Las Sucias are here to make you a little bit uncomfortable, and you should probably let them do it.
Las Sucias is Danishta Rivero and Alexandra Buschman, a noise-reggaeton duo based in Oakland and Puerto Rico. These Caribbean mujeres (hailing originally from Venezuela and Puerto Rico, respectively) are upending standard narratives of Latina womanhood through their music and performance, using dembow, ritual spirituality, and a full embrace of the female grotesque.
This is perhaps best exemplified by the background art of the duo’s Bandcamp: an array of illustrations depicting bloody tampons and hairy vaginal figures – strange, abstract, and colorful – created by artist and friend Chaveli Sifre Riestra. “Women are seen as smooth and hairless,” Buschman told Remezcla. “We told [Chaveli] to get nasty, get grotesque, use bruja energy. Las Sucias is about that grotesque.”
Their wildly variable and long list of influences – from Ivy Queen to Balkan vocalists, reggaeton to industrial, dance bangers to cortavena classics – come together in experimental soundscapes as complicated as their lived experiences. “Our sounds come from very different places,” Buschman explains, “and they express our hybrid, complicated selves like a punch in the face. Las Sucias is about dealing with all the complexities of who we are.”
A project that combined their nostalgia for Caribbean rhythms and love for abstract and harsh soundscapes had been brewing in Danishta and Alexandra’s mind for a long time, but Las Sucias wouldn’t come to be until well after they first conceived it. “I think it worked out better for the project that we waited this long,” Rivero said, “because we developed our voices separately.”
“Las Sucias is about dealing with all the complexities of who we are.”
The two first met while studying music at Mills College in Oakland, California, gravitating toward each other as women of color in a program that was very white and male. “We really needed each other,” Buschman said. “We were the only Latina women in our program.”
Indeed, electronic music scenes are often very white and male. Not one for inaction, however, Alexandra organized a set of shows for women-identified electronic musicians called Labial Majority, finding that women in the Bay – provided with a space to do so – signed up to perform in droves. “But we know it’s a little bubble that we live in [in Oakland],” Alexandra says. “So now that I’m back in Puerto Rico I’m working on women’s participation in music.” They seek to not only take up space, but create more space for women in electronic music, and to make it one in which women’s talent and skills aren’t questions but statements – where women don’t struggle to be recognized just because of their place on the gender spectrum. Despite the fact that women were early pioneers of electronic music, women are continually marginalized in the genre. It’s something that the mujeres of Las Sucias have come against time and time again. “I studied electronic music,” says Rivero. “I understand what happens in circuits. But I’m constantly having to prove myself.”
Las Sucias was born years after their time at Mills, when one particular experience– trying to avoid street harassment, something so common it’s become routine in women’s lives – shook Alexandra into an immediate and creative response. “I wrote the lyrics on the bus,” she said. “I’d had a bad day at work and this guy on the bus was telling me to smile, telling me I would be so pretty if I smiled. And I was so enraged.” At the same time, Rivero came up with a beat. From this excruciatingly common experience emerged “¡Chiquito, Bendito!” the first track on their four-song EP.
¡Salte del Medio!, released last April, is full of songs that dissect the role of the patriarchy in women’s daily lives, center Latino cultural references (See “No Contaban Con Mi Astucia,” a song title taken from Chespirito’s El Chapulín Colorado), and marry reggaeton with noise, as Alexandra and Danishta emerge as brujas of sound.
They are inspired not just by the beats, but the attitude of early reggaeton. Before it was even going by that name, Alexandra was a kid on the island listening to the newest dispatches from the underground with the boys. “It was so punk the way that it came out,” she said. “Super cheap recordings on tape. It was a prohibited thing. At first it wasn’t so misogynist – it was about smoking weed, and not listening to your parents. It was different, and in our beats you can hear that super old school underground sound.”
“I studied electronic music. But I’m constantly having to prove myself.”
Though a community of new, independent reggaeton artists is cropping up these days, in the past, the genre usually wasn’t a source of inspiration for underground Latinx acts, with many indie fans dismissively shunning the genre as simple and pedestrian. Las Sucias feel differently, making the case that this kind of disdain for reggaeton – which poor and Afro-descended Puerto Ricans developed into a commercial genre – is something else entirely. “It definitely becomes this classist, racist thing,” said Rivero. “And it’s very easy to discredit if you just look at the music.”
And yet, they tell me that in Puerto Rico, where Buschman currently resides, people in independent music communities who grew up during reggaeton’s rise to the Latino mainstream aren’t that excited about a project that seeks to re-imagine the much-maligned genre. “Most of the people who come out to our shows are younger,” she says. “Younger people who are interested in coming back to their roots.”
Their live performance is highly improvisational, but most importantly ritualistic and spiritual, tapping into the otherworldly. In yet another expression of complex Latina womanhood, Las Sucias engage with their inner brujas. “Not one performance is like the other,” they tell me. “We love to approach our music very openly and try to tap into something hard to describe with words, the source of anger and love and sadness and all the things we experience in our lives and to express it with our performances. This is how it is a ritual.”
Currently, Las Sucias are thinking of the future: focusing on recording new music, planning a tour – including shows in Puerto Rico. If the hype is to be believed, they are not ones to miss. “Es como una limpia o despojo,” they explain. “A purging or cleansing. We take this part of it very seriously.”