Introspection into the raw sound of Chile – Chapter 2

    Euphoria Open Raves in front of 'La Modena', President's House, Chile, 2003. Pic: Carlos Latorre

    If you haven’t before, head to the  Chapter 1 of our Introspection into the raw sound of Chile series, to find out about the origin of the Chilean sound and the unique vibe that emerged during the post-dictatorship period. As Luciano said, “the scene in Chile was built through Chilean warriors that struggled because they had no contact with the foreign countries.”

    Chapter 2

    The turn of the century brought the underground Chilean music to another level. A few producers from South America and Europe began to fly over to Chile to collaborate, to play in clubs and festivals, and to work on the sound of the country. Those years saw the shaping of its unicity, adding and mixing elements from different musical cultures.

    A hybrid mix between South American folklore and electronic sounds

    The Chilean signature emerged from both typical Latin American influences and German electronic club music as Dandy Jack was bridging both. “A new type of electronic music arose from this union of musical resources,” said Felipe Venegas, boss of the label Drumma Records, “where percussions, tones predominate evocative, melancholic libertarians typical of South America, connected with the idiosyncrasy of the continent.

    Though the scene was developing and electronic music was starting to democratise, Chile was still not reaching the attention the country deserved. In 1999, the record label Ruta 5 ran by Dandy Jack committed to “break the silence of electronic music born in less highlighted countries than Germany or the United States.” They launched a first compilation featuring local and important artists of those times such as Ricardo Villalobos, Pier Bucci, Daniel Nieto, Andres Bucci, Atom Heart, Luciano, vocalist and musician Washington Miranda, Juan Pablo Bucci and Dandy. ‘Austral’ comes as an affirmation of the Chilean raw sound with ten captivating tracks, including the first version of the very famous Villalobos’ track 808 The Bassqueen. Tuned into these cultural references, the music diffused by the compilation vibrates with typical elements from Latin music.

    Argenis Brito’s early work also illustrates well the bridge between South American influences and electronic music. Invited down to Chile by Jorge Gonzales to work together on a new label focused on Latin electronic, he ended up staying four years and put his imprint on the Chilean sound. “We worked together with Dandy Jack, Tobias Freund and Atom™  on what turned out to be my first electronic album collaboration called ‘Gonzalo Martinez and his thinking congas’, an album of classic cumbia songs versions made as electronic music” said Brito.

    Jorge Gonzales is also an important character of those times. He introduced electronic elements in his productions as part of his group ‘Los Prisioneros’ in the 1980s. In 1989, he formed the project ‘Sieg Über Die Sonne’ with Dandy Jack and Tobias Freund. Though this one is more responding to a German electro pop/avant-garde aesthetic, Gonzalo Martinez and his thinking congas’ is one of the first that can be associated to an electro-latino aesthetic.

    At the same line, the Señor Coconut project led by Uve Schmidt aka Atom Heart also participated in the development of the electro-latino. It aimed to reinterpret songs such as Kraftwerk or Madonna but with a latin flair. His productions are now parts of the classics, and saw the birth of the famous Electrolatino remix by Villalobos.

    In my case, it made a lot of sense to incorporate the South American folklore in my sound,” said Brito. “Its an important part of my influences and it gave me the approach I was looking for.” An approach we can notably see in his duo Mambotur alongside Pier Bucci created in 2000. They now have four albums in their bag, centred around dub, breakbeat, electronica and house music. “At the time it was very innovative to experiment with Latin music and our goal was to make surprising and engaging pieces of work with as many directions as possible,” said Brito. “Our main idea was to create records that could visit the different influences of Latin music and transmit a feeling of travel and movement.” 

    Musician and vocalist Washington Miranda, who now forms the electroacoustic duo WA TA with the producer Andrew Collyer, also played an important role. They are notably at the origin of classic tracks such as ‘Baila Sin Petit’. Along with Larva, Bucci, Luciano and Brito, they formed in 1998 the Plug Plix, “a fresh ensemble of live improvisation bridging the gap between chilean anti-fascist punk rock attitude and the emerging influence from german electronic artists like Dandy Jack or Sun Electric,” they said.

    If there’s another duo that made history it surely is the one of Dani Casarano and Felipe Valenzuela. Coming down from Switzerland to meet his friend from school Luciano, Casarano will end up staying for 10 years and putting his stamp on the Chilean sound. The duo met in the early 2000s and kept collaborating since. As you can catch them playing B2Bs somewhere around the globe, they also share the famous label Melisma Limited based in Berlin. First founded to release their own music and their friends’, it has become an institution with two other sub-labels: Melcure and Cure Music. They’ve been releasing Chileans such as Brito, Venegas or Villalobos, but also Internationals such as Thomas Melchior, Fumiya Tanaka or Le Loup.

    Casarano and Valenzuela developed the underground during the early 2000’s and have both been residents in La Feria afterwards. On top of the numerous productions they released on different labels such as their own or others like Fumakilla or Drumma, they also produced music as a duo on the famous label Cadenza. Founded by Luciano and Quenum in 2003, the label hosts more than 120 releases to definitely dig into. It is now a place where many Chileans of the first and second generation of electronic music released their music. The label developed its own signature: the ‘Cadenza sound’.

