Chile and their profound impact on electronic music is unquestionable. The fine groovy vibe emerging from one special vibe led us to an introspection into the sound of the country. From Villalobos’ generation to the new emerging artists, let’s recap.
Fighting for democratization
During a time of chaos, creativity flourishes. Growing up under Pinochet’s dictatorship and evolving through repression, the Chilean sound comes from pain and discomfort. As people were fighting against a fascist regime including curfews, illegal parties led by the sound of the future began to multiply. Dancing was an issue, people could release themselves, letting go with music as a new collective catharsis. “Rave culture is the great reason why electronic music developed with so much energy in Chile. It is deeply embedded in the Chilean cultural DNA and this gave rise to the birth of many generations of DJs and producers here” said Felipe Venegas, DJ, producer, and boss of the Chilean label Drumma Records.
1987: Martín Schopf aka Dandy Jack, son of an exiled Chilean family, comes back to his roots and brings from Germany a new mode of expression called techno. The Chilean raw sound emerged from both typical Latin American influences and German electronic club culture. “From this union of musical resources a new type of electronic music arises, where percussions, tones predominate evocative, melancholic libertarians typical of South America, connected with the idiosyncrasy of the continent,” said Venegas.
When dictatorship ended in the 1990s, Chile was finally opening to the eyes of the world. Everyone wanted to do something new and especially, to make electronic music as an art. It was a way to fight for democratization. Everything was new: the spirit, the vibe. This led to a massive cultural revolution. “With several generations without entertainment or nightlife due to the effects of repression and fear (a context that lasted for more than 17 years), the restlessness of the new and old generations of artists and people motivated to seek or create was breathed in the environment,” said Carlos Cornejo, owner of the historical club La Feria.
And indeed, a small group of people mixed by both Chileans and exiled Chileans developed what we can call today the Chilean electronic scene. Among them: Marcelo Umaña, Cristian Vogel, Ricardo Villalobos, Dinky, Dandy Jack, and Chica Paula to name a few.
Without the internet and social media, young artists gathered together and created a real movement. People were discovering things through newspaper, TV, magazines, about the different types of electronic music, and more and more people wanted to join that movement.
The Background Record Store came as a melting pot for musicians. Hugo Chavez, an exiled Chilean to London, came back to Santiago with his record collection and opened the shop, teaming up with Marcelo Umaña. As they were distributing flyers for the next parties, bringing new music from Europe and Chile from different styles (ambient, house, techno, Detroit techno, and more experimental stuff) and hosting gigs in the basement, they quickly became a cultural center to go to.
As the first parties arose after 1991, the Euphoria collective set up the first open raves from 1993. They began to organize parties in old buildings, factories, and open fields. « The vision we had was simply to dance together, for the pure pleasure to dance and gather together. » said co-founder Carlos Latorre aka DJ Zikuta. “It was really hard to make parties in those days in Santiago. We developed the movement in electronic art and music, creating with turntables and early computings and sequencers.” They used a place called La Perrera, an old dump in Santiago transformed into a place for experimental art, and made their first raves there.
Electronic music began to truly implant in the Chilean landscape and more and more DJs were making the people dancing. Among them, a young one called UMHO started to get a name in the first open raves. “When I started, the public was generally transversal, in every sense: social classes, sexual preferences, etc. There were much more communion and cultural vibe than now. We were all part of the cultural awakening that was beginning in Chile, from collectives to parties to artists.”
A turning point in history: La Fiesta Del Eclipse, 1994
If there is one party that has definitely changed the game it surely is La Fiesta Del Eclipse in November 1994. In the extreme north at the Alacran Peninsula, a solar eclipse was about to happen, a natural event of international importance. “Without a doubt, the eclipse was the kick that Chile needed to start discovering this new electronic culture that was already being seen around the world a while ago” remembered Luis Órdenes aka Umho. Chilean artists organised a party in the desert to celebrate the event and gathered the electronic music community together. Among the line-up: Ricardo Villalobos, Dandy Jack, Siddharta, Miguel Vergara, DJ Adrian but also international pioneers of electronic music such as Derrick May, Stacey Pullen, John Aquaviva, Richie Hawtin, Juan Atkins, and the German organisation Pyromania Art. Seeing so many international and famous artists around was not so common at the time.
