Q&A: Ritmo Machine, More than just a DJ and a Percussionist

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If you’re familiar with Nacional Records‘ catalog, you’ve probably heard of Chilean DJ and producer Latin Bitman. He has a unique and very eclectic approach at hip-hop beat production that appeals to music fans that are not exclusively rap or turntablism fans. Since the early ‘00s he started to build up his international reputation as one half of the duo Bitman & Roban and later he moved on to a successful solo career as Latin Bitman. Now he joined forces with the acclaimed percussionist Eric Bobo who recorded and toured with some of hip-hop biggest names as Cypress Hill and the Beastie Boys. The son of the legendary Latin soul pioneer Willie Bobo, Eric had also released a previous album on Nacional Records that didn’t receive the attention it deserved. Together, Latin Bitman and Eric Bobo are Ritmo Machine and earlier this year they met in a studio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they recorded this amazing album, Welcome to the Ritmo Machine, arguably one of the top releases of 2011, with A-list guests and a few unexpected surprises.

While they were getting the last details ready for their live debut in Chile, last week, we got them to sit down and do this short interview via skype.


Bitman, last time I talked to you, you were still part of Bitman & Roban. Fill me up on what happened since then and how did you transition from that into Latin Bitman?

Latin Bitman: I made three albums with Bitman & Roban and by the last one, we had expanded into a four-people band. Musica para Después del Amuerzo was our last album, and the first one published in the US (through Nacional Records in 2006). Before that album, I had already released my solo debut Sunset Beats. That one I signed it as DJ Bitman. It was then that I started to realize that I was doing almost all on my own, I didn’t need to depend on anybody else. That led me into releasing the next solo album as Latin Bitman.

Why did you change your name from DJ Bitman to Latin Bitman?

LB: At that point I started to feel there was a saturation of DJs. There are many DJs who play music, but there are also DJs, like me, who produce their own music and mix it with turntablism techniques. So I wanted to distinguish myself from the average DJs who only plays music with their computer. There’s nothing wrong with them, I love the abundance of DJs because I love DJing in general, in all its forms. But I wanted to position myself in a place that represented what I do better.

But your music is not necessarily Latin, why that name?

LB: It’s not Latin music, but it has a kind of Latin approach from a universal perspective. There’s certainly a Latin feel to it, with influences that come from funk, hip-hop, reggae, etc. I think from a foreigner point of view, they can recognize that Latin feel without having to appeal to salsa or stuff like that. There’s a certain Latin warmth to it. Latin Bitman is Latin music for the world, not Latin music for the Latinos of the world.

OK, let’s skip forward to this new project, Ritmo Machine, how did the connection with Eric Bobo came about?

LB: Well, first I knew about him from seeing his name on the Beastie Boys’ album booklets. I didn’t know him personally. I think it was when Eric released his solo album on Nacional Records (Meeting of the Minds, from 2008) that he probably had access to Nacional’s catalog and discovered my music there and he reached out to me saying we should do something together. That happens a lot with musicians, they always say, “we should do something together,” and many times nothing happen but sometimes it does. Some time went by, we sent a lot of emails back and forth, and we started working on some tracks. When Eric came to Chile to play at Lollapalooza with Cypress Hill we finally met and we decided we would go for it and he suggested to go record it in Argentina.





What made you choose to record this in Argentina?

Eric Bobo: I was already planning to go and spend some time there. That was the last stop of our tour with Cypress Hill and I decided to stay for a little while longer. It was perfect to record there since I had time to concentrate on something else and we would both be out of our comfort zone with nothing else to distract us, nothing else to do but make music. One thing I was sure I didn’t want to do was to make this whole album just via email. I felt it was very important to spend some time together in studio, to catch the vibe.

Now, since you were in Argentina already, did you consider at any point to have some Argentine guests?

EB: We tried. We had a list of people that we wanted to work with and not everybody was able to do it. We did reach out to Dante (Spinetta, former Illya Kuryaki & The Valderramas) to do something but I don’t know where it got lost in the clouds somewhere.

LB: It wasn’t the right moment for dealing with guests either. In Argentina, we were working on the pre-production, working on tracks from scratch. It wasn’t until after I came back to Chile that we started to receive the contributions from the guests.

Eric, a couple of years ago I remember you were touring a lot with DJ Rhettmatic and I thought that would eventually lead into an album with him, but instead you end up making an album with Bitman.

EB: With Rhettmatic we never really intended to make an album together. We were just doing shows. We did record some mixtapes, but only in order to get more gigs. But that experience helped me to know what to do in a show with just me and a DJ and that definitely helped me with this project. But for this project we added a lot of other things, it’s more than just a DJ and a percussionist.

Bitman, you always have plenty of guests singing or rapping on your albums but this is the first time you have so many big names, international stars. I think with the exception of Ana Tijoux who is a regular on almost all your releases, all the rest of the guests were new to you. How did that happen?

LB: That was all Eric’s executive production. Most of the guests are people who had worked with him, or friends of him. In some cases I’d suggest “this track would be good for this vocalist” and he’d make a couple of calls and made it happen.

One of the guests that I wasn’t expecting was Pato from Control Machete. How did that came about?

EB: We also had Control Machete’s Fermín on the list of potential guests. I actually had talked to him, as you know he’s a [Christian] pastor now so it was a tough sale. For the song “Sangre” I wanted his voice, but that didn’t pan out. If we would’ve had all the collaborations that we’d originally thought, this album would’ve been a lot more vocal and that might’ve posed a problem to try to play it live. Pato wasn’t the first choice for his song [“Sabe”] either, we wanted Liliana from Bomba Estéreo for that song, but she was on tour so it was very difficult for her to do it.

Another collaboration that struck me as odd was the pairing of Ana Tijoux with Sick Jacken of Psycho Realm on the same track, because they are two artists with very different styles and aesthetics.

ER: We wanted Ana to do something. We didn’t know what. And I’m very close to Jacken so any chance I get to work with him is great. His vocals were done after Ana, she did her part and I went to the studio in LA with Jacken and he did his part based on what Ana did. It is kind of odd to have him and her together, but I think that’s the beauty of it, trying to put pieces together that you might not think of and make something cool out of it. That song came out way better than what I thought it would.




So, now I know you’re getting ready for a show in Chile. How are you planning to take this album on tour and play it live?

LB: Right now it’s just the two of us — I DJ and he plays percussion. I mix our songs along with other previous songs of mine and songs by Cypress Hill and Beastie Boys, and all the percussion and scratch are done live. It’s fun and a lot more entertaining to watch than just a guy pressing buttons on something that you don’t know what he’s doing. We’re also planning on putting a band together for some shows later, with guitar, bass, keyboards…

And I assume you’re planning to eventually bring this to the US, right?

LB: Yes. That’s the idea. We’ll go to the US and probably Europe too. We’re currently closing dates for next year. We’d like to do the Festival Circuit, Smoke Out, Coachella, LAMC, SXSW…

My last question, as a DJ myself and confessed vinyl fetishist, do you know if there’s any chance of Nacional Records pressing this album on wax?

LB: For me as a DJ it’d be great. Even if I currently use Serato, it’d be great to have it on vinyl just for the symbolism of it. It makes it feel more official. It’s a romantic thing; you want a vinyl disc of your own music. I don’t think it’d be impossible. I realize it’s an important investment but at least a small limited run, exclusively for DJs. It’d be beautiful.