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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

DJ Sugarfree is one of the valley’s top DJs—a regular at Bart Lounge and Chill Bar Palm Springs. Over the years, she’s played at virtually every club in the valley.

However, DJ Sugarfree—her given name is Noemi Rodriguez—wants more. Specifically, she wants to take things underground.

With friends and fellow female DJs Femme A and Aylex Song, the queer DJ from Indio is trying to provide the desert with an authentic rave experience—and the group is planning an underground electronic event that recalls the spirit of the famous “desert raves,” which Sugarfree and others would organize off Dillon Road in Indio around this decade’s start.

But creating a scene is easier said than done.

“Nowadays, most people listen to mainstream EDM music, and only care about events with big popular names on the lineup,” Rodriguez said. “Many people’s music listening is limited to what’s on the radio. They will drive out of town to go to a big rave, but they are uninterested in local underground events.”

However, things are beginning to change. Sugarfree said she has noticed an increase in local appreciation for electronic music thanks to Coachella pre/post-parties and Splash House—but that appreciation is removed from the authentic/original rave experience, and it doesn’t compare to the current popularity of underground electronic music in Los Angeles. Sugarfree theorized that people in the desert today are conditioned to experience dance music at events that are limited by space and time—such as parties at clubs.

“When people go to a bar, the party is over at 2 a.m., but oftentimes, people aren’t ready to go home,” she said. “Raves, on the other hand, are supposed to go until the sun comes up. Going to a rave used to mean you were staying out until 6 a.m. At clubs and venues, the party has to end—and we want to create an event where it doesn’t have to.”

Sugarfree—a nickname long ago given to her by raver friends, because she abstains from sugar due to her diabetic condition—also wants to change the conception of what it means to be a DJ.

“A lot of people think being a DJ is just like being a jukebox,” she said with a laugh. “But that’s not true, because a real DJ will take the listener on a journey. The DJ will blend songs together so that multiple songs seem like one song which happens to be hours long. The goal is to take the listener on a memorable journey and make her feel good.”

When you combine the magic of a DJ with the right setting, the experience can be moving. For Sugarfree, creating the perfect sonic adventure starts with asking the promoter what he or she is looking for.

“I like to know ahead of time what they’re expecting, and then I try to find songs that have similar BPMs (beats per minute), have similar melodies or styles, and are in the same key,” Rodriguez said. “This is how you get the songs to flow smoothly. How the songs are going to sound sequenced together is very important.”

Sugarfree started working with turntables in 2006, the year after she graduated from high school, but she was curating listening experiences for people as far back as middle school. “Everybody would come to me to make them mix CDs,” Rodriguez said, again with a laugh. “I was always talking about music, and I was into different kinds of music. I started making mix CDs, and I would take them to school and ask people to listen. After that, people started asking me to make CDs for them.”

During her senior year in high school, Sugarfree’s mother passed away rather suddenly from lupus complications and an encounter with an aggressive tuberculosis—a loss which still affects Sugarfree significantly. She struggled to complete her final year of high school, and though she did graduate, she was in a dark place.

“It was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” she said.

The opportunity to express herself via music saved Sugarfree. “After high school, I befriended a girl who had DJ equipment, and I started messing around with it, and it felt like I was born to do that,” she said. “I had always wanted to be a DJ.”

Her DJ career began to blossom at a critical time in her life, and it created an opportunity for her to express herself and distract herself from her grief. It is no coincidence that many of the most-requested dance songs revolve around heartbreak, like Cher’s “Believe,” Alice DJ’s “Better Off Alone,” Haddaway’s “What Is Love?”, The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby,” and so on.

Equipped with a cheap controller and CDs, Sugarfree learned how to DJ quickly, improving by talking to other DJs and listening to mixes. She soon acquired better equipment and started playing at friends’ parties in backyards; her first gig was at a quinceañera. As she became more well-known, she moved on to clubs, where she continues to perform frequently today.

