Drag Queen Jukebox: Interview With Chi Chi LaRue

This article originally ran in the June 2017 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital magazine.

For as long as he can remember—and long before he became the most sought-after DJ with a gay porn connection—Chi Chi LaRue has had a passion for music. His sister turned him on to bands like the Beatles and the Cowsills, and he has fond memories of listening to the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack in his basement as a kid growing up in Hibbing, Minnesota—the hometown of Bob Dylan.

“The very first record album I ever had was The Carpenters Greatest Hits. I bought it at a gas station; I think it was on sale for like a dollar,” LaRue recalls fondly. “There was also a local store near my house called Shopko that on Tuesdays would have any record album for like a dollar. Needless to say, I bought a lot of record albums. They would even sell record albums at the grocery store, and there was a music store that had them. So sometimes when I was supposed to be going to Wednesday night Bible study, I would not go to that, and go to the record store.”

He would often buy records simply based on the covers. While going to school in the ’70s, he loved the Village People and Donna Summer (“the Bad Girls album was fucking my life, forever”), and then discovered bands like the Runaways, Cheap Trick and Blondie.

“I wasn’t really into heavy punk rock; I liked the Ramones, but I was scared of the Sex Pistols and those kind of bands,” he laughs. “I liked the idea of the all-girl bands, and I loved Kiss—I drove to Duluth from Hibbing as a kid. I would go to concerts whenever possible. And the very first time I was ever in a disco, I went with my sister after a Runaways concert in Minneapolis. We went to First Avenue, which was called Uncle Sam’s then, and it had the lighted disco floor like Saturday Night Fever. I was only a senior in high school.”

He loved dance music and anything female-vocalist related, including France Joli and Cher (“she was my queen, and still is”)—even albums from television stars like Lisa Hartman and Kristy McNichol would excite him. LaRue soon started playing music during his “open study” period at school: “Nobody studied. I would play music up there for everyone, and no one really cared for my musical tastes. They wanted to listen to Foreigner, which I like, but I wanted to play the Runaways, Donna Summer and the Village People.”

In college, he got more positive responses while controlling the jams at his own parties. Then off to the big city, he continued the trend—and discovered the Minneapolis sound pioneered by Prince, a connection that seemed destined.

“I was lucky enough to be in Purple Rain. I filmed for many days on that movie—I sat right in front of Apollonia when she sang ‘Sex Shooter.’ I saw Prince at many surprise concerts at First Avenue, I went to a couple of his birthday parties. He would play a show in these warehouses … my roommate was dating Jimmy Jam at the time, so we would get invited. I met Prince many times. He told me how to get my hair cut once, and I did it immediately.”

LaRue then started to do drag, incorporating music into his performances—lip syncing to the likes of the Weather Girls, Madonna and the Flirts. “I was always wanting to be a DJ, I was always friends with the DJs, I was always requesting songs and giving new songs to DJs in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Music influenced my life, and still does.”

After moving to Los Angeles and becoming an instantly famous porn director, LaRue would continue to host parties and play music: “I was making mixed tapes, trying to get songs as close as possible so there was no break. It seemed that people liked my musical choices at parties. And then I just became a little bored with doing drag. I wasn’t bored being in drag, I was just bored with doing shows and stuff. I wanted to be more in control because, well, I’m a control freak, you know? Whatever,” he says with a laugh.

On a trip to Fubar in Los Angeles around 2005, LaRue saw Jackie Beat in the DJ booth. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Okay, if this bitch can DJ, I can DJ.’ She actually let me come in the booth and play a round … so that’s how I kind of started.”

LaRue started booking similar places like Micky’s in West Hollywood, and soon helped acclaimed designer friend Michael Schmidt start a night at Fubar called Dirty Deeds. It included go-go dancers and gay porn stars—appearance payments that left LaRue breaking even at the end of the night.

“It was fun, but I was getting tired of doing it for nothing, so I started getting gigs in different places, and I really … wasn’t that good,” he admits. “I still could be better. I don’t really mix—I call myself a drag queen jukebox. I just play songs, and I’m pretty good at musicality and know when to start the next song—there’s no break in between. But I don’t necessarily mix beats or beat match—and I’m not into circuit club music, tribal, heavy house or anything like that. I like happy gay music with words. I call myself a 15-year-old girl trapped in a 57-year-old man’s body.”

