Summertime in New York means a lot of things, but on the city’s signature river, most of all it means Turntables on the Hudson. In 1998, DJs Nickodemus and Mariano brought club culture to a city reeling from the Giuliani-era nightlife crackdown. Almost 20 years later, they’re still going strong. With outposts as far away as Cairo – Turntables on the Nile, natch – the party brand and compilation series on Nickodemus’ label Wonderwheel Recordings now turns to a new body of water.
Enter the first Turntables on the Caribbean compilation, the fruit of parties by the same name going back to the early 2000s at Old San Juan’s Candela Arts and Music Festival. International artists like Nickodemus, Mariano, Nappy G, DJ Simbad, Quantic, and Matthias Heilbronn would come play, then join with local musicians like Emilio Valez, Hector Alomar, and Sammy Ayala for intense jam sessions yielding a wealth of recordings that only ever saw the light of day in DJ mixes.
The party died out in the mid-2000s, but was revived six years ago as part of the Mi Casa Es Su Casa Festival in Tulum. After a few years of working back through the Caribbean releases in his dance music collection in preparation for the party, Nickodemus realized it was time to release a proper Turntables on the Caribbean record from the extended network of musicians, DJs, and producers that he has performed and collaborated with on his travels up and down the islands.
Featuring deep cuts from unheralded – but not for long – artists like Cuba’s DJ Jigüe, original tracks by producers like Montreal’s Poirier, and remixes of traditional sounds by crate diggers like Boston’s Whiskey Barons, Turntables on the Caribbean is a peak hour tour through one of the world’s most musical regions. We caught up with Nickodemus earlier this month backstage at Manana Festival, a pioneering electronic music and Afro-Cuban folklore extravaganza in Santiago de Cuba.
The Caribbean is full of live dance music already. When you apply electronic production techniques to make it suitable for DJs, how does that go over with the artists in your collaborations?
In the beginning, it took a lot of understanding on both parts. When we would record musicians, it was like sometimes they were uncomfortable with certain things in electronic music. Sometimes it’s lack of arrangement and structure, which for a lot of us comes later. We edit it and chop and do things later that make sense, so a lot of times the musicians are just like “Wait, you really want me to just play that part over and over? Okay.”
But also on the other side, sometimes for us it was hard, because the musicians – maybe they didn’t lock to the metronome. They’d pull ahead a little bit or pull behind. Anyway, that’s quickly resolved after doing it a few times. It’s just good to know that even though there’s a lot of live music, that there’s a ton of electronic music all over the Caribbean, especially more since technology became more accessible. You just got everyone rocking beats now.
Which styles of Caribbean music do you think have lent themselves best to the remix treatment or to collaborations with electronic producers?
Salsa. I’ve heard a ton of really good remix tracks and flips of that. I’m trying to think of the whole Caribbean. Dub in the Jamaican style is big.
There is one cumbia track on there, Corrado Bucci and Los Corraleros de Majagual. I wanted to get something that would represent Colombia.
“When we would record musicians, it was like sometimes they were uncomfortable with certain things in electronic music.”
Why not champeta?
I didn’t get the champeta vibe because I just felt like I didn’t know enough people there doing it that was sample-free. I didn’t want to get anything with samples. [Corrado Bucci] sampled this track “Miss Cumbia,” and I was like “Wait a minute. I know that track.” We happened to know the guy who can license it to us, so I was like “We’re going to put this one on there just to give Colombia a nod.”
Props for also giving a nod to the Garifuna.
The Garifuna Collective is dope because that’s a live track that translates very well to an electronic set because it’s just steady. It’s like [Quantic’s] “Mi Swing Es Tropical.” It’s very organic, but it’s locked, and it’s in the groove, and it’s got a good enough beat that you can sneak that in an electronic set in a minute. These guys are from Belize. I met them when we did a festival in Playa Del Carmen, and I was blown away by the song.
What’s the story behind Quimica’s “El Pulgero”?
Quimica is a band of two brothers who grew up in both Puerto Rico and Miami. They worked inside of El Pulguero, a flea market in Miami that’s very preserved to this day. It’s very similar to the way it was back then. It’s like everything; Haiti is crossing there, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, so they got such a melting pot of the Caribbean in that market. They grew up there selling things in the market, so they made a tribute, now that they’re established musicians.
“I’m going to go really into picking artists all from the Caribbean who are making banging techno.”
After that, you close out the compilation with something from the 3 a.m. chillout room.
El Búho’s track is very spiritual, trippy, Mayan. He’s very similar to Chancha Via Circuito. It’s like 80-90 beats a minute, chugging along. It’s heavy, man.
What’s in store for volume two?
The only thing I think I’m missing on this, which will come in Volume 2, is the techno side, the tech-house side. I’m going to go really into picking artists all from the Caribbean who are making banging techno. One of the guys, DJoy de Cuba, he’s starting to make some really deep stuff. That is a very Caribbean thing. When I play in Puerto Rico, when I play in Mexico, in Tulum, it’s really minimal.
Turntables on the Caribbean is out now on Wonderwheel Recordings.