However, Rodriguez admits she’s become disenchanted by the demand to play just popular songs; she prefers music from the more-obscure electronic genres she was becoming acclimated with as her career progressed. Today, she enjoys playing techno, trance, tech house and progressive house—music that would be more welcome at an underground event.

“I can’t really play trance music out here,” Rodriguez said. “Nobody really knows it, and nobody really likes it. I’ve tried to play it, and people don’t really feel it.”

The sight of an empty dance floor is not a good feeling for a DJ. As a result, she generally succumbs to what the crowd wants.

“When I first started, I did have hostile crowds. It feels like you’re not doing something right,” she said. “It made me not want to play what I was playing. (Later), I tried to please the crowd more and get them leaving happy. It’s important to leave the crowd wanting more.”

Sugarfree said she and her fellow DJs are continuing to work on developing more underground events, although no plans have been finalized; follow her social media for updates. In the meantime, she’s continuing to enjoy her monthly Bart residency—and continuing to learn as well.

“I’m still working on developing perfect pitch, and the ability to instantly tell what key a song is in,” Sugarfree said, laughing.

For more information on DJ Sugarfree, visit www.facebook.com/9sugarfree9, or i_am_sugarfree on Instagram.

Trailblazing French composer and electronic/ambient musician Jean-Michel Jarre is largely unheard of in the United States—but worldwide, he’s one of the biggest stars there is.

I’m not exaggerating: In a career spanning almost 50 years, he has played before crowds of more than 1 million people. He’s performed political goodwill shows for organizations such as UNESCO. His shows have celebrated religious figures such as Pope John Paul II (during his visit to Jarre’s hometown of Lyon, France in 1986), and a concert in Monaco in 2011 celebrated the marriage of Prince Albert II and Charlene, Princess of Monaco. He was also the first western artist to perform in the People’s Republic of China. He’s collaborated with numerous artists you have heard of, including Gorillaz, Gary Numan and film director/composer John Carpenter.

He’s in the midst of his first-ever tour of the United States, including performances at Coachella on Friday, April 13 and 20. Jarre’s visual show is just as stunning as his music during live performances—so his is one performance you won’t want to miss.

During a recent phone interview, Jarre described what it feels like to play to crowds of more than a million—and then to much smaller crowds here in the States.

“It’s very difficult to describe,” Jarre said, “My manager is Irish, and she said to me once, ‘You performed to a crowd that’s the size of my country!’ It’s quite surreal, but I see it as a privilege, of course. Whatever the audience is, at the end of the day, the live performance works, or it doesn’t work. … I can play in a small theater, in an arena, or a big festival like Coachella. It’s just a matter of changing the size and performing with this stage design. I’m especially excited to share this with the Coachella audience.”

Jarre studied classical music, and there are many classical elements in his electronic music. 

“I was playing in rock bands when I was a teenager. I studied classical music, and then I discovered electronic music,” he said. “I discovered people were working and approaching music in a totally different way with notes, but also with sound and noise, which meant you could go outside recording the sounds of the street, the sounds of the car—and you can make music with it. To me, it was like cooking. It was sensual and very warm. It’s like Jackson Pollock: People would say, ‘Jackson Pollock doesn’t present anything.’ But he was doing art with sections, oil, and he worked with his hands. You work with your hands, even on a computer with a mouse, or working with knobs and strings. … I believed this kind of music would be a major art form in the 21st century.”

I told Jarre it feels as if electronic music today is huge—and continuing to evolve.

“I think that’s quite logical, because as you just said, it has no boundaries,” he said. “One of my latest projects in electronica was based on the idea of trying to gather around people who are sort of impatient with me and to electronics and technology … like Tangerine Dream, Pete Townshend, Moby, Laurie Anderson, Gary Numan and Pet Shop Boys—all who inspired generations with a style of music. There was one problem: They all love technology, and they’re all kind of nerds in their own way. … By the end of the day, music is technology.” 

