Q&A: Mexican Institute of Sound, Making Political Music A Blast

Read more

Camilo Lara is the face and brains behind Mexican Institute of Sound/Instituto Mexicano del Sonido, a project born out of his love for mixtapes. His mixes led to original creations that were at first performed as DJ sets and later with a full band. He returned this summer with Politico, his The Clash/Rage Against the Machine moment.

Lara, the former president of EMI Mexico, heads to Los Angeles next weekend on October 27th for KCRW’s annual Masquerade Ball and again in November to headline a concert. We sat down in a conference room at Nacional Records in North Hollywood where he spoke — wearing his trademark hat — about his love of lucha libre, living next door to Somali terrorists, and a forthcoming album with Money Mark and Julieta Venegas.

You were here last month to DJ a few events, including the Viva Lucha Libre documentary screening party at the Museum of Latin American Art. Are you a fan of lucha libre?

I’m a super fan! I love it. I just finished a theme for a reality show called Luchador for A&E. It follows the story of Shocker and other luchadores. I was also in London where I performed with Blue Demon. It was a big show with DJs and wrestling.

Have you watched the Super Amigos documentary about the social justice activist luchadores?

With Super Barrio and all the rest? Yeah. Super Barrio is the best one because he protects people against evictions. I love everything about lucha libre. Santo is like the Rolling Stones of lucha libre.

And who do you think is the best luchador today?

The best? Well, it was Místico, but he changed his name and joined the WWE. Sin Cara is Místico. He changed his name and lost all credit. [Laughs]

Do you still work for EMI Mexico?

No, no. It’s been about three years since I left. Everyone still thinks I do! [Laughs]

Is it true you own more than 45, 000 vinyl records or is that an urban legend?

Yes, it’s true. There was this guy at La Lagunilla, which is probably the biggest flea market in the world, and he had a huge warehouse. Over the years, I bought many records from him. I bought records just to sample, like crappy ones he didn’t want. So about half of my collection is crap. I mean, I love them but they’re recordings of speeches, children’s records, old mambo, and other stuff. The rest is cumbia, rock ’n’ roll, Mexican music–it’s pretty crazy! And I have thousands of CDs, too, but those aren’t for sampling. Those are for me to enjoy.

Are you familiar with the TV show Hoarders?

Yes, exactly! They should do a show about me! [Laughs] No, my CDs, no!! Actually, I injured a disc in my back from carrying boxes full of CDs around my house. My friends joke that I have all these discs and the only crappy one is in my back.


I want to get rid of my whole collection. I went on public radio, on KCRW, and a couple of universities wrote to me saying, “We’ll take your collection,” but the shipping and insurance costs are crazy–thousands of dollars–so now I don’t know what to do.

Político is your new album. I read that you mixed the album here in Los Angeles.

Yes, I did, with Robert Carranza, an engineer who’s worked with Rage Against the Machine, Beck, Beastie Boys, Jane’s Addiction. He was a good friend for a while and we have a lot of friends in common. For me, working with him was like making a super production of my work. It was wonderful because when I made my first records, I went to the recording studio to mix it and the engineer looked at the spectrum of songs and said, “Oh shit, your record is in mono!” I was telling Robert this story when I was starting this record–that all my previous records were in mono. It was horrible and he was laughing. Then he put the data on the screen and it was in mono, too! After four records, I still can’t record in stereo, so this guy basically helped to mix it and make it a nice recording. Otherwise it would sound like crap. All of my old records are in fake stereo.

Other than the mixing, did you record everything in Mexico City or somewhere else? How long was the process?

I recorded it in my studio. I came here and recorded drums, guitars, a few vocals, and mixed it at Jack Johnson’s studio. It’s an amazing studio, super professional. I recorded it in December and brought it here in January to mix. It was ready by the end of February.

Is Político your Rage Against the Machine moment?

It’s my Sandinista! moment. The idea is that there shouldn’t be any conflict between dance music and political statements. So this is a fun record mixed with a bit of political discourse. My favorite political records are also very fun records like Sandinista! by The Clash, which is very fun, or Never Mind the Bollocks by the Sex Pistols.

I named the album Político so that everyone would think of it as a political album. A political album doesn’t have to be boring. The vibe is a bit heavier or angrier as opposed to making a specific political statement.

I read an interview where you said that each one of your records is a snapshot of your life or events at the time. Is Político a snapshot of the current political climate in Mexico?

I think the Internet has changed the way people choose to receive information. You use the Internet to find the information you need or want as opposed to watching something on television or listening to the radio. Politics changed over the past year in the sense that it is no longer made or controlled by politicians, but by society. I think Occupy or Yo Soy 132 and even Twitter are all part of a larger movement being pushed by society. In that sense, politics became more important in my life. Not that I went out to support any political party or read the newspaper everyday, but it became part of my life. It isn’t something specific to me either. I was out in San Francisco and I saw all the manifestations of Occupy. It’s the sign of the times.

It’s impossible to separate these things from daily life so I guess it’s difficult to make an album that is not political during these times.

It happened to Nortec Collective. Their album Bulevar 2000 is named after what was once the most dangerous area in Tijuana. Naming their album after that zone was a political statement.

My story is that in the house next door to mine, [authorities] found three tons of C-4 explosives owned by a group of terrorists from Somalia who were going to blow up the U.S. embassy in Mexico City. I began writing the new record some time after that.

Were you there when it happened?

Yeah, there were lots of marines, police officers, helicopters flying overhead, and had they escaped, they would have fled into my house. This was about a year and a half ago.


The video for your first single “Mexico” features a number of protestors. Were they there protesting or did you arrange for them to be a part of the video beforehand?

I spoke to them about the video. About three years ago, there was a fire at a nursery called La Guarderia ABC, which was in the northern part of the country. Over 30 children died in the fire. The people in the video are the parents of the deceased children and we spoke with them about putting together the march for the video. We worked with Jonas Cuaron, who directed The Shock Doctrine documentary based on the book by Naomi Klein. Cuaron directed the video and it revolves around the story of La Guarderia ABC. It’s a tough video to watch. It’s not so much a music video as it is a call for justice for the victims.

What do you think about the student movement Yo Soy 132? Do you support them?

Yes, they also supported the parents in the video. They’ve even used my house as a pseudo-headquarters. It was important to see what they could do during the elections.

This record is quite a leap from Suave Patria, which had a more celebratory vibe.

[Laughs] Yeah, well, my first record was all samples. In the second record, I discovered I could play and sing a bit, too. The third record was completely original with no samples and Suave Patria helped me realize that what I really love is sampling. That EP is definitely more fun, however, each song is a section from the Mexican Constitution, so there’s also a political slant to it.

Finally, are there any artists you would like to collaborate with?

Well, I made a record with Money Mark called Boom Segundo. Hopefully we can release it next year. It’s cool, it’s very hippy, very psychedelic. They’re my songs but done very psychedelically. It’s with Money Mark, Julieta Venegas, and Quique from Café Tacvba. I also called Martin Thulin from Los Fancy Free but we haven’t released it. I guess my next one is going to be a “featuring…” album. I’m in talks with a bunch of people. One of the tracks is going to be with Jesus Jones of the first electronic-rock band.

Download MIS’ latest album Político below:

[insert-video youtube=gpybihsaV8Y]