Updated: Aug 9, 2021
It’s not every day that you get to chat with a person that you really admire and respect on so many different levels. I have been following the career of Tara Brooks with great interest for a while now as she has worked her way through the ranks of the largely [let’s face it] male dominated electronic house scene by pushing her own distinct sound since 2007. A sound that refuses to be pigeonholed into any specific genre with sets that feel as though they have their own personality. Whether she is weaving her magic through trippy melodic and soulful house, psychedelic ethereal techno or acid and breakbeats you know that when Tara Brooks is behind the decks that you are in for an emotional and heartfelt journey of soundscapes.
Growing up in California and being surrounded by music her whole life, both through her parents and then later via the thriving ‘Golden State’ rave scene, Tara spent countless hours dancing to many talented DJs, capturing her passion for dance music and its’ ability to heal the soul.
This passion soon turned into an addiction [sound familiar anyone?] and after perfecting the craft of blending two records together there was literally no stopping her as she landed gigs across the States from her hometown in Los Angeles to San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas and Miami.
It was through this innate ability to project a story through her music that saw Tara garner the attention of one of the worlds most respected DJs, John Digweed, who asked her to join him in the closing of the legendary Output NYC gig as well as supporting him on many Bedrock showcases. It was also through this union that Tara released her first EP ‘Eunoia’ and most recently ‘Wake Me Up’ on his seminal imprint entrenching her within the ranks of the progressive house master.
Since then she has played at some of the most revered and respected parties around the globe such as Burning Man, The BMP Festival, Stereo, Coachella, Space, Ultra Music Festival, Kater Blau, Sisyphos, Stereo Montreal, TV lounge Detroit, DJ Tennis’s Rakastella, the infamous, Rainbow Serpent Festival and is also a Desert Hearts resident.
So without further to do, I am so super excited to introduce you all to the uber cool, Miss Tara Brooks.
Hi Tara ☺
Thanks so very much for taking the time to chat with us all today.
Where and how are you?
Hi Bean! I hope you're well and thank you so much for reaching out. I just got back from New York and I have been back in the studio. It's been pretty non-stop travelling lately now that some of the Covid rules and regulations have lifted so I think we are all kind of taking advantage of getting back into it while we can.
So let’s start at the beginning…. What was the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself and what kind of music did you grown up listening to? Did your parents’ musical taste have an influence on you?
Okay, so the first album I ever purchased was Nirvana – 'Nevermind’. I was definitely a 90’s rock kid! I loved alternative music and classic rock is what I kind of grew up around. My mum and dad loved ‘The Beatles’, ‘The Doors’ and ‘Jefferson Aeroplane’. My mum was really into stuff like ‘Peter, Paul and Mary’ and a lot of new age and folk music. She is super open minded and believes in freedom of expression and is a little bit of a hippy and still listens to the same kind of music today.
Tell us about your story and how you first came about the dance scene? Who introduced you to electronic music? How and when did you start DJing? What is it about dance music that drew you to it?
Ok so my story… Well, I was introduced to the scene by just attending raves you know? Getting a little loose and being touched by the vibe and connecting to the music like I’d never really known before so that’s where it kind of unfolded for me. I was moving between LA and Houston’s old school rave scene at the beginning and going to parties like ‘How Sweet It is’ and ‘Jujubeats’ and listening to DJs like DJ Dan and Doc Martin. I then started college in San Diego and was working in clubs as a VIP host which enabled me to get to know the scene inside and out and gave me the opportunity to be introduced to a lot of people who helped me start DJing for fun.
It all started in 2007. My ex-husband and I shared a joint passion for music. He played vinyl just for fun at home, so of course i was inspired to dive in and explore the magic behind this craft that made me so happy! Our favorite local record store in San Diego was called ‘CSL’. I spent hours and hours getting lost listening to records. I had no idea what I was searching for (oh how fun to dig without any purpose but to find what I like and don’t like haha) I would go for a lot of the white labels & the unknown's and time would just pass. All I knew was that I was immersed in the sounds and I remember that being pure happiness for me. That is what started my obsession with collecting records & playing sweet vinyl!
I always knew I was going to do something special, something artistic and creative but I just didn’t know what that was until DJing came along.
Speaking from personal experience here, I always find it easier to express my emotions [you know, those ones deep, DEEP down inside] through playing music... Do you find you do the same? Do you think your mood and the environment you are in at the time can reflect in your sound when you listen back to your sets and if so, how?
Ohh I love that you asked this question Bean! I am very sensitive… SO sensitive that one of the reasons I play so many different styles is because I'm so in tune to the environment and to people’s energy, to the weather, if it's raining, if it's an after hours, if it's sunrise… I tend to tap into the sounds that my environment calls for.