The visuals during Jarre’s performances are stunning and innovative, even by today’s standards. I highly suggest checking out his video online during which he plays what’s called a “laser harp.”

“I’ve always been interested in my life to try to find additional correspondence for the electronic songs,” Jarre explained. “Staying behind your laptop is not the most sexy thing in the world, and people don’t understand what you’re doing most of the time. I really try to explore during performances. Because I was working with a lot of lights and lasers, I thought it would be cool to invent an instrument made of lasers where the strings would be played by lights and lasers.

“The idea of being outdoors, like at Coachella, where you have the audience far away from the stage—I’m able to convey what I do musically to people. You can see the music being played from miles away, and this is magical. This is what modern technology can afford. I can try to convey emotions visually and through sound.”

Jarre has long played events with a social message; he said music and politics are always linked.

“I think you always have two sides of art and music in general,” Jarre said. “You have the hedonist side, where you like to enjoy music, dancing until end of the night, and just the entertainment of it and having fun. … Of course, (with) any genre of music—like punk and hip-hop, or even techno—there are things linked to social movements. That’s what I tried to do in my collaboration with Edward Snowden … (show) the dark side of technology, and we know we’re spied on by the outside world. We know that in the near future, we’ll have to deal with machines competing with ourselves. I think that politics and music are linked together like any other kind of movement in history.”

Jarre is no stranger to the United States. He performed with the Houston Grand Opera at Texas’ 150th anniversary in 1986; he also incorporated the 25th anniversary of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center into the show at the request of NASA. But this marks the first time Jarre has actually toured America—and he’s having a great time.

“I’ve done a lot of one-off shows in my life, and I toured sometimes,” he said. “… I think of it as if I was shooting a movie, but I’m shooting a movie in my mind, like how I performed in China, in Russia, in Egypt, in Houston, and then when I was touring stadiums in Europe and Asia, I thought, ‘Why doesn’t this happen in America?’ I thought that this is something I really wanted to share with the American audience.

“I’ve actually been blown away and touched by the American audiences who have so far welcomed this tour. Every place I went … I was really touched by the audience saying it was different than what they were used to. As an artist, America has so many different styles of performances and artists, and I always thought you do something with the ambition of being different and trying to surprise people, and I think this electronica concert performance goes in that direction.

“I thank the American audiences who have welcomed this project with enthusiasm. That inspires me to go into Coachella in the best possible way.”

Published in Previews

Fans of Independent resident DJ All Night Shoes’ monthly FRESH Sessions mix were treated last July to a guest mix by JF//Discord.

The “De:Volve” mix showed just what makes JF//Discord (Jeremy Ferguson) unique: It featured some familiar dance music—tinged with a darker side.

Ferguson recently discussed his interest in becoming a DJ.

“I just wanted to move people with good underground electronic music,” Ferguson said. “I think I have a good ear for underground electronic music and hopefully translate the connection I have with people to where they can dance.”

Ferguson isn’t shy about his adoration for metal music. He often wears a hoodie jacket with the logo of the metal band Death. He’s also known for his saying, “Horns Up!” He said first discovered metal music when he was in the fourth-grade.

“I first started off with Def Leppard and Pyromania, and I got that on cassette,” Ferguson said. “It was my first actual music purchase. When Hysteria (Def Leppard’s follow-up to Pyromania) came out, I got that one. There was a store in Palm Desert at the time … called Music Plus. My brother and I would go in there, and we’d just start looking through their audio section in this thing they had with four pairs of headphones you could use to listen to music. I remember seeing the list of bands … Autopsy, Death, Testament, Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth. We started listening to all these bands, and it piqued my interest. From there on out, it was just all metal.”

Ferguson was even a member of a metal band in high school.