Electronic music fans decided to turn the eclipse into a landmark, something like the before and after of this emerging culture. “This event was nothing very organized if not rather spontaneous, with a focus on the natural rite of the eclipse, it was a connection between music and the natural forces that govern us,” said Venegas. Something specific to Chile according to Claudio Solis, DJ, producer, and co-founder of the label of Agua Y Sed: “I think the music in Chile gets this character from the nature of the place we live in, it is both warm and strong.”
And just like that, a connection between Chile and Europe was made. Medias started to talk about it. It became a source of fascination both for Chileans and Europeans. Coming back to Santiago, a two-night after-party took place at La Oz. With Villalobos behind the booth taking control of the crowd, people were discovering and letting go of themselves into the music. Those parties got such an influence that Katja Gowin (one of the organizers of the party), Vergara, Villalobos, Schopf, and Tobias Freund were all invited to appear on Chilean children’s television after that.
A year after the eclipse, Villalobos released his first album under his real name. The Contempt appeared both Playhouse imprint and on Landomat 2000.
A growing club culture
At the beginning of Chilean club culture, there were different clubs for every type of music. The music panel was rich and the cultural environment was boiling. There were clubs for drum ’n’ bass, for tech-house, for techno, for house, for all kinds of electronic music.
Blondie Club was hosting hybrid music between 1980’s influences and electronic music, as Casa Club was an interesting place for techno house and UK tech-house. Planet Club or Microclub began to open up to those new modes of expression as well, welcoming artists such as DJ Adrian, Dandy Jack’s little brother, and his friend Luciano, “another nineteen years old brat with pink hair” (Jorge Gonzáles, WASB, 2014). Their idea was simply: being innovative and attract something new.
But if there’s one club that made history it surely is La Feria. Carlos Cornejo teamed up with his cousin first in 1996 around a specific idea: opening a bar for avant-garde music, considering everything that is new. Immediately successful, the place got on fire in 1998 but finally allowed them to open La Feria in a club format this time. The new place had perfect acoustic and a facade that did not attract attention. “In a place with a lot of history in the heart of the Bellavista neighbourhood, a place that at the time of the dictatorship served as a cultural refuge for lovers of music in the ’80s.” With its 300-person capacity, it rapidly became famous. And their first DJs behind the decks: Marcelo Umana, Luciano and Dani Casarano as residents, and Villalobos, Argenis Brito, and Pier Bucci.
“I feel that the golden age of the Club, musically speaking, was between 1998 (when the club opened) and the years 2002 and 2003. Imagine the size of the DJs that I named you, added to the international ones that we had the possibility to bring! Just to name a few: Honey Dijon, Colin Dale, Eddie Richards, Nathan Coles, Dave Mothersole, Kevin Yost, Cristian Vogel and so many others, each came with their own sound.”
With dictatorship memories in the background, electronic music was taking over places with history to create new vibes and better futures. December 1997: architect students of Valparaiso took over a small fish town where a Japanese company used to kill whales, and made one of the first two days party. This now historical event called La Ballenera hosted Luciano, Dandy Jack, Chica Paula, Dinky and Villalobos behind decks, joined by Scott Hardkiss and Sun Electric to name a few.
The turn of the century is then known as the golden years of electronic music in Chile. With strong foundations in place, the sound emerged properly and expanded all over the country. These years have given us a hybrid mix between “la buena onda” and electronic music, between South American folklore and German techno influences.
The second chapter of our “Introspection into the Chilean raw sound”, concerning the characteristics of Chilean sound, the golden years and the beginning of the mainstream culture, will be available soon. Watch this space