In Session: Ms. Mada - Music - Mixmag

In Session: Ms. Mada

Miami's Ms. Mada shares a playful mix and speaks to Grant Albert about her Club Space residency, epiphanies in Ibiza, and why it's important to have fun as a DJ

  • Grant Albert
  • 11 October 2023

The glorious rise to DJ stardom is a tale almost as old as the Epic of Gilgamesh. First, the DJ may start in their bedroom or playing at a friend's party. The word then spreads, and now the DJ has a club residency in their city. They might release a track or two, and next they are the headliner—continent-hopping to play every club and festival the world throws at them.

Miami’s Ms. Mada (AKA Rachel Tumada) could view her recent gigs in Europe and Latin America as a sign to submit her notice over at Miami’s Club Space, where she has regularly opened and closed the club’s legendary Terrace for the last seven years. Yet, Tumada is clear that Miami and Club Space are forever her North Star.

“I don’t think I could ever break away from Space,” she says. “If I relied on playing out only, I don’t think I would grow as a DJ. I think having a home base and being able to play for different types of artists has been a catalyst for who I am today.”

Tumada was born in Manila, Philippines, and raised in Miami. She cut her teeth on the dancefloor more than two decades ago and has since warmed up the rooms for Miami’s myriad clubs—from the late greats like Electric Pickle in Downtown Miami and Treehouse on Miami Beach to Ultra Music Festival, III Points Music Festival, and even the posh, super-club LIV on South Beach. These days, the 34-year-old DJ and “aspiring producer” plays weekly at Club Space, where she warms the room for the headliner at 11:PM, or closes the show at around noon the next day.

Tumada’s eclectic blend of breezy house music or formidable techno has caught the ears of Loco Dice, who has taken a mentor approach with her. In short time, she has played internationally for Loco Dice’s Serán Bendecidos showcase and earned a spot on line-ups at Jamie Jones’ Paradise and Marco Carola’s Music On.

An opening DJ could invoke images of playing a nearly empty room for early birds, but Tumada’s sets add life to the Club Space Terrace. She keeps calm and collected, making sure never to play with too much intensity before the headliner or, God forbid, play their tracks; instead, it’s a game of margins to keep the room locked in without overexerting themselves.

Mixmag spoke to Tumada at the new Club Space/III Points headquarters in the heart of downtown Miami. Club Space, by day, operates how any office would—full of rooms and desks where its staff book talent, talk projects, and keep the 23-year-old club cemented in its legacy while looking forward. Check out In Session mix and Q&A below.

How did you get into dance music? Was there a moment in particular where you knew this sound was for you?

I got into dance music the way, I think, a lot of people got into dance music—Daft Punk, honestly. I was a big R&B fan. I loved Aaliyah; I was obsessed with her since elementary school. I would hear her on the radio but then it got to the point where the radio station started playing a lot more dance music in the early 2000s. Every now and then, Power 96 would play breakbeat stuff, but I wasn't really interested in that as much until I heard Daft Punk on the radio. It was more accessible. They sounded cool and they had lyrics and it made me need to know what this was and to buy their CD. That pretty much catapulted me into dance music. And then I would show a song to my neighbor, who I recognize as the catalyst for me entering into the spectrum of dance music, and she would be like, ‘Yeah, that's cool. But let me show you something better.’ She gave me a George Acosta CD, and that kind of opened my eyes to the entire spectrum of dance music.

How did you get into DJing?

DJing was always in the back of my mind throughout high school and in college. When I went to the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida, they had these local nights on Monday and I ended up integrating into that community. Hip hop was king at that time, so to find a niche of house music lovers in Orlando was everything to me. I would go religiously and plan my classes around my Monday nights. I couldn't afford to come back to Miami every time I wanted to see a DJ, so this was the next best thing. I got close to that community and became close-knit with all those people. And then I think a few of them told me, ‘Hey, you have great taste in music. Why don’t you try DJing?’ So I did—and it was kind of natural to me.

I never had a system of my own, so I'd practice at Guitar Center, the staff would let me. I'd bring my CDs and I would play and they'd just let me play for hours. It's actually funny—one of the guys who used to work at Guitar Center found me on Instagram, and messaged me saying, ‘I remember when you used to practice in my store and the music you used to play was amazing. And now all these kids come in and their music isn’t my thing, but I'll always remember you.’ So that was pretty cool.