“I was in a death metal band called Discordance the whole I time I was in high school, as the lead vocalist,” he said. “Metal took a real bad turn when all the grunge stuff started popping up. Nobody wanted to be associated with metal whatsoever in any way, shape or form. I was still kind of young back then, so I was like, ‘Maybe metal is starting to die, and maybe it’s going to start fading away.’

“I got exposed to electronic music. It was super-underground at the time, and the masses didn’t really like it yet.”

Ferguson’s interest in metal led him toward a different side of electronic music.

“I was drawn more to the underground, darker styles,” he said. “The darker production style (features) a lot of minor chords. House is a lot more soulful; deep house is a little bit more deep; and trance … is atmospheric and euphoric. I like the darker, more subtle, disturbing undertones with bass music. Right now, I really like the underground techno coming from Greece. Guys like Christian Cambas, Axel Karakasis, Spiros Kaloumenos … are putting out some really good techno.”

Ferguson’s equipment includes two of his own Pioneer CDJs and a Pioneer mixer. He said that while he started out using turntables and likes vinyl, a lot of the music he selects isn’t available on vinyl.

Ferguson also said the local music scene is not always so embracing.

“It sucks getting no love from anybody in your hometown,” he said. “You don’t get any love from the locals here at all. No one really comes out to shows. No one cares, really, and it’s just tough. It’s not just DJs, but it’s universal to all artists here. We have no venues to play at, and the venue owners don’t really understand electronic music, or care about it. It’s tough to get something built and keep it going on a regular basis.”

Still, Ferguson said he enjoys what he does as a DJ.

“The upside for me is focusing on that musical side of me and getting it out,” he said. “Hopefully, somebody that you play for in the crowd will connect with it. That’s the cool thing—when you expose somebody to a different style of music, and they say, ‘Oh yeah! I’ve never heard that before. Who is it?’ That’s what’s cool for me.”

Ferguson explained what he wants to happen in the Coachella Valley’s DJ scene.

“I’d like to see all of us come together as a community and not be so fragmented,” he said. “We should support each other whether or not we like the musical style—and I’m saying that for me, too, because I have my own certain style. We all need to be more open-minded and come together to make an impact for the local community here. That’s what we need in order for it to grow and succeed, and to get exposure from out of the valley.”

For more information on JF//Ferguson, visit www.facebook.com/JFDiscord1.

While the electronic dance music genre (EDM) has become flooded with artists as of late, Younghoon Beats has nothing to worry about: He shows off a distinctive sound with his independently released albums—and his latest, Tha Blew Demos, is a real delight.

Originally from South Korea, the Cathedral City resident moved to the Coachella Valley during his childhood. He hasn’t had any local shows to date, but said he is open to doing some. (The Independent first learned of Younghoon Beats when he sent us a link to Tha Blew Demos via our online contact form, along with a succinct message: “play me.”)

He’s released four albums via Bandcamp.com as free downloads, and each release is exceptional.

His sound is a bit similar to that of Portishead, as he uses vintage sounds from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The songs are all mixed with his unique touch; they could be used in Quentin Tarantino films, or perhaps some modern, indie thriller movie.

“I like a lot of older music,” he said during a brief phone interview. “I’m not too familiar with artists, but I sample a lot of older stuff for instrumentals.”

He puts his material together in a way that not many EDM artists or DJs would admit to: “I just put the sounds together,” he said. “More or less, it’s kind of like stealing. It’s like taking people’s drawings and putting them together in a different way.”

The opening track on Tha Blew Demos, “Only You,” definitely has a Portishead feel, with a mellow loop and echoing vocals. It’s something you could play on a rainy day or late at night while relaxing.

“I’m a Fool” has a chaotic mixing effect, with flanging effects and haunting sounds in the background as you hear a woman singing about self-pity. “Blew” is a strange, eerie track; some effects sound like something from one of Moby’s ambient albums, with a gospel-sounding organ, a loop of a beautiful choral sample, and fresh ambient techniques.

