As 2020 rapidly approaches its halfway point, the world is still trying to grapple with the long term health, economic and political implications of the Covid-19 crisis. However, in this brave new hugless world, viral content seems to be surging as artists and organizers innovate tirelessly in the face of uncertainty. Online festivals like Far Away Together, Desde Tu Casa and Cuarentena Fest have rallied hundreds of international performers onto social media, giving them access to wider worldwide audiences and vice versa. In terms of financial support, Bandcamp has been leading the way by relinquishing its revenue share the first Friday of every month, through the summer, raising over 10 million dollars in sales over the Spring alone. And in Spain, Montgorock Xábia Festival is dreaming up the future of live music experiences and how they can coexist with increasingly strict social distancing norms.
Over the past few months we’ve also noticed a spike in music releases, as many artists with exceedingly tight schedules suddenly find themselves with more free time on their hands. The most recent example of this might be Bad Bunny’s Mother’s Day-timed b-sides album,Las Que No Iban A Salir, but for many other artists, social distancing has presented an opportunity to create under refreshingly unusual circumstances.
“Quarantine has me creating in a really chaotic way,” says Juan Manuel Torreblanca, who’s written dozens of songs during his extended self-isolation. “[Writing music] has been a remedy for anxiety and insomnia. Where in a pre-Covid world I might have been asleep at midnight, now I can’t seem to make it happen, so that’s when I’ve been writing most of these new songs. This new chunk of time allows me to review the day’s events, so the songs have kind of become diary entries.”
Torreblanca was joined in his home by frequent production collaborator Pere George, where over the course of eight days the pair hammered away at over a dozen songs, expected for release as a series of compilations. As Torreblanca mentioned, songwriting has offered a welcome lifeline to his mental health, and in many other cases, artists are using their limited studio or band access to test out new creative strategies.
“Before the pandemic we never would have thought to create a song around the suggestions of our audience,” says Costa Rican rapper Nakury, who wrote her recent single “Desde Adentro” by engaging with fans on social media. After their US tour was cut short due to the onslaught of Covid-19 cancellations, Nakury and her production partner Barzo were forced to return home and observe a strict 2-week quarantine, as mandated by Costa Rican law. “Our followers suggested everything from keywords, to genre, tempo and instruments to use in the song,” adds Barzo. “This process led us to experiment with different ideas and the result was very interesting.
Quarantine experiments are hitting streaming platforms fast, so to guide you through these unique new gems we’ve compiled a list of 15 artists taking creative risks while social distancing.
Move over Mister Cumbia, there’s a new standard for quarantine guapachosidad! Out of left field in the best way possible, Juan Manuel Torreblanca has channeled his innate theatrical songwriting into a campy new cumbia titled “La Vida Online,” a thoughtful, hilarious dissection of our new indoor existence. The song comes complete with chants and otherworldly voice overs that should make it an instant staple of quinceañera Zoom functions and one-person dance parties.
Elsa y Elmar
Alone at home and welled up with emotion, Elsa y Elmar found solace in what she does best: Making music. On May 1st she released a 6-track EP titled Cuatro Veces 10, written, performed and produced in the solitude of her Mexico City home. A barebones setup of guitar, synthesizer and drum machine allowed her to canvas everything from the banality of the music industry (“haciendo discos”) to romantic longing (“desamarte”) and the nourishing company of her faithful cat (“sola con mi gata”).
Nakury + Barzo
Arriving back in Costa Rica after their cancelled U.S. tour, rapper Nakury and producer Barzo were compelled into mandatory two-week quarantine, casting an alarming new perspective on their sense of freedom and livelihood. Engaging with their online fan base to write a song and experimenting with new rhythms like cumbia a reggaeton, the pair unleashed “Desde Adentro,” a soaring anthem of unity and resistance for a time of dizzying uncertainty.
Mexico City psych duo Fryturama have been keeping a quarantine diary of musical experiments which they upload to their Bandcamp page on a weekly basis. From the ethereal loopiness of their first transmission “Reflejo,” to the experimental throbbing of their 9-minute epic “…me fui de monje,” Frytruama’s exploratory sonic voyages will be coming to a head on May 15 when they release their equally hypnotic sophomore album El Mutante Más Lindo.
Puerto Rican indie rockers Sebimor delivered one of the Spring’s most charming videos in “Cuarentena Jangueo,” a colorful ode to the millions of people staying home and keeping busy by any means possible. ‘Abre un libro / prende un blunt / juega ese Playstation,’ they sing sluggishly over shots of yoga in hazmat suits, romantic quarantine dates and improvised face masks. The result is a playful, colorful cheer of encouragement for everyone doing their best at hanging in there.
