How did you first come across club music?
I was 22 and visiting my older half-sister in London in 2008. I was into indie music and nu-rave/nu-disco stuff at the time — LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, things like that. She took me to a couple of clubs, including fabric. We were only there for a few minutes because her boyfriend wanted to leave, but I was like, what the fuck is this? After that, I got super curious about it. I didn’t know that that really existed in Mexico because I lived in the south of Mexico City where the clubs are more like bottle service and playing commercial music. People weren’t really dancing, they were more singing along to top 40 commercial music. A few months after I got back from London, I saw DJ Mehdi play in a club called Pasaje America. It was the first club I saw in Mexico that had a dancefloor. It was so great to me because my Mum is a ‘70s girl, and the first memory that I have of music is like ABBA and young Michael Jackson, and my Dad went to Studio 54, so I was like, wow, this kind of thing still exists. And I loved it and I saw another guy I knew who was also DJing that night and I was like, ah, maybe I can also do it. I asked him to teach me how to DJ. He said, “Yes, of course I’ll teach you,” but he never did. So I became a little bit stubborn about it. If you say no to me, I have to do it.
So how did you learn then?
I started going to this club more and getting to know more of the DJs and getting to know the music and then about six months after I saw Mehdi I went to a DJ school in a really sketchy part of town. The building was horrible, but these guys are very, very pro, they go to worldwide scratch competitions and they win. They’re older. They play commercial stuff, they don’t play electronic music, but they’re very good with technique. I wanted to start playing with CDJs because I saw my friends playing with CDJs. And they were like, “No, you’re learning with vinyl, you’re learning for real.” At the time I didn’t appreciate it and then I was like, thank god. So I was very lucky that I found this school. I always knew I wanted to do something with music. I used to sing when I was younger. I sang in the choir at school and I even auditioned for Mexican Idol [laughs]. I did ballet for 10 years too. I wanted to study in a conservatory of music after high school but my parents didn’t really see a future in that so I studied hospitality instead. And then around the same time that I started DJing I started working in PR for music events and I thought I’d end up doing that more than DJing but I enjoyed DJing way more. I went to DJ school for four hours twice a week for two months. When I got my first mix right, I was obsessed. Then I started going to my friend’s place every Friday to practice on his CDJs. I DJed with CDJs for four years, then when I started working at Aire Libre, they had turntables and I already had a little record collection and would practice on their turntables.
Were you playing lots of gigs in those four years you were learning?
Not really. It was hard for me to get opportunities. I was overweight and I got a lot of hate from a lot of promoters. I was just starting to party at that time too and I didn’t really know the “codes”, or how to act appropriately. I thought everyone was my friend and that wasn’t true. They made fun of me because I was always high and trying to make friends and they didn’t take me seriously. Also at that time there were a couple of female DJs who were also models and they would just tell them what to play and they’d get the gigs. I was of no use to them. I do take responsibility for it, I got myself into situations I shouldn’t have but I was just so excited. I kept going and I kept playing but I would DJ in bars and restaurants, just shitty gigs, a couple of mid-week club gigs but nothing special. Except then my friend Julian opened Departamento. Everyone was really shitty to me but he was always really nice to me. I told him I wanted to play Departamento. I’d been put down so much that I was scared to put myself out there because I was scared of rejection. But I asked Julian, and he said ok, you have to play all night though, and I said ok and it was so good. He said, we have to do this once a month and that gave me a lot of confidence to put myself out there more. And I started going to Record Store Days and meeting record store owners and just became more involved in the local community.
How did you start working at Aire Libre?
I was working in music PR and I had my residency at Departamento and I was starting to feel more confident in what I was playing and developing my own style. Then around 2017 my friend told me about the job and said he thought I’d be perfect for it. I started working as their programmer and booker before they launched. They told me they needed someone to bring together all of the city’s talent and do special shows, do takeovers, live sessions. DJ sets, and also attract international guests. This was around the same time I started DJing in New York. My first gig in New York was when my friend Cat convinced her friend Steven to give me a gig at House of Yes. I got the call last minute when I was on holidays on the Riviera Maya. So I jumped on a plane to New York and started crying on the plane, I was so excited to play there. And it went really well, they loved it. After six months of working at Aire Libre I decided to go for one month to New York to meet people and to play and I just emailed a bunch of people I’d met through the radio station. I played again at House of Yes and on this trip I met Toribio and I met Bryce from Black Flamingo and I ended up getting four gigs, which was more than I expected. I loved that I didn’t have to sell myself, people knew me from Aire Libre and it helped connect me with lots of people. It all came together perfectly. Every month a different record store did a takeover on Aire Libre, it opened my mind to a lot of genres, and a lot of artists and scenes I didn’t know were there, and a lot of amazing, super talented people. I was there every day. My friend Febe helped me a lot too, and so did the other people who worked there, they’d all recommend people to check out and to come and play. And I had my own monthly music show called Femme Soul, mainly just playing music with femme vibes. I don’t love talking on the radio. I’m not that geeky about labels and stuff, I don’t want to pretend that I know more than I do. If I had a guest I’d ask them questions and play their playlist, but for me it was more about the music than what I had to say.
Were you touring much at that time?
I was starting to get booked more in New York and in different places around Mexico too. I would go to New York every four months. Then a friend got me a residency in Ludlow House, so I was going every month, but that only lasted five months because the pandemic started. But I started playing a lot at Black Flamingo, Milagrosa, Le Bain, more house-y type clubs. House is my thing, 100%, for me it just pulls it all together. But right before the pandemic I started playing at Mood Ring and expanding a little and playing more techno and stuff. I was going to be playing Europe for the first time that summer. Then the pandemic hit, so I got into production instead.
Was that the first time you’d tried to produce?
I took a production course when I was like 24 but I didn’t really get it. They taught Ableton, Logic, all of it. But I had so many questions that I didn’t even know what to do when I opened it [Ableton] and then I took another course with my friend Juan Soto around 2019. I don’t really understand when people show me things on a screen, I need to do it myself to learn it. So Juan was like, ok, you have this question, let’s go through it. It was a six week course but it was six hours, three times a week, which was exactly what I needed. I would have homework to make tracks and stuff. I felt very self conscious about putting music out because it had already taken so long it felt like it was too late, and I wanted to do everything on my own. I thought if I wasn’t doing everything myself, then I was a fake. I was very fearful of being judged. Throughout all my DJ career I have felt very judged. I think now I have I shut everyone’s mouth, to be honest. The girls were always super nice and supportive but the men, not so much. But producing saved my life in 2020. Before that, I’d make excuses like I was too busy with DJing and doing PR but I didn’t have those excuses during the pandemic. I had good advice from a friend, Jitwam, too, and it changed everything. The first piece of advice was to always finish what you start. Even if you don’t like the tracks you’re working on, finish them. The second thing he said was don’t be afraid to ask for help, which was a really important thing to learn, like if I need a particular piano part and someone knows how to do it, why not ask them?
Written by: Tim Hopkins