He started as a scratch DJ. Back in the mid-90s when Latin American hip hop was still wearing diapers and sucking its thumb to go to sleep, DJ Raff was already lending his turntablist skills to the up-and-coming rap artists in underground Santiago de Chile. From La Pozze Latina to Tiro de Gracia and later to Makiza, he was involved in pretty much every rap group that had a name and a record deal down there.
Not satisfied with being the reigning sovereign hip hop DJ in his homeland, he decided to move to Barcelona, Spain and took an unexpected turn in his career, leaving the turntables (momentarily) behind to pick up synths and all sorts of geeky gadgets and experiment with the architecture of sound.
After a locally successful debut in 2008 Raffolution and two digital EPs in the last couple of years (Traveling Partners Vol. 1 & 2), DJ Raff is finally debuting in the United States with Latino & Proud, dropping today on Nacional Records. A combination of his newest Chilean album Collage Binario with a selection of his best tracks from previously released work, Latino & Proud, despite its questionable title, will introduce yet another Chilean hip-hop prodigy (Ana Tijoux, Latin Bitman…) to an eager international market.
Where are you now?
Right now I’m in Santiago, I came to promote the release of Collage Binario. But I’ve been living in Barcelona since January 2010.
How are they treating you there?
Good, slowly I’m getting connected in the Barcelona scene. It was kinda like starting from scratch to move there. Slowly I’m building my name there, proof of that is that they invited me to play at Sonar.
Considering your vast career in Chile where you are pretty much the most recognized DJ, why did you wanna start from scratch in another place where almost nobody knows you?
It was part of the adventure and the eagerness to always do new things. I always looked for the challenge. I’m always looking out for the new, for what’s next. That’s how I first got into hip hop as a kid. I moved to Barcelona mainly to continue with my studies of sound engineering, so I went there to take some post-graduate classes. But also to update my brain, my soul, to do new music with a different flavor.
Not only you left Chile behind, but it also seems that you are getting away from your turntablist origins to focus more on experimental sound production.
It’s part of the evolution. As a person, you always learn more, new things, so at least for me, I became more and more abstract and minimalist. It’s all part of some cycle of life. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll go back to writing rhymes and doing collaborations with rappers. Right now I’m mainly fascinated with the mix of arts and science and technology.
Your new album has way more synths than turntables.
Absolutely. In fact there are only two tracks where I scratched. But that’s also because of the constant traveling. When you’re moving around you can’t carry all your instruments with you so your laptop becomes your palette. And you work with whatever you have in hand, and maybe turntables are not always in hand.
So, do you still consider yourself a hip hop DJ?
Mmmm, I don’t know. Yes, I think yes, because that’s my foundation. My roots are one hundred percent hip hop. Maybe what I understand as hip hop is not the same for everybody else, but if I have to label myself I’ll say hip hop because it’s my escence, and you can tell by listening to my beats.
How did this release with Nacional Records came about?
We’ve been talking with Nacional for at least three years, trying to find a way to do something together. Last year when I was in Barcelona the moment was right. I always like when things work out naturally in their own time. So I met with Tomas Cookman from Nacional and we had the exact same idea, at the same time and that’s how the idea for Latino & Proud was born, my debut album for the US.
Now I must say that I was a shocked by the title, Latino & Proud, I don’t think it’s a title that represents you or your music very well. You would never release an album in Chile or Spain with a title like that.
Yes… True. But this is a debut for the United States and the record label thought that was the best way to introduce me to the new market. I rely on them. I know that they know the US market better than me, so I leave the marketing part in their hands because I don’t know anything about that. (Note: “Latino & Proud” is actually the title of the only track in the album with evident Latin musical elements in the mix, it was originally part of his solo debut Raffolution).
“I’m always looking out for the new, for what’s next. That’s how I first got into hip hop as a kid.”
Tell me about the decision to release Traveling Partners as free-to-download EP’s.
That was in a moment when I had some material ready and I wanted to release it and we looked for a way to do a physical release but it was too complicated. It would delay the release a lot and I wanted it out now. So they offered me the option of doing a free-to-download release and I liked it because I thought it would help me reach more people. Honestly I’m not interested in making money through record sales because I’m not a pop artist. I prefer if people from Japan, Argentina, USA or Chile could get the album instantly instead of waiting for months just to sell 100 copies. It was a very successful experience. In 2009 I did a mini-tour in France, Portugal, Norway, Germany and most people knew me exclusively because Traveling Partners.
Any plans to come tour the US any time soon?
No concrete plans, but I really want to. I’m going back to Barcelona now and we’ll wait to see what happens and see if any promoters wanna send me to the US to do some DJ sets.
Even if you’re currently a bit detached from the turntables as instruments, I assume that as a legitimate DJ you still have a preference for vinyl. How important would it be for you to get your music pressed in this format?
For me it’d be a dream come true. I’ve always been trying to get my music pressed on vinyl and the only time I could was when we released a record with Tiro De Gracia in 1997. We tried really hard to press some vinyls with Raffolution but it was too expensive for the label, mostly because of the shipping, because we had to send them out to press abroad. I hope now with an official release in the US and me living in Barcelona I’ll be able to get this one, and maybe my future records in vinyl. It’s every DJ’s dream.