The last several years have seen countless think pieces on the resurgence of electronic dance music (I mean, how many times a day do you hear people throw around the term “EDM”?) and these days, marquee names in electronic music regularly pack clubs and festivals with sweaty bodies. But although much attention has been paid to EDM’s inroads from European mainstay into U.S. mainstream – and into other music genres, like hip-hop – there has been little conversation outside of niche music blogs about the input of Latin American artists into the scene.
Latinos are a population that has been migrating throughout the world, exchanging musical knowledge and absorbing foreign cultures into their own. Add the internet into the mix, and you have a recipe for cultural cross-pollination that is helping to infuse digital music with Latin flavor, and spread it to the corners of the globe. Perhaps the most high-profile example of this is Diplo, who famously exploited Brazil’s baile funk and mixed it with kuduro, using these influences to produce tracks for M.I.A. and even Snoop Dogg/Lion. But there are plenty of other Latin electronic producers who are conquering dance floors, creating parties with loyal followings, and fusing cultures that share a penchant for chest-rattling beats, thick bass lines, and dramatic air horns – if you know where to look.
Here in New York City, our strongest ambassadors for this scene are Latin-oriented electronic parties Que Bajo?! and D’Marquesina, which have developed a cult-like following of partiers expecting to bend their knees, follow foreign rhythms, sweat, bounce and experience a new nightlife ambiance. But these are mostly traveling parties – they take over venues like Le Poisson Rouge, Home Sweet Home or Tammany Hall for one night a week (or month), and often bounce around depending on space availability. For now, there is still no hub where latin digital music makers and shakers can congregate – a place that can be what CBGB’s was to punk, what Max Fish was to assorted downtown derelicts and artists. There is, however, a contender: Bossa Nova Civic Club.
Since December of 2012, Bossa Nova Civic Club has been drawing people to Bushwick for underground electronic parties, up and coming DJs, and nostalgic tropical vibes. In the short time since it opened, it has regularly brought a wide variety of Latin electronic alternative artists to Brooklyn – Lido Pimienta, Isa GT, Maracuyeah, Chief Boima, Rio Bamba, El G of ZZK, to name a few – and this weekend it will host a music revolution by the name of Latin Electronic Alternative Dance (L.E.A.D.) fest, the first Latin electronic festival to take place in New York.
Spearheaded by Bossa Nova Civic Club’s own Chris Video, a Boricua DJ/Videographer/Editor, L.E.A.D. will be a musical convocation of the most exciting artists making waves in the Latin electronic scene – a call for NYC to celebrate music evolution in Brooklyn. Video came up with the idea after feeling inspired by the Latin artists around him, especially Colombia native Isa GT. “Everybody that I kept talking to and meeting after meeting Isa made me realize that there’s a different scene around these artists and the spaces [where] they perform. It felt right to start thinking about doing a 2 day event where I curate and bring these artists into Bossa,” he explained.
The lineup he has put together includes cutting edge artists from the New World, like Maracuyeah (Colombia and Peru), Volvox (Brazil), Beto Cravioto (Mexico), Free Radicals (Argentina), Fatik (Venezuela), Ocama (Puerto Rico), among others. “These artists are leaders, it’s like putting together the Latin Woodstock of electronic music. And the music has always been there, but it hasn’t always been brought out to international or mainstream markets – beyond Latin Americans who knew of this music from back home,” said Video.
Perhaps what is most exciting about this festival is that each of the artists on the line up represents a unique fusion of latin and electronic influences. For example, the D.C.-based Maracuyeah project is an upbeat celebration of events and musicians that mix traditional and popular Latin, African and Caribbean rhythms. Selma Oxor, on the other hand, takes things down a darker path; the goth-y sexpot sings vengeful songs in Spanish over ominous pop tunes, calling herself the ‘electro trash queen super bitch’. Directly from South America, Free Radicals aka Juan Pablo Ortiz is driven by house, disco and the groove elements that can be found among them. Meanwhile, Ocama transforms techno into a lo-fi dream. These artists may seem far flung across the electronic spectrum, but they are connected – not only by their cultural history and language, but also by the barriers they knock down after mixing sounds they only know because “it’s something they have in their blood,” as Video explained.
For Ana Lola Roman, who’s been living in New York for 8 years and is set to perform in L.E.A.D., the event represents an important and necessary practice in the U.S. “We are the fastest growing ethnic group above the border. There is a beat, rhythm, and lifestyle from this [Latin American] community that demands to be heard. NOT in just a POP element, as in for the masses, but in terms of a new genre.” As an artist, Roman expressed feeling “very alone for a long time in NYC in terms of my own music until Bossa Nova Civic club and this festival happened. I’ve been making music in NYC for close to 8 years and no one really ‘gets it’ like this community does. No one ever knew where to put me in the States or in NYC until now. I’m sure a lot of artists in this community feel the same way I do.”
For her, categorizing the music has a different meaning. “I just consider it dance music. I consider it elevation music. Techno, House, EBM, Minimal, and Latin all have one thing in common: they aim to elevate the listener. I always aim to do that with my performances and music,” explained Roman, who grew up listening to Flamenco, Cuban son music, Tangos, and Salsa. Roman also points out that she doesn’t “make Latin music per se, but there’s so many elements of clave, flamenco, and all sorts of rhythms in my music. I can’t help it; it’s deeply a part of who I am. I think we need to keep a global perspective in mind. And I think being Latin, plus creating Electronic Music is the gateway drug into a pure global sound.”
Leticia Beeton, known by her artist moniker Selma Oxor, echoed this sentiment of excitement about the festival, noting that the New York the electronic dance music scene has yet to disappoint her. “In Mexico there’s this growing EDM scene that’s more of electro-folk like 3ball MTY with their ‘botas puntiagudas’, or Nortec. I’m relatively new in the scene in Brooklyn and it makes me more than happy to be part of a movement that ‘speaks’ my language.”
Video has high hopes for the festival, and for Bossa to serve as a place where the spirit of latin electronic can thrive and cohere, telling me “It’s being built in a DIY way. [Bossa] works as an underground platform for this first take on the festival that I hope we’ll be doing for years to come.”
And in terms of what people can expect this weekend? “They’re going to be saying what people have been saying since we opened this spot: even if they’ve been here or it’s their first time, the music will always feel new. And after the party they’ll arrive home and search for the artists they just heard and start following them. They will get this taste of how amazing the Latin culture is towards music in general. They’ll be tapping their toes, I know it.”
L.E.A.D. is taking place Saturday, August 24th to Sunday, August 25th at Bossa Nova Civic Club. Learn more here.