It gets a little tricky though because sometimes I'm going from ambient breakbeats and left-field electronica, to psychedelic late night energetic Acid techno haha (but somehow it makes beautiful sense). Every year I continue to evolve and grow while discovering new, unique, exciting and creative sides of myself. I'm happy to open myself up to the world. I kind of let myself just go without holding back now, without any rules or having to follow certain trends. I just try to be 100% authentic to how I feel and who I am and THAT’S when I feel like I can truly tap into expressing myself and being the best version of myself.
I know you are a strong believer in the healing power of music and to be completely honest, I think most of us at one time or another have used music as an escape from reality when things are perhaps getting a little rough etc… Can you tell us a little more about your thoughts on this topic?
I am 100% a believer in the healing power of music and I definitely feel it's a great space to escape or also just to meditate. I feel that music is a healer of everything and while it might not fix all your problems it definitely helps get you to a better place whether it's a more balanced and peaceful state of mind or acts as an outlet to express what's trapped inside of you.
I have a few deaf friends who are really inspired by the frequencies and vibrations of the music and that has always been very interesting to me since I took sign language in college and so I gained this special understanding of the culture of the deaf community. While one might not understand how a deaf person can HEAR the music, what is beautiful is that they can FEEL the music probably more intensely and strongly than any hearing person. So I believe being aware of sound vibrations and solfeggio frequencies are valuable to the human body, not just what you can physically hear.
What were some of your main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing that makes it interesting for you?
Some of the main challenges when I started to DJ were the little things… playing on old broken set ups and shitty sound systems, having to adapt to an environment with bad booth delays or blown speakers, things like that. I think these experiences were the best things that could have happened to me lol. You have to quickly learn to adapt and stay cool under pressure, while playing in front of knowledgeable music people, when the equipment and the sound weren’t up to par.
My goal has always been to share music to as many open-minded people wanting to be moved by something new & outside the box. the more I experiment, listen, travel, and hear & feel other cultures/ artists the more I'm inspired to evolve. I care to continuously grow, push the boundaries & discover more of who I am. it's all about the journey. It's not about getting to this ‘magic’ place…. it's about having this beautiful experience that is really adventurous, challenging, and risky, which makes life all that more exciting!
When did you realise you wanted to produce your own music? Were you self-taught or did you have mentors around you to guide you?
I realised I wanted to produce my own music when I would download a ton of tracks and I would love the heart of them, but there would always be something I wanted to change or I didn’t resonate with. It would literally frustrate me to the point where I would not want to play the track or I would mix out before that particular part. Sometimes it was a vocal or something I’d do differently in the breakdown.. thats when I started doing edits and messing around with Ableton.
I started with online courses but it was a lot more fun & helpful just jamming with friends & collaborating for fun. It was a ‘learn as you go’ kind of vibe and so I’d say it was a mix between self taught and having friends and mentors who were so kind to take the time to work with me.
I think it was a beautiful thing to collaborate because what someone knows more technically you might know more musically, creatively, emotionally and spiritually and to be adding these elements is something that cannot be learnt… they just come from within you. It's a magical thing.
You obviously have a close relationship with John Digweed. Can you tell us how you and John first met and the story that follows? How does it feel having the support of one of the world’s best DJ’s?
Ahhh yes! John Digweed.. Ok so this is quite a funny story to be honest! So, we first met because I was booked to open for him in San Francisco at ‘The Great Northern’ and I had been waiting for this moment my whole adult DJ life!! I mean, he has always been one of my biggest influences and a couple of hours before the show I got insanely sick.. like INSANELY sick…. and it wasn’t nerves or anything like that because I was super prepared and was really excited about doing the show. Anyways, to cut a long story short… I had a close mate with me that night who was a nurse that ended up shooting me in the arse with an anti-nausea solution to help me feel a little bit better. I mean, I didn't care if I had to roll up on my deathbed you know? I WAS PLAYING MY SET!! Looking back, it was one hell of a ride that night… I think survival mode kicked in and the interesting part here is, as soon as I started playing I felt like I was in a dream state. I wasn’t sick anymore, the music just took over and John came up and I guess he was listening to some of my set and invited me to be on his ‘Transitions’ show and the rest, as they say, is history!
I started playing for him a little more regularly including ‘Bedrock’ showcases in Miami for WMC and also played the last show together at the legendary ‘Vagabond’. We closed out the last night of the special ‘Output’ in New York which was very meaningful to John. Ive been very VERY fortunate. I am also super grateful to have had those opportunity and to be heard by [like you said] one of the best DJs in the world, not to mention one of the most consistent and down to earth, kind and wonderful humans I know.
Ok so I wasn’t going to bring this up but I feel it's super important as both a female and a DJ to ask these sometimes tough questions so here goes…. As a female in a predominately male industry, have you found that you need to ‘prove yourself’ more so than your male counterparts over the years? Have you seen a shift with some of the major issues that have come to light within the music industry of late with regards to misogyny and sexism? Do you feel the industry is starting to change or do we still have a long way to go?
