As the line between the producer and the artist continues to blur, an earth-shattering revolution is taking place. For years, we’ve seen artists hailed as the creative geniuses of musical works, the figures solely responsible for bringing you a hot beat or a heartbreaking ballad. But now, the hands behind your favorite songs are finally in the spotlight, pushing the conversation on the trends that dominate the charts forward. Whether we’re talking about mainstream beatmakers like Metro Boomin, the Atlanta producer whose galaxy-sized beats have shaped the hits of Kanye West, Future, and Migos, or the game-changing indie pop of Chile’s Cristián Heyne, it’s clear that the people behind the boards deserve a little shine too.
To that end, we decided to bring together some of the best and brightest beatmakers in Latin America, getting their perspectives on their individual scenes and challenges. We’ve also partnered up with NPR’s Alt.Latino for an aural take on these stories. Our own Isabelia Herrera, Remezcla’s Music Editor, joined hosts Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd for a 40-minute session exploring the songs of a handful of these artists. Listen to the podcast below, and be sure to follow Alt. Latino on Facebook and Twitter.
Here are 10 Latin American producers you should know. –Isabelia Herrera
Steve Lean (Uruguay)
Steve Lean of PXXR GVNG (center left)
Mala Rodríguez and Future have one thing in common, and that’s 20-year-old producer Steve Lean. The Uruguayan-born beatmaker is the head honcho of PXXR GVNG, Barcelona’s boorish, controversial crew of trap prodigies. He’s also a member of Atlanta’s influential production collective 808 Mafia (headed by Lex Luger and Southside), who have crafted beats for Top 40 stars like 2 Chainz, Young Thug, and Future Hendrix himself.
The group first turned heads online for their viral low-budget music videos. Often shot on darkened street corners in Barcelona, their clips are a hypebeast’s wet dream: twentysomethings donning their best streetwear, smoking blunts, riding around in Beemers, and rapping over massively auto-tuned perreo riddims. Lean started making beats when he was 11, and produced dozens of remixes, mixtapes and loosies through the 2000s. It wasn’t until 2014, when D. Gómez, Yung Beef, Khaled, and Lean formed the supergroup PXXR GVNG (and their reggaeton side project La Mafia del Amor) that his career really took off.
I know what you’re thinking. How can this 20-year-old kid garner the attention of Lex Luger and Southside, who were largely responsible for trap’s post-2010 resurgence? How can an Uruguayan-born kid rub shoulders with the dude behind “Hard in Da Paint” and “Blowin’ Money Fast?” More importantly, what the fuck am I doing with my life?
That’s just the power of PXXR GVNG, whose unapologetic indulgence has earned the disdain of anonymous online trolls. They denounce the Barcelona rappers for their explicit and often misogynistic lyrics (see: their incredible ode to pussy “Tu Coño Es Mi Droga”). But Lean and the PXXR GVNG boys seem to know that what they’re doing transcends hedonism; it’s an act of political subversion. In 2015, they told El País that the reason there’s been so much backlash against their music is because of “racism” against reggaeton, and classism against la vida callejera.
But Lean and co. aren’t here to lead the proletarian revolution; first and foremost, they’re here to turn up, and they’re inviting icons to the party too. Last year, Lean built two eerie beats for Mala Rodríguez, her first foray into trap. Rather than parroting her peers, she made both songs her own. On “Mátale,” she flaunted her signature cante jondo vocal style over teetering snare rolls. If La Mala can dig, so can we. We’ll just have to forgive PXXR GVNG’s obnoxiously unpronounceable name. –Isabelia Herrera
Rachel Rojas (Dominican Republic)
Rachel Rojas of Mula (center)
For all the Caribbean kids who grew up on perreo but harbored a not-so-secret hankering for new wave, MULA is here to fulfill all your bruja reggaeton dreams. The trio hatched from Las Acevedo, a sunny folk pop project consisting of twins Cristabel and Anabel Acevedo, but these days they’re making dark dembow. Take a song like “Retumba,” a skittering dub firestorm that leaps from Chaka Demus & Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote” to jungle to wub-wub dubstep.
The woman who is largely responsible for that warped sound is Rachel Rojas, the trio’s beatmaker. Growing up, Rojas’ taste for metal and post-hardcore fueled her creativity as a bass player. But as she confesses, “Simultaneously Daddy Yankee and Tego Calderón were on the radio 24/7…So I never could detach myself from the Caribbean sound even if I tried.” After studying music production in Argentina, Rojas returned to the Dominican Republic to carry out her vision. The santiaguera claims that right now, there isn’t much space for the inscrutable in the Dominican Republic’s fledgling indie scene. After all, the island’s first major indie music festival launched just a few years ago, a bill that Mula had the luck to land for its 2016 edition. Booking the performance was a milestone, especially in a place where independent artists struggle to garner international exposure.
