There are a few variations of the name—Microkitty and Le Petit Tigre are a few—but there is only one DJ Mini-Tiger. Equipped with a vast vinyl collection culled from a cross-section of musical genres and a DIY approach to spinning records, Mini-Tiger is one of several local DJs currently making it easier to shake your rump in Knoxville.
DJ Mini-Tiger, also known as Sarah Shebaro, moved to Knoxville three years ago to pursue a master's degree in printmaking at the University of Tennessee. For her, music and art are inextricably linked, as evident by her thesis show this spring. Named samples, loops, and remixes, Shebaro reconfigured the loaded imagery associated with all things analog into her own stylized form. The show was full of worn album covers, mixtape installations, assemblages of records, and digital photographs steeped in all things DJ-related, and it was a visual testament to the relationship of music, art, and culture.
For Shebaro, that relationship was cemented when she moved from her tiny Iowa hometown to Iowa City to study art. Upon arrival, she found herself in the midst of a burgeoning electronic music scene.
"I was already into electronic music when I got there, but it was definitely my friends back in Iowa City that first got me interested in DJing," she says. "They had a promotions company, Unique Productions, and were bringing world-class DJs to Iowa City, people like Jason Forrest from Berlin and DJ C—a really huge range of acts. There was a club there called Gabe's Oasis—now it's called The Picador. They would bring in the big-name DJs that were the money-makers to help pay for the more obscure, innovative ones, and I just loved it all."
Not content to just sit back and enjoy it, she took the next step. "I was like, ‘Why am I not doing this myself?' and I started buying more records," she says. "I developed my own taste. I'm really interested in the physicality of working with turntables and the manipulation of sounds. I like the challenge of finding how certain elements fit together as one. I'm obsessed with it."
Once in Knoxville, Shebaro says it was hard at first to find a place to hear the experimental, innovative electronic music that she enjoyed. She and a friend, Tara Davies, started hosting some impromptu dance nights at Fourth and Gill's Sassy Ann's. They were soon drawing eclectic crowds with their sets. After a string of dance nights at Pilot Light and the Birdhouse, more out-of-town DJs started appearing regularly, and several other Knoxville-based DJs were staging their own club nights. No longer a fledgling scene, Shebaro says now is the perfect time to make things happen.
"It's still a small community, but it's really booming," she notes. "That's when interesting things start to happen. You never know how people will react or how to get the right type of energy to get people moving. Last New Year's Eve was the first I spent in Knoxville, and when I played at Ironwood it was so encouraging to see people respond to my music. For me it's not about the twinkle of strobe lights. It's just experimenting and finding what works."
It seems only natural that Shebaro would make the move to a bigger city to pursue her art career and continue DJing, but she says she's committed to Knoxville. She just started working at Yee-Haw Industries and cites the community of folks making things happen here as an impetus for sticking around.
"I'm just looking forward to being a part of the arts and music community here and not being a student," she says. "It's been a great place to live so far, and I want to explore the possibilities to be successful here and make work that reflects this place."
As for the music scene, she's quick to point to the other local DJs who are pushing boundaries. "I played last Friday at Pilot Light, and it was so much fun being there with Gorilla Milk and everyone," she says. "Culture Vulture—he's part of it. He's bringing new crowds. The momentum is definitely building. It's inspiring to pick up new things and get ideas flowing between people."
Corrected: name of The Picador