For many of us growing up during the golden age of ‘90s Bay Area radio, DJs and radio personalities often represented more than just voices on the airwaves. Instead, they were local figures to look up to that held careers we could only dream of. Aaron Rivera, aka Aaron the Era, used the help and guidance of his many hometown inspirations to follow that dream, eventually making a successful career as a local radio and club DJ.
Getting his first exposure to DJing through his uncle Mike Slim and family friends Donald and David Sainz, he began exploring the different techniques in the art of mixing. “I really got the best of both worlds when I would hear the house music my uncle would play in the clubs and then hear the way the Sainz brothers would play an open format set. I can’t imagine what I would be doing if it weren’t for that group of people,” he says.
Today he’s keeping busy by doing production and promotion for Q102.1 and playing various gigs around the city, from the confetti-filled dance floors of Ruby Skye to low-key lounges like Tope. We chatted with Aaron the Era about his radio hustle, top three local DJs, and his musical mantra. He closes out the night for Icona Pop this Friday, April 10, at Ruby Skye.
How did you start working for radio?
I enrolled at Ohlone College in Fremont where I reached out to Jazzy Jim at 99.7 Now and asked if I could apply for an internship at the station, to which he said yes. During my internship I was able to do and learn so much that I went from just answering phones to being an associate producer for the House Nation weekend mix show. I had an absolute blast learning from St. John and Jazzy Jim during my time there and I can’t thank them enough for all the things they did for me. I would definitely recommend anybody trying to get into radio to try as hard as possible to gain some knowledge from those guys.
What's the best part of working on your current station, Q102.1?
I started at Q102.1 in October of 2014, and right when I walked in the door I saw tons of familiar faces. I love the entire staff at Q102 because it feels like we’re all family! From Joey Vee and Alexx in the morning, Mia Amor in the afternoon, The Homie Miguel in the evening, Qui West and Billy Vidal on the weekends, and Freska in the midday. Freska’s amazing because she recently went through a battle with cancer and kicked its ass with a smile on her face!
I got to send a huge shout out to the boss, Trevor Simpson. Just being able to work with all these people everyday and learn from them has truly been my favorite part of being at Q102.1. There’s never been a day where it feels like work.
Being from the Bay, who are your top three local DJ inspirations?
There are so many amazing DJs in the Bay Area! If I had to pick just three I would say J. Espinosa is my first, and I want to send a huge congratulations to him for winning the National Redbull Thre3style event for the chance to rep the USA at the world finals in Tokyo! I think any DJ in the Bay would have him at the top of their list, he’s just so humble and amazingly dope every time he’s behind turntables.
The second DJ that always inspires me to do better would have to be CLAKSAARB. Just hearing him be able to play whatever he wants to play and seeing the crowd always go along with it is amazing. He plays such a wide variety of music in a great way that it pushes me to expand my musical variety during my dj sets. He was also the first person to ever book me in San Francisco at Lime’s brunch party, so I’ll always be grateful to him for that.
Third would be DJ E-Rock, I don’t think any DJ in the Bay Area hustles harder than him — whether it’s in Vegas or here at Level 55 inside Temple. I’ll never forget him reaching out and putting me on the right path to become not only a better DJ but also a better person. I have the Twitter DM from him saved and still reference it on the daily; he told me, ‘If you want more positive things to happen in your life you need to set the stage for it.’ I took that and ran with it, and it’s been proven to be true.
What's taboo for you when it comes to DJing?
I try to avoid playing clean edits! I can’t stand when I’m in a nightclub for the 21+ and the DJ plays clean edits! We’re all adults and we’ve all been exposed to cursing, don’t play music like I’m at a middle school dance. I was at Bruno’s once and accidentally played a clean edit of Lil Jon’s “Get Low,” the manager came up to me and told me never to play a clean edit again. I went home that night and got rid of every clean edit in my laptop.
Did you ever imagine you would be playing clubs like Ruby Skye?
I think every DJ in the Bay Area hopes to play at Ruby Skye on the main stage at least once. My bro Andy P introduced me to Matt Whitlock at Slide and got me a couple bookings there. After a couple times of playing at Slide, Matt reached out and asked me to be a resident DJ at Ruby Skye. I definitely want to take this time and thank Matt for bringing me on at Ruby Skye on a regular basis. Matt also does work with Epic and just announced that they’ll be bringing Tommy Trash and Kill The Noise to Chico on May 7th, and I’m super excited to see Steve Angello on May 8th for Ruby Skye’s 15th year anniversary.
What's your musical mantra when it comes to DJing?
I don’t think I have a musical mantra but my mantra in life would be: Try really hard not to be a douchebag. There are some guys in the industry that take themselves way too seriously and it’s so annoying. I’ve seen DJs chew out patrons at a club over requests and I always thought it was a bad look. Guys like that make the industry look bad and it definitely makes me appreciate the guys who are out grinding for the DJ culture. I could go on for days about this, but my main point is that I try very hard not to be a douchebag. I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t always succeed at it, but I’m constantly working on it.
What's important to note in the differences between an opening and closing DJ?
My view on being an opening DJ is that I’m there to provide a soundtrack for people while they drink. The opening DJ is really the one that makes or breaks the night, if everybody leaves because the opener was wack then there’s nothing the closing DJ can do but watch as the night turns bad.
When I close for the night I try to go all over the musical spectrum to create a unique party experience. Closing DJs have way more freedom in terms of music they can play so I’ll try to play music that the crowd won’t expect to hear amongst the standard radio hits that they do expect to hear. It’s always nice to throw in a curveball track to keep the sets fresh.
You'll be closing the night out for Icona Pop this Friday, what are you looking forward to the most?
The Ruby Skye experience is always amazing, whether it’s the amazing sound system, or seeing Allan work his magic on the lights, I’m always looking forward to being in the DJ booth at Ruby Skye. There’s no way to explain the feeling of being able to play in the booth that has been occupied by the biggest names in EDM. This Friday night will be extra special for me because it’s my 27th birthday and I have a lot of friends coming out to join me in celebrating my birthday. I've got to thank Matt Whitlock for letting me play this show on my birthday, it’s going to be one I remember for a long time.
What are you looking forward to accomplishing in your career this year?
I’m looking forward to growing with my crew of DJ friends The Cartel, consisting of DarkerDaze, Audio1, Chris G, Mist, Marc D, and DVS. It feels great to be able to do things not DJ related with those guys. As much as I love being around DJs and nightclubs, it’s always refreshing to have a group of friends that you can always rely on to do things outside of a club setting.