Sita Abellán says she’s never heard of Paris Hilton’s Foam & Diamonds residency at Ibiza club Amnesia. “If I go someplace to listen to music, I go to listen to music, not to pose,” she tells me in our Skype interview as she vacations in southern Spain with friends between gigs.
I choose to believe her. The Andalusian-born star – best known for her evocative Instagram looks – is represented by Wilhelmina Models, has been the face of Dolce & Gabbana, and appeared in Rihanna’s gory masterpiece of a music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money,” among other modeling achievements. But we are talking about her career as a techno DJ, and Abellán feels strongly about the way runway-Serato hyphenates are characterized in the music industry.
People love to hate the model-DJ. Entire booking agencies have been devoted to them (see the now defunct STADJ, which placed their willowy beat masters at cheesy parties across the globe and ran a social values-free, shadow universe version of Discwoman’s DJ seminars). The internet has gleefully celebrated videos that suggest beautiful women can’t possibly mix. Through it all, Paris Hilton, who has come to embody the model-DJ in our age (even if that’s not actually how she became famous), is in the middle of the fourth year of her foamy, glittery Ibiza spectacle.
“I like being a model but I’d prefer a thousand times over to be playing music.”
The tokenism and proportional overuse of model-DJs – as compared to other female-identified professionals in the super sexist music industry – is questionable. But let’s not create false oppositions; you’d be better off blaming booking agents for those disparities, not creatives who have crossed over from fashion to music. To say that beautiful women are by definition incapable of other creative endeavors is undeniably sexist. There is nothing to suggest that involvement in the fashion industry precludes selector ability; in fact, there is a huge overlap between the two worlds when it comes to necessary levels of swagger and social networks.
Abellán began spinning house in southern Spain at age 20, messing around with friends and occasionally dropping through Madrid to play events. In her teens, she started Instagramming her wild street style, eventually getting major modeling agency representation. It wasn’t until she moved to Milan three years ago to study that she landed her first weekly residency, playing 90s hits and hip-hop at a nightclub called Plastic. She met her partner there, which, coupled with greater professional opportunities, compelled her to make the Italian city her home base.
At one point, she transitioned into techno, a genre that she says she finds more stimulating in the booth. Her temple is Berlin’s Berghain nightclub, the notorious ex-factory with a sex club basement that blasts music nonstop from Thursday night to Monday morning. She dreams of playing there one day, she says, and reveres the work of the famed club’s residents Ben Klock and Marcel Dettman.
“I don’t want people thinking in the future, ‘Oh she’s a model; that’s why she’s a DJ.’”
Abellán admits that the fame she’d achieved through modeling gave her a running start when she began DJing. “Being a model did help me in my music career,” Abellán says, her lipstick the perfect shade of red, her face perfectly framed by her smartphone after years as an elite selfie photographer. “I think I had an advantage. But I don’t want people thinking in the future, ‘Oh she’s a model; that’s why she’s a DJ.’”
Earlier this year, Rihanna’s team found Abellán and fellow beauty Sanam on Instagram, and judged the two to be the perfect fashionista henchpeople for Ri’s blood quest against a businessman debtor and his Becky partner. Abellán’s profile was duly raised, her self-curated style began to be coveted by the masses, and her DJ career took off. Now she’s played in Tokyo and across the United States — her first U.S. festival appearance happened in early August at California’s Hard Fest. Clearly, Abellán’s crossover status was her big break. But that doesn’t mean she takes her vocation lightly; she’s a driving DJ who has played sets that have won the ears of some of techno’s big names. This fall, she embarks on a tour with SoCal’s Destructo.
To hear her tell it, the stigma launched at model-DJs hasn’t slowed her drive. “I’ve never cared about what people think about me in any aspect of my life,” Abellán says when I ask her about dealing with criticism. “When I say I’m a model-DJ, someone decides to be like, ‘OK, so you are like the kind of model who DJs, blah blah.’ They are free to think that, but if they listen to what I play maybe it will change their mind.”
In the middle of the spotlight, Sita says she doesn’t crave exposure, but more creative control. She tells me she is releasing a capsule collection at MISBHV’s September 10 New York Fashion Week presentation and has been inspired by Ms. Kitten to head into the music studio. She forecasts the release of her self-produced electroclash demo in the next few months, on which she’ll also do vocals. Based on the reception of those tracks, she says, she’ll be able to make important decisions about what the next phase of her career looks like. When pressed, she admits that she hopes for a future in music, not modeling. “I like being a model but I’d prefer a thousand times over to be playing music.”
It remains to be seen whether Abellán’s techno weaving skills capture our collective imagination as much as the designer space cowboy aesthetic that serves as their sartorial counterpart. Modeling may continue to be seen as a disqualifier towards success and respect in any other industry. Time will tell, but until then, she’ll have to deal with the headaches and hookups of hyphenation.