In the early 2000s, Erick Orrosquieta was an impoverished teenager living in West Covina. He had a son on the way and was desperate to provide for his family. He knew he would need a profitable career to support the expanding Orrosquieta roster, and his difficult upbringing wouldn’t provide an easy road map.
Orrosquieta learned to appreciate the people close to him instead of the items filling his home. His growing sense of altruism encouraged him to pursue a career as a trauma surgeon. He volunteered at hospitals, worked at Arby’s and DJed local parties to save up so he could one day attend medical school to fulfill his dream of helping people.
Today, at age 24, Orrosquieta isn’t a med student. He is the platinum-selling house musician Deorro, who went from local star to international headliner in 2014 when he became the highest new entry (at No. 19) on DJ Mag's top 100 DJs poll.
Deorro was born in the small San Gabriel Valley town of Duarte to two low-income Mexican immigrants. His father is from Guerrero, Mexico, and worked at a sheet-metal factory that prepared ventilation units. His mother came from Guadalajara and has been too sick to work for the majority of Deorro’s life. After moving to California, the two met at a church where his father was a musician and his mother sang in the choir.
“When I was young, I would wait in the music room [of the church]. My earliest memories of music were in that music room,” Deorro recalls.
Other childhood memories are less pleasant. “My younger years were kind of tough. I look back and realize where we were staying, and why we were moving around so much,” he says in a somber tone. A stable home life became a core value for him in adulthood.
His family’s domestic uncertainty and Deorro’s unruly friends eventually led to trouble at school. A wake-up call came during his freshman and sophomore years of high school, when he discovered he was about to become a father.
”What really set me straight was when my girlfriend got pregnant. I was 15, really young,” Deorro says. “I was desperate to become better. I would talk to myself and be like, ‘Come on, man. What the fuck is wrong with you?’”
Filled with a newfound paternal instinct and sense of purpose, Deorro corrected his moral posture and decided he wanted to be a doctor. He volunteered at a hospital, a retirement community and the Clara Baldwin Stocker Convalescent Home at the same time. Working with the terminally ill while raising a young child was an eye-opening juxtaposition.
“That honestly shaped me,” Deorro says. “Everyone only has six months or less to live. One of the first things they told me was, ‘Don’t get attached.’”
His professional and domestic responsibilities left him with scarce free time to be a teenager, but he would spend what little he had with his father, who was playing music at local parties. Deorro would help out by DJing, which became his introduction to curating a musical landscape.
“Back then I was on these iPods that I got from the pawn shop,” he remembers, laughing. “There was no mixing. It was just fading.” Eventually, the younger audience at the parties took notice and asked Deorro to perform at their private functions.
He picked up DJing as an additional gig to support his family, but he was still adamant about attending medical school in the long run. It wasn’t until 2007, when he attended Insomniac’s Nocturnal Wonderland, that he discovered the enormous possibilities electronic music had to offer.
“To me, it was a whole new world. I never really asked how people make this kind of stuff. To me it was like, ‘Ahhh, this is just robotic shit.’ Once I was at Nocturnal, I got really curious how to do that stuff.”
Learning music production and DJing became an obsession. Deorro took the bus four days a week down to Guitar Center, where the employees let him experiment with a display DJ mixer. He was still crossfading from one track to the next until a stranger showed him how to mix tracks and beat-match.
“Because of the way I grew up, because of my struggles, music was a privilege,” Deorro says. “It was the reward at the end of a day. It was an outlet.”
Parties led to club nights, and Deorro cultivated a following among house-music enthusiasts. He worked for promoters handing out flyers, and worked his connections until he was booked to play the Fresh 5th Anniversary Festival at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena in the spring of 2010.
As he carefully built a team around him, it became apparent that the prudent choice would be to give up his dreams of being a trauma surgeon and go with plan B: making music.
“It was hard because I didn’t want to be selfish,” he says of the decision to give up a more conventional career path. “I wanted to help out with my family and my girlfriend’s family. I had this dilemma.”
Six years later, Deorro is an international success story. He’s a regular at EDM’s biggest festivals, and his original productions — many released through his own label, Panda Funk — are staples in his peers' set lists. He may not be saving lives in a hospital, but he’s still safeguarding people in his role as a mentor to the DJ community.
“[One kid] just kept asking me to help him out with music, and I said, I’m going to help you out as a human, and you can say I am helping you out with music,” Deorro says. ”First thing you need to do is start at home. You want to be a successful man; you don’t want to be a successful boy. You gotta make sure you can survive, and if you can’t prove that at home, which is everyday, normal life, then how you are going to be able to do that here? Go take care of your family.”