We live in an age of technological wonders, and we’re so busy being plugged in that we hardly take a second to think about how tech is integrated into our daily lives. I would hate to be one of those guys who romanticize the bygone days where people actually talked on the phone or didn’t walk around with their eyes glued to a screen. Still, I think it would be very productive if we spent just a little time reflecting on how we can make technology work more to our advantage.
Bárbara Ruíz Leal and Carlos “Índigo” Cruz Guerra have surely spent time pondering this very issue; figuring out ways to use technology to benefit Mexican artists is a cornerstone of the Ensamble collective they began in 2014. Known for throwing kickass events around Mexico City, Ensamble have shown a knack for hi-tech stuff, especially when it comes to innovation on the electronic music front.
This Thursday April 30th, Ensamble will present Avanzada AV002, their second event pairing producers with visual artists for a unique audiovisual experience. The lineup features A-RP, MHV, Líneas De Nazca, System Error, DJ Oyster and Techno Para Dos, and on the visual front, will showcase the work of Sabme, Yestofonia, ESSTRO9, FRCH, Dora Bartilotti. Avanzada will be hosted at La Bodega in Vertiz 86, Colonia Doctores in Mexico City.
We talked with Carlos and Bárbara to learn more about Ensamble, Avanzada, technology, collaboration, and their plans for the Mexican underground scene.
Where did the Ensamble idea come from?
Bárbara: It started because we noticed there was a lot of talent here in Mexico and we wanted to develop a platform where that talent could be nurtured. I’m not just talking about music, but many disciplines. We started doing events because we thought it was the easiest and fastest way to achieve what we wanted; to let people know about what we were working on.
Carlos: We started doing events with international talent to pull a crowd, to make them look our way and also to have them collaborate with our local talent. We had some missteps along the way, but that enabled us to become better at what we’re doing. We take a lot of care with the production aspect of it all, we invest a lot in the audio equipment, to have good engineera, etc. Some [performers] —the old school people— had been feeling discouraged about the state of production before we started working with them. They’d say “Man, there’s never a good venue with good gear to play,” or “you show up to a venue and all the equipment sucks,” etc. That made them retire to their bedrooms, and we wanted them to get back on stage.
We have also started a label so that everyone’s recordings that have been sitting on their hard drives can find an audience. The artists and people we have invited to Ensamble have also been instrumental on this side of the operation; for example, one guy does the mastering, the other does the art, etc.
There’s a lot of concerts and festivals happening in Mexico these days, especially in electronic music and experimental stuff. What was the musical climate like in Mexico when Ensamble started?
Carlos: We know that things are difficult. When I met Bárbara, I was sick of putting shows together; I could never find someone to work with. When we started Ensamble, I told her that we were going to love each other, then hate each other, then repeat the cycle; we were going to laugh and cry, we were going to become very close and then not see each other at all and then reunite. And that’s exactly what happened.
Bárbara: It was difficult to convince people that we were going to do something of quality, and it was also difficult to convince people to listen to different genres of music. The old school people were cynical at first: “Right! Here come the guys who are going to do things ‘differently’ again.” It was difficult to get people to just stand there and watch. At the first couple of shows, we gave away a bunch of tickets just so people would come.
Carlos: We wanted young and old people to go and enjoy Ensamble. We met with many people from festivals: Antes, NRMAL, etc. and told them about our project. The only thing we wanted was for them to come out, to have fun. It was funny because I know the old school people and all the guys from Filtro and Static, and all those old collectives and labels started seeing each other for the first time in years. They would say “I haven’t seen this sonofabitch in years!” and everybody was there having a good time. We like linking people up. We also wanted to throw listening sessions with top notch gear, to develop a meeting point for like-minded people.
Bárbara: We’ve also taken a lot of care with the visual aspect of Ensamble.
Carlos: Our goal isn’t only to develop electronic music —well, for the moment, yeah it is— but we’re also looking to incorporate artists from many other disciplines that use technology in their work. We want to make these multi-sensory events where there’s gastronomy, photography, painting, etc. That was the initial goal but it was way too ambitious, we started from square one with the concerts. Now have people who work on the visual stuff, like Mario Hernández, who does photography and film.
Will there be a way for people to participate in Avanzada even if they can’t be there in person? I mean, with the music, there’s a label, but what about the visual aspects you were talking about?
Carlos: We’re working with El Jardín De Las Delicias who do video podcasts and they’ll be documenting Avanzada. We have a website and people can have access to all the archival footage there. We’re also collaborating with other people, like the label Varios Artists with Jiony and Billie Mandoki. We’ll be hosting some improvisation sessions with artists that have never played together. Plus, we’re developing the management and booking side of Ensamble with other people.
Bárbara: If you’re in town, you should definitely come though because there’s no video or recording that will compare to experiencing the real thing. We’re very accessible.
Carlos: We’re especially interesting in having young people at shows. Sometimes we approach 18, 19 year-old kids who are into electronic music, and we tell them to make us a list of their friends, and we let them in for free. Sometimes we see them outside the shows and we know that cover charges may be a deterrent at that age so we let them in. We do it very hush hush, but we don’t like to leave them hanging outside. Sometimes we take them out to eat afterward so we can pick their brains about what they’re interested in; they’re usually suspicious at first but we want to hear them out.
What do you want to achieve in the future with Ensamble?
Bárbara: For more people to join us and pitch projects.
Carlos: We’d also love to present Ensamble in other cities and build a network with other countries in Latin America. In the long run, we’d love to establish a self-sustained, self-financed festival that could somehow fund a school where low income children can learn to work with technology. If we could establish a grant for five kids a year to work with technology, then that would be a dream come true. That’s our dream in the end.