Interview by Debbie-Marie Brown
Photos by Carolina Sanchez
Community curator, space-funk icon, and nonbinary hair color extraordinaire Zeetus Lapetus—whose government name is Shomari “Sho” Daniels—fell into DJing at the peak of the pandemic. Daniels hosts Fortune, one of the hottest queer dance parties in Chicago, and spins at local clubs.
“I am a little, queer, Indigenous child of God that listened to a lot of house music when I grew up, and disco and funk,” Daniels, 28, said. “That was basically . . . all my mom would let me play, or like gospel. And I always loved outer space as a kid.” The stage name Zeetus Lapetus references Zenon, a 1999 Disney film about a “funky out of this world girl,” Daniels said. “Zeetus Lapetus was like future slang for like, ‘Oh my God. What the fuck?’ [An] exclamation, a sense of like, what’s going on?”
Daniels was born in Chicago, but grew up in the south suburb of Richton Park, where their mom moved the family when they were still a toddler. They spent weekends in Chicago to attend church and see cousins and friends.
“Everybody thought we’d have, like, a decent life. But more than anything, it was more sad, because over the years everything just started decaying out there. It became a food desert for a little bit. And there’s nothing to do,” Daniels said. “I love where I’m from and all that jazz, but it’s a very depressing energy. Coming into the city it felt like a little more rhythm, there was more of a pep in people’s step. It felt like a smaller, cheaper New York.”
After graduating high school in 2013, Daniels attended Ball State University, but they dropped out after five months, and eventually returned home to Richton Park in 2015 because “I was too broke to go anywhere else.” For a while, they lived at home with their mom and commuted an hour on the Metra to Chicago for work, seeking better pay and “more excitement.” They worked a series of odd jobs at Uniqlo, Cheesie’s, Ross, and more.
At the peak of the pandemic, Daniels was depressed and living alone in Chicago when they had an epiphany. Upon hearing that The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil started her career as a DJ, Daniels decided to take a similar route: they bought a controller and taught themselves to produce mixes with an iPhone app. From the start, Daniels’s mixes had a sound they described as coming from an “intergalactic funk, queer weirdo, from like, Planet Nine or something, you know?”
Daniels landed their first (online) gig as Zeetus Lapetus through Dreamhouse Chicago, a local queer production company. From that, they were able to secure a regular in-person gig at Golden Dagger’s Happy Hour in 2021.
Andrea van den Boogaard, 25, a bartender and production manager at Golden Dagger, met Daniels when they started DJing there. “Sho is one of those people that I feel, like, refuses any kind of box that they could possibly be put in,” she said.
“My first experience of them was that they must have known everybody who was there because they were so warm, and they were so familiar with everyone right off the bat.” Van den Boogaard later learned that Daniels was meeting most of the people for the first time that night. She recalls Daniels demonstrating “a genuine interest to get to know and celebrate every single person in front of them.”
After those two shows, Daniels began acquiring DJ residencies and playing progressively bigger venues, such as Berlin, as well as shows like Saltfest and the Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL) Fest in Millennium Park. “I never fathomed the places I could go with this,” Daniels said.
This year, Daniels started hosting a talk show on YouTube where they invite artists, organizers, and residents to do arts and crafts, be interviewed, and then perform. “It’s like if Mr. Rogers met Eric André, and I Dream of Jeannie, and a little Black child,” Daniels said.
“As someone that works with DJs, it is so frequent and so common and accepted to have a really harsh divide between the DJ and their audience,” van den Boogaard said. “With Daniels though, even in these really crowded spaces . . . they were mingling with the crowd, they were dancing with the people who are patrons.”
“When I was younger, I knew how it felt to be excluded from things,” Daniels said, “so whenever I am in this space, I want other people to feel very safe, and welcome and like a sense of love when you come into a place.”
Fortune is a monthly Wednesday night queer dance party where anything can happen, but in an experience meticulously cultivated by a collective of DJ Zeetus Lapetus, DJ Ayeeyo, DJ Blesstonio, booker Kenya Élan, and host Jaxx Masada. Formerly hosted at the Hideout, Fortune sold out at 150 capacity on its very first night.
Flaming Homosexual, or Flame, is a 24-year-old drag artist and Daniels’s best friend. Flame describes Fortune as different from what he’s used to in Boystown, “where sometimes the energy can be very aggressive and white, [predominantly] cis gays. I don’t really feel like I belong there.” With Fortune, he said all types of people are coming through who “have more manners” and the space feels more community-based. “You could tell [the team] actually put more effort into their set and like visuals. Curating like a good vibe for everyone.”
“In Chicago and the greater music community, we’re really experiencing a lot of change right now . . . a lot of radical thinking about how we can create spaces that feel together and feel collected [and] stripped of a lot of power dynamics that can be super isolating within the scene,” said van den Boogaard. “Having people like Daniels lead this new renaissance and the entire team of Fortune and all the people that they collaborate with
. . . I’m excited for those to be the voices that lead Chicago into whatever this next chapter is creatively, for all of us.”
Does Daniels still want to be an actor? “Yes,” they said, because they love entertaining people. “And DJing, it’s just another facet of [that] . . . I would love to continue DJing. This is actually my plan. That’s my bread and butter.”