Disc jockey Kathy Fadigan spends her nights scratching records. On Nocturne Wednesdays, a gothic-themed night at Shampoo where corsets and steel-toed boots are a fashion requirement, the violet and green spotlights splash violently, illuminating the leather and chain-wearing crowd.
Fadigan spins in the club’s Blue Room on Wednesday nights. But she can’t stay up too late. Tomorrow, she has class.
Fadigan is also a professor at Pennsylvania State University’s Great Valley campus, teaching courses to elementary-school science teachers.
“I had always gone out dancing since the time I was in high school, at least once a week,” Fadigan, 38, said.
She lived in Pottsgrove, Pa., in the 1980s and traveled into Philadelphia with her friends on weekends when clubs like Revival, now known as National Mechanics, and the Trocadero Theatre hosted “underage nights” when minors could get in.
Fadigan graduated from high school in 1989 and moved to Temple to major in biology. Her proximity to local clubs made going out more convenient.
“I made friends with DJs who eventually taught me how to mix records,” Fadigan said.
She graduated from Temple in 1993 and pursued a master’s degree in secondary science education and later a doctorate in curriculum, instruction and technology in education.
While studying, she continued to work as a DJ. Fadigan’s debut gig was at Xero in 1996, after DJ Ricky Lee hired her to replace a DJ who had left the club. After receiving her doctorate, she taught for a year at Temple before teaching four years at Penn State’s Abington and Great Valley campuses.
Becoming a scientist hasn’t curbed Fadigan’s enthusiasm for being a DJ. She still guest spots for DJs in other clubs, and she’s been a regular at Nocturne Wednesdays for eight years. Fadigan recently cut down on her nights due to a busy school schedule, but she still maintains a good balance between the two.
Balancing her two jobs wasn’t something she thought of at first.
“I knew all along that I wanted a [biology] degree,” she said, “but I never considered the DJ part to be a career.”
Fadigan is reluctant to blend her two lives, even if it seems natural. She hasn’t admitted to her Penn State colleagues that she spends her nights spinning records.
She also worries about the connotations of being a DJ. She said too many clubs focus on drinking, drugs and sex, but Shampoo is different.
“It really is about the music, the dancing and not about partying,” Fadigan said. “Just being able to go out at the end of the day and listen to the music.”
Shampoo’s steam-punk factory architecture adds to the atmosphere on Wednesday nights, and the vibration from the stomping, jumping and bass is thick.
“It’s another life,” said Dr. Roy Clariana, division head of the education faculty at Great Valley. “I wouldn’t have even known about it because she never mentions it.”
Clariana said though the topic has never come up in conversation, it doesn’t bother him. He described her office as being “full of science stuff – biological kits and supplies.”
Regina Sorgini, Fadigan’s assistant at Great Valley, said she knew working as a DJ was Fadigan’s hobby.
“She’s mentioned that she wanted to [DJ] eventually,” said Sorgini, “but not this.”
Occasionally, her two lives mix.
One semester, three or four graduate students came to visit her while she was spinning. Another time, a student spotted her at a club and tried to buy her a drink. Fadigan doesn’t like to tell students about her hobby.
“They see me as the scientist and the professor, not as one of their peers,” Fadigan said.
But staying active in clubs helps her remain relevant in the classroom.
“People at Shampoo are the same age as my undergrads,” Fadigan said. “I run into so many types of people as a DJ that it helps me understand where people are coming from.”
At Shampoo, Fadigan surprised a number of people when admitting to being a professor.
“All my close friends know I teach at Penn State, but people who know me as a DJ are like, ‘What? No way!’ They think it’s kind of crazy,” she said.
One of her friends at Shampoo is regular Gil Cnaan, a Temple graduate student and teaching assistant in the religion and political science departments.
He said he likes Shampoo for its tight-knit, friendly community and its tolerance for diversity. People of all ages, races and sexualities are welcome.
“We’re completely friendly to everything here,” Cnaan said.
“The fact that I can still play music that no one has heard of is amazing,” said John Gill, a regular DJ at Shampoo.
Gill cited the Killers and MGMT as bands that aren’t played often in other clubs and said he really looks forward to playing at Shampoo to get away from mainstream music. Sometimes, regulars bring him music to play if they feel his track list is getting stale.
Fadigan said it’s that type of community that is going to keep her around for years to come.
“I don’t see an end,” she said about her future as a DJ. “As long as I can still wake up early to go to work, I don’t see why not.”
Jeff Craven can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.