Living the Music: DJ Belladonna
by Audrey Dimola
Published in Ins&Outs Magazine, Vol. II, Issue 04
Jennifer Sussman’s dedication to the Astoria/LIC music scene is in her blood – it comes through loud and clear in everything she says, and, even more importantly, through her actions. Born on Long Island but a Queens resident since age 5, Sussman has now been living in Astoria for 8 years and has been making the most of her time. She’s been planning events; organizing meet-ups; working with musicians, venue owners, and locals; and, of course, creating original concepts for local music nights and spinning almost exclusively in Astoria/LIC as DJ Belladonna.
A self-proclaimed retro girl “in love with the past,” Sussman is a full-fledged music junkie who has been addicted to everything from alternative rock and metal to classic hip hop to punk, glam, and goth for as long as she can remember. She is currently Director of Consumer Electronics Operations at Sirius XM Radio, and 4 years ago her best friend Scott (a.k.a. DJ Scandal) finally pushed her to put her exceptionally strong sense of music to good use and taught her how to use the DJ equipment.
Belladonna’s debut was Area35, an eclectic night of music on Wednesdays at Sunswick. Since then, she has DJ’ed regularly at Cup Diner; had a Saturday night residency at Café Bar (in the building where her grandparents once ran a family business!); created Vintage Chill nights at Winegasm with DJ Tark spinning trip hop, smooth beats, and classic funk and soul; and, of course, teamed up with DJ Scandal to fulfill one of their long-discussed dreams. Influenced by eclectic rock nights like Motherfucker produced by DJ Michael T. and DJ Jason’s goth/industrial Absolution parties, Belladonna and Scandal created SubKulture, a monthly party at Hell Gate Social which Sussman calls “the night that I would have wanted to go to when I was growing up.” At SubKulture, Belladonna and Scandal spin retro rock and classic alternative plus screenings of classic music-related cult films. Sussman has also recently added another monthly event to the Hell Gate scene: Grooveskool, in which she pairs old skool, eclectic pop, soul, trip-hop, and underground hip-hop with a live local musical guest like Astoria rapper Hops or hip hop-infused rock band Illimanjaro. It runs along with Sussman’s progressive attitude towards creating a local music scene from the ground up: “Why not Astoria and Long Island City?” she asks. “If it’s not a music venue, make it into a music venue – why not? Why not have a band and a DJ? Make a concept, put something together – happenings that are cool that will attract people out and make them say, ‘this is something I want to be a part of.’”
She also makes it a point to mention the diverse collective of Astoria-based DJs she works closely with at Hell Gate Social, which has become an extremely supportive home for their local events: DJs Silvertone, Tark, Negrarose, and of course, Scandal. Sussman feels that the DJs of Astoria are just as much a part of the growing scene as live musicians. It’s easy to see that with her experiences in various aspects of the ‘bizz (marketing, promotions, and artist management included, which she is continuing to develop under the name SubKulture Productions), she truly understands what it takes to get Astoria the recognition it deserves. “It takes a lot of commitment and dedication,” she says, “and my hat is off to what Justin [Finley] and Astoria Music & Arts are doing, but likewise for the DJs, too, because we may not be live music, but I know that for me, it’s all one. If you love music, you love it, whether it’s live or whether it’s something that, when you hear it, it brings you back to a time that you can only get back when you hear that song – so I like being a part of that.”
Whether her event-goers are grooving on the dance floor, getting hit with nostalgia, or throwing up their metal horns, Sussman wants to ensure that she is doing more than just playing music – she is striving to create an experience. Keep an eye on this SubKultural girl – she is down with the local scene and up for doing whatever she can to keep it alive (and kicking!). myspace.com/subkultureparty