“I actually got it tattooed on me, right there,” Powell Aguirre said, pointing to the word “mellifluous” on his right forearm.
Aguirre may have gotten the tattoo spontaneously — at a pop-up event after yoga, a very Los Angeles thing to do — but the word has been swimming around in his mind for a while. Ever since it first graced his SoundCloud bio in high school, it’s the go-to term that the 22-year-old DJ turns to when describing his exultant music.
“I come from a space of music making really warm and melodic stuff,” Aguirre, more widely known as Surf Mesa, said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I like to remember that this word is like kind of my foundation, and so it’s nice to apply that to the music I make … It feels like the Surf Mesa sound.”
Although he might look like a natural surfer with his beachy, windswept hair and loose graphic T-shirt, Aguirre’s stage name doesn’t come from a love of surfing — it’s from a map that players can explore in the video game Counter-Strike.
Miles away from playing Counter-Strike and Valorant in his Seattle bedroom, Aguirre was an hour or so away from performing at Twin Peaks at the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival. The festival marks the first time Aguirre has returned to the Bay Area since he toured colleges after his high school graduation.
The DJ looked happier than the average person getting off a long plane ride; several days earlier, he had thrilled thousands at Lollapalooza in Chicago. Even though he’s been playing festivals for a few years now, he’s still getting accustomed to the performer lifestyle.
“Down to little things, everything’s sorted out, everything is like seamless,” he said with gratitude. “For example, I just walked in my green room, and the bathroom has like glam lighting and like a fancy modern shower. And I’m like, ‘Dude, what is this?’ ”
While basically anything’s better than a “green room with a tent and like a water bottle,” Aguirre’s more focused on his music. He views his live sets as “(pipelines) of synchronicity,” which he claims there’s a science to.
“It feels like you’re a scientist out there, and you’re mind controlling a sea of people by the power of your words. It’s just like, it’s beautiful. Really, you get to transparently share your emotions with the crowd,” Aguirre described. “It’s a lot of power, a lot of responsibility for sure.”
But Aguirre doesn’t let the pressure get to his head. On stage, the DJ lets himself get lost in the moment, purely energized by the crowd’s energy in a reciprocal hour of elation.
“As soon as I’m up and running and I’m a few transitions into my set, it is a breeze,” he said. “I feel like I’m in my room. And it’s my favorite thing to do. I love performing. It’s so much fun.”
Everytime Aguirre talks about music or performing, his face lights up — with his infectious smile, it’s easy to see how he hypnotizes audiences with his electronic and emotional euphoria.
Yet, years before he was playing massive music festivals, inspiration struck Aguirre in a Starbucks parking lot. Scrolling on TikTok, he came across a video of Emilee Flood covering Frankie Valli’s 1967 “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
“All I needed was that 10 seconds,” Aguirre said.
About five hours later, he had finished a track that would rack up more than 2.5 billion global streams: “ily (i love you baby).”
“Never before had I ever finished a song and put it out in one sitting,” Aguirre continued. While he’s sampled everything from “The Office” to astronomer Carl Sagan on the meaning of life, crafting “ily” came to him naturally. “I think it was really meant to be easy. But yeah, it’s little things like that, that turn into huge things.”
Though Aguirre initially released the song in November 2019, TikTok helped “ily” soar to popularity during quarantine a few months later. In 2020, where time seemed to stand still during lockdown, Aguirre’s blissful music merged past and present as a form of escapism.
Time is nothing to Aguirre while he’s working on music — when he’s fueled by creativity, the only thing he’s focused on is living in the moment. Before TikTok helped boost Aguirre’s music to the mainstream, he frequently wrote songs alone in his room during navigating young adulthood’s precarity.
“At a time in my life of uncertainty … all I wanted to do was write music,” he remembered. “When I sit there for hours on and throughout the night, and the sun’s coming up, and I’m exporting something, that would mean a lot to me.”
The light of 2022 is peeking through Aguirre’s blinds, and his future is flickering brighter than ever. By the end of the year, Aguirre hopes to release two more songs. The second track, which he’s been working on for about a year, is what he’s especially looking forward to sharing with the world.
“It’s called ‘City of Love’ and I’ll be playing it at the set today,” he said, grinning. “It’s my baby. And I’m excited for people to hear it.”
As Aguirre rides the wave from “ily,” he won’t be wading in shallow water anymore; in the past few years, he’s learned that sometimes diving into the deep end is what it takes to explore new creative depths.
“What’s important is people following their intuition,” Aguirre said. “It takes them a long way.”