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Mon06012020

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.

Since 2013, local DJ Alex Harrington has been beating the pavement, playing countless local poolside and club gigs.

He’s also been branching out—regionally, nationally and internationally, collaborating with different artists through various DJ internet communities, and building up his Spotify page with listeners from around the world.

On July 25, Harrington will release his new album, Stargazer. During a recent interview in Rancho Mirage, Harrington discussed how the album came about.

“Ever since July of last year, I’ve been releasing singles pretty steadily,” Harrington said. “Over the past few months, I started writing and stockpiling tracks, not sure what I wanted to do with them. I sat down and said, ‘I’ve put out about six or seven tracks and have another six or seven that are unreleased.’ I wanted to do an album for a long time, and a friend of mine told me that now would be a good time to do it, so I put it together. It’s all come together at the same time as the poolside gigs. Playing the poolside gigs gave me the inspiration to write the tracks and the album.”

Harrington has ventured into varying styles of DJing, from nu-disco to tropical house, and he said playing poolside gigs has always given him inspiration.

“I think with club gigs, you have a certain amount of freedom as far as the vibe goes, but for the most part, you have people who are there to ‘turn up.’ They have drinks, and they get excited. It’s the nightlife,” Harrington said. “With poolside gigs, you can do that, but you can take it in a different direction, and what I really like is that you can affect the crowd. The last set I played poolside was three hours long. I started off upbeat and got the crowd excited, and I dropped it down a little bit to chill them out, and brought it back up at the end. That’s something you can’t necessarily do in a club, because you’re building and building and building, and you hit that crescendo at the end of the night; then everyone gets excited, and the club empties out. Poolside gigs offer more freedom to work with the crowd and more freedom as far as your direction in music goes.”

His DJing has frequently taken him into Los Angeles, most notably at Bardot.

“That was a lot of fun. I was fortunate to have played there a few times as part of an event called School Night! that’s thrown by Chris Douridas from KCRW,” he said. “It’s a fantastic venue. It’s Victorian-themed, and it has two different rooms. I would be in one room DJjing, and (there would be) a band in another room. We’d switch off and go back and forth. That’s something that you don’t get anywhere. It’s right on the Sunset Strip, and I’d walk out on the balcony and see the Capitol Records building.”

Harrington said there’s a definite difference between Palm Springs and Los Angeles crowds.

“I try to bring the same vibe wherever I go,” he said. “It’s the same mixture of my energy and the energy of the town I’m in. Los Angeles is a little faster, and people are a little more with it, so when I go out there, I’m more free to play music from across the board. Out here, I’ll stick more with familiar stuff—but it depends. Los Angeles has a more-trendy crowd that’s looking for new music and to hear stuff they haven’t really heard before, whereas out here, they like the familiar a little more. The bachelorette parties out here are great, but they want to hear Beyonce and Rihanna songs. In Los Angeles, you have so many clubs. … With Bardot, within a stone’s throw, you have so many other clubs. You have to bring something different, because there’s so much great music. Out here, we’re still developing.” 

These days, being an independent DJ/musician is easier than ever … but in other ways, it’s also tougher than ever.

“I think that the tools that artists have to succeed these days—there are a lot more than (artists) used to have,” Harrington said. “But with greater means of access in this business comes a flood of more people doing it. On things like YouTube, 1,000 hits used to be a lot; now it’s 10,000 is a lot. The same with Spotify: Now it’s 10,000, then 100,000 and then 1 million. I think you have to be savvy about it. It’s a lot easier if you know your sound and find the right tools for it.

“I will say this: You have to invest these days. You just can’t put something out there and say, ‘Enjoy it for what it is.’ Even if it’s $100 or $200, playlist services are something you can pitch your music to and say, ‘Hey, I have $100; if you guys like this song, can you help me get some exposure?’”

On Sunday, June 17, plus other dates throughout the summer, you can catch Harrington at the Saguaro.

“The Saguaro has done a fantastic job over the past couple of years curating music that’s on the forefront—music they bring in from all over,” he said. “If you go to a Saguaro pool party, whether you’re there to relax, hang out, grab a day bed or float on an inflatable ice-cream cone, there’s something for everybody.”

For more information, visit www.alexharrington.co.

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