add to queue

The Brooklyn-Based DJ Avalon Emerson is Making Dance Music for the Desert

Photo by David Black.

This is “Add to Queue,” our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the dinner party-y, the songs they want played at their funeral. 

Hailing from Arizona, Avalon Emerson has built a career on making electronic music that’s an homage to the arid desert—celestial sounds fused with dance beats, vintage house, and techno. The Brooklyn-based DJ earned her stripes in the San Fransisco scene at just 19-years-old, before moving to Berlin in 2014. In recent years, the 32-year-old has remixed Robyn’s “Honey,” launched an international series of DJ events called 9000 Dreams, and released her very own DJ Kicks compilation—a 70-minute long mix featuring two new songs. As if that wasn’t enough to keep captivated ravers busy, Emerson is back again with more beats for the soul with “Rotting Hills,” the titular single on her upcoming three-track EP. Rotting Hills is a happy-meets-sad mix she describes as “a study in contrasts—mixing feelings of hopelessness with trying to enjoy the present.” During a quarantine studio move, the DJ found some time to share her playlist with Interview. From Depeche Mode to Antonio Carlos Jobim, the celestial curator gives us music to keep us afloat for the rest of this never-ending year.


ERNESTO MACIAS: What is the last song you listened to?

AVALON EMERSON: My girlfriend was playing St. Vincent. Let me ask her. “Year of the Tiger” by St. Vincent.

MACIAS: Who is the earliest musician to influence you? 

EMERSON: I’m going to go way back and probably say my mom. She played The Joshua Tree by U2 on those cute little earphones that you put on your pregnant belly so that the baby can hear it. She loves to tell the story about how when they brought me home from the hospital, I was just fussy and crying and they put that album on and I just quieted right down and chilled out, because I love that record.

MACIAS: That’s the earliest answer that I’ve ever had, in my whole time doing this. Where was your first rave and who was playing? 

EMERSON: Oh my god, I’m going to give a kind of embarrassing answer. My first rave, I have no idea who was playing, but it was when we were in high school. I remember me and like eight of my friends drove to a very sketchy part of downtown Phoenix. It sounds like I’m making this up, but I’m not. It was in an old Chuck E. Cheese. This was before EDM—this was like a happy, hardcore rave. The line was crazy long. My friend Cooper went up and greased the doorman, and that was my first rave. Very funny. I’ll never reach that high again.

MACIAS: It makes sense that you wanted to go to Berlin, with that sort of beginning. What’s the song that always puts you in a happy mood?

EMERSON: Let’s see. Maybe a Sundays’ song. “I Feel.”

MACIAS: What song makes you feel confident?

EMERSON: That’s an interesting emotion to try and think about. Probably Jackie Moore, “This Time Baby.”

MACIAS: What’s an album or a song that takes you back to your youth?

EMERSON: Probably a Bright Eyes album, honestly. Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.

MACIAS: If you had to create a playlist for a Zoom date, what songs would you put in there?

EMERSON: Maybe I’ll have some jazz. That’s kind of funny. I think it would be funny to have like a Cal Tjader record on in the background and I’m like, “Oh, sorry, hang on. Let me turn this off.” Or Antonio Carlos Jobim. Something like that would be funny.

MACIAS: What about for a post-breakup playlist?

EMERSON: Maybe some Depeche Mode. Black Celebration,” maybe.

MACIAS: If your life were a TV show, what would be the theme song?

EMERSON: Stevie Nicks’s “Stand Back.” That’s the one.