LOWER EAST SIDE
From Honduras to the life of the party in New York City, DJ and photographer, Alejandra Sabillon, shares with us her journey and how she turned her passion into everyday reality.
You’re originally from Honduras?
Yes, when I was ten my family moved to Kansas.
How long have you been in New York?
I moved here a year and a half ago from San Francisco. I had wanted to move to New York for a really long time, and there wasn’t any reason for me to stay in San Francisco. The next step was New York. I moved here on New Year's Eve and drove here from California over a week.
My friend had found us an apartment, so I had that. I had also been to New York before, but I’d never lived here. It’s a whole different situation.
New York is probably the most comfortable place I’ve ever lived. San Francisco wasn’t as creative, there is a lot more variety here in what you can do. Before that I had lived in Memphis which is really great for music, but not so much for visual arts.
You do so much creative work here, you’re both a DJ and a photographer …
Photography is what I want to do long-term, but I also love DJing and want to find other music avenues. I’d love to explore ways that don’t involve being out every night.
How did you get into these fields?
I’ve been taking photos forever, even in high school. I also went to university for photography. I would spend a lot of time with rock bands, and so I used to shoot them and my friends. But I also have an interest in fashion and fine art, in Memphis it was a little limiting in terms of subject matters.
New York has allowed me to explore other things, here I can shoot actual models and work with clients and brands.
In terms of DJing, I’ve always been around it. Most of my friends are musicians. I used to collect a tonne of records and go along to gigs my friends would be playing. A friend of mine is a DJ and I went along with her to one of her regular nights, her boss asked if I wanted to do it as well. I did a trial run and it kept evolving. It snowballed, and now I DJ probably 3 nights a week.
Was it something you instantly loved?
Yes. I loved it. I also love being out and dancing. It’s fun to be on the other end of it, controlling it. It’s great to discover new music.
What sort of music do you love at the moment?
I like disco and pop for dancing, rather than awful dub step or club music.
How much preparation do you have to do before a set?
I have everything in my music library, everything is divided into sections. 80s, R&B, disco, instrumental, 70s, Brazilian, rock, soul … it depends on the event. If I know I’m doing a dance party in a club environment I know in my mind I’ll probably start with disco. If I’m in a smaller dive bar I’ll gauge it on the crowd.
I do a residency with Grand Life Hotels. For them, it’s more about setting the mood. I love that, being in the background. You can’t walk into a party that starts early and pump the music.
Watching people dance is so much fun, seeing them get excited. Seeing what music can do, what memories people have that’s tied into what you’re playing. You can kind of control the crowd.
Was there a steep learning curve?
Yes, but I’ve been researching and collecting music since I was a teenager. I like a lot of older music. The biggest learning curve was finding contemporary music.
Photography wise, what are you working on at the moment?
I shoot a lot of girls for Ford Models, new girls or faces who are looking to get a little more edgy. Because I was shooting so often for them, I did a series of New Faces for 'So It Goes' magazine.
I like the girl to look like herself, with a bit of an edge. No make-up, no crazy hair or photoshop. As simple as possible. I also love doing portraits.
It sounds like you’re doing pretty well!
That’s why I love being here, where else are people so giving in this industry? People are really welcoming. If you have something to offer and you have a vision, people are usually pretty open to it, they’ll at least give you a shot. At least that’s been my experience. Obviously I’ve also tried really hard. There’s so many people here, there’s less to lose I guess.
Are you parents still in Kansas? Why did they move from Honduras?
My dad got a job in a college town called Lawrence, so we all moved. We’d been to the US before on holidays in the summer, but my parents didn’t really tell us we were moving. That was the weirdest part. I thought we were just going on vacation again. I think they didn’t want to shock us, but it was weirder because we didn’t go back.
I can imagine, that’s a weird way of doing it! [Laughs]
We used to go to Disney World a lot, and we went there on the move trip so I just thought it was a normal vacation. Then we went to visit my uncle in Lawrence and never left.
Honduras is a pretty poor country. I haven’t been back since we moved. I still have family there. It’s labeled as one of the most dangerous countries in the world, but it’s also really beautiful. My grandma had a farm, there were monkeys in the trees and toucans flying around.
What do you parents think about your work?
They’re pretty encouraging of artistic stuff, even though they’re not artistic themselves. I’ve had more stable jobs and have never been as happy. I think they saw a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be a doctor or a lawyer. I’m the only one of my brothers and sisters that left Kansas.
I don’t go back to Kansas often. It’s hard doing freelance work. You always have to be available and working. You have to be doing work so people see that you’re working on new things. I have to keep going, with freelance you don’t always know when you’re going to get paid from a job. It’s a hustle and a lot of work. It’s very freeing but I don’t know if that’s an illusion or not. [Laughs]
Where are some of your favorite places to go out in the city?
I love going dancing at Baby Grand. Elvis Guesthouse is really good. There’s also a new bar in Chinatown called Mr Fong’s, it has a super laid back vibe. I tend to stick around this area.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
Be extremely nice to everyone. People are very cold, and arrogant, being like that shuts down so many doors.
Be really brave and go for it. Don’t over think it.
Being kind is underrated.
It’s so important.
What is your favorite place to take out of towners?
Central Park. I don’t even go there often enough so it’s a rare treat.
The Cloisters is also really beautiful. I love being outside.
What does New York mean to you?
Adventure. The possibilities are endless.
Keep up to date with all of Alejandra's news at alejandrasabillon.com.