But Rojas is confident that the scene is opening its heart to Mula. To jumpstart the process, the group launched PULCRA Records, a netlabel that serves as a “platform to showcase our music whenever we wanted and to have full access to selling and streaming.” The DIY lifestyle is a familiar tale at this point, but it’s one Rojas is proud of. “It is a challenge to fit in, but I believe that the way through it is creating it ourselves. In a couple years, there will be room for everyone.” On an island where dembowseros would never dream of stepping foot in a club full of jevitos, that’s something worth celebrating. –Isabelia Herrera
The hardware-driven house of Chilean producer Valesuchi isn’t just transcendent, it serves as a reminder of the cathartic, restorative powers of dance music. Her spacious, verdant productions are a celebration of all things analog, her beats a reminder of dance music’s spiritual and corporeal potential to heal. Born Valentina Montalvo, Valesuchi started making beats in 2003 after her brother’s tragic death. “I’m as much influenced by the physical energy of the dancefloor as much as this certain, quiet feeling about working on something in a more emotional way,” she explains. The Red Bull Music Academy alum rarely uses computers to craft her work, opting for real-life synths over laptops.
Valesuchi has worked with the “pan-tropical, proto-disco” futurists over at Matías Aguayo’s Cómeme label, and in 2014, she debuted her Golosynth EP, a four-track collection of pulsing, punishing house. These days, she’s contributing to compilations and working on staying disciplined. “In Chile, we don’t have social safeguards of any kind, much less me as a woman. Precariousness has always been a part of [Chilean producers’] identity, and creatively that has been an interesting catalyst, though it’s sometimes difficult to tackle.”
Valesuchi’s music lies a world away from the synth pop sound outsiders have pigeonholed Chile for, and it’s a breath of fresh air she relishes. “I’m part of a scene that’s getting more fruitful, united, and collaborative every day, and one that’s working seriously in a place where doing this is risky.” She cites Diamante Label’s Bosque Libre rave, where DJs and producers from labels like Discos Pegaos, Discos Pato Carlos, Discos Cetáceos, ISLA, Cazeria Cazador, and more came together to celebrate the one thing that unites them all: club culture. “Though there are a lot of crews and labels, there’s a special fondness that’s growing through collaborating and including each other in as many shows and parties as possible.” –Isabelia Herrera
Sky & Mosty (Colombia)
There was a time when it would have been unthinkable for a song that dealt with the difficulties of being in a relationship to make it up the reggaeton charts. But not now. Medellín duo Alejandro “Mosty” Ramirez, Alejandro “Sky” Patino, and their Infinity Music team are part of a hometown flow that has changed the world of urban music. Mosty is in charge of recording, mixing, and mastering, while Sky — whose solo work veers into electronica — writes and produces. “Colombian music always has been admired and respected,” Sky told Billboard in an interview last year. “But this urban movement has put the finishing touches on the big picture.”
As Puerto Rico, the heart of reggaeton, deals with a disastrous economic situation, Medellín is positioning itself as the new commercial heavyweight. Fresh-faced singers like Maluma and Feid — another Infinity Music artist — are breaking hearts at an alarming pace. Still in their early twenties, Sky and Mosty are some of the scene’s young hitmakers. They’re known for a dembow-inflected, pop-friendly sound that helped propel collaborator J. Balvin to his Latin Grammy last year for the duo-produced “Ay Vamos.” It won for Best Urban Song in 2015.
In “Ay Vamos,” reggaeton’s reigning dreamboat sings to the complexities of love: “We fight, we make up. We keep doing it, but we love each other. Let’s go.” Love is in the area, even if it’s just for the cash (cut to fans swooning in packed mega-stadiums over Balvin’s dedication to his girl).
Balvin is selling out shows in New York, his Infinity-produced “Ginza” racking up stratospheric YouTube views close to Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” Infinity masterminded Nicky Jam and Kevin Roldan’s “Una Noche Más,” another reggaeton rómantico mega-hit. The world is feeling Sky and Mosty’s loved-up beats. –Caitlin Donohue
Cristián Heyne (Chile)
Chilean indie owes its visibility to Cristián Heyne; the producer is behind some of the most iconic records the country has released over the past 20 years. As the mastermind behind Alex Anwandter, Gepe, and Javiera Mena’s solo debuts, he has almost single-handedly shaped the synth pop sound that characterizes Chile’s indie world, though in recent years, outsider music journalists have pigeonholed that community for its pristine pop maximalism.
