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Go BackA Tale of Three Cities: the international life and times of Dinky.

Posted: 21/11/07 10:52

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Today, Berlin-based Chilean DJ and producer Dinky is one of the brightest stars in the techno firmament. A lifelong music obsessive, she began DJing professionally since she was 18, has released two albums and numerous singles, runs her own record label – Horizontal and is rightly regarded as one of clubland's finest proponents of underground electronic music – male or female.

If she has a gift (besides her undeniable wealth of musical nous) it is to make her work look easy. Small but striking, she presents herself as a fully realised creation. Her hit records, including the massive Cocoon anthem Acid In My Fridge and the jaw-droppingly good Ringing EP, sound effortless. Likewise, her DJ sets, which have won her acclaim from Brasil to Berlin and all points in between. In photographs she is poised, stylised, rarely smiling.

One from several years ago shows her in classic Marlene Dietrich mode: wearing a black tie and suit, hair slicked back, smoky eyes and a cigarette dangling coolly from her lips. In a Cocoon press shot her eyes glint from behind a mask of Technicolour make-up while her lips form a roar. She seems to be all perfect surface; brittle, contained, untroubled.    

This projection distorts the truth slightly. Dinky is an almost preternaturally gifted musician and yes, she makes her chosen profession look as simple as snapping your fingers. But it hasn't always been easy: on the eve of the release of Get Lost 3 – her first official compilation – she tells Ibiza Voice how a girl from Santiago wound up as one of Berlin's hottest properties, via a stint in the Big Apple.

Some 29 years ago in the capital of Chile a three-year-old climbed onto her mum's piano bench and started hitting the keys. Alejandra Iglesias – nicknamed Dinky at birth – remembers it as her first musical experience and the beginning of a lifelong fascination with sound. "It was easy for me," she says simply. Her mother, a music teacher was quick to encourage Dinky and piano lessons were swiftly joined by another artistic obsession: dance.  "I started dancing because of music. It inspired me." It also meant eight hours a day training and rehearsing in the dance studio, which was followed by more hours of music lessons and practice. Incredibly, despite this exhausting routine Dinky found time for more music, cultivating a love of bands like Depeche Mode and the Cocteau Twins. Having a big sister living in Berlin helped. By the time Dinky was a teenager she was on the receiving end of a steady stream of electronic music and stories from her club-loving big sis. "She was really into the scene, all the clubs, she went to the first Love Parade…" Dinky recalls. "I'd have men coming up to me saying... 'let me show you how to do it."

As part of the Chilean expat community, the elder Iglesias girl also knew artists like Ricardo Villalobos and Dandy Jack. When she was 18 Dinky was dating the latter's younger brother, Adrian Schopf, a talented young DJ and best friend of another rising star – Luciano. On a trip to Berlin Dinky got her first taste of real clubbing. "I was inspired. I realised I wanted to DJ." So back in Santiago she started practicing on her boyfriend's decks.

Within a month she was playing in clubs, "making a lot of mistakes, of course," she chuckles. While she says it was "less stressful than dancing," learning on the job provided another challenge: dealing with the men. "I got a lot of guys dissing me, especially because Chileans are a lot more macho. I wasn't technically very good so I'd have men coming up to me saying, 'let me show you how to do it.' Now it's not a big problem…" she adds, somewhat unnecessarily... However, she wasn't fated to stay long in Santiago. Though her DJing was progressing quickly dance was still her main focus and at 19 she decided to move to New York to attend the prestigious Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance (America's longest-running dance school).

Why New York? "At the time my choice was between New York and London and I thought London was too cold! Later I realised New York was exactly the same. But it was closer to my family, which was important," she says with a laugh. And why dance? While Dinky says she always considered music as a career she knew too many struggling musicians to harbour any notions it was an easy option. Dance – however demanding – perhaps seemed to offer a more structured path. In any case, the teenage dancer-come-neophyte DJ packed her bags for the Big Apple and started on a new chapter in her adventures.

New York:
Arriving in New York in 1994 Dinky caught the tail end of the outrageous club scene immortalised in the books Clubland Confidential and Disco Bloodbath. She was playing at the Limelight, the Tunnel, the Soundfactory. It was a wild world apart from the Chilean scene. "It was rave, it was colourful. Completely crazy. The first time I saw it – wow! " she says. But as the "club kids" scene ate itself in a haze of drugs and recriminations she got stuck into the house scene. "I was at Body & Soul every week. I was listening to house music, playing house music. I play techno now, but I'm still a house head. That was my influence."