DJing didn't really start as a career path until my friends, who were promoters in Orlando, gave me opening slots. I didn't really break my way into the scene until Miami when I started going to parties more frequently and I got to know everybody in the scene. One of my first plays in Miami was at the Electric Pickle in 2010. I got my first residency in Miami at The Pickle for the Filter parties. We had a lot of great parties. I think the 2011 show with Christian Burkhardt was when I started to get my name around. When the Filter parties ended, I was sort of a free agent, and Davide [Danese, Miami promotor and current co-owner of Club Space] knew who I was and I told him if he ever had a slot open I would love to play, and he put me on for the next party for Sergio Muniz [AKA Delete] at Treehouse. He was doing parties for many years before that so he had a great grasp on how to properly throw a party and do it consistently. I’ve been with Davide ever since.

An epiphany moment I had was at Club Space for Loco Dice, I think around 2009. I remember telling myself that morning one day I am going to play here. I didn’t think it would take this little amount of time. I thought it would be another 10 years.

What were the demographics of Miami DJs back in the 2010s? I’m picturing a boys’ club.

Yes and no. There were women, but everyone was a partier around the same age—I was the youngest and was looking up to them and getting their opinions on music. I met a lot of hospitality workers and industry workers looking for an after-hours party. You met all walks of life and we all had that one passion in the music. I don’t think there were that many female DJs at that time. I know that helped me stand out, and I am grateful for it. And right now, there are so many women just killing it with producing music and DJing. It’s not so much a boys’ club as it is a boys/girls club. Now at Club Space, it’s almost a competition between men and women.

Read this next: The 10 most essential Miami bass tracks

What are some commandments you learned for being an opener or closer?

You always have to respect the headliner. You always have to set it appropriately. You can’t just go in and play like you’re playing primetime. At the end of the day, your job is to warm up or close out whoever is the highlight of the night. This is a given, but don’t play the main act’s tracks. I think there are times were you can get away with it—like when you’re going back-to-back. I’ve done it with Dice. I had a backup SD card and one of his tracks was the first one that popped up, and I told him, ‘I’m going to play your track.’

It seems like a tremendous amount of Miami DJs are playing all over the club scene instead of their sole residency. How common is that in the industry?

It’s very common. Patrick M and Oscar G were residents of Club Space for a very long time and they were playing everywhere back in their resident era. I think they were playing at Space all the time; they were known for it. And then they branched out because they were so well known that people wanted to hear them play in other parts of the world. Same with Tania Vulcano, who is a resident for CircoLoco and DC-10, she's world famous for that as well.

You also do a fair amount of behind-the-scenes work for Club Space. Can you explain what you do?

My official position is called the ‘director of booking operations.’ So I handle the contracts. I’m the accounts payable for the invoices—DJ fees, agency fees, booking fees. I also oversee the logistics aspect of it, like hotels and ground transportation. I have two people working under me that handled the logistics directly and I oversee them. I used to help pick talent for the Terrace, but my scope got too large and that had to be transferred over. I was spreading myself thin on the things that matter. However, picking talent is usually a collaborative effort.

Your productions are few and far in between. Can we expect any new Ms. Mada tracks on the horizon?

I have a couple under my belt right now that I said that I was going to release at some point. My excuse was that I needed to get it mastered, which is true. However, I've played a couple of them out and you can't really tell the difference if they are mastered or need to be mastered—maybe there are bits and pieces that need to be fixed, equalized, or whatever, but for the most part, they're finished products. I think part of my excuse back in the day was that I considered myself a DJ and not a producer. There's a lot of fear going into it, but I think after my Boiler Room set, I ran out of excuses and said I need to at least do something. I know my way around Ableton, and slowly but surely, I've made a few things. Not necessarily things that I'm ready to shop around for a label, because they're tracks for me. I play them out and give them to people.

I told Daniella Caballero, who is Club Space’s booking coordinator and my manager, that I want to release one of my edits for free and also give them out to the biggest DJs that I'm in contact with and see if they want to play it out. I think the beautiful thing about Bandcamp is that I don't have to succumb to label schedules or hope that they're going to sign it or wait for it to clear samples or whatever. One track uses a sample that's very prominent and I don't feel right making money off of it.

You have a genuine friendship with Loco Dice, who has also taken you on the road to play with him. How did that relationship happen?

