Nov 27, 2021
7 min read
Tara Brooks is a trailblazer of sound and scene. Her desire for growth and evolution keeps her sound on the cutting edge, always favoring the challenge and freedom of new untapped sounds over the safe bet of the latest generic trends. Her tireless drive and resiliency have transformed her into an influential female artist in a male-dominated industry. Anyone who's had the distinct pleasure of attending one of Tara's live sets can attest to what she describes as "A collaboration with the energy in the room." She proudly allows her emotion and crowd connection to effortlessly ferry her eclectic sets from hypnotic, ethereal techno to deep, dark disco, and everywhere in between.
For Tara, this innate connection to music started in her earliest days.
"It kind of runs in our blood. My mom and my dad were both very musical. My mom sings, plays piano, my dad plays guitar… My sister and I grew up singing. My mom is from New York, so she was always going to Broadway shows and musicals. Stuff that I'm maybe not so much into today, but she used to have Beatles records, there was always some sort of record playing in the background."
That home-grown musicality eventually pushed her towards dance music when the LA-native started exploring the West Coast rave scene. Tara soon fell in love with the experimental music, the community, and the judgment-free space for expression found at warehouses, clubs, and events like How Sweet It Is. When Brooks moved to San Diego for school, her exposure to the expansive culture of house and trance grew while working in the nightlife industry. Little by little, Tara's connection with dance music blossomed until she finally began the path from fan to contributor.
At that time, Tara connected with her now ex-husband over a mutual love of music.
"He actually had a DJ set-up at home, and he had vinyl, just for his passion… I would go with him to the record store, and we would dig for records for hours. I never actually mixed them, I was just playing them for fun, I was just falling in love with them. And I knew nothing. I didn't know all these artists, what was what, all I knew was what I liked and didn't like… It was all about digging through white labels or I liked the cover of this record to find all the sounds that I love… When things were tough, I just said, 'I think I need to start a hobby, I need to figure it out… I was going through confusion and feeling a little hurt and wondering, 'What am I gonna do next?' I just started playing all these records."
That dip of the toe into mixing turned into a full plunge when Brooks first mixed two of her favorite records, Mylo's "In My Arms" (Tocadisco remix) and Deep Dish's "Dreams."
"It was the first time in a long time I felt just pure joy and happiness," she recalls. "There was no stress or worry, I didn't give a fuck about anything… And that was the first time it actually mixed properly when I didn't really know what I was doing. And that feeling, having that third beautiful mix, that third record created that you might never even see again, that feeling was everything. I just had to keep going and I never wanted to turn back."
From her first major gig in 2007, Tara was never one to shy away from navigating new territory sonically and professionally. A self-described weirdo, she relishes the opportunity to take listeners on a novel journey. The endless hours of crate-digging gifted her with a vast array of sounds and themes with which to connect to her audience in nearly limitless ways.
"It's one thing to have that sound, you're in this safe zone so people will book you. They always know what they're gonna get… With me I feel like I've gotten to the place where they don't exactly know what they're gonna get but they know it's gonna be me, they can always hear me in it… and I don't know how but somehow it all flows… the journey makes sense… Since I'm so emotional and sensitive I feel like especially when I'm playing live, I go off the crowd. So, they're the ones that really drive the direction I go, I don't really know where I'm going, without them, I'm just gonna' be doing my thing," she smiles.
Brooks' commitment to herself and her evolution is what draws those crowds. Her listeners know they are going to be a part of a uniquely personal experience. A deep-rooted appreciation for all music and the feelings it can convey sits at the core of Tara's willingness to explore. This same determination to blaze new paths fuels her navigation through the heavily male-dominated dance music industry.
Tara has experienced it all, from sound techs mansplaining how a mixer works before a headline set to general disbelief that a woman could land the performances she has. But rather than let the weight of doubt and preconceptions hold her back, she used it as a constant source of motivation. While it can improve further, female representation is currently at an all-time high in dance music, and Brooks forecasts a brighter future for female DJs and producers.
"I know when I'm listening to these badass women's production… most of my favorites are women today. They're incredible but they just haven't had that outlet, that opportunity, and they weren't getting the support in this male-dominated industry. When I'm discovering them today it sounds like they've been doing 10, 20 years, but we're not seeing them or hearing them. Now more than ever it's beautiful… that it's all about the music. Our music is quality, it's not a sex thing. It's like dude we have boobs, that doesn't change how the music sounds," she laughs.
Through it all, the triumphs, the trials, the lessons, the stories, Tara's humility, and recognition of her roots keep her grounded in gratitude. She recognizes the unique opportunity she now has to convey the same feelings of community, fun, and safe acceptance that she first fell in love with all those years ago. She even holds gratitude for the professional challenges she faces, approaching them as further opportunities for growth. Her embrace of the unknown and commitment to evolution have carried her sound and spirit to infectious heights. So it's impossible to hold back a smile and a nod in cathartic agreement when she spares this advice for new artists (and all humans):
"Keep it real for yourself, play the music you love. Don't just play what everyone else is playing because that's what's popular. Because when you play the stuff you really love, that's where the happiness is. No matter where the money, where the future fame comes, if that's what you're into, at the end of the day what is that all gonna' mean if you're not doing exactly what you really love. It's ok to shift and to complement, and to be open-minded and respectful of your environment. Just keep it real."