After a stellar performance at the Electric Forest renegade SolLun Stage, I had the chance to chat with San Franscicso’s spritey, purple-haired producer/DJ WALA about her friendship with Mojostock headliner ill.Gates, how she graduated from playing for five people at a dive bar to performing on a beach with FreQ Nasty, and performing (and surviving!) Burning Man.
MOJO: Tell me about your friendship with ill.Gates.
WALA: Dylan is fucking fabulous. I love him. He’s one of my best friends, my bass guru. He taught me everything I know about production.
MOJO: How did you meet each other?
WALA: We met at one of his shows in 2010 and just ended up kicking it at an after party. He’s the most down-to-earth guy ever. I’ve always been passionate about electronic music and it was always something I wanted to do, but I was caught up with other stuff and didn’t really know what I wanted and he was like, ‘Look, do you want to be 80 years old and on your death bed wondering if this is something that could have gone somewhere or do you wanna fuckin do it?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, okay. That’s a good way to put it.’ He’s also the one that helped me choose my name.
WALA & ill.Gates
MOJO: How long have you been at this?
WALA: I’ve only been DJing for a year and a half. When you’re passionate about something and you go after it you can make it happen. I just have chased after it. This is what I really love doing.
MOJO: What kind of cool things have you done in the last year and a half since you started performing? I mean, landing at The Electric Forest is kind of a big deal.
WALA: It’s fuckin’ awesome. My first gig ever was playing to like, five people in a dive bar and a year to-date later, I was playing on a beach in Mexico with FreQ Nasty.
MOJO: How does something like that happen, so quickly?
WALA: I’m gonna sound like a corny hippy but- everyone is this world is exceptional at something, which is not to say that this is what I’m exceptional at, but when you find your passion- and finding your passion is the struggle; that’s something that I think people underestimate, how difficult that actually is- but when you find it, all you have to do is pursue it and pursue it with an open heart and with all your heart. The universe just presents opportunities and it’s your job to match that, to step up and take responsibility for it.
I’ve been so blessed and so lucky to have been given all these amazing opportunities, but I really just try my best to give it all that I’ve got, and then other opportunities present themselves. It’s just worked out really magically. I met someone from Madison house at that Mexico gig on the beach, which is how this [Electric Forest] happened. One thing just leads to another.
MOJO: What’s your favorite thing about DJing for crowds of people?
WALA: I’m doing this because it’s something that I’m passionate about, but also because I’m an anthropologist by training and that [underlying knowledge] informs the way that I DJ and how I look at it. I really think of it as an honor and a privilege to be able to provide a soundtrack for peoples’ lives for that hour. You’re responsible for someone’s trip. I try to think about it that way. Every time I play a set, I’ll pause before I start playing and really try to center myself and remind myself that I’m providing a musical offering for people. It’s not about me, doing what I want to do and playing what I want to hear; it’s about playing what they want to hear. When I’m able to maintain that kind of attitude, it really helps me to engage and connect with the audience and that’s where the passion comes from.
MOJO: I’m collecting camping and community living tips for Camp Tip-for-Tatt. You’re camping in the Artist Camp this weekend; do you have anything I can add to the story?
WALA: One thing that I really like doing is putting fresh ginger in my water. Ginger is really good for your digestive system and it’s a natural stimulant. So caffeine will dehydrate you at festivals, but the ginger will wake you up and will still keep you hydrated. I don’t know if that’s my best tip. I’ve been going to Burning Man for so long, I’m sure I’ve got something really good.
MOJO: Have you performed at Burning Man?
WALA: I played 14 sets in four days at Burning Man last year.
MOJO: Your buddy ill.Gates played a shitton of sets, too, I heard.
WALA: He did 21 sets. If I had done it for seven days, I totally would have beat him! But I think that the reason Dylan and I got as close as we did is that we both have this unwavering commitment and passion and when we find what we’re doing, we just fucking go after it. So, we both have similar feelings toward Burning Man.
MOJO: It’s on my bucket list. I can’t say that I feel that I’m close to being prepared to tackle that yet.
WALA: Ahhh, no! You’re fine! If you can do this [Electric Forest], you can do Burning Man. If you go there without any expectations or any responsibility…
MOJO: And someone who’s not a rookie?
WALA: Nah, you don’t have to. My first year of Burning Man I didn’t know a single person. Not one. I found a ride on Craigslist and went completely alone. I had a single sleeper tent with a hole in it, some crackers, and one costume. That’s all I had. It was ridiculous. And it changed my life, literally.
MOJO: What year was that?
WALA: 2005. The thing to do with Burning Man is just to have something- a project or gift or something that you’ve committed yourself to that you can give back to the community. The less you think about yourself, the more you’re going to be engaged with the community and the better experience you’re ultimately going to have.
MOJO: That’s one of the tips somebody gave me earlier: to be generous and give whatever you can because you’re going to help somebody who really needs it.
WALA: Totally. The only thing that’s sort of sad to me is that some people interpret that as “go to Walmart and buy a bunch of kids toys and give them out”. That’s not what it’s about.
One year I was sitting at The Temple as the sun was rising and a guy came up and wrote me a poem on a piece of flower paper that can be planted and flowers grow from it. That’s the coolest shit ever.
Or hand-warmers! It gets fucking cold as balls at night and there was someone who gave me those little skiing hand-warmers- BEST SHIT EVER. And I brought little finger lasers because they’re fun but also really practical at night when someone is not wearing any lights; you will get hit by an art car; it won’t see you. So I like giving people practical presents that will actually help them out.
Or even just like, spending time with somebody. Sitting down and talking with someone and having a conversation.
MOJO: Anything else besides ginger water?
WALA: A good festival tip is to carry around toilet paper in a plastic bag for when they run out in the porta-pottys. They’ve been amazing here, though. They haven’t run out once.
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Read more: Electric Forest - Day Three (the woods)