When Cesar Murillo began his DJ career in the early 2000s, he never imagined he'd one day be providing the soundtrack for sex parties. But that's just what he does these days, holding down a residency at Steamworks, one of Toronto's most popular gay bathhouses.
He landed at the establishment after a long hunt to find a party that would appreciate his darker sound (he previously played now-extinct Toronto clubs like CiRCA and The Guvernment), the Cuban-born entertainer discovered the 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week men's bathhouse, gym, and sauna in the city's Church-Wellesley Village neighborhood. "People had told me that [Steamworks] has this really nice set-up in their DJ booth," he says. "I talked to the owner and said, 'I'm going to make a couple hours of music that I think will work for this environment,' and I sold him my sound."
Today Murillo continues to spread his self-proclaimed "horny beats," a mix of Latin-influenced big room house and uplifting techno, to parties across the city and beyond (including regular appearances at events during Toronto's Pride Week). We recently spoke to the man also known as "Cubandawg," to find out what it takes to be a bathhouse DJ and if he's ever mixed business with pleasure.
THUMP: What's in the job description of a resident DJ at Steamworks?
Cesar Murillo: My job would be to create a sensual and sexy groove with masculine undertones. The music has to have a particular energy and create a storyline that will be relaxing, fun, and sexy. It must induce guests to have sex.
What's the best part about DJing a bathhouse?
I don't have to play commercial music. I told the owner at the very beginning that I would not take requests. Most of the time, people ask for stuff that is not appropriate or does not help with the vibe that I want to create. At a bathhouse, people aren't really dancing, so you want to create a consistent grove. You don't want people singing.
Are bathhouses as popular as they once were?
The place is always so busy, but I think it's probably diminished in popularity by 15 per cent since Grindr and SCRUFF. I believe that [those apps] are a big waste of time. After you spend a certain amount of time on them, you realize that it doesn't really get you where you need to get, or as fast as you want to. At bathhouses, you can talk to people, you can see them, and you don't have to go anywhere. It's a much safer environment. You're always risking problems when you take people to your place to hook up.
What's your go-to song for getting people to have sex?
I really like the techno stuff. I always enjoy the stuff from the 90s. There's this particular energy in techno music and I hunt for the artists who have that energy. I love Filterheadz, Adam Beyer, Mendo, and Cevin Fisher.
Are there any unique rules you must abide by when DJing at Steamworks?
The owners don't want female vocals; they don't want diva stuff. They don't want pop. They don't want reggae. It can be challenging, but I kind of like it. I don't have to play Rihanna or Madonna. They might tell other DJs that they're not allowed to have sex when they're spinning, but they haven't said that to me.They know I don't engage in that behaviour when I'm spinning.
What are some assumptions that outsiders make about bathhouse culture?
That they're dirty. But, [Steamworks] is an American company with several locations. There are standards on how to keep the place in order. That's why ours does so much better than the others.
Have you ever hooked up with someone while on the job?
No. When people see me working, they see that I am concentrating. But sometimes, someone will try to get into the DJ booth to ask me if they can suck me off while I'm spinning. I cannot kick them out on the spot because the music is so loud, so I have to start by giving them signs. But, I always keep the door to the booth open. I don't want them to think I'm a diva.
Finally, tell us about some of the events that you have coming up.
CumUnion is an HIV-positive event, so it allows people with HIV to have a little more freedom and choice when having sex. My favourite party to play is Saturday night because that's when people come from the clubs and you become like the after-hours party of their night. When [Toronto's] Pride Week comes around, there's like 16-hour parties.
Rebecca Krauss is on Twitter.