Since 2016, when the Dusk Music Festival was founded by Steve Stratigouleas, John Rallis, Page Rep, and Pete Turner, the event has been a jewel in Tucson's musical calendar. Festivals are vitally healthy for a city's cultural landscape -- not only do they bring big names into the place, but they provide local artists with the opportunity to play with said big names, in front of a larger crowd than they otherwise might.
DJ Mother Tierra is one of those locals. She knows what a big deal Dusk is for Tucson, after years of watching music fans leave the city to attend festivals elsewhere. She's excited to see something this high profile in her hometown, and of course, she's delighted to be performing.
"A lot of other DJs have been asking how I got it," Tierra says. "I've just been doing my thing downtown. I don't even know who referred me, I have no idea, they just hit me up and asked if I wanted to do it. Now, it's like once you get there you can't stop. You feel like you have to keep going and keep that mojo going. It's definitely an honor."
It's an honor that Mother Tierra has earned. Having initially become interested in DJing at 17 after gazing intently at the DJ at a house party, she worked hard to buy her own equipment over the next few years before eventually earning her own gig.
"I slowly but surely was able to save up money to get my own equipment," she says. "By the time I was 20, that was when I finally started getting little gigs here and there, just trying to make that happen. I didn't really start taking it seriously, I'd get gigs here and there and still had my side job, and it wasn't until about two years ago, when I quit my serving job and started DJing full time."
Tierra's first set was at now-closed gay bar/club Ain't Nobody's Bizness, a venue that allowed her to shadow the Friday and Saturday DJ and, eventually, work the decks herself. She was raw, working on her transitions, but she's grateful that they could see her potential. She took on the name "Mother" Tierra as a reflection of her desire to try to please everybody when she's performing. She knows that's impossible, but she keeps her sound and style as varied as possible.
"It's kind of all over the place, which is good and bad," she says. "It's always been hard for me to stick with one style, even in fashion. What I like to play is dance music, house music, anything that's groovy and makes you want to dance. I love new disco, but I love hip-hop instrumental beats, and more downtempo music too. But when I play, I'm playing '90s hip-hop and R&B, today's poppier hits, I'll throw in some weird stuff that's not the radio and you don't know who it is, you never heard it before, but you like it."
Tierra says that the EDM scene in Tucson is steadily getting better as more venues open and, as a result, local DJs have more opportunities to perform. Artists looking to get involved in that sort of music can feel motivated as they see friends getting started. It's a healthy time.
"I think it's definitely picking up," she says. "There's a lot more going on, so that's encouraging people. I would like a little more house music. I think people in Tucson want to hear what they know, and you'll get this small pocket of people that like house music or they keep it really underground. So I think that's the next step -- sneaking it in more and introducing it to people. You have to sneak it in on them when they're already dancing, and then they're all like, 'I don't know what this is, but I like it.' Just work with them. The next thing you know, people realize that they do like house music or electronic music."
Also performing is Los Angeles electropop artist Elohim, whose self-titled debut album was released in April of this year on BMG Records. It's a stunning piece of work, simultaneously powerfully emotive and harsh, and it will be a joy to welcome her to Tucson for Dusk. She;s happy to come -- she loves the desert and is excited to play material from that new album.
"If one person writes to me sharing that my music has helped them through a hard time, gotten them out of a panic attack, brought them comfort when they needed it, made them dance or sing their heart out, then I am beyond pleased," she says. "That and more happened, and forever I am grateful."
Elohim describes her sound as "authentic unique and honest" and, while she is an L.A. artist, she doesn't allow herself to be consumed by her surroundings.
"I find myself less aware of the scene and more focused on what I am working on," she says. "I will say, I have met some incredible musicians that I've been lucky enough to collaborate with in Los Angeles. Los Angeles seems to be swarming with insane, endless talent."
She also says that she's inspired by life, love, death, anxiety and everything surrounding her, and we can expect bucket-loads of that at Dusk. Meanwhile, Mother Tierra is promising a good daytime house music set.
"My set's going to be earlier in the day, and I just feel like everyone's gonna be in the best mood so I've got to pick some really good house and dance music," Tierra says. "I've got some good remixes, I've got some really good bass tracks, might be throwing in a little bit of world music, and some booty dancing for the ladies. The guys can dance too..."
Long Island-based, Bangladesh-born electronic music producer Jai Wolf says that there are pros and cons to performing at festivals and clubs.
"When you headline your own shows your fans are there to see you and you can express your creative vision more in your own performance through custom production," Wolf says. "However, at festivals it's fun to play for really large crowds and it's a great challenge to win over new fans."
Jai Wolf has never performed in Tucson before, and he says that we can expect a "feels trip," before heading off to work on new music. For Tierra, the end of the festival will see her continuing her musical education, as she learns to make beats.
"I want to keep DJing, keep doing my gigs, but my next project really is learning how to produce music," she says. "I'd like to get that going and see where that takes me. I want to travel more and do shows in other cities, explore and have a good time. If I can produce and DJ at the same time, I think that's going to be to my benefit."
Dusk Music Festival takes place on November 10 and 11 at Armory Park. For more information, duskmusicfestival.com.