On ‘EL SUR,’ Girl Ultra Revisits Y2K Rock & the House Parties From Her Youth

Photo by Diego Andlovin & Lucca Necoechea from GRLS.

Mariana de Miguel has been able to uplift Mexican R&B to the stratosphere, finding thousands of fans, appearing in high-profile festivals, collaborating with artists such as Cuco, and becoming the first Mexican artist to appear at the famed COLORS sessions. However, she found the genre constricted. She responded with EL SUR EP, a nostalgia-fueled ride of love and lust on high BPMs, and her most ambitious work to date.

De Miguel felt what she describes as a shift in energy in the past two years and decided to chase it down the line. Until recently, her R&B sound has stuck to the downtempo side of the spectrum. But now, she wants to make music guided by dancefloor rhythms and the energy of rock music. “Originally, Girl Ultra was my DJ name, I would play house music. And ever since [it became a singing career], I’ve had it in the back of my mind to make dance edits of my songs, but I never found it natural to do so,” she tells Remezcla. “R&B and soul music are rooted in slow tempos. I had this need for rhythm and movement, and I wanted to translate that feeling to my live shows.”

This led her down memory lane. De Miguel grew up in the southside of Mexico City, where house parties could feature bands and DJs alike, and a whole lot of music played until dawn. These were the days that inspired her new album. “I think I’m a person that lives from the past, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” she says. “I’m constantly revisiting my past, so I have a degree of nostalgia for some genres and sounds, though I’ve always felt that there’s really nothing new out there. It’s just new iterations of things from the past in this new millennium.”

“I associate a lot of those sounds with the south side of the city,” she continues. “I grew up there, going to parties where I first got drunk and had some of my first affectionate and sexual experiences. It was this frenzy that happened at house parties where there was this wild freedom.”

While it would have been easy for Girl Ultra to rely on nostalgia to succeed with her concept, she has stepped up her whole act in the process. EL SUR features some of De Miguel’s most meticulous songwriting, as well as detailed production in addition to its eclecticism. Behind the boards were Kiddzie of the Noah Pino Palo project, ABC Dialect, and Girl Ultra herself. “I like to create close relationships with the people I work with,” De Miguel explains. “Kiddzie moved in with me, and we lived together for a year and a half, making EL SUR. We rejected a ton of ideas, going by trial and error. Since my lyrics were a bit less polished, I wanted the sound to reflect that, so there’s a lot of rawness and dirt on the guitar and synth sounds without it getting in the way. I’m very much into textures and atmospherics, so we made sure to have a lot of ear candy in the mix. We had the fortune of mixing EL SUR on Dolby Atmos, so it’s a more immersive experience for the listener.”

“R&B and soul music are rooted in slow tempos. I had this need for rhythm and movement, and I wanted to translate that feeling to my live shows.”

Her voice has also become an even sharper instrument. While she has always possessed an earthy vocal delivery, EL SUR features some of her most vulnerable and textured delivery. It also features some of her most emotional performances on tape. “I wanted to get deeper into the Girl Ultra character,” she shares. “A big part of it was getting over the fear of saying certain things and having my vocals upfront. I wanted the voice to be in your face without a ton of processing; there’s a bit of effects but not many. I wanted to concentrate on the microphone that was going to uplift my voice. That made me gain confidence as an artist.”

Lyrically, she also chased the feeling of young love, lust, longing, and heartbreak. By trying to get to a franker, less polished version of her feelings, she unlocked some mental cages. “Before, I would overthink my lyrics. But now, I launched into it with confidence. I had less of a filter to say what I wanted to say. It’s more visceral and vivid, so I think that’s why I could easily find the right words.”

For De Miguel, this album represents a new phase in her career and a new opportunity to show what she’s capable of doing. “I want [EL SUR] to be a transgressive work in the sense that I feel like R&B is a very small niche, and I consider myself an artist who can’t be boxed into a single genre. I tried doing whatever I wanted this time around and not worry too much if it’s something expected from Girl Ultra. If I’m an R&B artist and I give you a rock song, in what playlist is it going to end up? I think there’s a lot more to this project than straight-up R&B.”

Listen to Girl Ultra’s EL SUR EP below.