Oh yeah I absolutely have had to prove myself for sure! I think it's one of the reasons I feel a little bit stronger today to be honest… because of all the shit I think I went through in the beginning. The blatant disrespect. You know… when you're walking up to be the next DJ and people look at you like you're the next groupie walking into the booth. The ignorance that a female doesn’t knows what a man knows about a mixer or sound setup etc.
There has definitely been a lot of a sexism and ignorance that's gone down that I've had to rise above but I will say that today it's really beautiful to see all the amazing women producers that [I bet] have always been there, however, are now just finally getting a chance to be heard. But, yes, I do see it and I do feel it.
Some of my favourite artist right now are female [such as TERR for example] and its so wonderful to see them totally crushing it and I am truely blown away by the amount of talented women that are coming out and doing it the right way.
What would you say would be the ‘highlights’ of your career to date?
I would have to say the highlight of my career would be playing with John [Digweed]. I think just the whole surreal idea that someone who I have always been so inspired by is now playing my music and signing it to his label and requesting me for his shows… that’s definitely a big deal to me. It kind of shows me that life is such a trip and no matter where you are or where you’re heading, that if the world ends tomorrow you know you have done something right! I mean, if John [Digweed] (who only cares about people who are genuine and that work hard and that are in it solely for the music as he doesn't care about how big your name is or your 'status') can recognise that and supports that … then you know you are doing something right… Right?
How would you describe your approach to building a set?
Building a set for me is always interesting because I'm someone who plays such a range of sounds that it really makes sense for me to tap into my environment and the vision of how the night is going beforehand. I usually make a playlist of all my new tracks (maybe some old tracks that I haven't played for a while) and I just go through the whole collection that I vibe with on the night. Now, when you get to the club… well that’s a whole other situation because every night is different and every crowd is different and usually in a different place energetically. I just feel like it's one of those things that you can't really make a playlist for beforehand and play that alone. I like to play off the vibe of the dance floor and it really just depends on the mood or the tone of the night for me.
There is so much disposable music out there these days, (compared to the vinyl days) do you think it is even possible to build meaningful long-term relationships with a particular track or album?
I 100% agree with you about the amount of generic disposable music today and by no means is there any disrespect for any producers but I think there's a difference between wanting to put out tracks because you want to put a track out and you need that attention to make sure you're feeling relevant as opposed to really putting your heart and soul into each track and making it special… making it a journey… making it truly define who you are. I mean, I think it’s super important to express yourself in a way that’s special and that is going be remembered and considered timeless.
So for me, I'd rather put one or two tracks and remixes out a year rather than put out a track to just 'put out a track'. There is always a lot of pressure to release music and get on all these great labels but what's the point if the track isn’t truly representing everything that you stand for? It’s definitely quality over quantity in my book.
What one record makes you ‘emotional’?
The most recent one would be DJ Tennis ‘Atlanta’ which just came out on Circoloco records. It has such a beautiful, emotional and uplifting groovy energy to it that I love. You all need to give it a listen!
Tell us something that most people wouldn’t know about you?
I’m not sure if people know that I started surfing when the pandemic started. It's been a big part of my life ever since and it’s definitely my favourite part about being in lockdown. I am absolutely in love with surfing and the ocean. The whole experience has been a real challenge but it's the most meaningful thing to me outside of music. So now that musics fired back up I’ll be surfing the waves of life for the rest of my life hehe.
Name an album to play on a Sunday afternoon?
On a Sunday afternoon theres a good chance Im listening to ‘Tycho’. My favourite of his albums is called ‘Awake’ and he is kind of a fusion between ambient, chillwave, electronica mixed with some atmospheric pop. Just really beautiful synth work and I think he is brilliant!
What are your top 3 dance music albums ever produced and why?
Argh, this is always a hard one! My favourite albums would definitely be Sasha and Digweed’s ‘Northern Exposure’ and ‘Renaissance’, Aphex Twins ‘Selected Ambient Works Volume II’ and I also love anything by Trentemoller.
Also, maybe not completely dance related, but Pink Floyd ‘The Wall’ is another beautiful piece of work.
So in closing up today Tara, can you tell us what plans you have for 2021? Any upcoming collaborations/releases/events we should know about? What are you most excited about?
Okay so let's see…. I am very excited to announce that I have just signed to Bullitt Agency who represent some of the best DJs in the world so I’m super happy about that! I also have a new release coming out on ‘Kindisch’ this month. I’ve have been working on 2x new ‘Bedrock’ remixes, a collaboration with the phenomenal Cari Golden, 2x collaborations with artist Rinzen and I’ve started my first album.
Ohh and how could I forget! I’ve just been booked to play alongside ‘Sasha & Digweed’ for their sold out Denver show.
Amazing news Tara! Thanks so much for your time today.
Hopefully I get to meet you in person one day and have a boogie on your dance floor… xx
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