Australian DJ Tigerlily was only 21 years old when she ran into international superstar Tiësto at a local festival. She didn’t know it then, but a flashy shirt would launch her career.
“It was a crazy coincidence that we met—he’s a legend in dance music,” Tigerlily (real name Dara Hayes) recalls animatedly, on the line from her Houston hotel. “I was wearing a T with a bit of a rude word on it—the AC/DC logo was rearranged to say ‘ACID’, and he found it really funny. I’m sure he thought I was a massive druggo. But we started chatting, and I told him that I DJed local nights in my home state.
“We exchanged contact details,” she continues. “And I was like, ‘Ha-ha, very funny—I’m never going to get an email from him.’ But the next morning I wake up and there’s a message sitting in my inbox. I sent him all my music. He took a listen, and he liked it.”
A master of understatement, Hayes sells herself short. Tiësto loved it. And when the DJ born Tijs Michiel Verwest offered Tigerlily a spot on his intercontinental tour of Asia and North America, Hayes was catapulted into the global spotlight. Spinning a self-described “big-room electro-house with commercial vocals”, she graduated from local venues to lighting up international stages for 30,000 fans—a daunting feat for any fledgling performer, but Tigerlily pounced on the opportunity.
“It kind of threw me under the bus!” she says, laughing. “But it pushed me to get better. Really quickly.”
Honing her craft under Tiësto’s mentorship, Hayes was crowned No. 1 female DJ by Australia’s inthemix magazine for three straight years, before signing to a major label. A slew of singles later, Tigerlily is on the road again—but this time with her own headline tour.
Despite her long checklist of dates, Tigerlily’s current North American jaunt is a breeze compared to the punishing schedules she’s used to. Successfully interspersing full-time studies for a four-year degree with numerous weekly performances, Hayes has proven her firm dedication to pursuing life as a DJ.
“There’s a time when you’re really working hard,” she enthuses, her energy crackling down the phone line. “You’re writing, you’re performing, you’re travelling all over the world, and you’re trying to push to that next level. I feel I’m still in that pushing phase, but I know people take me seriously now. I love to connect with fans and tell a story. I can’t wait to get my name out there.”
Tigerlily’s excitement matches her live shows. With a brand that is, in her own words, “about embracing your inner wildness—with lots of colour, fun, and fantasy”, Hayes’s past gigs have featured three-metre-high unicorns, a huge array of lights, dancers, costumes, and—bizarrely—a man in a cat outfit.
“It’s just this crazy, crazy experience,” she says.
Now that she’s hovering on the brink of the big time, Hayes hopes this tour of North America will offer the next launch pad for her effervescent persona.
“It’s just insane, if you think about it,” she says. “To come halfway across the world and play an awesome show to a heap of people.”
She pauses, thoughtful for a second. “I’m just so blessed.”
Tigerlily plays Celebrities on Saturday (January 30).