“Feeling I Have” is another great track that features mixing effects you’d hear from a hip-hop DJ, mixing well with a vintage theme. With a nice beat and a heavy bass line, “Feeling I Have” is a bit unorthodox and goes against the grain of most traditional mixing techniques—but it works.

“Monsters” is a mellow, hypnotic track that relies more on the instrumental than the unintelligible vocal sample in the background. The album ends with “All the Game,” which melds a deep bass and drum sound, a jazz-trumpet sample, and an acoustic guitar riff that plays here and there.

Younghoon Beats is an up-and-comer and a local delight. While he’s currently underground and trying to make a name for himself, there’s no doubt that he has potential. Expect to hear more about him in the near future.

For more information or to download Younghoon Beats’ music, visit younghoon.biz; younghoon.bandcamp.com; or www.facebook.com/YounghoonBeats.

Published in Reviews

Alex Harrington—music fans know him as All Night Shoes—says that in the world of electronic music, it’s hard to stay unique.

Harrington hesitates when I ask him how he would define his music, which blends ambient and dance music together with a hint of Daft Punk.

“I’ve been referring to it as ‘tropical house,’” Harrington says. “I don’t like to put labels on myself, but if I had to put a label on myself, that’s what I would define it as.”

The 26-year-old La Quinta resident who once played acoustic-guitar performances in local coffee houses always had a desire to make electronic music. He saved his money to purchase the equipment he needed and made the transition a year ago. He makes his music on a MacBook with Logic Pro software and uses various keyboards and synthesizers.

Alex’s initial challenge was to create a sound of his own.

“The challenge is actually trimming down the influence I put in my songs,” he says. “Often times, for me, I love the genres. … But to get them to work together is where it’s a challenge.”

Over the past year, as Alex continued to develop his own songs and remixes, he has found himself generally unconcerned about sounding like too much like his influences while trying to stay original.

“I didn’t think I started to sound like Daft Punk, Brian Eno, Moby and all my other influences until about six months ago, because you just start to enjoy your own music, and you start notice the influences coming in naturally in your own music,” he says

Alex is aggressive in terms of how he produces his music as an independent artist; he’s a passionate believer in social media and utilizes it to connect with other local artists with whom he can collaborate. He’s driven and motivated to manage his own music, noting the advantage of being in business for himself and therefore collecting 70 to 90 percent of his own royalties.

Alex’s talent as a producer comes into play when he finds himself working with other artists.

“With social media, it’s very easy to reach out to other artists. I ask my friends who are artists if they want to be on my tracks. It’s really just about working with as many people as possible and being open-minded. The way I look at it, if I’m working with a new artist who isn’t that polished, it’s a challenge for me to get them to that point for my song. I think there’s a beauty in that, because you can help make each other better.”

Alex’s hard work has managed to pay off. In August 2012, he released his first EP, Crystal Son, via iTunes; he released his follow-up EP, Frisco in February, which he says is a nod to his Northern California roots. (Scroll down to hear the song “Frisco.”)

While he continues to evolve as an artist, he aspires to be in commercial production and to play in more clubs. He’s also currently working on new material titled Pacific Dreams that he hopes to release in May.

His first live performance will be on Saturday, April 6, at The Hue Music and Arts Festival at Dateland Park in Coachella.

“The way I see it, every band and DJ playing The Hue is bringing something different,” he says.

He mentions the diversity of the festival with some of the bands playing, specifically mentioning Ivanna Love.

“She’s played at some of the clubs in Palm Springs. She’s pretty (big) in the LGBT culture here, which is really cool, because having an artist like that represented in The Hue Festival shows how eclectic it’s going to be.”

All Night Shoes will play Saturday, April 6 at The Hue Music and Arts Festival at Dateland Park, 84521 Bagdad Ave., in Coachella; admission is free. For more on All Night Shoes, visit soundcloud.com/allnightshoes.

Published in Previews