being an asshole, but not in this case. Also, this one definitely has more of a modern polish to it.
Lauren Franchi: And I think that's just it. People always say to me, “I don't really like vocal house, but I really like this track. What is it?”
Tone Madison: It's funny how divisive vocal house is. Some folks really hate it with a passion, but I can't get enough.
Lauren Franchi: All vocals, all the time.
Tone Madison: Alright, next up we've got Chet Faker’s “Gold.”
Lauren Franchi: Oh yeah, did you watch the video? That’s what initially pulled me in. I was at an a-bar, this came on, and I was mesmerized.
Tone Madison: I did. With the crazy rollerskate dance choreography, pretty wild. What part of a set would you slide this into? Do you usually start with half-time jams like this and then ramp up?
Lauren Franchi: I would start the night with this to set the tone. It's sort of a bob-your-head and drink-your-drink song. It’s perfect for 10 p.m., but it also has claps. I'll start my set somewhere much more chill than where I want to end the night. I’m a big proponent of the idea that you can't start your night with bangers.
Tone Madison: Right on, so this would play in your chill-out room?
Lauren Franchi: Oh yeah, 4 a.m. jam for sure too.
Tone Madison: This one sort of has that indie-rock-by-way-of-electronica vibe to it.
Lauren Franchi: I love this one because these lyrics, “You gotta know I'm feeling love/ made of gold, I never loved her/ Another one, another you/ It’s gotta be love/ I said it does.” It vibed last summer for me and maybe a bit of 2016.
Tone Madison: Do you usually start your set with half-time stuff and then ease your way into the dance tempos?
Lauren Franchi: I do. I’ll start my set somewhere much more chill than where I want to end the night. I’m a bring proponent of the idea that you can't start your night with bangers.
Tone Madison: Agreed, especially if you're playing a four-hour set or something. Most people can’t handle being walloped for that long.
Lauren Franchi: No one wants to be walloped right after they ate dinner and have barely had a drink.
Tone Madison: Would you say the next tune you picked out, Rüfüs Du Sol’s “Say A Prayer For Me,” sort of the begins the ramp-up for you?
Lauren Franchi: Exactly.
Tone Madison: It seems pretty laid-back and melancholy, in terms of both the musical and emotional content.
Lauren Franchi: I think I always find myself drawn to those happy-sad songs. Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” comes to mind, too. [Laughs] But yes, this is definitely a song for the middle of the night. It’s 11:30 and you've just started doing more than a head-bob. I [originally] wanted to send you the MK remix of this Rüfüs song, but I couldn't find it on YouTube. I think MK brings a bit more happiness and danceability to his tracks, remember what I said about piano? I blame MK.
Tone Madison: OK, our last one is Beyoncé and Sia’s “All Night,” which is another slow cut.
Lauren Franchi: This is my swan song to New Orleans, where I lived for three months and just moved back from, as well as my song for the end of the night.
Tone Madison: What pulls you into this one musically?
Lauren Franchi: Lemonade really affected me. I was in New Orleans when it came out and in a space where I needed it. This song puts a great end cap of happiness onto that time. It’s last call.