I talked to Alf Alpha at the Coachella Valley Art Scene gallery after he had just returned from a trip to Arizona, where he’d made some DJ appearances for Adidas.
“I got to fly a helicopter,” he said, somewhat mysteriously.
Now that he’s back home, he’ll be performing as part of Splash House on Sunday, June 15, at the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs.
Alf Alpha—aka Rafael Lopez—said his DJ name came from a friend who put him on the flier as such for his first-ever live performance, a show in Cathedral City during his junior year of high school.
“He said, ‘Give me something to run with.’ I explained that because my name was Rafael, people called me ‘Rafa,’ ‘Rafy’ and other names,” Lopez said. “I told him, ‘Hey, what if we put ‘Alpha Ralfa?’ He looked at me said, ‘I don’t know; I’ll figure it out.’ He went home, did the flier and printed ‘Alf Alpha,’ and brought it to school the next day. From that day, it stuck.”
Lopez said he developed a love of music at an early age. His family always included mariachi and other types of music at birthday parties, his older sisters’ quinceañeras, and other gatherings and celebrations.
“I just remember live music at my house and having a party,” he said. “My house was like the party house. I sort of got inspired by seeing the music and the mariachis when I was a kid and thought, ‘That’s awesome!’ So that was my first intro into music and the concept of performing.”
He said a key moment came at a bar mitzvah party, where the DJ let him and other kids take home singles from his collection.
“At the end of his DJ set, he had a bunch of promos of hip-hop cassette tapes. He let all of us stick our hand in and take two,” he said. “I reached in and got Dr. Dre’s ‘Nuthin’ But a G Thang’ and Ice Cube’s ‘It Was a Good Day.’ I think I was in second-grade when that happened. I went home and played Dr. Dre over and over and over again, and I got into the idea of hip hop.”
When he was a teenager, he got into punk music and took up the drums.
“My dad bought me a drum set; that was probably around seventh-grade,” he said. “I got into a phase during those years where I got into punk rock—bands like NOFX and the Circle Jerks,” he said. “I never really took lessons or anything. I was just in the garage banging on drums, playing by myself, and annoying my neighbors to shit. But I think that was the concept where I learned about making beats. In DJing, it’s just like being a percussionist.”
In high school, he played soccer and heard his teammates talk extensively about DJing, and attending the Nocturnal Wonderland festival at the Empire Polo Fields in 2000—followed by the fledgling Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, aka Coachella. He started learning how to mix house music, working on his scratching technique, and developing his style.
Today, he’s a successful and widely known DJ. However, he said it didn’t come to him easily.
“It was pretty tough,” he said. “For basically two years, I was in my room and trying to figure it out.”
He started what he now calls his World Famous shows in the Amigo Room at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club in 2011. Goldenvoice took notice and put him on the bill for Coachella in 2011, which began a working relationship with Goldenvoice that exists to this day, and has led to more appearances at the festival and related events. He said his appearance in 2011 was a dream come true.
“I’ve played Coachella for three years, and I was fortunate enough to play the S.S. Coachella, which is that cruise,” he said. “When they reached out to me for 2011, I didn’t believe it. When someone sends you an email from Coachella saying, ‘Hey, we want you to play,’ I think someone is pulling my leg or something. They said they wanted to make sure I was available and then told me I was booked. It was really cool to play in the Sahara tent and the Oasis Dome tent.”
Lopez credits Goldenvoice for making a difference by putting the Coachella Valley on the map as a musical destination, as well as inspiring new venues and new bands.
“I think there was a time when there really weren’t all that many people doing stuff, or they were very cliquish,” he said. “The rock people had their own scene; the hip-hop people had their own scene—and it wasn’t really a scene, and more like groups. I think it’s kind of the same now, but I think the Internet has changed that. The desert has talent, and some of (the bands), like Slipping Into Darkness and Machin’, have played Coachella.”
When asked about his performance at Splash House, he did not offer many specifics, although he did say his collaboration with Independent contributor All Night Shoes (who is also playing Splash House, at The Saguaro on Friday, June 13) will probably be played live.
“I’m not really into a setlist and am more into having a vibe,” he said. “I kind of just like to work with the vibe. I have an hour set, so I’m just going to try and get through everything I can.”
For more information on Splash House, visit splashhouse.com.