Raw Talent

DJ Bil Todd's passion for music was nurtured in rural Virginia

By Doug Rule
Photography by Julian Vankim
Published on March 29, 2012, 4:25am | Comments

Growing up gay in rural Virginia, Bil Todd bonded with music in a way he didn't with people.

''I retreated to music more than I sought comfort in my family or my church or my teachers or anything,'' says the Loudoun County native. ''That's where I went for a lot of my answers. I felt like music provided an outlook, it provided a window to the world that was so foreign.''

Bil Todd

Bil Todd

(Photo by Julian Vankim)

Though his family ''was always singing and playing music,'' and his grandmother exposed him to classical and Broadway music, Todd turned as a teenager to angsty alternative rock and punk. Nirvana's Nevermind cemented his passion. ''It was at that point that I realized, regardless of what I chose to do in my life, whether it was a career or a just a hobby, it had to have music involved, in some shape or form.''

Todd eventually found his way to D.C. and to electronic music, specifically trance and drum and bass. He became a regular at the former Buzz Friday night party at Nation.

His passion for music, and talking about music, eventually got the better of him, inadvertently initiating his budding career as a DJ.

''A good friend of mine had a Friday party [at the Rock and Roll Hotel],'' he explains. ''I was talking about it with so much passion, I think she assumed that I had been DJ'ing already.''

''Hey, you're going to be DJ'ing the opening spot this Friday,'' she texted him one Monday in 2008. '''How do you want to be listed on the flier?' In about three days I taught myself how to beat-match, and I just made sure I had a pretty solid set.'' The debut gig went off without any obvious glitches, though Todd ''dropped all my CDs behind the booth at one point in time, so I was scrambling to pick all those up. Then I got myself tangled in the headphone cord.''

A year or so later, Todd struck up a friendship with Shea Van Horn. The two went on to start RAW at Green Lantern with Karl Jones. ''We realized we had this affinity toward this certain type of music that we didn't feel had any voice in the D.C. queer scene: disco, house music and some acid music. So we came together to throw a really sleazy [sound-wise] disco party.'' RAW eventually outgrew Green Lantern and moved last November to Cobalt, which will host another RAW this Saturday, March 31.

Todd is planning to expand RAW this spring and summer. Also this summer, he'll spin for Nick Lopata's LUTHER party, which got its start during January's Mid-Atlantic Leather, as it expands to Provincetown and San Francisco. And he's become a regular DJ at Lost Society, the new straight club at 14th and U Streets NW.

The 31-year-old Todd, who helped with events for a couple nonprofit associations, is currently in between jobs and contemplating a full-time career in music. ''I've been writing some [electronic] music for the past two years that I'm just now starting to share with people and send around to labels,'' he says. Todd lives in Mount Vernon, Va., with his partner of 11 years, Jonathan, who is supportive of his musical pursuits.

Born William, Todd has gone by the nickname Bil – with just one ''l'' – since he was a teenager. He's considered lopping off the extra ''d'' in his last name to match his first, ''but then it looks too much like a company; it looks like an acronym or something.''

Todd's mother still insists on writing his name with two l's. ''The second 'l' always looks really, really defined; really pressed into the paper,'' he laughs.

Meanwhile, Todd's dad has only recently accepted that his second of six children is gay – more than a decade after Todd came out to him and a decade after meeting Jonathan. ''I just accepted that it took me 19 years to [come to terms with being gay], so I needed to give him time,'' he says. ''I have a lot of respect for him – he remained a part of my life even when he didn't understand it.

''And things are really awesome now.''

Bil Todd spins at RAW this Saturday, March 31, starting at 10 p.m. Cobalt, 1639 R St. NW. Call 202-232-4416 or visit cobaltdc.com or rawdc.com.

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