Chicago native DJ Ca$h Era spins around the city, including Saturday nights at Scarlet

Sat. February 25, 2023 6:50 PM by Ross Forman

dj ca$hera

photo credit // provided

'I’ve been blessed to play in so many amazing venues throughout this city that I truly love,' says DJ Ca$h Era

CaSera Heining, aka, DJ Ca$h Era celebrated her 9-year anniversary as a DJ in late-February, with roots tied to her first year of undergraduate studies at Columbia College Chicago, where she took a course called “Club DJ 1” led by professor DJ I.N.C., aka, I Need Cash.

“The course taught me so much and, at the end of the semester, I.N.C. asked me if I had any interest in DJing for a local nonprofit called Young Chicago Authors,” she said.

“My first gig was on campus for a poetry slam event called Louder Than A Bomb, now renamed Rooted & Radical, hosted by Young Chicago Authors. I know when I say poetry, people tend to think of everyone sitting around quietly and just snapping their fingers when someone finishes their poem. Well, scratch that idea completely because this slam festival is far from that. The participants are high school students from schools all over the city and the energy in the room is indescribable.

“This gig was held in one of the performance spaces and I was placed on stage right, while the audience and participants were still settling in. I'm playing music to get them hyped, dancing a bit, and I remember a footwork circle broke out at one point. I’d play a song while the student walked up to the mic, everyone intently listened to their piece, and then I’d play a song that correlates to their poem once they finish and walk off the stage.”

Now 27, Ca$h Era lives in south suburban Sauk Village and can be heard every Thursday at Renaissance in Bronzeville for a 4-hour party called Girls Love RnB, starting at 9 p.m., and every Saturday for 4 hours at Scarlet Chicago in Lakeview, starting at 11 p.m.

Plus, every first Friday, she’s spinning at Deuce’s in Wrigleyville for Flannel First Fridays, starting at 9 p.m., and every second Friday at Emporium in Fulton Market at 9 p.m. Ca$h Era is at Whiskey Girl Tavern every third Friday for Flannel Fridays, and at Broken Shaker every last Friday of the month.

She also plays Soho House every month for Fight Night and its burlesque show.

“My DJ style is open format, with heavy influences of throwbacks (to the) 1980s, ‘90s and early- 2000s,” Ca$h Era said. “When I say open format, I truly mean that – I’m open to playing anything and everything. I’m also known for my mashups, and that’s where I like to cross genres like punk rock and hip-hop. I enjoy testing the limits; I believe good music is good music, regardless of its genre.”

Ca$h Era has brought her sound around the city. Just consider:

- DJ’d the opening of the Apple store on Michigan Avenue;

- “My first gig with Nike Chicago (was memorable), where they took over a local restaurant and converted the parking lot into a basketball court; programming was held for Chicago youth,” she said.

- The first major sold-out venue she played was Metro Chicago for the Winter Block Party, presented by WBEZ/Vocalo and YCA in 2016-2017.

- “My first party that I ever curated myself, called ‘Mission: Kiss A Boo’ (stands out). The party was held three days before New Year’s and the gag was to help singles find someone to kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve. I’m not sure it worked out for anyone, but the party was sold out and the city really showed up. I believe the first one I ever threw was in 2018 at Alulu in Pilsen,” she said.

- The first time she played in Boystown was a set at Replay in January of 2019. “The North Halsted area was a place I really wanted to play in because I wasn’t seeing enough representation in the venues. I didn’t know what was going to come following that set, but I was just happy to finally be breaking into that scene, that area,” she said.

- She has DJ’d many high school dances, including homecomings and proms.

- “NBA All-Star Weekend in 2020 and WNBA All-Star Weekend in 2022 are both weekends that I’ll never forget,” she said. “The NBA weekend was absolutely insane and I was booked (by) so many different brands, including Nike, Puma, and Adidas. Every event was so unique and truly created experiences of a lifetime. The WNBA weekend in Chicago, I was a member of the Jordan Brand’s Women’s Collective so I not only was booked to DJ some special events, but I also had the honor and esteemed pleasure of attending some high-profile special events, such as the Official Jordan Brand party and the Nina Chanel Release Party.”

- Parties in collaboration with queer-centered groups, including Party Noire, Small World Collective’s Energy, and Slo’Mo. “Each party is unique to itself and memorable in ways unimaginable.”

“I’ve been blessed to play in so many amazing venues throughout this city that I truly love,” she said.

Ca$h Era has been inspired by her mom and grandfather.

“My grandparents on my mom’s side are initially from a very small town in Pennsylvania and it was my grandpa who decided to take that leap of faith to leave what he had known his entire life and move to Chicago to have a better life for his family,” she said. “If it wasn’t for him, I’m not sure where I’d be.