Originally a member of the now defunct bands Christianes and Shogún, Heynes took a seat behind the boards in the 1990s, slowly working his way up the ranks and eventually landing a gig producing for La Ley. Since then, Heyne has become Gepe and Mena’s go-to collaborator, working on 2015’s Estilo Libre and 2014’s Otra Era respectively. “I follow journeys. I help them stop judging themselves and make decisions. But I always need them to reach the answer on their own,” he explains. “Above all, I think my job function is that of a psychologist.”
These days, the producer is working on nurturing the next generation of Chile’s indie acts. Though he believes Gepe and Mena stand above the rest (“Gepe and Javiera are magical. They’re not normal. The sum of their music and lyrics is more than those elements on their own. That’s poetry.”), he feels that emerging musicians like Marineros, Patio Solar, and Niños del Cerro are capable of emulating that talent. His latest project is Demony, a netlabel he plans to cultivate over the next few years. “There are definitely more genius artists wandering around. There are new, interesting artists coming out of Chile all the time. It’s been like that for years. Here’s hoping that keeps happening.” –Isabelia Herrera
Young Martino (Puerto Rico)
Photo by Mari Lopez
Over the last five years, Puerto Rico’s burgeoning hip-hop community has exploded onto the Latin American underground, a phenomenon we first documented in our Trilligan’s Island doc back in 2014. The star of that explosion is San Juan-bred Álvaro Díaz and go-to collaborator Young Martino, whose wisecracking rhymes and doomsday beats have landed Díaz and his Lv Civdvd crew on the festival circuit in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and beyond.
When PR’s rigid (and reggaeton-loving) music industry turned a blind eye to the Tumblr rap sensibilities of Díaz and his friends, the MC decided he would take matters into his own hands, launching a production house and a clothing line in the form of Lv Civdvd. “We gave an update to all the hip-hop/rap that was happening on the island. No one expected that a group from the island could be making that sound of that quality,” Martino declares.
Martino began producing with FruityLoops in 2008, studying the trade of legends like Scott Storch, Timbaland, and Dr. Dre. Though Martino’s oeuvre certainly draws inspiration from Atlanta trap and US-born styles, his work is by no means a rudimentary carbon copy of those trends. Last year, Martino broke down his creative process for us, attributing the “Latin touch” to the bomba and plena he grew up listening to on the island. “It can be a triad, but instead of leaving it alone I add the seventh or ninth note of the chord and then bring it down on the third. It gives it more a jazz, blues feel. More musical.”
That Boricua flow doesn’t just come out in the technical nuances of Martino’s work; it’s slathered all over his tenebrous, apocalyptic beats. In the studio, Martino and Díaz “play a show in the background on mute like ‘American Horror Story’ or a movie like ‘The Dark Knight.’” Tracks like “Elvira Hancock” and “Groupie Love” illustrate that affinity for doom-and-gloom to a T, and along with Díaz’s introspective, pop cultural rhymes, the tandem packs a punch, scoring the perfect soundtrack to a life riddled by the urgency of the Puerto Rican debt crisis. –Isabelia Herrera. Additional reporting by Zoe Montano.
Among the strategies for social change, bringing people together and making them dance against injustice rank pretty high in effect. Which brings us to Buenos Aires-based producer and promoter Melody Tayhana and her collective’s Hiedrah club nights.
We first started feeling Tayhana through her too-real “No Back to the 90s” mixtape, a driving but danceable 22 minute-set featuring police sirens, political speeches, and chimes that build in intensity. A pause between beats and then: “I think this is a dictatorship we’re living in,” declares a voice sample.
Tayhana, a former film student, told Remezcla that she builds sets like a movie plot, a dramatic arch. “I don’t know what I think about [when I mix],” she said. “I can only feel absolute freedom to play with my feelings and with the bodies of those who choose to give me theirs for a few hours. I love taking them to the limit, to go from the most crude and aggressive to the most pornographic and sensual.”
It was a desire to move unabashedly to little-heard kinds of music — from dembow to kuduro to vogue — that led Tayhana and two friends to start Hiedrah three years ago. They insist on grounding music and movement over social etiquette.
“The freedom to play and explore the difference of the other is our basic premise,” Tayhana said. She’s proud to have taken that tolerant philosophy and built it into a cultural center for political resistance in Argentina: “The sounds and the rhythms are our weapons to defend our simple right to enjoy.”
Because all is not enjoyable in Argentina at the moment. Former Buenos Aires mayor and technocrat Mauricio Macri was elected to the presidency last year, ending the administration of Cristina and Néstor Kirchner. But he began his own horrors with conservative economic policies that have sent inflation up, at the expense of the working class.
