Going out dancing in Pittsburgh can be predictable. There’s the club that plays all trap; spots that play sing-along hits from the early aughts; and don’t forget about the ones that stick strictly to radio tunes from the past five years. David Shoemaker and Tresa Murphy-Green, who go by DJ Shoe and Deejay Aesthetics, respectively, have been changing Pittsburgh’s nightlife scene with Junction, an open-format monthly dance party that celebrates its first anniversary on Sat., Jan. 18.
“Junction is an enigma of sounds,” says Murphy-Green. “People don’t necessarily know what they’re gonna get when they come to Junction. I don’t think we know what we’re gonna play when it comes to Junction. It’s an experience. The fact that we put open format as our leading thing, I think that that put a lot of pressure on other parties when we were first coming up. We forced other people to look at their events and see what they were doing.”
Murphy-Green and Shoemaker started Junction in January 2019 with the idea to have a space where people from different backgrounds could come together for a night of music across multiple genres: Jersey club, NOLA bounce, dancehall, Afrobeat, etc. The open-format concept means that possibilities are endless.
Shoemaker, who has experienced nightlife in London, Atlanta, and beyond, based Junction on already established open-format nights such as Everyday People in New York City and Matthew Law’s Friends & Fam parties in Philadelphia. Law even consulted with Shoemaker via direct messages on social media.
“People were very joyous,” says Shoemaker. “You could line dance to Cameo’s ‘Candy,’ but then you could put on ‘Swag Surfin’,’ and there’s this community.”
While the music selection is vital to Junction, the centerpiece of the event is the people who attend. Shoemaker and Murphy-Green play tracks based on the crowd, and demographics change from month to month.
“There’s been nights where you have a very, very white crowd, where you have [these musical] boundaries,” says Murphy-Green. “Then you have nights where it’s a very, very Black crowd, and you have those boundaries. Playing ballroom in an all-white crowd isn’t necessarily going to work, but playing ballroom in a very heteronormative Black crowd is not going to work either. Junction has tested me on being able to read a room and being able to figure out how to mix different genres together into something that everybody can groove with.”
Both Murphy-Green and Shoemaker marked a turning point for Junction at an event in June. Former Pittsburgh-based DJ EYE JAY performed a guest set and spun a bit of ballroom into her mix. Her name drew a crowd of Black femmes and queers, so Shoemaker decided to do the same.
“That’s the thing about Junction,” says Murphy-Green. “One night one of us will play this one-off, random genre-ass song, then the next thing you know you come to Junction two shows later and one of us will play a 30-minute set of that genre. That was the night I got into playing ballroom and vogue and mixing [them] together with house.”
Ballroom, a genre drawing from disco and house, has been a part of the underground gay and transgender community since the 1960s.
“Junction was able to be OK because of the groundwork EYE JAY placed,” says Murphy-Green. “It had been a good year and a half, two years since she had been here, and people were looking for it. It is extremely important, not only as a Black femme DJ, but to also give a spotlight to queer folks. I think about the things people say on the tracks, and why it’s important to be heard. It’s broadened my horizons and the city’s horizons too. You can’t just have an event and play trap all night, not if you’re at a club. And that’s a testament to Junction.”
Unintentionally, it became essential for Junction to be a queer-centric and friendly environment.
“The people are so important,” says Shoemaker. “If we saw a bunch of people of African/Caribbean descent dancing to [Afrobeat], I guarantee it would become an Afrobeat set. Or if people are vibing to ballroom, we’re like OK, this might be a queer space tonight. … When people walk outside, who knows what can happen? Their feelings and sense of safety completely changes, but inside this space, how can we create joy?”