Ahead Of Her SXSW Performance, DJ Femi On Breaking Into Pittsburgh's Nightlife Scene

Mar 14, 2019

Pittsburgh native Bria Thomas, who goes by the stage name DJ Femi, has been mixing music for the city’s nightlife for nearly a decade. After attending Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School for cello and piano, she started learning about music production and fell in love with entertaining.

This weekend she’s headed to Austin, Texas for the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) festival. The trip is a big deal, she said, it’s an opportunity for her to perform to larger crowds and network with other DJs from around the country.

“It’s an amazing feeling being able to do what you want to do,” Thomas said.

Breaking into Pittsburgh’s nightlife scene wasn’t easy. Many nightclubs and bars have established relationships with DJs, who are usually male, making it difficult for women to book shows. Nationally, female DJs rarely make it onto the top hip-hop and EDM lists.

“It was hard at first,” Thomas said. “But I know I had to gain some momentum and fans and a lot more support than when I first started. Then people started taking me serious.”

DJ Femi at the Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Studios on the South Side. She says she's trying to bring a "Pittsburgh experience" to the SXSW show when she takes the stage this weekend.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Now she has regular engagements at Scenario on the South Side and Umami in Lawrenceville, and she’s performed at gallery crawls Downtown and spaces like Boom Concepts in Garfield. Nearly every venue she plays is different, she said, which pushes her to be stylistically versatile.

“I love it, though,” she said. “It’s kind of fun to be playing on the South Side where I’m playing EDM music and then I’m going to Lawrenceville and I’m playing reggae.”

The community of DJs in Pittsburgh is still relatively small and separated by genre and neighborhood, Thomas said. She said as the scene continues to grow, she’s optimistic about the evolving music culture she sees in Pittsburgh.

Thomas will perform this weekend as part of an all-female showcase at SXSW.