Tigerlily: Basically Superman

Milly Ellen speaks to a real-life electric mermaid.

DJ Tigerlily.
DJ Tigerlily.
DJ Tigerlily.

Sitting on the Law Lawns sipping on a Slurpee, Dara Hayes discusses her double life.

Better known by her stage name, “Tigerlily”, the fourth-year Media & Communications student is one of Australian dance music’s rising stars. She is the resident DJ at major Sydney nightclub Pacha, regularly tours around Australia, and has recently completed a tour of Asia supporting Dutch superstar Tiesto.

“I think a lot of DJs let everything get to their heads but … I can still sit here and do uni and then go and do my thing at night.”

So you’re basically Superman? “Yeah, pretty much. I’m going to start wearing a cape and make that my thing on stage.”

The work ethic needed to balance university studies with such a demanding career seems utterly incomprehensible. And Hayes admits that it does come at a price.

“I honestly don’t have time for a social life. Between uni, meetings, studio work, gigs and travel – it’s a bitch. Just last weekend I was in Melbourne, then Adelaide, Melbourne again, Tasmania, Melbourne then back to Sydney. It’s fucking ridiculous,” she says.

So she went to America over the summer to try to spend some time relaxing. “I just needed a holiday. I didn’t want to do anything. I mean, I had a great time. But I did end up doing PR, interviews, photo shoots, live mixes, and a music video. So I ended up doing a bit … a lot.”

It seems a wonder Hayes bothers with university at all, having already acquired a full-time job and a healthy throng of teary, obsessive fans. But she tells me she believes that, as a woman, it’s important to attain a university education.

“We have the opportunity, and I want to prove to myself that I can do it all. I can do what I love, complete a full degree, and prepare myself for anything,” she says.

Would she consider journalism as a fallback career if music doesn’t work out? “Oh, fuck no. No way. I don’t want anything to do with that.”

It seems that Hayes was always destined for a career in music. She is a classically trained singer, pianist, guitarist, and, to this day, holds a special place in her heart for the trombone. She also writes music, and recalls the excellent marks she received for composition in the HSC.

Despite this, she hadn’t always pegged herself as a musician. “I was going to be an orthodontist.” Wait, what? “Yeah! I had such a good experience with my orthodontist and I just wanted to give that to other kids. I started out doing Science in first year. But then I realised I hated it.”

When I ask about her plans for the future, Hayes becomes reflective, almost wistful, detailing her plans for worldwide musical domination. “I just want to finish uni and make some inroads into the international scene. I need more! That’s what needs work. The Australian market just doesn’t have the funds, the resources to really promote DJs. The populations over there, and the huge amounts of money that get pumped into clubs, music, everything. I need to go to America.”

In reality, however, Hayes is likely to encounter a variety of obstacles en route to achieving commercial success in the US. She maintains “gender is unimportant when you’re a DJ”, but the figures tell another story. At the three largest electronic festivals in the US last year, less than 10% of the acts were female. Of the DJs signed to the top US electronic labels, less than 5% are women.

DJ Gun$ Garcia, arguably the most successful female DJ in America has been frank on the issue: “When patrons come and tell me how “good I am for a girl” it boggles my mind. Should I respond by saying, “Wow, you’re really smart, for a guy?!” I’m a damn good DJ, reproductive system aside.” When asked if she saw obvious inequity in the industry Garcia was adamant: “Everything works differently for men and women, especially when it comes to business.  I’ve had to market myself much differently from how I would have if I was a male DJ.”

It is unclear to me if Hayes is blissfully ignorant of the obstacles she will face, or simply stoically determined to disregard them. Either way, she is certainly aware of the importance of marketing and cultivating an image for herself. Her social media profiles are meticulously maintained, filled with frivolous selfies, PR material and conspicuously free of any discernible political or social agendas. I am asked to not take a picture at our interview — “I don’t look good! I always have to look good in photos!” — and she staunchly refuses to reveal who she has collaborated with in her upcoming release.

Are they Australian? “I can’t tell you that.” Male or female? “I can’t tell you that.” Have you collaborated with them before? “I can’t tell you that.” Animal, vegetable, or mineral? “Animal. Definitely animal.” This seems to be about as much detail as I’m going to get out of her.

So how does Hayes think she has achieved such success so rapidly? “I’ve worked hard but it comes down to luck as well. It’s sacrifices, hard work, talent and luck. People underestimate how much work goes into it. It’s not just the two-hour set— there’s so much work happening behind the scenes. It’s much more than a full-time job.”

So what is she working on currently? “Well, the EP has been put on the backburner a bit, I’ve just done two remixes to be released soon, and I’m working on a brand new recording tomorrow!”

Who is she working with?

“I can’t tell you that! But definitely not a vegetable or a mineral.”