Interview: LAO’s ‘Catedral’. A space opened to mystic and inexplicable feelings

You’ve seen it all over the place, but some of you may not know: LAO has released his newest material, Catedral, through NAAFI. The official release party goes down this Friday at the Bahía Bar in Mexico City.

We could tell you about the six tracks that make up this mysterious and frenetic EP, but we figured: who better than the source himself? I caught up with LAO, aka Lauro Robles, this week to learn more about Catedral, and in the process ended up touching on the whole Mexican underground musical movement, musical niches, the way US audiences are receiving his music, and more.

One thing is clear: Mexico’s musical scene is growing faster than ever before. Not only is there quantity, but also quality, uniqueness, and within that uniqueness, diversity. I thought this was a recent phenomenon, but Lao corrected me:

“This isn’t a new thing. This is part of a process that started at least 10 years ago when making Laptop music had a bad reputation. However, I could say that back in 2003 or 2004, people who I started working with were way more talented; they were more into sound art and experimental music, and nowadays they’re all academics. The computer was a new instrument, so everything was about experimenting.”

At this point, the conversation turned to the underground scene in Mexico back in the mid-2000s. “Despite its huge presence online, at that time, electronic music was an oddball. The music that you could listen to and dance to at the clubs was totally different from the bold and risky musical ideas that you could find in Mexico, and that’s something I really like about it.”

Things changed with social media, though. “After 2009 or 2010, with the boom of social media, musical clusters and micro-scenes that were born in Mexico were capable of producing and offering those musical ideas to new audiences, and, at the same time, old audiences could get to know new projects. It was really difficult before those years, but now, for instance, you can share your music with your friends’ friends through Facebook, and so on. This fact, and the fact that really great musical projects are developing in Mexico, have opened a lot of doors abroad for us. We Mexican and Latin American musicians are entering into the global field where there’s great competition, but there’s a justified confidence in our work that will take us to great places.”

I asked Robles if his projects (let’s think about NAAFI here) are filling a void, creating something that was previously missing in the Mexican and even Latin American musical scene.

“Look, ” he told me, “the thing is that after 2010, and after a lot of techno, a lot of electro, a lot of disco and repetitive house, people started to open their ears to new sounds and rhythms. This was due to a huge British influence that began in 2008; they managed to take experimentation to the dance floors. We can notice this in pop music nowadays; both people and musicians are being bolder when it comes to listening and producing. For instance I’ve been playing non-stop the new Katy Perry song [“Dark Horse”]. I think it’s awesome.”

This made me think about Skrillex, his “dubstep”, and all the big artists taking musical elements out of underground scenes. Apparently we were sharing a brainwave:

“There’s a current battle between mainstream artists and underground musicians. There are like 200 groups on SoundCloud that are creating new sounds and new genres, and people in the industry manage to take these ideas from them and use them in their big productions. That happened around 2010, and that’s when NAAFI was born, and precisely that’s what they started doing: taking experimentation to Mexico City’s dance floors. I really liked that about them.”

This made me curious: “What kind of music were you doing at that time, then?” I asked.

“I fell in love with experimental music since the first time I listened to Aphex Twin, Prodigy, and all of that. Then I started digging techno, and then jamaican dub, and then digital dub along the entire Berlin scene, but I ended up making digital cumbia. I realized after going to different parties that dub and cumbia had something in common. But also, when I was djing at parties back in college times, and when trying to get faster beats per minute I started adding tribal to my sets. I remember listening to tribal music since I was a kid, and I wanted to use it at the dance floors, and that was like in 2007 or 2008. I also used to make UK Funky and house with some Latin and African percussions, getting to afro house and beat house and things like that. And that’s what I was making when I first played at a NAAFI party.”

This immediately called to mind Catedral, which contains a lot of these musical elements. Is Catedral the culmination of years and years of musical development, I wondered?

“Well, yes,” he told me. “Truth is, I don’t know, I think there’s a common place in which artists tend not to be satisfied with their own work, but in this EP at the end I really liked what I did. I listen to it a lot of times. I started working on it last October, and I finished it just recently. At the beginning there were nine or ten tracks, but I sent some to other places, and others didn’t even get published. But I chose these six because I went to the more basic sounds that I used to like as a kid that later on I learned more about: 303, 909 [Roland synthesizers], or other synths names.”

LAO by Yuzaku Aoki at Red Bull Music Academy.
Read more

And so he did. LAO continued describing his production process, which he defined as simple. He used different modulators (303, 909, and 808), synths (DX-7), some percussion samples, and a Korg emulator. Nothing more.

He also talked about his favorite two tracks on Catedral. “‘Dissolved Space’ is a trance homage. Actually trance isn’t a thing that I really like, but I do believe trance was fundamental to the development of rave culture. Also ‘Catedral’ is one of my favorites. I really love southern hip-hop, and so I added some breaks and jungle to this track, and it really went well. I felt really satisfied with it… I think this EP is an obscure one. All the tracks have a similar aesthetic that made me really happy. I am satisfied.”

When I asked LAO why he named his EP Catedral he described an ambition that closely matched my listening experience. “I work a lot with reverbs in order to create ambiances, and in this case the tracks emulate the sounds that you can find inside a cathedral. But at the same time, for one reason or another, I always have liked to give a symbolism to my music. I’m not talking in a religious way, but rather in a mystic and mysterious one. I like to think that when listening to my music, you get into a space that opens you to mystic and inexplicable feelings.” Honestly, I could not agree more. It’s impressive the way this EP hypnotizes you. Not to sound like a broken record, but this is without a doubt one of the best musical works so far in this year.

Catedral is already out there, but on this Friday NAAFI is throwing a release party at the Bahía Bar in Mexico City. LAO will be playing, of course, but Lechuga Zafiro, Zakmatic, and OMVVR will share the stage with him. If you’re in D.F., definitely check it out. But if you’re far away, as I am, be happy because you can buy the EP HERE, and even stream it at NAAFI’s SoundCloud profile.