CVIndependent

Wed08122020

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.

Indio native Noemi Rodriguez, 26, is also known as DJ Sugarfree. A few weeks ago, she spun a guest set at Clinic Bar, 188 S. Indian Canyon Drive—and was so impressive that this Saturday, June 29, she’s returning to Clinic to turn in a five-hour set EDM set. Admission to Clinic is free; for more information on the bar, visit www.facebook.com/ClinicBarPalmSprings. For more on DJ Sugarfree (fun fact—she is also a part-time sign-spinner), peruse her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/9Sugarfree9.

What was the first concert you attended?

*NSYNC. My favorite boy band as a kid. Ha!

What was the first album you owned?

The first album I ever owned was probably one of my favorite Mexican pop bands.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I listen to all kinds of bands and artists; I’m very open-minded about music, but some of my favorite artists right now: Best Coast, Tame Impala, Markus Schulz, W&W, Andrew Rayel, Suarez, Interpol, The Neighbourhood, and Tegan and Sara.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

I really don’t know why all kinds of people are obsessed with “twerking” music right now; it’s just not my cup of tea. Sure, I like some songs, but I cannot listen to that stuff for more than 10 minutes straight.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

I’ve been dying to see Tegan and Sara live. I totally missed them at Coachella fest this year.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Indian music. There’s just something so captivating and special about that kind of music. Even though I don’t understand the words, the music is awesome.

What’s your favorite music venue?

Right now, my favorite music venue is the Yost Theater (in Santa Ana). They always have the best DJs perform there! They have amazing sound and lighting! I go there as much as I can.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

The one song lyric that is always stuck in my head is in Spanish: “Tengo que reconocer nunca va a cambiar la sensacion del dolor cuando me acuerdo.” It’s a song (“Stacy”) by a band called Suarez. The lyric in English would be: “I have to recognize that this painful sensation will never change every time I remember.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

My favorite band for a while was Interpol. When my mom died about 9 years ago, I would listen to their album Turn on the Bright Lights every day. It got me through the pain I was feeling, and it really helped me a lot. That band will always be special to me, but an artist who really changed my life was DJ Tiesto. He inspired me to become a great DJ and play like my heart is telling a story.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

If I could ask any artist a question, it would be: If you never get married and stay single until the day you die, would you still be happy just knowing that you made so many people happy with your music? I would definitely ask DJ Tiesto that.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“The Funeral” by Band of Horses.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Elements of Life by Tiesto and Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol. I couldn’t just choose one.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

Everyone should be listening to “Sweater Weather” by The Neighbourhood. Such a lovely tune! (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13