Claudia Saenz loves vinyl.
And if you know her, then you know which “vinyl” we’re talking about.
“When you put on a record it gives you the satisfaction of really experiencing what the artist’s intention was,” Saenz said. “(It’s an) intimate experience.”
Saenz is the founder of Chulita Vinyl Club, an all-girl all-vinyl club. She created the club a year ago to create a space for music-loving women who love vinyl records and are passionate about DJing.
“I just needed to create this space for women,” she said. “I noticed a huge lack of female representation in the DJ scene, especially women of color. There are female vinyl collectors out there, but I wanted to create a space for women who wanted to DJ.”
Saenz started Chulita Vinyl Club because she’s an avid record collector. When clubs started hosting “Chulita Vinyl Club DJ Nights,” the group was approached by like-minded women who were passionate about music. Saenz realized the potential and, seeing the positive response they were getting, embraced the Vinyl Club’s newfound direction.
“Chulita Vinyl Club definitely did not start as a movement it just became that,” said Saenz, who estimates the club has about 15-17 active members in San Antonio, Austin and the Rio Grande Valley. “It became a really good space for girls to get together.”
Since interest in the Vinyl Club has emerged in places like California and New Mexico, Saenz is looking to create chapters in other cities. Plans are already in the works to create a chapter in New York.
On Friday, Feb. 5, Chulita Vinyl Club will celebrate their first anniversary at the Bang Bang Bar, San Antonio’s new “vinyl dive bar” at 119 El Mio Dr., from 10 p.m.-2 a.m.
Aside from opening for Bidi Bidi Banda at Paper Tiger on Jan. 24, Saenz said that Chulita Vinyl Club hasn’t performed since October. Their repertoire varies, but Saenz’s tracks in rotation include classics like the horn-happy, crazed-cumbia beats of Pepe Molina’s “La Guarapera” to Latin jazz classics like “Mercy, Mercy, Baby” by Ray Barretto.
While on their brief hiatus, the club has been digging crates and collecting vinyl. Saenz is also excited about adding merchandise; they’ve recently started selling t-shirts and will add other goodies at their first anniversary show.
To start the club, Saenz said she first reached out online to gauge interest and the response she received was surprising.
“These girls always wanted to DJ, collect vinyl, and wanted to be part of something. I never really expected it to get so big, and to get so successful. I just kind of wanted to do something on the side,” she said. “It became a movement and a space for women that wanted to DJ.”
Saenz’s DJ moniker is “Tear Drop,” after her favorite record label. She laughs when reminiscing about her first DJ gig, which just so happened to be the first Chulita Vinyl Club show, and says sharing that story is important for girls new to DJing.
“My first night DJing was our first show at Hi-Tones,” Saenz said. “I always tell that story to girls who are nervous to DJ, and they don’t know what all these knobs are.”
Although the experience could be intimidating, she said, with a strong support system it can be worthwhile.
Originally from Edinburg, Texas, Saenz moved to San Antonio after high school, moved back to the Rio Grande Valley and now calls Austin home. As a kid, she recalls listening to whatever her parents had on the radio: tejano, norteño, cumbias, and even remembers watching Selena Quintanilla in concert in Houston as a kid.
As she grew older her taste of music developed as well.
“As I got older, I just started venturing out and listening to anything, and everything. From hip hop to garage rock, just anything,” she said.
As an avid researcher, Saenz is deeply connected with history and music – that’s where records come into play.
“I’ve just been more connected with the past and knowing how it was back in the day from fashion to music,” she said. “I feel like I know a little more about 1963 than I know about now. I know what Justin Bieber looks like but I can’t name a song. I’m more connected to the past.”
Even though Saenz might not be familiar with Bieber’s latest tracks that doesn’t mean that she’s not paying attention to current musicians. She mentioned that she’s been listening to Leon Bridges among her other favorites like Erykah Badu and Ghostface Killah.
From the history of the music to the rush of the hunt, the act of playing records is half the fun — the search is what drives vinyl collectors.
“The search for records, crate digging, is the best part. You can spend an entire afternoon just searching for records, and it’s satisfying,” Saenz said. “That’s my connection with music.”
Chulita Vinyl Club member Olivia Garcia is also a fan of old music. Attending a soul dance night in Dallas opened the door for her love of Northern soul, 60s R&B, and “the concept of collecting these rare 45s.”
“I collect for the same reasons most people do; you feel as if you’re doing your part to preserve these artifacts. They won’t be damaged or forgotten about because you care for them and share them with others every chance you get,” Garcia said. “Also, the thrill of digging through someone’s trash and then finding that one 45 you’ve been after for years is indescribable.”
No experience is needed to join Chulita Vinyl Club except for playing strictly vinyl records when participating in Chulita Vinyl Club DJ nights, Saenz said. You don’t have to have a huge record collection either, she added. Local members of Chulita Vinyl Club include Garcia, Isabel Castro and Phanie Diaz of “Girl in a Coma” and “Fea.”
Garcia became involved with Chulita Vinyl Club after their first San Antonio show. She reached out to Saenz, and told her “how much (she) loves records, and how interested (she) was in DJing.”
“We began discussing her goals for the club, mainly women empowerment, fixing the lack of representation in our local DJ scenes, and creating a space for women to share their collections and not feel judged or intimidated by anyone,” Garcia said.
Garcia recalls the meeting as a “eureka” moment. Her thoughts and visions aligned with Saenz, and she says her time with Chulita Vinyl Club has been “an absolutely incredible experience.”
“I have met so many women that share the same love of records. We have been given many opportunities to play at various events around San Antonio and Austin in addition to our record nights at bars,” Garcia said. “It feels like a dream sometimes.”
While Chulita Vinyl Club members bond over their shared love of music, vinyl, and female empowerment there’s a strong emotional undertone that drives them and their passions.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that when we do DJ our collections they are very personal to us,” Saenz said. “We spend a lot of time, effort and money to collect. When we DJ it’s very special to each of us because we took time to select these playlists.”
The Vinyl Club also supports local female artists.
“All of our art and flyers are all by women artists,” Saenz said. “I want to get more artists involved whether it’s a flyer or a t-shirt. I want to collaborate more with them.”
When she plays vinyl records, Saenz added, she feels that the music “hits you in the heart, and creates a conversation.” That experience, she said, is important and intimate.
As for the future of Chulita Vinyl Club, Saenz is taking it one day at a time.
“We’re just going to be doing the same thing we’ve been doing – just collecting records and having events,” she said.
*Top image: Claudia Saenz, founder of Chulita Vinyl Club, performing at Paper Tiger on Jan. 24, 2016. Photo by Jennifer Herrera.