It’s not easy to stand out among the thousands of producers out there, all competing for the fleeting attention spans of dance-floor regulars. The easy thing is sounding exactly the same as every other DJ with a laptop and a $300-dollar home studio. In the case of Tijuana’s Santos, competing is not really a concern, as his futuristic, cumbia-infused techno – part of the new ruidosón sound – is born out of the very soundscapes that surround him.
In our post-reality tv era, we’ve been trained to obsessively search for the authentic, whether that’s talent (see American Idol), food (see Bourdain), or art. But in this search for the authentic, there’s definitely a tendency to fetishize and exotify anything foreign to the viewer. If you’re an artist whose identity puts you a priori on the business end of the voyeuristic lens, why not capitalize on it? If it offends you, why not problematize it? This vantage point allows artists who traffic in the hyper-real to attract audiences by playing the part, while also exploiting the stigmas associated with their identities. It’s a way for the artist to rewrite the narrative.
Santos’ new EP 3106 (Tropic-All, 2015) is a five-song sampler of new material and a teaser of an upcoming full-length album. The artwork shows us a state license plate, further emphasizing his penchant for a local aesthetic and his personal brand of border region conflations. It makes you wonder if the Baja California plate will one day become as iconic as the oft-romanticized Route 66 sign or the European-style vanity plate. This is a good example of how Santos is utilizing a bit of that regional authenticity that is so attractive to outsiders, while also taking pride in his identity.
Musically, Santos sounds more polished and focused. As soon as the EP kicks off we get an ominous announcement of what we can expect. “Paris” is a flirty love song comprised of meandering cumbia leads on top of frantic tribal rhythms, narrated by an almost-creepy voice, begging his love interest to stay. 3106 aims for a larger audience by relying on more mainstream pop arrangements and structures, including handclaps and, at times, overdone synth leads. But it also offers more layered and complex tracks, like “La Nación” and “Gladiador,” which give ballast to the album by exploring psychedelia.
Well-deserved success and recognition seem to be coming Santos’ way and 3106 will definitely attract a different set of fans, possibly at the expense of others. At a time when artists play it safe and seem content rehashing their own formulas, Santos is using his success to take his style to new levels.