Melanie Panergo caught the DJ bug at 16. At a rave in Oakland, among 10-foot-tall lava lamps, she saw a set by DJ Qbert and Kid Koala, two turntablist legends who that night challenged her notion of just what was possible on the decks. Setting the scene, she says the two “weren’t specifically playing to dance. They were creating a musical collage. Kid Koala [was playing] old instructional records, and Qbert was laying breaks on top of it. I thought it was amazing.”

Soon after, she asked her father for turntables, and he agreed to buy her a setup if she earned straight A’s, a promise she dutifully held up. Once secured, though, she’d skip school with her friends to grab more practice time while her parents were at work. Thanks to an ID she obtained from a brother’s friend who was a bouncer, she also got an early taste of the nightlife scene in her hometown, San Jose.

Through contacts at parties like the now-defunct Stank at the former Agenda Lounge, she landed her first event: a monthly gig at the SoFA gallery MACLA. She overheard patrons say “there’s that girl” enough that it spawned her DJ name. Panergo soon became a regular presence at Universal Grammar events like Dime, the Changing Same, and Live at the Pagoda, parties where she opened for Yuna, Aloe Blacc, and KRS One.

I think, naturally, with all my professional and artistic experience, it’s led me to be in a position to funnel more opportunities to women.

“I’ve always been open format, because I never really stuck to one thing. Hip-hop was definitely a foundation, but I was always digging for other sounds,” she says of her selection, eclectic yet often polyrhythmic and distinctly danceable, a hallmark from a background in DJ’ing breakdancing events, where she’d have to dispense heavy grooves at a rapid-fire pace.

ThatGirl has since expanded her reach throughout the Bay and is likely best known as a member of the Peaches crew, an all-female DJ contingent whose weekly party in San Francisco ran for a decade. “At the time, it was rare to see a female DJ,” she says of the party’s early days, adding that Peaches continued the work of OGs like DJ Zita and the late Pam the Funkstress, whose Everlasting B.A.S.S. party aimed to provide more visibility and exposure for female DJs and creatives. “We saw the importance of banding together and creating that representation for ourselves.”

Since the crew stepped away from their weekly, Panergo has largely shifted her focus to wedding and corporate gigs; at the end of last year, she found a way to merge her budding success in this space with her vision to provide more opportunities to female DJs. DIME Talent Group was born. “I think, naturally, with all my professional and artistic experience, it’s led me to be in a position to funnel more opportunities to women,” notes Panergo. DIME’s talent pool, rich in experience, includes longtime friend Jenicyde and her Peaches crew counterparts, including DJ Umami, Lady Fingaz, and Lady Ryan.

Though DIME is just getting started—the collective was founded at the tail end of last year—she’s hoping her efforts will help spread the notion that the DJ booth, not just the dance floor, is a space where all are welcome. It’s a deeply embedded value for Panergo, as she’s encountered pushback as both a woman and someone who identifies as queer. She’s been denied the decks at events by men, been asked by promoters if her brand is going to scare away the male clientele, and even been asked if her following might compromise a safe space.

Yet, in turn, a friend provided the perfect nickname, given the wide variance of audiences she’s been able to perform for. “Someone coined me ‘the bridge,’ because, eventually, I would bring a crowd of people who were just open, regardless if it was a gay or straight party,” she says. “I thought that’s pretty empowering that I have this niche where I can bring together those worlds.”

Now Panergo isn’t only bridging together different worlds through her mixing. She’s creating opportunity with a purpose in mind—and shifting perceptions one dance floor at a time.

DJ ThatGirl

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