Michelle Sparks Found Success in Being Herself

Local DJ/producer Michelle Sparks.
Local DJ/producer Michelle Sparks.
Daveed Benito

Michelle Sparks is a DJ and producer who has been a name in the underground dance music scene in Arizona for just shy of a decade.

You can catch her on the roof at Bar Smith, playing the main stage at Monarch, opening for A-listers like Pete Tong, and playing the local stages at Arizona massives like Phoenix Lights Festival in early April.

She’s a misfit DJ who draws misfit crowds of people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds to her shows. Sparks has stuck to her guns during the explosion of EDM in recent years. Despite not being accepted widely by Arizona fans at first, her love of music and honesty with who she is are breaking her out of the underground. But, just like any good story, the Arizona native had to leave her roots to find her calling.

“In high school, I wasn’t one of the popular kids, like a cheerleader … I was just kind of a misfit then, and [later], I kind of found a group of misfits — that’s kind of what I found in electronic music.”

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In 2004, Sparks moved to New York to go to college, where she experienced her first underground parties and rave culture. She describes her first rave as a dark, dingy warehouse with kandi kids everywhere.

“It was really different from anything I had experienced before ... I had no idea there was a culture like this,” she says.

“The energy of the music and the vibe of the people, and how welcoming and positive they were — to me, who was just a stranger to all of them — it was just so inspirational.”

From that moment, there was no turning back. And for the record, she never became a kandi kid.

When someone falls in love with electronic music, it’s a revolutionary type of thing. You start liking one thing, and sort of find yourself through experimentation with music. Sparks was no exception.

She started listening to trance and had a sweet spot for Paul Oakenfold, specifically the Swordfish soundtrack he scored at the time. Over time, she got into house music, which led to tech house, where she found Minus Records, Adam Beyer, and Richie Hiten, to name a few.

“I loved the other kind of music, but techno really grabbed me by the soul,” Sparks says.

She loved the minimal vocals, driving drums, and overall compositionally intelligent design of a lot of the techno tracks she was listening to.

In 2006, she got her first turntables, and practiced at home for about two years before playing her first gigs. In the meantime, she moved back to Arizona. She started working with local promoter Relentless Beats in 2009.

In 2008 she started playing at Pussycat Lounge in Old Town, and in 2011 started playing gigs in Phoenix. That year she started producing original music; some of her first tracks like “Lobe” and “Tootsie Pop” were released on Beatport.

Her first residency was at a club called Sanctum, which was a small, cathedral-like nightclub in Phoenix with gothic-style framed vampire paintings on the wall, red lights over the sinks to make the water look like blood, and elevated, bleacher-style church pews next to the stage for seating. The club no longer exists, but in its place resides popular gay bar Stacy’s at Melrose.

“It was super-gothy and so weird, but they had a great sound system and they liked listening to techno and tech-house.”

She described it as her “little home.”

Sparks, who now works behind the scenes with Los Angeles-based Octopus Recordings, will “probably” release something on one of their three record labels this year.

At any of Sparks’ packed shows, her musical set-composition style of building a set from soft to hard is celebrated by local crowds.

“Having open-minded people who are totally accepting of the music that you’re playing is pretty much the best feeling on the planet,” she says. “It’s a blessing in Phoenix. It’s a blessing anywhere.”


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