By Monica Morones
Rafael Lopez, also known as DJ Alf Alpha, is a Coachella Valley success story. He came from humble beginnings, both of his parents moving here from Mexico. Born in 1984 in Palm Springs, Lopez grew up with his sisters in Palm Desert. His parents came to America, not knowing English, and his father started his own landscaping business, passing down his work ethic to his kids, teaching Alf Alpha that anything is possible if you work hard enough.
Growing up in a household where Mexican music was predominately played, it was his older sisters that taught him about records, mix tapes and different kinds of music. He first got into Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Green Day and into the MTV pop culture. He had begged his dad to get him a drum set and taught himself how to play. As he got into high school he started to listen to more DJ’s and Hip Hop, and eventually sold his drum set for a set of turntables. “I spent all the money I had on these turn tables thinking it was going to be easy and was bummed because it was harder than I thought it was going to be. I knew nothing about needles, or records,” he explains. It was at the first Coachella Music Festival in 1999, when Lopez was inspired by the DJ’s “killing” it on stage. He vowed that he would learn how to use his equipment and rock the stage like they did. For the next couple of years he stayed in his room and practiced and it wasn’t until his senior year in high school when he felt confident enough to DJ in front of people and he started DJ’ing at his high school and at house parties.
Lopez attended College of the Desert to pursue a career in business. He went on to get his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science at U.C. Riverside. A year into getting his Master’s at CSU Palm Desert Campus, he was listening to a speech given by the College owner Richard Heckmann, telling the students that he hadn’t followed through with his Master’s degree, that he had decided to go straight to work in the field that he wanted to work in, and that triggered something in Lopez. He realized he could take his passion of being a DJ and love of music, take the risk, and make it a reality. He moved to L.A., not knowing anyone there except for a few connections and began an internship. Moving to Los Angeles was the catalyst of many future career opportunities and the experience in itself was priceless.
Alf Alpha has since performed at events such as the The Heat Music Festival, Coachella Music Festival, and has opened up for many influential artists since his humble days of college house parties. It was a dream come true when he got the opportunity to work with Adidas, being that soccer is one of his favorite hobbies along with skateboarding. “I always knew when I was a kid I was going to be sponsored by Adidas because I played soccer and I rocked Adidas so much,” Lopez states. Playing a large venue like the Coachella Music Festival is a career defining moment but not what DJ Alf Alpha wants to be defined by, “Don’t get me wrong, playing Coachella was awesome, but I don’t want that to define me. I feel like I haven’t done anything, really. I’ve done a little bit, but I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.”
Since being back in his hometown, Alf Alpha has won awards for best DJ, and is a resident DJ for the Coachella Music Festival Campgrounds, where he performs in front of thousands of campers after hours. Lopez is also on the board of directors for the non-profit organization The Coachella Valley Art Scene, which provides opportunities for young artists to get inspired and show their work. All of his charity and free time goes into the gallery. “Our main goal is to cultivate culture in the valley and give artists an opportunity to get their foot in the door and inspire them to pursue their goals and dreams.”
When I asked him what inspires him the most he said, “I’ve been reading a lot of books on the topic of living the best life and wanting to make a positive change in the world, using music and culture and art to do it. I want to make a positive impact with my music.” Things that annoy him are people that give excuses on why they can’t follow their dreams and people that settle and don’t make the changes needed to achieve their goals.
Even though Alf Alpha still travels to Los Angeles frequently, the Coachella Valley is his home. “My favorite thing about living in the Coachella Valley is being isolated but still able to go to the city because it’s not far. The desert is its own little cocoon, people can be creative and stand out and really make a name for themselves.” A goal Lopez has for the future is to collaborate with more artists he likes and produce upcoming projects. Improving his performance and skills is at the top of the list as well but collaborating with his talented musician friends is important so that they can “all come up together.”
He is currently in the process of working on a full length album. He loves to vacation in Mexico where his family has a house in Zacatecas and Guadalajara and recently discovered the beauty of Oaxaca when he was working for the museum down there. With an upcoming trip to Bolivia and Peru to be the best man at his best friend’s wedding, Lopez is excited to experience the beauty and mystery of South America and learn different dialects and the culture of the indigenous people.
From attending his first Coachella back in 99’ to fulfilling his goal of performing at it himself, this artist has come around full circle and has shown that goals and dreams do come true as long as you’re willing to put in the work. As our interview drew to a close I asked him, “What is something people don’t know about you?” He responded with, “Richard Simmons gave me an Amazon parrot when I was 10 years old.” We both burst into laughter. He was serious.