Photo by Cate McGehee

Photo by Cate McGehee

The Encyclopedic Sets of T.Wan

Seattle’s most multifarious DJ finds her voice.

Tiffany Wan, who performs as T.WAN, is a DJ who thrives on variety. There might not be another one in Seattle able to play with her level of versatility. Her passion for music knows no demarcations, and her career behind the decks is a testament to what it looks like when you follow your passion in every possible direction.

Wan was recently asked to contribute a mix to KEXP’s esteemed local series Midnight in a Perfect World, which will debut Oct. 27. She said that curator Alex Ruder asked her to send him a list of performers she’s shared a stage with. “I wrote all of these names down,” says Wan, “and I was like, This is the weirdest mix of people ever.” The list included underground techno savant Avalon Emerson, Japanese bass music producer Seiho, and “Nick Klien and Collin Strange, who make analog synth acid for the New York based label L.I.E.S.,” says Wan.

“And then I play parties at [local dance night] Night Shift,” she continues, “and the people that I’m sandwiched between are playing hip hop and R&B, which is also fun but really different than playing, like, [the experimental techno night] MOTOR. It surprises me the variety of shows I get booked for, but I love it because I think I would be bored otherwise.”

Wan is known locally for her prowess in both disco and techno, two electronic-music genres that have little in common in either sound or scene. But she is curious about everything, and a perfectionist in her curiosity. She is driven to dig for new music by an almost academic passion.

“I’ve always been obsessed with a kind of purism when it comes to art,” says Wan. “That purism is a slippery slope, because it can veer into being pretentious, but I don’t think that I’m better because I know these things. It’s just that if you love something you want to know everything about it, including where it came from.”

She is particularly fascinated by the musical histories of Chicago and Detroit, calling them “the birthplaces of all modern electronic music,” and her selections often pay homage to these roots.

“I love listening to music from the late-’70s and early-’80s era, and it’s amazing to me how some of it—most of it—still stands up to this day,” she says. “It’s better than a lot of music that’s made now. And I think that’s why I love disco so much, too—this amazingly complex and beautiful and fun music came out of an era before computers. It’s crazy. But then I also think it’s crazy that someone can make a song that has 20 instruments in it on their fucking computer.”

Wan says she wanted to be a music journalist when she was young, and even brought stacks of SPIN and Rolling Stone to her high-school newspaper room to leave as “a weird archive.” But two years ago she found a better way to share the music she loves.

She was introduced to DJing when the Seattle feminist boutique Rose Gold brought the crew Women’s Beat League up from Portland to teach a femme-only DJ workshop. This was the first time Wan tried mixing songs, and she was immediately hooked.

“I think I’ve probably always secretly wanted to be a DJ,” she says. “I think anyone who loves music as much as I do and as much as my friends do, whether they know it or not, probably would love DJing … I just never thought I could do it, especially when I was first getting into dance music and I saw people play. I was like, ‘Wow, this seems so complicated and difficult.’ And also, you know, most of the shows I went to were just a lot of men. I didn’t see a lot of women doing it and so I didn’t really feel like it was something I was allowed to do.”

Like many other female DJs, Wan is an example of an avid, lifelong listener who sat on hundreds of tracks for years before she was encouraged to play them out. “I would listen to a lot of mixes, and I’d download a lot of music and buy a lot of music, and I didn’t have anything to do with it except listen to it myself. And then when I learned how to DJ I was like, OK, well now I can play all these things for people.”

Her tracks have been lighting up clubs, patios, warehouses, and basements since. “It was a lot harder than I expected it to be,” she says. “It took me months to actually beat-match correctly, and I thought that I never would. I kept trying. I tried on my friends’ gear, I bought gear—I just kept trying, and then one day it just made sense.”

Wan has also become a crucial community organizer. She is a member of TUF, a female, trans, and non-binary collective of artists involved in electronic music. She helped organize the first and second TUFFEST festivals, and runs a monthly night at the Eagle (soon to be at the Timbre Room) where emerging TUF DJs can practice.

“It’s important to give people the opportunity to play in a club setting, in an environment that’s not their living room,” says Wan. “If you want to be a DJ and play for other people, you have to be comfortable doing it. It also gives us access to gear we might not have. Like, I don’t have two turntables at home. I don’t have CDJ-2000s. If you get booked to play somewhere, a lot of the time you’re playing on expensive new gear that you don’t know much about because you don’t own it. It gives you that experience. I think it also gives people a chance to find their voice.”

Wan has been finding her voice over the past two years, and it is both diverse and deeply studied.

“In a way it’s hard to be good at everything,” she says, “but I think that’s part of my personality to want that. I want to be good at everything, and I don’t know if I ever will be, but I love techno, I love disco, I love acid, and I love house. I love everything, and I don’t know if I could ever only play one genre of music.”

Alternating Currents With Conduit, Miles Mercer, sighup, T.Wan, R-Pal. Love City Love, 1406 E. Pike St., $8–$10. 21 and over. 9 p.m., Fri., Oct. 13.

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