Since their 2012 debut with La Alianza Profana, Dengue Dengue Dengue have been global bass heirs apparent, standard bearers for a new generation of psychedelic digital cumbia. They appeared when that was exactly what fans of electro folkloric sounds wanted. With their global appeal and party-friendly charisma, they have seemed poised to fulfill the futuristic promise of their genre. Much was to be expected from their second full-length, and with Siete Raíces much has been delivered, just not in a way that was at all predictable.
After an album and an EP, 2014’s Serpiente Dorada, composed of dark, bass-heavy studies in dub-cumbia, we would have expected them to go big – bigger beats, bigger bass, bigger drops. Instead, the Peruvian duo have turned in an album that is more complex and more considered than their two previous releases. It’s a succinct, nine-track statement with an emphasis on narrative and atmosphere produced with painterly care. Since each of these tracks is pure, kick-back-with-your-good-headphones-on pleasure, it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed by this outcome.
Their music was always gloomy – evoking dark, airless clubs – but on Siete Raíces, the compositions are roomier and more downtempo, and so every sound seems to swim out of inky, limitless, primordial darkness. Within this monochrome sonic palette, they’ve explored different ways of combining sounds from the most progressive reaches of current electronic music (slippery Arca-esque synths) with the most organic materials they could lay hands on – samples of traditional South American drumming and singing.
Last year, we caught up with the Peruvian duo in Brooklyn, where we went crate digging at The Thing. Felipe Salmon and Rafael Pereira broke down their sampling process and gave us the low down on the how their sound emerged before they dropped Siete Raíces.
On the track “R2,” the goal is to make an electronic track that sounds analog by looping and layering acoustic percussion and vocal samples. On album opener “YuYu,” they draw on grime with off-kilter beats and eerie synth sounds, pointing up the other-worldliness of their Peruvian inspirations. “Guarida,” the duo’s first-ever vocal track, which features Peruvian singer-songwriter Sara Van, is true dubstep, but built with percussion that clatters like hollow bones and synths that murmur like ancestral spirits. The absolute album high point is “La Rama de Tamarindo,” which finds them turning the Colombian tropical standard into a certifiable dancefloor epic. Thematically, they are turning their eyes to Afro-Latino culture, to roots, to the mystical past, to Andean goddess Pachamama. The look is very mature and not bad on them at all.
Brief as it is, the album is far from repetitive – the pair found room enough to pack in quite a few interesting ideas. After making their main points, they move on quickly to new experiments like “The Enemy,” which aims to unite hip-hop, cumbia, and VGM. The pièce de résistance comes at the end with “Amazonia,” featuring Toy Selectah and Buraka Som Sistema’s Branko. Both a coda and a hell of a co-sign, it’s more multidimensional and slightly more colorful than the other tracks on the album.
If you wanted to be reductive, you could call Siete Raíces Dengue Dengue Dengue’s bad-boy approach to the ethereal direction electro Latin sounds have been going lately, with the likes of Nicola Cruz creating soothing electronic landscapes with Andean inspirations. The production team’s greatest success lies in their ability to pass through this territory without coming off as too earnest. The productions are just synthetic enough, the beats properly cold. As listenable as this release is, it is satisfyingly mean and smart in its heart, more so even than their earlier releases, which is just as it should be. We wouldn’t want anything less from Dengue Dengue Dengue and, anyway, Pachamama can be one bad gyal sometimes.
Dengue Dengue Dengue’s Siete Raíces is out now on Enchufada.