Somewhere in Estado de México, on the outskirts of Mexico City, producer Jadir Zárate is making fractured and urgent electronic music. In that studio and workshop space, Zárate carefully crafts experimental universes, building deep galaxies of sound that lie somewhere between ambient and techno. That space is also the headquarters of Hard-Mod, an independently owned and operated synthesizer brand he founded in 2009.
The 32-year-old synth maker started his career in music as a DJ and promoter back in the early 2000s. After booking and curating electronic lineups for nearly a decade, he developed a curiosity for building instruments. “One of the most peculiar things when I was DJing or promoting an event was witnessing a live act, especially if they used hardware,” he says. “Of course, that was the first time I was exposed to synthesizers.”
Zárate is self-taught and has no formal technical training in electronics, but that hasn’t stopped him from customizing toys and vintage gear through a process known as circuit bending, as well as building simple circuits like echo boxes and stylophone-like organs. “At the beginning, it was all about the DIY creation of music-making instruments,” he explains. “But afterwards, I went deeper into modular synthesis and sound design, which are until this day the main reasons [for me to build synthesizers].”
Modular systems – synthesizers composed of independent, specialized modules which aren’t hard-wired, but interconnected through patch cords – comprise the bulk of the devices he builds at Hard-Mod. “When you work with a modular synth, there’s more freedom to sound design,” Zárate explains. “Also, in the modular environment, you can understand sound on a fundamental level, and this can help a lot during the creative process when you make music.”
Today, Hard-Mod mainly works on-demand, catering to the needs of individual artists and conceiving every piece of gear as a true collaboration between Zárate and his clients. In the past, Zárate has worked with Jay-Jay Johanson, Nortec’s Pepe Mogt and Ramón Bostich, Métrika, Dusty Kid, and Dapuntobeat, just to name a few. He singlehandedly constructs each and every synth and system, finishing them in a slick, minimalistic black-and-white presentation that understates their true musical power.
When it comes to his own music, Zárate’s synth-making skills don’t define him as a producer. For him, there are many ways to achieve a desired sound, so he often chooses hardware that best fits his vision, whether it’s his own synths (mainly for percussion), samplers, or, more recently, acoustic instruments. His recent Ancient Echoes EP showcases his penchant for overlapping thick, emotional atmospheres with noisy textures, creating just the right amount of negative space to pop out of your speakers.
Zárate’s second EP, Leaving Samsara, is set to drop on October 24 through Detroit label Jacktone Records, exactly a month before his performance at this year’s edition of Mutek.MX as part of the Nocturne 1 event at Fábrica. All the proceeds from the EP sales will be donated to help rebuild the areas affected by the September 19 earthquake in central Mexico. In the meantime, you can find him hard at work at his workshop, building the synths that will inspire your next favorite record with his bare hands.
Mutek.MX returns to Mexico City on November 22-26. Purchase tickets here.