Ariel Zetina was always supposed to be a star. The year 2023 was an important year when stars were born in his career. Following the successful release of her debut album, “Cyclorama,” in the fall of 2022 and appearing on many “best of” lists, Zetina has spent 2023 connecting with newfound fans around the world.
With the post-COVID world fully opening up, DJ, musician, and playwright Zetina has made inroads into clubs, performance spaces, and festivals, performing more than 40 live shows in major U.S. cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle. and on the other side of the world, in places like Berlin, London and Amsterdam. Zetina said she spends every weekend traveling from May to September.
“Even though I didn’t really like airports before I started traveling, there’s something Zen and beautiful about being in new places all the time and making sure that’s my schedule,” Zetina said in a phone interview. “Someone asked me: ‘Can you see yourself doing this when you grow up? For like 20 years?’ And honestly, it’s like yeah.
One thing that helps Zetina is maintaining rituals. These include skipping out the night before a big set, taking the CTA Blue Line to his local gigs, listening to podcasts, watching cable reruns of “Law & Order” and using the same packing method for out-of-town trips.
One of Zetina’s biggest concerts of the year Pitchfork Music Festival In July. Attendees lucky enough to witness the set were a real treat and saw Zetina doing much more than just DJing her songs. Instead, he envisioned both a unique music festival experience and a special new show tailored to the emotional and aural weight of “Cyclorama.”
Later that same day, Zetina reached another performance milestone when she opened for Beyoncé at one of her two shows at Soldier Field as part of her Renaissance World Tour. Some of Zetina’s family members (like her mother, who she joked “finally impressed”) were in town and were able to watch her play before Beyoncé’s set.
“I literally had to come out to the most famous woman in the world before my mom was impressed,” Zetina said with a laugh. “That moment really meant a lot to me. It was amazing to make my mom proud.”
But despite its global appeal, Zetina still managed to call Chicago its home base. A resident of the beloved dance music club Smartbar, Zetina’s transformative techno music can be heard regularly as part of the ongoing club night Diamond Formation, where local and international artists play sets regularly.
But many of Zetina’s best-loved sets can be heard at Ariel’s Party club night. Venues both traditional (The Hideout) and unconventional (the newly converted California Clipper) formed the backdrop for Zetina’s party. Warm and unique, Ariel’s Party hearkens back to Zetina’s roots as an up-and-coming artist in Chicago. And like other DJ sets, it also hosts a very fun and inviting audience that isn’t interested in the potential vibe of other nightlife events.
After a somewhat dry spell, the city’s nightlife options continue to expand; Zetina is emerging as an influential leader on how up-and-coming musicians and DJs can balance their global passions while staying true to their creative roots.
“I think there’s something so nice about dancing in a room together. It was very, very powerful for me. And I’ve had such almost religious experiences on the dance floor this year. And I really want to take this intention and energy into (2024). I think DJing often feels like popping bottles in the club, and the way it’s portrayed in sitcoms is a very silly and over-the-top monster. That’s what I really appreciate about being in Chicago. “I think it changes the way you interact with music because there is so much history and lifestyle in music.”
Audiences can immerse themselves in Zetina’s world as she plays at Metro and Smartbar’s New Year’s Eve party. “QUEEN! Diamonds.”
Zetina is proof that artists don’t have to sacrifice one goal for another, and can instead make a name for themselves by charting a different path shaped by a personal ethos. This year, Zetina’s charm, unique musicianship, and community among her peers have made her a standout Chicagoan for both today and the future.
Britt Julious is a freelance critic.