DJ creates community with music in Signal Hill

Arron Herrera promotes music and good cheer to Hilltop Park every Sunday.

Arron Herrera started his career as the DJ of Hilltop Park in 2023 when he brought a speaker to the park with his friends. His speaker drew a crowd and created a community that Herrera has since fostered with his tunes. (Hannah Contreras / Daily Trojan)

On a warm Sunday evening, Arron Herrera sets up his DJ decks and boxes of vinyl records surrounded by dozens of people lying on blankets in the grass playing card games or sharing drinks and sandwiches in foldable camping chairs. Laughing and smiling as he greets regulars and newcomers, his easy demeanor and kind personality show through as he gets ready to serenade the people of Hilltop Park in Signal Hill from 5 p.m. to sunset.

Herrera began his career as the DJ of Hilltop Park back in 2023. He and some friends were out in Ventura with his portable speaker, and his friends told him that if he was going to play music in public, he should do it loud and proud. As Herrera turned up the volume on his speaker, people moved in closer to enjoy the music. He brought his tunes closer to home and picked the beautiful location of Hilltop Park with its panoramic views of the Long Beach and Los Angeles harbors.

Herrera had a lot of good things come out of his gig as the resident record selector of Signal Hill, but he identified one thing as the best.

“I would have to say the people [are my favorite part],” Herrera said. “I know it sounds cliché, but to be honest, the people are so nice with me. They have brought me gifts.”

He pulled out a carved wooden sign given to him that day that said “DJ High on a Hill.” It was evident from the look on his face, and the way he interacted with everyone who spoke to him as he DJ-ed, that he was genuinely surprised and touched by moments of connection like that.

“I have so many stories that people have shared with me,” Herrera said. “[Sometimes] they were having a bad day, and I brightened their day just by playing music, and so from the gifts to the stories, that’s been the true benefit of all this: building a community.”

The community was alive and well at Hilltop Park on Sunday night. People from all walks of life enjoyed the sun and the cool air blowing in from the ocean. Little kids chased after dogs or lined up with their parents at the ice cream truck, while groups of friends in their early 20s drank High Noons and snacked on charcuterie boards. The entire park was packed by the time Herrera really started to get into it.

Herrera said that in the first half of his set, he tries to create an atmosphere that gets people moving and grooving. He smoothly transitions from funk and hip-hop to disco and salsa, and people light up as a song they know comes on and they start singing and dancing along in their seats.

“Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang set the mood early on as people chatted to each other, and later on, Herrera graced the crowd with MF DOOM, Amy Winehouse and The Temptations. Later on, closer to sunset, he started playing soul and oldies or slower bands like Mazzy Star.

“I make sure to hit different genres so people can widen their range in music and just be open, especially with a view like this, out here at Hilltop Park,” Herrera said. “It’ll hit different when you hear a song for the first time.”

The beauty of the location paired with the mix of old and new tracks has helped Herrera create something unique at Hilltop Park. He plays music for free because he understands that music brings people together like no other. For one evening a week, the people of Signal Hill can relax with a beautiful view, surround themselves with loved ones and hear all sorts of music mixed together to create a community-driven, kind and fun atmosphere.

Hilltop regulars Nancy Flores and Alejandro Clara have been coming every Sunday to hear Herrera play since the beginning of this year.

“You can’t go wrong with the view, the sun. Cloudy, windy, whatever it is, it’s not going to stop Arron from playing,” Clara said. “He always has that positive vibe going on.”

The community and positive atmosphere of Herrera’s Hilltop sets provide something for people to look forward to.

“This is our Sunday, every Sunday,” Flores said. “This is our place.”

Herrera was inspired by The Art Laboe Connection on local radio station 93.5 KDAY-FM. From 7 p.m. to midnight on Sundays, Art Laboe plays oldies and love jams, and Herrera said he grew up listening to him play. Perhaps now Herrera will be that inspiration for one of the many hundreds of people who have seen him bring his own spin to his weekly Sunday ritual for the people of Signal Hill.

“Everyone has their own hobbies on Sundays, but this is like church right here,” Clara said.

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