While quarantine has presented artists with the inspiration to experiment, in many other cases it has offered a very different gift: Time. Helado Negro is the prime example of a constantly touring artist using the global slowing to revisit his archives, uploading a series of ambient, house and orchestral ruminations onto Bandcamp under his government name, Roberto Carlos Lange. Dating as far back as 2006, you can plunge into the exquisite orchestral waters of his Love series or get into dance floor friendly cuts like “Barcos” and “summer 09 orphan edit.” Regardless, these new releases are a riveting, immediate counterpoint to Helado Negro’s more composed album releases.
Another artist who dipped into the archives this Spring is Kali Uchis, unveiling a new EP titled TO FEEL ALIVE, comprised of previously unfinished demos finessed into slow burning bops of angelic R&B vocals and sinister production. “honey baby (SPOILED)” and “i want war (BUT I NEED PEACE) find Kali Uchis in familiar territory, playing up her ‘good-girl with a naughty side’ reputation. Later, on “angel” and “TO FEEL ALIVE,” she goes bolder and less conventional with a darker sound we hope she further explores in the future.
Like most musicians, Yucatec producer Javier Cali is operating under limited circumstances. Currently at home in Mérida and away from the bulk of his Montehood collaborators and the capabilities of his Mexico City studio. Dusting off one of his old synthesizers and with abundant time on his hands, Cali has produced a new EP titled Transparente which features tinges of his trademark sadboy R&B stylings and exciting new forays into synthpop like the bouncy “Te Prometo” and an emo-influenced cut titled “Mañana No Estarás.”
Back in March, Dromedarios Magicos’ Diego Puerta turned his cabin fever into bedroom pop genius with Ánimo, a weepy new project kickstarted with fellow Chihuahua native Ariatna Velarde. On songs like “Fxck Marcos” and “40 Días,” the pair weave beautiful songs of puppy love and friendship armed with little more than Puerta’s acoustic guitar and entrancing vocal harmonies.
In March, Dominican producer Mediopicky dropped a cheeky 4-track EP titled No Salgas, exploring some of the more outlandish topics from within the pandemic. On “China” he ponders Covid-19’s nebulous origins, later dissecting our paranoid health awareness on “Síntomas” and lampooning virulent conspiracy theories on “5G.” While inspired by the darker tones of the unfolding crisis, Mediopicky wraps up the record with the optimistic “T.E.B.” reminding the listener that ‘todo está bien’ and things will only get better.
Colombian pop star Pedrina is used to spectacle and high budget studio productions, which is why her latest single “Estamos Juntos” stresses the unusual significance of writing music over video calls and recording with little more than a cel phone microphone. “It’s a song that represents how millions of human beings are feeling right now,” she wrote on Instagram about the mellow acoustic ballad performed alongside Diana Gameros and Courtah, “confined, expectant, still unsure of what will be of the life we knew once we regain it.”
Guayaquil is one of Latin America’s most affected cities by the Covid-19 crisis, so with heavy lockdown restrictions in place, singer-songwriter and producer Abbacook decided to embark on a prolonged musical improvisation exercise. Recording a track per day over the course of 5 weeks, Abbacook uploaded his soothing, lo-fi experiments to Bandcamp in an EP series titled “1D3AS y/o MAK3TAS D3 CUAR3nt3NA.” Over the course of 35 surprisingly accessible tracks, Abbacook tinkers with synths, jazz drumming and fuzzy guitar riffs, all while unpacking mood swings, dance floor nostalgia, social media fatigue and food cravings.
Ecuadorian indie pop diva Paola Navarrete was in dire need of catharsis, so she invited her friend and fellow singer-songwriter Mauro Samaniego into her living room where the pair crafted a beautiful new song about transformative acceptance titled “Otra Vez.” While social distancing has many of us seeking distraction, Navarrete offers necessary comfort for dark times.
In the midst of quarantine, following their recently cancelled tour, Catalonian pop eccentrics Hidrogenesse found themselves daydreaming of adventures in new cities. Absentmindedly watching the live feed of a desolate Piazza Novona in Rome and humming along to Chico Blanco’s “Otro Lado,” the usually campy pair decided to transform the gloomy club banger into a remarkably heartfelt piano ballad. The song also features a sample of the water rush from the piazza’s Fountain of Neptune, shedding light on the many subtle city sounds now audible in the absence of crowds.
Costa Rican producer Animazules has become a staple of the San Jose underground thanks to cerebral compositions that meld ambient music, anime fandom, architecture principles and location-specific performances. Using this time to expand his horizons, the producer has begun unveiling new tracks infused with house and juke, loaded with rap samples, cell phone ring tones and anything else that creeps into his wild mind.