    Golden years

    Tobias Freund, Ricardo Villalobos, Sebastian Martinez Grove, Dandy Jack, Carolina Alejandra Azocar Jelincic at Froebel 1792

    At the end of the century, Dandy Jack and Atom Heart moved to Santiago, in Froebel 1792 exactly, an address which would become legendary. Inheriting a massive house from his grandmother, Dandy created a community place, hosting many artists to his place. “The house was the centre of logistics and hosted almost all the artists during the years 1996 and 1999.” he said. Ricardo Villalobos, Argenis Brito, Tobias Freund or Jorge Gonzales ended up moving there for a while. “All in all, our house has become a place that has generated pure creativity, and future stars of the electronic scene. It was special to see all those artists sharing a space together. Welcoming all these artists in the same space has generated new projects, and the first electronic music compilation made in Chile called ‘Austral‘.” said Dandy Jack. Indeed, the label Ruta5 is also “a product of that magic space“.

    As electronic music was resonating louder and louder around the country, taking over abandoned places for raves, heard at the radio or in clubs, the collective Quinto Sol began to organize a festival that changed the game. Leader of the crew Sushanti had this vision to book local artists to perform in front of publics in another dimension, to support the local scene. It does sound basic today but at the time, these kinds of simple things were not taken for granted. It all began in the early 2000s and featured Villalobos, Luciano and friends.

    The after-hours of Dominica54 is another special place to remember to, a place where electronic music grew and developed in Santiago. The crowd was everything you could find during these years: « The poor with the rich, the punk with the posh, the ugly and the pretty. It was a zoo. I treasure those years a lot. » said Valenzuela. « Also a place where many couples are born, like me and my wife for example, or several other couple friends. » Owned by Patricio Pino and Jeanette Lucero, the place hosted 48 hours events and invited all the teams of DJs and producers of the time. « The venue itself was insane. Endless as well. We started at 5 am and could end at 2 or 3 am the next day. There was always an option for a smaller group to stay there forever. » continued Valenzuela.

    2005: the Love Parade reaches South America straight to Santiago for the first time, brought by Euphoria Collective. More than a hundred DJs, internationals and nationals, played around the streets for over eighteen consecutive hours. This event particularly participated in the emergence of the movement and the acceptance of electronic music into the country.

    Beginning of a mainstream culture 

    But at the end of the 2000s, electronic music took another turn in Chile. A new generation of people began to organize massive parties and the scene was becoming bigger. However, the people involved in making those parties were not particularly involved with music. The concept went too far, and the mainstream took over.

    Along with the arrival of technology and the internet, « there was much more competition. The new generation was closer to fast and disposable things, it was a little more difficult to do ‘clubbing culture’ » said Carlos Cornejo, owner of La Feria. Record shops began to close, and all other alternative music disappeared. « Electronic music was always a way of expression, but people that were going to different places were liking to hear a specific kind of music. When big parties gave the impression of belonging to a new crowd, where social interaction was more important than the music basically, all other places started to burn out » recalled Valenzuela.

    Promoters were booking big DJs because they could bring 2000 people and make money. It became a trend and the crowd changed. « Also because these big events were bringing easy music, and then once in the club, people were really not getting it. Proper clubbers were not happy with the invasion of new people with no knowledge… it was pretty sad » said Valenzuela.

    Artistic expatriation  

    With electronic music evolving around the world and Chile turning to the mainstream, many Chilean artists emigrated the country to do their music freely. « The nerve centre of this music is in Europe, that is why many of us settled there for a time. there is a more developed and professional scene and the conditions exist to dedicate to this music. In Latin America there is still no suitable continental scene to develop in electronic music, so we must go out. » said Venegas. Fighting against commercial music became hard. « For some reason of mental narrowness at the country level, Chile is a very snob country, this is lived in many aspects and the world of the arts is no exception. To be valued in Chile, you must go out and succeed outside, otherwise the market local does not recognize you. »

    Brito left Chile in 2002 to look for opportunities in Berlin and to grow as a producer. As many more artists began to develop their sound abroad, Casarano and Valenzuela are one of the latest to leave the country. They kept working on the sound of their country from Berlin, trying to keep their Chilean underground imprint. They are an important part of the Europe-based Chilean community who’s still trying to connect to the homeland. « So far what we want is to be part of the underground nowadays. We are still into this sound and pushing opportunities in our country every time we come to Chile you know, we are survivors. » said Valenzuela.

    Drumma Records was born in 2011 when Venegas was living between Berlin and Santiago. This double-openness to electronic music allowed him to open a vinyl record label and do not hesitate to mount it seriously. Releasing both South Americans (Fantasna, Argenis Brito, Umho, Felipe Valenzuela) and international artists (Barac, iO, Vinyl Speed Adjust), the label catalogues the bridge between Europe and South America. Though, Venegas is attached to his annual compilation Drumma Southamerican Samplers: « it aims to show emerging artists from the continent, we must give space to the talents we find in Bogotá, Lima, Buenos Aires or Concepción just to name a few locations. It is also very interesting the scouting that we do to find these artists, that many times we are very hidden out there, asking and finding out, I find them. »

    Indeed, many of the expatriated Chileans remain attached to the roots of their music. « I’m a big supporter of our scene. Even though I live in Berlin, I’m in permanent contact with young and not so young Chilean and South American producers, we support each other, make collaborations and play on each other’s events » said Brito.

    Moreover, those years had a considerable influence to leave an imprint and a legacy to a new generation. « Things are cyclic in Chile » said Marcelo Umaña. Indeed, it has now been a few years that new artists are rising among the country and trying to bring back house and minimal in its authentic side. To make music as an art.

    Chapter three and last part of the feature on the Chilean sound will be published soon – watch this space! If you haven’t read chapter one, it’s right over here.