I think it was my Boiler Room set from 2018. Dice wanted me to play for him shortly after, and then I kept getting offers from his manager, Grace Russo, to play in Argentina and all over. I developed this rapport, but I have such an imposter syndrome we're I'm like, ‘why me?’ I'm very thankful and grateful and I don't take it for granted.

But I don’t know what attracted him to me. I think it’s my style, but you would have to ask him what that is exactly. Dice is one of those people who take an interest in the younger people and building them up. He’s like the brother I never wanted and I’m thankful for him and the avenue he gave me musically and play places that would have never even considered booking me.

This summer wasn’t the first time you played Ibiza, but you did play Solid Grooves at DC-10 for the first time. What did that set mean to you? I think it was one of the first times you said you were nervous.

I feel like I say that a lot. Going into a gig, I’m nervous maybe 99% of the time, and this time especially. My first time being exposed to real underground Ibiza was when I was 21 years old. I went to Circoloco on a Monday, before they built in the AC units. It was just hot, sweltering heat. People were on top of each other, fans everywhere. It was noisy, messy, chaotic. I can't describe it. It was another dancefloor epiphany moment for me.

This summer I played Solid Grooves. I opened up the room and pretended like I was just clocking in for work at Space. As soon as I finished, I wish I could have started it over again. It flew by.

Read this next: 8 DJs tell us about their very first trip to Ibiza

Why still be an opener/closer when you can be playing Ibiza?

Because Space is home. I don’t think I could ever break away from Space. If I relied on playing out only, I don’t think I would grow as a DJ. I think having a home base and being able to play for different types of artists has been a catalyst for who I am today and I don’t think I could let that go to do an international career. Maybe I could, but I don’t want to.

What does it mean to be a part of the few Club Space residents? I suppose to a larger extent, to also to play in Miami.

I first played at Club Space when it was ran by Louis Puig back in 2010/2011 for a locals' night. I became a resident in 2016 after LinkMiamiRebels bought the property. Being a resident at Club Space is a dream. Going to parties at Space and staying there until sunrise like everyone else. And then to finally be the one that’s in the booth was a monumental moment for me. And now I do it every week. It's just me clocking into work. I don’t take being a Club Space resident for granted. I know how much weight the club holds around the world. The club is a badge of honor.

I think it’s more than fair to use the term “rising star” to describe your career. Does that conflict with your resident duties—to not outplay the headliner while also keeping up with this title?

I don’t think so because people know I am first and foremost a resident DJ. Outside of it, maybe, but I don’t feel that.

What’s next for Ms. Mada?

I checked off a lot of boxes this year, and it’s hard to tell you what is next. I am amazed about what I achieved—things I didn’t think I could achieve before 40 and it’s all happening so quickly that I’m not having any expectations. I am just letting the chips fall where they may. Hopefully, I’ll have more releases in the works with prominent labels when I become more disciplined. I’m still working with Club Space and growing with them. I think my growth is a parallel with how the company grows.

When I looked up your listings, your first Miami show was at the late Electric Pickle for Filter presents Yaya in 2010. Where has the time gone?

That feels like such a distant memory and 2020 feels like it was five years ago and it feels like it’s 2024. I think because we’re focusing so much on the future—next week, the weekend after, Art Basel, Miami Music Week, Formula One weekend—we don’t realize that as the world is turning, we’re also getting older. I’m just trying to enjoy the time.

And finally, tell us about your In Session mix.

This mix epitomizes what I’ve been feeling lately: Playful, cheeky, nostalgic, yet contemporary. It’s basically what I’ve been trying to evoke in my shows as of late. Not the freshest records, but definitely the most fun set I’ve put together recently. I think a lot of times, and I get into my own head trying to impress others by having the freshest tracks that I lose sight of what I really should be doing with my DJ sets: have fun. It’s not always about having the most up-to-date or underground records that nobody has ever heard of all the time. I end up overthinking it so much that, by the end of the set, I’m deeply unhappy with it, but I can say without a doubt that I had a lot of fun putting this mix together.

Grant Albert is a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter

1. Pharcyde - Passing Me By (Artmann Remix)
2. Kepler - Delta Dawn
3. MADVILLA - Pleasure
4. Us Two - Don’t Give A
5. FIRZA - Feel It
6. Dimmish - Antidote
7. Francis De Simone - House In Your Ass
8. Late Replies - What The Funk
9. Armando (PT) - No Me Tocas
10. Antss - Feeling It Now
11. Danny Snowden - The Return
12. Unknown Artist - A1) Giralda 01

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