Photography: Shahraz Javid

Club Regulars 017: Ariel Zetina

The Smartbar regular reports on the current state of Chicago’s storied club scene.

In Chicago, the city known as the birthplace of house music, Ariel Zetina has made her name with a bold reinterpretation of this venerated history. Arriving in 2008 to attend Northwestern University, Zetina engaged her childhood passion for theatre before diving into Chicago’s thriving electronic music and performance art scenes. Her musical journey began in earnest in 2013, when she joined WITCH HAZEL, a heavily dance music influenced performance art collective. Zetina began learning how to use production and DJ software to help the crew craft its musical accompaniment. 

Zetina’s work today offers an expansive vision of dance music; her two most recent EP’s, Organism and Shell, collapse influences spanning contemporary techno, classic Chicago house, and dance styles connected to her Belizean heritage like punta and brukdown. Her DJing, like her musical output, embraces cacophonous sounds and moods. Lyrics and sampled dialogue that express the trauma saddled upon trans people of colour float atop insistent, sensual club rhythms, and caustic basslines run across euphoric synth textures. 

Zetina got involved in organising club events early in her career. With nights like Rosebud, Cubic Zirconia, and Rumours, Zetina pushed her expansive sound in the town everyone associates with the epochal house music of Larry Heard and Frankie Knuckles. Last year, she began a residency at Smartbar, Chicago’s current dance music Mecca. Her night, christened Diamond Formation, has booked a number of globetrotting, genre-transgressive artists, including DJ Lag, LSDXOXO and NKISI.

Zetina’s profile is expanding following her debut appearance on Boiler Room and a European tour which included gigs at Berghain, Room 4 Resistance and Mutualism. The DJ has joined a vanguard of LGBTQ+ artists from across the continent who are driving the future of North American dance music.

How did you first devel­op a pas­sion for DJing/​raving/​music?

My aunt had some pop trance CD’s, and that was my first introduction to dance music when I was very young. I was always interested in electronic music, but I didn’t start getting involved with it until I started teaching myself to produce and DJ as part of the performance art trio WITCH HAZEL, and going out a lot in Chicago when I was in my early twenties. The collectives Futurehood and Trqpiteca in Chicago were very influential for me.

What’s spe­cial about the Chicago club scene?

In Chicago, you hear everything: house, techno, club, vogue, industrial, EBM, noise, disco … I could go on … and lots of mixing where two tracks are laid on top of each other for long periods of time. House music really is the backbone for so many DJs here, regardless of what genre they play.

What chal­lenges does your scene face?

I think younger Chicago DJs can go under the radar internationally because people assume only house music can come out of Chicago.

What gets you pumped to go on a night out?

A DJ that is fearless and pays attention to the crowd! And the perfect combination of marijuana and Club-Mate.

If some­one is vis­it­ing Chicago, where do you rec­om­mend they go? 

Definitely Smartbar, since it is the house music institution! I think Garfield Park Conservatory is not to be missed, and Ping Tom Park in Chinatown has the best view of the city. 

Any oth­er DJs/​promoters/​performers from the scene you’d like to shout out?

Itsï, Miss Twink USA, Hijo Pródigo, Mister Wallace, La Spacer, Cqqchifruit, guirro, Jared Brown, Madeline, and Him Hun are just 10 of the DJs the world should be listening to (and there are so many more).

Any dream guests at future parties?

Secret Rihanna DJ set. There are so many DJs I want to come to Chicago and I am slowly but surely trying to making it happen. Been really obsessed with Kush Jones, Swisha, Object Blue, and Ehua lately. I would love to get drum and bass pioneers 1.8.7. and Storm too.

If you could play a set any­where in the world, where would it be?

I really wanna play in Belize City, Belize (where my mom is from). I would love to play in Tokyo. And Mexico City.


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