Tayhana sees her country as having been duped, and she wants the world to know that “Argentina is being ruled by the media, by monopolic business and not by the conscious choice of the people.”
So it’s about more than just the music. Or then again, maybe the music is the most important part. Movements don’t start on empty dancefloors. –Caitlin Donohue
20-year-old Phynx (aka Jorge Guillén) is imbuing lonely boy R&B with a dose of much-needed Mexican naturalism. His lush, organic productions reference everything from J Balvin to The Weeknd to the Aztec mother goddess Tonantzin, re-envisioning sacred pan flutes, tropical bird calls, and rain showers through a soulful 2016 lens.
On SoundCloud, the Guadalajara-based producer has tagged that “beautiful collision” as “tribal trap,” and he’s dead set on disseminating that vision beyond the walls of his city’s often neglected underground electronic scene. “In Guadalajara, people are used to the same sounds, and there aren’t many [artists] who dare to push something new forward,” he argues. “But little by little, with the help of national collectives and the Internet, Guadalajara is coming to light.” Guillén collaborates frequently with Mexico City’s Finesse Records, Gold Frame Records, and SsenSorial Crew. Besides being a savvy business move, Guillén says it’s a valuable learning experience. “I like working with different collectives because I think each one has something give. They’re different people with different ideas, and I learn something new from each one of them.”
Whether it’s meticulously planned or not, Phynx’s collision of trends and ancestral rhythms is a welcome reminder that futuristic, roots-driven music is the new and glorious normal. –Isabelia Herrera
He may be 17, but age hasn’t placed any major boundaries on Tijuana producer Eduardo Amezcua (aka Grenda’s) career.
He’s already produced a sophisticated, heady album in the form of Untouchable Skin, as well as his lush, downtempo Living Right EP. They’re explorations of form, buzzed out atmospheric moments that make use of a faint hip-hop vocabulary. Grenda’s music will bring a flush to your cheek, cause an emotional surge, and trigger lucid dreams.
It’s in his blood. Dad is Ramón Amezcua, a.k.a. Bostich, a talented composer and producer who has been known to control concert sound systems from a tablet while sharing the stage with an accordion, a Sousaphone, and a trumpet as part of his ensemble Nortec Collective.
Youth doesn’t seem to have limited him geographically either, having recently played MUTEK Mexico City and SXSW.
But his age has one, predictable drawback. Possibly disproving the perception that anything goes in Tijuana nightlife, Grenda said that there have been times when being a teen has meant skipping a gig that wouldn’t let minors in the door.
He’ll have time for that when he’s 18, or 21, depending on which side of the border the party’s at. Mainly, he enjoys being free of adulthood’s taxing responsibilities. “I have more free time, and less worries,” he said. And lucky for fans: “I can dedicate myself 100 percent to the music.” –Caitlin Donohue
Demian Licht (Mexico)
There are not too many DJs who can say they left home at 16 to study the craft, their fate dialed in by the Chemical Brothers’ admittedly motivational 2008 track “Hey Boy Hey Girl.” But few things about producer Luz Gonzalez Torres a.k.a. Demian Licht would indicate that she follows crowds.
The story of today’s dark femme techno/krautrock adherent is that Licht took her “Hey Girl” ambition to to the megapolis of Mexico City and attended her teenage dream educational institution, Escuela de Música G. Martell. Her dedication to making beats didn’t die off after leaving home — she then became Latin America’s first female Ableton instructor in sound engineering.
Licht says she first culled performance stylings from Guadalajara garage punkers Le Butcherettes’ singer Teri Gender Bender. Her feminine freak factor and transgressive spark gave birth to Licht’s firm appreciation for the revolutionary powers of the producer’s own preferred musical genre.
Licht grew a desire to create community around her beloved techno sound, and her sets took on dark dimensions that encourage psyche diving, interior exploration without losing the beat.
Last year, the producer released two of her own EPs on her label Motus Records, Female Criminals Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. She is a huge David Lynch fan and plays a fantastic murderer in a bloody bathroom photoshoot that accompanied Criminals. And she hasn’t played all her cards yet — the world has yet to see the true meaning of Motus Org, a mysterious organization she founded that promises a paradigm breakdown “led by a woman” in its manifesto.
This year, Licht headlined an all-female lineup at New York City collective Discwoman’s recent weekend-long appearance in Mexico City. She played at one of the Discwoman parties, which after her travels — she’s spent years living in various European countries — counted as her first live set in Mexico’s capital. But on Saturday afternoon, she spent a few hours skill sharing, in an Ableton workshop, of course. –Caitlin Donohue