Tatiana Alvarez is one of Vegas’ best-kept secrets. The Santa Monica, Calif., native has toured all over the world, owns her own record label (Jook Music) and was one of the few female DJs to play Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas. But the scene hasn’t always been so welcoming to female DJs, and Alvarez has had to get creative to get noticed, even going so far as to perform as a male DJ. Splitting her time between Las Vegas and L.A., the spiritual, talented and strikingly beautiful turntablist recently caught the attention of Vegas Seven while performing at Burning Man. We pinned her down to discover the story behind the beauty with the brains. Catch her performing as part of the duo KillrKat on Oct. 28 at Beauty Bar.
This was your fifth year at Burning Man. What is it about the festival that keeps you coming back?
You know how you go through life and people say you can’t “be” your full energy? Sometimes you have to hold back. When you’re walking through the world around you, it makes you anxious because a lot of people are asleep. But at Burning Man, everybody’s at full throttle because you’re in this place where no one’s stopping you, nothing’s holding you back. Your spirit gets to soar and you get to tap into things.
Similarly, you tapped into your masculine side when you couldn’t get gigs as a female DJ and posed as a guy. What happened?
I told my old agent I wanted to play tech-house, so he gave my demo to these guys in New York. They said, “We like it, we’ll book this dude.” My agent said, “It’s DJ Tatiana.” They said, “She’s commercial, she’s never gonna play. She’s a girl, she’s used her looks to get where she is. She doesn’t have any skill.” I went home and was so livid and said, “I’m going to be everything that they say I am and be exactly the opposite. I’m gonna be a dude and show them no matter what I look like I’m still gonna make it.”
How did you make the transformation?
I taped down my boobs and wore a super-tight running bra, a hoodie and shoulder pads. I had long, black curly hair like the guy from Entourage and I put a cap on and it looked sick. My friend Andrea who’s a makeup artist put individual eyebrows on for me and thickened out the bridge of my nose. We did texture on my skin and I looked like a young skater.
And you got booked?
I played three gigs in Hollywood … as Musikills, and “his” name is Matt Musé; he’s from Brooklyn.
Did anyone find out it was really you?
Only people in my immediate circle. The anger and resentment I had started to go away. I was able to play out with tech-house as me. I was like, “Fuck the New York people, I don’t need them.”
Were you convincing? How did you manage to make a roomful of music fans believe that the DJ was a man when it was really you making them move?
Yeah! I developed this thing where I didn’t really say much. It was like how magicians are illusionists: When you convince people, they’re going to believe it. If I’m a guy, and I’m presenting myself like a guy and I’m moving like a guy you’re not going to question anything about my voice.
You don’t have to talk in your other project Killrkat, where you and your Jook Music partner, Nigel Sifantus, wear costume cat heads. Why the costume?
Our idea was to showcase our music and make it fun for everyone. It’s not about pushing ourselves as “Tatiana and Nigel” but rather one entity, Killrkat. We wanted something we could make into a huge production by adding elements at each show. We both love Daft Punk and the idea behind the fact that their identity is not important and they always stay in costume. I have a black cat named Max who I love more than anything and is always around in the studio no matter how loud the music is. Nigel and I were producing one day and I joked saying we are such cats, all three of us, and that we are sometimes more cats than Max.
What’s the meaning behind the name Jook?
I was with some friends staying at this hotel Shutters [in Santa Monica] and there was a bedside table book. I open the book and it said, “Jook: to live wickedly.” During Prohibition times, “jook” meant everything illegal: music, drinking, sex, gambling. I was like, “That is so perfect for being someone who’s in the electronic music industry.”
You have so many projects. What is your signature, no matter what name you’re playing under?
I put a lot of energy into [playing]. I never play fucked-up, and a lot of DJs do. I do this thing where I almost pull myself out of myself and put the energy out to everyone and try to send good things. I think that everyone has enough bad in their life; I want to make people feel good. I think it’s important.