All-girl vinyl DJ group, Chulita Vinyl Club, empowers women through music

Elizabeth Hlavinka

In Spanish, “chulita” means beautiful or sweet. But when girls refer to themselves as “chulitas,” the word becomes empowering and confident — like Beyoncé calling herself “flawless.”

 The Chulita Vinyl Club, an all-girl, vinyl-spinning DJ collective, is full of confident women. The Austin-based group has 12 members who play shows in San Antonio, Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and California. Claudia Saenz, who founded the group in 2013, said their mission is to empower women through music, an art form typically dominated by men.

“The stereotype threat exists in the fact that, if there is something like a DJ scene, [and] I don’t see girls doing that, I feel like I don’t belong there,” Saenz said. “I constantly live in that. We should break those barriers — even though we [sometimes] don’t realize they’re there.”

UT alumna Maribel Falcón joined the group in February and said the club is a creative way for women to gather together, create a space for themselves in the DJ community and feel comfortable.

“By organizing ourselves, we’re able to have a voice,” Falcón said. “Music is an opportunity for girls that are more shy or quiet to blossom, step forward and feel empowered.”

The Chulita Vinyl Club has performed at bars, music venues and art galleries. Depending on the venue, the DJs can spin anything from punk and rock records to Tejano oldies or jazz.

Phanie Diaz, who joined in 2013, said she sees her performances as “tune selecting” and enjoys creating an environment where people can appreciate music, dance and connect with each other. Diaz said she was nervous the first few times she performed, even though she plays drums for two bands, because she wasn’t used to sharing her personal music collection.

“You listen to what you like in your bedroom, [and] no one’s judging you,” Diaz said. “[Performing] in front of people is almost like letting people into your bedroom. You don’t want people to judge you, but at the same time, you don’t know who [will] enjoy it.”

The girls spin and share their own personal record collections. Alyssa Bunting, who has watched The Chulita Vinyl Club perform since its origin in 2013, became a member two weeks ago.

Along with playing the records, Bunting said hunting them down is just as fun. Once, she found The Beatles album, Rubber Soul, in a $1 bin and a Frank Sinatra record at a flea market in Paris. In one record, she found a love note signed and dated in 1984.

  She said what makes vinyl records special is that they each have their own story and background. 

 “It’s a connection to the past,” Bunting said. “It reminds me of my family. And it’s true what they say — things do sound better on vinyl for the most part.”

 Last week, the Chulita Vinyl Club opened for Flaco Jiménez, a Grammy-winning Tejano accordionist. It was Bunting’s first performance with the group. Saenz, who helped Bunting prepare, said watching first-timers spin vinyl is the most rewarding part of her experience because it is often something the DJs never thought they could do.

 This month, Saenz will perform as the guest DJ at a Selena Tribute in San Antonio. Next week, the Chulita Vinyl Club will be the only female DJ group to perform at the Maverick Music Festival in San Antonio, which is headlined by The Flaming Lips. Saenz said she sees this as a breakthrough and hopes to have similar shows in the future.

 “Now, we get to be a part of [the DJ] community, when we normally wouldn’t have been invited,” Saenz said. “That’s the beautiful part about it. They could have easily asked any other guy DJ, but they asked us.”