If Lupe Fuentes were a fairytale character, she would be Thumbelina. In a green floral print chair at the restaurant in DTLA’s NoMad Hotel, the bite-sized Fuentes looks like she has petals surrounding her, much like Thumbelina being born of a flower. Also like in the fairy tale, Fuentes is determined and resilient, moving from place to place until she finds where she belongs — which is here in Los Angeles, specifically, downtown. The tattoo on the underside of her forearm which spells out the name of the city in script attests to this.
“Los Angeles is my real home,” says the producer and DJ, the jewels in her teeth twinkling. “It's the first home I chose and the first place I built a life for myself.”
Colombia is Fuentes' birthplace and where she lived until her family moved to Spain when she was 11. She came to Los Angeles when she was 21, having already started a career in adult films. Now, at 32, with seven years of dance music production behind her, and a couple of years of pop music creation before that, Fuentes' adult film career is not even in her rearview. Instead, her Spotify boasts hours and hours of her high quality, original tech house productions.
In addition to the steady stream of music she releases on her own five-years-strong label, In The Loop, Fuentes has tracks released on numerous longstanding and respected labels belonging to the elder statesmen of house music such as Nervous, Undr the Radr, MadTech, Brobot and Simma Black. She also has collaborations with a number of these legends, among them, Roger Sanchez, Todd Terry, Junior Sanchez and DJ Sneak.
“It took me many, many years to become good at producing,” says Fuentes. “It took me many years to understand what I wanted to make and how to do it. It's by making that you learn, by many tries, by many bad tracks. You learn by doing.”
Fuentes started in music production by observing and questioning. She married Evan Seinfeld of Biohazard and Oz fame in 2011. When he was producing his band, Attika 7, she went along to the studio. Here, she walked into the other studios in the complex and made friends with the producers and engineers working on different projects. She watched what they did, absorbing the creative process and learning their methods. She did this day after day, sometimes into the night, for three months straight. She put together a group, The Ex-Girlfriends, as her pop project, writing, producing and singing all the songs. She soon abandoned that to turn her focus to what she grew up loving: house music.
Although Fuentes will insist that the confident person she is now is not who she was just a few years ago, there is no evidence of that in her brazen tracks. Her music is bold, hard and unapologetic with defined grooves that get right in your face. Her recent release, No Rules, is a dark and unforgiving house bruiser that follows the echoing and flavorful “Aguaardiente,” her jam with DJ Sneak. She kicked 2019 off with the jacking Planet Minimal EP, a two-headed monster whose minimalistic nature matches its hypnotic rhythms.
Fuentes has grabbed tidbits of classic dancefloor songs such as Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” and Sylvester's “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” Her versions reimagine the originals to such a degree that they are unrecognizable from where they were sampled and become wholly Fuentes' expressions.
“I produce every day,” Fuentes says. “If you're a producer, you're constantly learning, constantly developing, constantly changing. I'm at a key point where I need a challenge. This year I'm working with more singers, getting more melodic, and working outside of the tech-house genre. I want to make things that don't have to be in a specific genre. I haven't been this excited about music in quite a while.”
DJing didn't necessarily come as an inevitable extension of production for Fuentes. Again, it came from watching. This time she observed the connection a DJ friend had with the crowd and was drawn to it. She started practicing at home, but when she tried to get bookings, she could not get a gig to save her life. Some accused her of having her music ghost-produced. Others expected she would DJ in a bikini. Things even went as far as DJs refusing to play on the same line-up as her. But there were also people who responded positively, such as Kobi Danan of Sound Nightclub, who gave Fuentes her first booking.
“When I first came into the scene, I felt I didn't fit in,” says Fuentes. “I'm a woman. I'm an immigrant. I'm brown. I have a broken accent. It was very hard for my identity and it was hard psychologically. I tried to change myself to fit in. But with time I discovered what’s different about you is what's special. So I decided to be myself and make the music I wanted and not care anymore about anybody's opinions. In that moment when I consciously decided that’s the road I was going to take with my creative being, everything started changing for me.”
Now Fuentes is booked every weekend and she is readying her own monthly party, also called In The Loop. Taking place at a not-yet-disclosed location in DTLA, the space is physically underground. An all-white room with high ceilings ready for 360-degree projection mapping, In The Loop starts on June 8. The guests she will be bringing are producers and DJs she admires from around the globe — such as Mateo Floris on the inaugural night — who don't normally get booked to play Los Angeles. In The Loop allows Fuentes to provide a platform for artists that she was not given herself.
Says Fuentes, “When you’re growing up, you're learning who you are in the world, who you are as a person and where you're coming from. Then you build a story, the story of your life, the story of who you are. Then when you grow up, you take that story and go out in the world and say, this is who I am. That was not my experience. My story used to be: I'm not worthy of having good things.”
“I grew up in extreme poverty. I didn’t grow up in a family where I could make a choice to make music. To pursue happiness is not a luxury everyone has. When you are born into that environment, your thought is not, 'I'm going to be happy, I'm going to make music because it's what I love.' Your thought is, 'I have to survive because if I don't [take] care of myself, nobody is going to do it.”
With that, she shrugs on her denim jacket, disappearing into its oversized folds that fall to her knees. Only her Thumbelina face is visible from this mini-pile of loose clothing. “When you're an artist, it doesn't matter what you look like on the outside,” she says. “You can be whatever and whoever you want to be. I'm here, I've been here, and I'm here to stay. I have all the time in the world. Art comes from within, from your soul. In the end, the only thing that matters is music.”