“My mom has always been a driving force as an inspiration and motivator for me. She is the one who saw the potential in DJing long before I did and she’s been here offering sound advice every step of the way. I don’t think people understand the power of having a parent in your corner truly supporting your dreams.

“When I was in high school, I was on track to be a lawyer or a doctor, (yet) I decided to go to an art school, turning down many offers from other schools that were offering me more money and better scholarships … she supported that decision.

“My sister is a model and my brother is a professional wrestler. This woman literally has all three of her kids in very unconventional fields and she supports each of us in every way imaginable.

“There would not be a DJ Ca$h Era if it wasn’t for “Mama Cash,” as Twitter likes to call her.”

Ca$h Era’s drive is anchored on proving others wrong. “Throughout my journey, I’ve had people doubt my abilities and tell me I couldn’t do something. My way of ‘getting even’ is to prove them wrong and show them that their fears of their own failure has nothing to do with my capabilities to exceed beyond their imagination,” she said. “The DJs who have come before me and those who are coming up after me also motivate me. I want to continue to push the barriers in a way to continue what others have started and to also continue the path of those coming up behind me.”

Ca$h Era said DJing at Scarlet is an honor and something she’s grateful for.

And yes, she DJ’d at Scarlet for a few years before landing the late-night residency gig.

“I used to DJ the drag show on Saturday nights hosted by Miranda and sometimes the liquid brunch on Sundays. Since taking over late-night Saturdays, I’ve grown in ways I never imagined.

“Scarlet is a place where music lovers come to dance and enjoy themselves. Anything and everything goes – from Abba to Lady Gaga, Megan Thee Stallion to Panic! At The Disco, and everything in between. Scarlet is a family and I’m grateful to be part of it.”

Ca$h Era in March will be holding a weekly residency at the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue.

Now Spinning … DJ Ca$h Era

Favorite DJs: In no particular order: DJ Nonstop, DJ BoiJeanius, DJ Nixxon, DJ I.N.C. and DJ AllTheWayKay.

Three DJs To Watch: DJ Marty, DJ SukiGeez and DJ Khali Melon.

A Good DJ: Is someone who plays to and for the crowd. “They take themselves out of the equation and focus on the people in the room, to ensure they’re matching the vibes. I think a good DJ also has good transitions, displays creativity in how they travel from song to song throughout the night and genuinely knows how to interact with their crowd.”

Drinking In The DJ Booth: “I drink a lot of water; I have at least two bottles of water next to me at all times. If I’m in the mood for a drink, I typically go for a tequila sunrise or something fruity with tequila in it. I prefer sweet drinks.”

Favorite Actor: Detective Olivia Benson, aka, Mariska Hargitay. Also: Keanue Reeves and Denzel Washington

Favorite Singer: “If we’re talking vocals, Jasmine Sullivan. My favorite rapper is Tupac.”

Favorite Musical Group: TLC

Favorite Sport: Basketball

Hobbies: “I really love shopping, going for drives up Lake Shore Drive, spending time with my dogs and playing mini-golf.”

Little-known Fact: “I would love to model for Savage X Fenty.”

If I wasn’t a DJ: “I’d be a forensic scientist.”

Memorable Moment #1: “In 2017, Young Chicago Authors’ gave me the responsibility of playing to a sold-out Roosevelt Theater for the Louder Than a Bomb final. This is a monumental event in my career because prior to this, I had kept looking at DJing as a side hustle. My senior year and the very stage that I DJ’d on, I walked across to get my diploma maybe a month or so later. It felt like a testament to myself to stop looking at my DJ career as a side job and bring it into the forefront.”

Memorable Moment #2: She was booked in London in June, 2018, her first out-of-state gig and her first time traveling out of the country. “What I remember most about that experience is how all the pieces came together. I paid for the entire trip out of pocket and think I barely broke even at the end of it, but it was worth it.”

Memorable Moment #3: Playing three of the four days at Lollapalooza 2021. “There are certain things I write down every year that I want to accomplish in my career. Lollapalooza seemed so out of reach to me that I never even thought to write it down. I remember all the nerves I had on the first day of performances. I was asked to play to get the crowd hyped before the drag show officially started - something I have done countless times, but this set felt different. I’ve watched videos of DJs playing a major festival, mic in hand and music flowing, getting the crowd hyped and ready for whatever and whoever is next to come on the stage. I walked up the stairs, said a prayer, and pressed play. The crowd flooded the stage and the show was impeccable. Once the drag performers wrapped, I played to the crowd for about 20 more minutes … it was electrifying. We sang and danced, and the stagehands even joined in. I said my DJ name as my set concluded and the crowd roared like I had never heard. I walked off the stage, down the stairs, and once I was backstage, I took a deep breath and tears just flowed. The emotions were overwhelming; I really couldn’t believe what I had just done, that I had just played a set at Lollapalooza.”