From the early days of techno and electro, dance rhythms in electronic music have been woven together from international sources. The machinery of the groove has evolved from the threads contributed by a global tribe, absorbing sounds and forms, driven by the energies they find on the dance floor.
That image of solitary music making is a myth – what you’re hearing is a sound made by connections between people, across the normal constraints of geography.
And now, the technologies developed in Berlin and elsewhere take on new life in the hands of a new generation of musicians, and their own flourishing communities. So there’s something perfect about welcoming Dengue Dengue Dengue! – here the live trio, Felipe Salmon and Rafael Pereira on sounds and Nadia Escalante on visuals – to Berghain Kantine tonight in an event co-hosted by CDM. There, they’re halfway between the development houses that built the tech they’re using (Maschine and Ableton Live), even as they’ve honed those chops half a world away.
Dengue Dengue Dengue! join a lineup that shows just how explosive these musical transformations can be. There’s CLAP! CLAP!, the footwork-influenced Afrofuturist wonder from Italy. (The exclamation points in these names reveal some of the unbridled enthusiasm of the artists, I think.) There’s Argentinian-born EL G. There’s MR. TOÉ of Chile. And yes, Germany is represented – METEORITES, reuniting Marcus Rossknecht and Max Turner. (Marcus might or might not also have some connection to one of those aforementioned Berlin developers, too. But Berlin has a long history of making electronic technologies for music – and of finding ways of linking itself closer to the Americas, Latin America very much included.) If you’re in Berlin, you simply can’t miss this.
We decided to focus in on the Dengue crew and their approach to music and visuals, to find out how they play live and what their community is like.
What’s your relationship to cumbia? How do you process the older technique and make it your own?
In Peru, you hear cumbia everywhere, in the bus, buying food in the local market, TV, restaurants, flooding the radio stations… so the rhythms and variations are settled in our brains. We just translate that into our own reinterpretation, which is of course electronic music. The cumbia that we like most is what was made between the late 60’s and mid 70’s. In those years, it was all about experimentation. So for us, it’s important to keep the vibe — but always adding a twist.
You can’t talk cumbia without mentioning Colombia, for one … what’s your connection to the scene in other Latin American countries, and what’s unique about being in Peru?
Well, as producers we de definitely feel part of a community, especially with tools like SoundCloud. It’s the first time we feel connected with other people experimenting with similar sounds and patterns. It’s exciting, because everybody is full of ideas.
Peru is great, even if it was one of the last Latin countries to embrace tropical electronic music. When it appeared around 2010, it created a whole new movement, bringing people from both electronic and tropical sides. So DJs and producers have the opportunity to play and test their productions constantly. There are at least 1 or 2 parties every weekend.
You’re working with lots of different threads as far as influences – cumbia but also dub but also techno … and then some. How do you weave these together? Do you feel conscious of these as distinct as they’re reworked, or do they simply become your own style once fused?
Sometimes the music is inspired by some genre, and sometimes the fusion is unconscious… sometimes it evolves from one genre to another. At first, the project was more centered in the psychedelic cumbia sound and its similarities with Dub and Reggae, from an electronic point of view. Now we’re adding influences from all over the world; it just comes naturally. We meet new rhythms and they get stuck in our minds; eventually we have to make something with them.
What’s your live rig? What’s the setup you brought on the road / how do you play together?
For the live show, we are 3 people on stage, 2 for sound and 1 for video.
We have one laptop running Ableton Live 9, we use a [Native Instruments] Maschine Mk2 to launch the clips and 2 Traktor [Kontrol] F1’s on MIDI mode that work as an 8-channel mixer together.
The master channel goes then thru a Korg Kaoss Pad Quad and then to a DJ mixer.
There is another laptop running the Maschine software for live drumming that goes to a second channel in the DJ mixer.
We switch places every 2 tracks with that setup.
For the video part, we are using Modul8 and MadMapper on a third laptop.
How are you producing in the studio? How are the techniques and tools different from what you’re doing live?
Our set is a bit of live playing and also a DJ set — I mean we play our tracks and some music from other people, or remixes we have made.
It’s collaborations, it’s live drumming with Maschine and old cumbia tunes, from which we make live remixes… for this, we use 8 tracks with tunes and loops on Ableton Live.
In the studio, we used to make the music with FL Studio, but now we’ve switched to Ableton Live and Maschine for beats and percussions.
Specifically, how do you approach rhythm in your music inside the machine? There’s always this barrier, this additional abstraction looking at making grooves with machines versus drumming directly and so on. How do you assemble these beats and maintain a feel?
That’s true, but I’m not a good drummer, so for me, it’s easier to push buttons or just to program the beat with the metronome, like mathematics. I also don’t quantize the beat too much. Or I move the hits just a bit to the left or to the right to make them a bit out of place. That makes the beat sound more “humanised”.
What’s the role of visual elements in your shows? There are the masks, of course, all these colors, collaboration with fashion and Nadia’s work — how did you come to add those, and how does all that color and texture help influence the music?
Alongside Nadia, Estaban Coronel, and Rapapay, we have a collective named Auxiliar. We’ve been working in audiovisual projects since 2006. So when the time came to create DDD!, it was natural for us to make and audiovisual show. With this kind of music, we really feel we can be free, and even make fun of ourselves.
Since the 3 of us live together, Nadia’s work is already in the line of what we wanted, so it was a perfect fit.
The aim of the music and video is to take you on a journey, a psychedellic one.
What’s the community like in Lima – particularly among producers working in the way you are? Is there a sort of center to the community you hang in, or is there a connection to a wider scene, as well?
The scene in Lima is very creative at the moment. It’s the first time that we are looking to our own roots as a community, as a movement. That feels great, and seems good that its running on its own now.
I’m curious how you’re enjoying Berlin and so on. What’s your experience of Europe as you’ve traveled – the audiences, the feel of the shows, the producers who are here?
We, as with almost every artist we met, we love Berlin. There is good music on every corner, from a big club to a small bar, good record shops, and it’s relatively cheap, so that’s great. Almost everyone we meet is a producer or DJ, jajajaja, so we are doing some collaborations with some very talented artists.
The tour has been amazing, We started with the bar real high with SONAR Festival — I think we never felt so nervous, but ten minutes into the set, we were enjoying every moment of it. We had really great shows sometimes, playing for 20,000 people – as at Bout du Monde Festival. And tiny shows, enjoying both equally.
What can people expect from the Kantine show?
We usually go with no plans; we feel the people’s energy and play according to that. If people are excited, we get excited, and the show can go anywhere.
And the artists: