DJ Raff has been involved in Santiago’s underground music scene since he was 15 years old. During the ‘90s golden age, the pioneer Chilean turntablist lent his scratching skills to pretty much every rapper that mattered: La Pozze Latina, Tiro De Gracia, Makiza, Solo Di Medina, etc. He even had his own rap group, La Frecuencia Rebelde.
In 2008 he debuted as a solo DJ/producer with the groundbreaking Raffolution, but that was his last project as a strictly hip-hop artist. Since then he’s been further exploring the outer reaches of his sonic palette, incorporating unorthodox elements of modern electronic dance music into his futuristic collages, and his acclaimed work as part of the dynamic duo RVSB (where he shares the wheels of steel with Latin Bitman).
It only makes sense that the next big step in his unstoppable career would be starting his own record label. Pirotecnia is the name Raff and his wife gave to this enterprise they just gave birth to earlier this month, and it aims to become a platform for the Chilean EDM avant guard to achieve global exposure. In an era that has seen EDM democratized throughout the continent (it’s not any more the playground for the rich Eurocentric elite that could afford the prohibitively expensive equipment), Latin American DJs and producers are starting to find their identity and are making gimmick-free dance music that doesn’t necessarily fit the canon established by the north. If there’s somebody qualified for this mission I’d say that’s DJ Raff, and I can predict we’ll be hearing a lot about Pirotecnia artists in the years to come.
You have a very well-established career both in Chile and internationally. What motivated you to wanna start a record label?
The main motivation came from the fact that I was not being released by any label in Chile. My latest two albums (with RVSB) were only released on Nacional Records. I had been working with Mutante Discos for a long time, but they closed down. They released all my previous albums in Chile. Since Mutante Discos disappeared I was left hanging in the air, and RVSB was never signed to a Chilean label, which is paradoxical considering we are both Chileans. So that was the original motivation.
Secondly, my wife is also involved in this label and she’s a curator who works in many culture and arts projects, so we realized we could do something very interesting together because of her background and my experience. We’re really happy with this.
You have plenty of experience as a musician and a music selector, so I don’t doubt your good taste when picking up artists to sign. But what about your business skills, handling contracts, licensing, publishing, and all the numbers part of running a label?
You know what, I surprised myself and I think it’s because I’ve been in this business for so long that I had a secret set of skills reserved for this that’s starting to show. Also my wife helps a lot in that department, she knows how to do all the budgeting part. So we complement each other and we are taking this project really seriously. All these years as an artist, dealing with agents and managers, I always tried to pick up the good and keep an eye out for the bad too, so I don’t make the same mistakes. I think it’s the right time to start using all that knowledge.
I notice people “shazameando” with their cellphones trying to find your tracks and I think that’s great.
To some it might seem counterintuitive the open a serious label in Latin America, where the music market is largely overrun by piracy. How do you expect to counteract this? I mean, you’re planning on selling legal downloads in a market where people are used to downloading everything for free and people still resent the idea of having to pay for an MP3.
Yes, it is true that paying for legal downloads is still not the norm here, but I feel that’s slowly starting to change. I think people are going back to, sometimes, buying an album out of convenience. It’s easier and quicker that way than spending half an hour searching for an illegal link on some obscure forum. I also think that services like Spotify are helping to reach out to more people, even though it might hurt sales. It’s good exposure and it helps people discover your music. Nowadays, whenever I’m spinning at a party, I notice people “shazameando” with their cellphones trying to find your tracks and I think that’s great. In the end music is just culture, and this is culture expanding faster.
You describe Pirotecnia as an EDM label although you come from a strictly hip-hop background. Do you feel completely detached from the Chilean underground scene nowadays?
No. I think my roots are and always will be hip-hop. I think the music I’m making now could be easily labeled as EDM but it always has hip-hop as its foundation. I’m not able to make techno. Even if I make a 120 BPM beat with a house music hi-hat, it will always have something from hip-hop. I learned to make music by sampling old vinyl records so that will always show. I also don’t want to risk getting into stuff that I can’t really handle. I’ll never make an album of 100% deep house, for example. I rather do what I know how to do and experiment from there.
Even if I make a 120 BPM beat with a house music hi-hat, it will always have something from hip-hop.
But when you decided to start a label and sign all these EDM talents, did the idea of possibly signing some hip-hop acts crossed your mind?
Not really. Honestly I haven’t heard any recent hip-hop stuff that makes me feel the way hip-hop made me feel in the ‘90s. My attention has been a lot more focused on what’s currently happening in the underground EDM scene, but on what’s not necessarily associated with the established genres of electronic music like house or techno. I want the label to be centered around EDM but with innovative proposals; if I see something like that in the hip-hop scene, I’m open to release it too. My priorities, when signing somebody, are that they’re taking their music seriously, that they do good quality stuff, and that they have an original approach.
Your current partner in crime in RVSB is Latin Bitman, I was wondering if he’ll be involved in Pirotecnia too? Are you planning to release some of his music?
Yes. The plan is first to release an RVSB EP in the near future, and also Bitman has an alter-ego as an EDM producer, and that alter-ego will be having his debut on Pirotectnia sometime next year.
Tell me about the artists you currently have in your label and how you found them.
Our first release was by Roman & Castro. It’s a duo that makes electronic music; they’re still very new in the scene. They started doing remixes for indie artist like Gepe and Dënver and those remixes did great, they got played on the radios over here. Six or seven months ago, when we first came out with the idea of starting a label, I offered them to do their debut EP with us. We met them during the research process we did with my wife, we went to clubs, we explored on Soundcloud…We found them and they became our first signee. We also have Fantasna, an artist we started to see featured in many underground parties around Santiago. We liked what he was doing so we offered him to do an EP and he accepted right away.
How do you describe the music they make?
I wouldn’t even dare label it. I’d ask them to describe it. I’m very respectful of this because I know some people in the EDM scene take this very seriously and I honestly don’t have the knowledge to say this is deep house, progressive, Latin, bing-bong-bang or whatever they wanna call it. I do think it’s a new style of house music that’s starting to come out of Latin America. In the early days everybody in Mexico City, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Bogotá were trying to copy the exact same sound of whatever was coming out from Germany, Detroit, or Chicago. Now I feel that we are creating a new sound that’s our own and I predict that in a year more or so it’s gonna take over the continent.
What would be the stand-out qualities of this new Latin American sound?
I think it comes from the attitude. We as Latin Americans have partying in our blood, and house music is all about partying and having a good time. I think that what these new breeed of producers are putting out has a lot to do with our people, our culture, our food, our climate. It’s hard to describe but it sounds different. We’re past the copy phase. I think we’ve reached a point where we are able to stand up and say, let’s do this the way we feel it should be, not the way they do it in Germany, because we are not German. I think it’s a good moment for electronic music and the best moment to start a label.