For six years, Dinky chased her full-time dance schedule with nights out DJing. She met Magda at an after-party and the pair started playing together at 59 Canal Street – a karaoke club. Together they developed their skills and won over the local underground scenesters and the likes of Troy Pierce, who lived in nearby Williamsburg at the time. "I loved New York," she says. Unfortunately, post 9/11 she found her adopted home no longer loved her back.

Having lived in America on an entertainer's visa for several years she found herself in limbo after it expired, waiting to find out if she would be granted a new one. For a year she couldn't leave the States, which both prevented her from touring as a DJ and – crucially – stopped her being able to visit Chile. "It's a horrible feeling, being trapped. Thinking if something happens to your family you can't go."

About halfway through the year she married her boyfriend at the time, hoping it would help her case. Which only made what happened next worse: she finally got a letter back saying her request had been denied – and she had less than a fortnight to get out of the country before being deported. To her dismay, it turned out that being married was no help at all. Even if the couple could provide all the exhaustive documentation required she wouldn't have been able to travel outside the States for another two years. The prospect of losing three years of her personal and professional life was too much. "I couldn't do it," she says. With just 10 days to pack up her entire life she decided to go back to Chile – but not before one last party...

New York's famous Village Voice newspaper covered her farewell do. They called her departure "sad and sudden" but the party was anything but – a 24-hour bash with Richie Hawtin, Magda and Troy Pierce among those who helped her say goodbye to the city in style. Of course, it wouldn't be long before they, too, were heading across the Atlantic, bound for Berlin – the next stop on Dinky's personal world tour.

Now firmly entrenched in Berlin, Dinky reckons getting kicked out of America was the best thing that ever happened"Slower is always sexier." to her. And looking at her rapid ascent towards the techno A-list it's hard to disagree. As well as conquering a new culture and language ("not even Germans speak perfect German, it's very complicated") she's redoubled her focus on making music and, after spending six months building a studio and perfecting her technique on new equipment, is halfway through an artist album. Unlike many of her counterparts, Dinky works mostly alone – handling all her own production, engineering and mixing "I go crazy for [producing]. I'm lucky because it comes very naturally to me. It's a pleasure." Her passion certainly infuses her releases: the one comment most reviewers make is how "sexy" they are. Does she do that on purpose? "Not at all! " she laughs. "I just go to the studio and press some things and whatever comes out that I love, I start with that." Ironically, her biggest record is the one she thinks is the least sexy: Acid In My Fridge. "Slower is always sexier and Acid In My Fridge is extremely fast for me. I always play it a few BPM slow."

When she's not making music, or tweaking her own beloved classics in the DJ booth, she's probably doing yoga – or hanging out with her other half, Crosstown Rebels man Matt Styles. She has a happy "new boyfriend" buzz in her voice when she talks about him. "We haven't been together too long, but we were friends for a year before we got together, which was really good." However, she's quick to point out that she didn't get offered the Get Lost 3 mix just because of who her boyfriend is. She and Damien go way back and she's been part of the Crosstown Rebels agency for a couple of years. "They're open to all styles of music, which is what I like about them."

Though "really excited" to be asked to mix Get Lost 3 Dinky is hardly over-awed by the responsibility. She didn't even bother listening to Matt and Damien's mix which kicked off the series. "I read the tracklisting but I didn't get inspired by them, I wanted to do my own thing." Unfortunately, her first concept – a "classics" mix reflecting the last 10 years of her career – hit licensing difficulties and she had to opt for a contemporary mix. Get Lost 3 may be the product of a second-choice concept, but it is strictly first-rate. "I'm really happy with this. Matt [Styles] did a great job licensing the tracks," she adds loyally, listing her personal favourites as Radio Slave's incendiary Bell Clap Dance, Loco Dice's whipsmart Son Of Raw remix and her own cut, She. Berlin, it seems, despite the cold climate and cool northern personalities ("you can't act like you would in Chile. They look at you like, 'ugh. You're so loud! ") is a place Dinky can finally call home. And after a decade of ups and downs and life changing dramas she's pleased to simply be able to get up every day, go to the studio, take music lessons (she's brushing up on her piano skills) and be with friends. "There is no perfect place in the world, but I'm always happy to come back."

A 10 second guide to Dinky. Which do you prefer…?
1 - Vinyl or digital? Vinyl.
2 - High heels or flats? High heels.
3 - Home cooking or eating out? Home.
4 - Best clubbing city: London or Ibiza? Ibiza.
5 - Beer or wine? Wine.
6 - Facebook or MySpace? MySpace.
7 - Working solo or collaborating? Collaborating
.8 - Best electronic band: Depeche Mode or New Order? Depeche Mode.
9 - Detroit or Chicago? Chicago.
10 - Traveling light or mountains of luggage? Traveling light, except for my records.

Words by Cila Warncke