His sets are a mix of pop and dance, with plenty of ’80s and disco music. “I like throwbacks. What I’m known for I guess is my ability to play current music along with hip-hop, pop and throw in classics … I’m kind of all over the board, but I’m pretty good at knowing how to take people on kind of a journey.”

LaRue laughs that it’s “kind of strange,” but he usually starts his sets with the same three songs: “Break Free” by Ariana Grande, “Tik Tik Boom” by Britney Spears and “Rollercoaster” by Bean. “They’re comfortable for me, and I know they go well together.”

He has recently experimented with some other starter songs based on where he’s performing. During GayDays in Orlando, he often has to follow a “heavier” DJ—and admits “it’s sometimes a weird segue way from aggressive house to Britney Spears, but I’m pretty good at picking my songs. I’ve got musicality on my side.

“I still play CDs. People still look at me like I have four heads when I walk in with CDs and not a computer, and I tell them I’m a 57-year-old man who needs glasses and I can’t see the computer screen, so shut up. I don’t use headphones, I don’t do any of that. I have mad props for DJs that can mix so seamlessly. It’s something I would really like to learn, but with the kind of music I play, I don’t know if that’s really necessary.”

LaRue says he is blessed and grateful for the gigs he has—some that have been recurring for a decade, like GayDays in Orlando. He also DJs Skin Trade, the Grabbys opening night party in Chicago; and annually does Southern Decadence in New Orleans. He recently returned from Australia after DJing the after party for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and performed at the Globe Theatre in Los Angeles for RuPaul’s DragCon.

“I was the opening before they did the big show. I was DJing and it was amazing because I was on stage, and it was like a freakin’ concert,” he gushes. “I felt like Calvin Harris up there—all these people in this huge theater watching the DJ. It was fun because I would step out from behind the booth and perform, kind of play with the crowd a little bit and lip sync to the songs like I did at Mardi Gras, too.”

Other upcoming gigs include DJing at a new club in Fort Lauderdale, a trip to NYC Pride and DJing the Closing Dream Dance Cruise for the Gay & Sober Men Conference. He’s then off to Faces Nightclub in Sacramento before putting his DJ hat on hold to shoot a movie for Raging Stallion. “It’s been really nice to be able to juggle the two, you know? Porn directing and DJing, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

It’s especially gratifying given that LaRue will mark two years of sobriety on
July 1. “There’s places I go to all over, including Houston, Austin, Edmonton—all these amazing places that I’ve been to many times, and I’ve carved my niche in there. And it’s really fun … it also allows me to be in the mix, still have fun and be a part of everything without being in a club and just sitting there and not having fun because I’m not drinking.

“Everyone always says [adopts whiny voice], ‘Well, you can have fun and not drink!’ And it’s like, well, yeah, I can … it’s just not really fun when people start getting really sloppy and drunk unless I’m sloppy and drunk, and I don’t want to be sloppy and drunk. I don’t want to fall down, break my nose and shit myself. I wanna be up at Starbucks in the morning!” he laughs.

“If you’re playing mind-numbing drug music, that’s not fun for me. Some porn boys dance at parties where it’s all about the drugs, all about taking ecstasy and being fucked up, being on the dance floor and losing your mind, watching the lights flicker by while there’s a sex show on stage—and that’s not my scene. I really like to do personal appearances with the boys where it’s a little more lowkey.”

The connection to porn is more than enough to give LaRue that added rock star rush, especially knowing that his DJing skills are enhancing the sexual energy of a room—and the desires of everyone in it.

“I kind of feel like porn stars are today’s rock stars,” he says. “Porn has a party atmosphere, as does music, so the two together really work. Rocco Steele was just here in Minnesota and we did a thing at the Saloon, and it’s like they are coming to see a rock star. Rocco is probably one of the biggest ‘rock stars’ right now, and there were a lot of people there to see him. I see these guys that people really flock to … it’s just wild how people want to be near them and take pictures with them, watch them on stage like they are watching a concert. And I love to be the one that plays the music while they’re dancing.”