If you’ve followed NAAFI since its inception, you know that the Mexican club collective’s identity wasn’t always clear-cut. Save for the serifed typeface, everything about its approach was very much fluid during its early years. The crew slowly carved out a niche, throwing epic underground parties where they showcased acts that were often challenging, eclectic, and always a step ahead of the curve. When they finally evolved into a proper record label, they toyed with varying aesthetics, both sonic and visual, wherein they laid out possibilities, rather than fixed standards.
This all changed with Paul Marmota’s Nueva in 2013, which most closely approximated what we’ve come to identify as a NAAFI release, from the white typeface, to the abstract, computer-generated cover art. But that record wasn’t just about setting a visual aesthetic; the sound came to carry a signature too. It was refined, sophisticated, and far more contained than anything you’d experience during a live set or DJ performance from one of the artists on their roster.
In many ways, Zutzut’s new EP on NAAFI follows in this line. It might be a shocker to anyone who has experienced one of his sets in the flesh, since they most closely resemble a demonic rave. All dark and sweaty and primal, a typical Zutzut performance brims with the sort of hallucinatory beats that absolutely obliterate any dance floor and will almost certainly give your body spastic flashbacks for days to come.
And yet none of that is immediately evident in Placas. There are hints of it, sure, but rather than taking the obvious and expected route, Monterrey-bred Alejandro Núñez Ferrara tiptoes around full-on neurosis by delivering a quiet and unsettling collection of tracks that always touches on the edge of madness.
The tenebrous mood is certainly palpable throughout, with the titles providing some sort of emotive blueprint. “Placas” is Mexican slang for cops; “Tiro Limpio,” which translates to “clean shot,” seems to reference the sort of carnage that has plagued the country in recent years. Sometimes this feeling is accentuated by field recordings, as with the ominous pads in “Mareo,” which are punctuated by distant sounds of barking dogs. On the surface, it’s very universal, but it’s also something immediately recognizable to anyone who has ever roamed the streets of Mexico. As the producer elaborates in a press release, the EP “goes hand in hand with the current situation in Monterrey: the air pollution, the concrete slabs and mountains, and the constant feeling of foreboding that has become commonplace.”
All of this adds to a pervasive sense of unease. There are no big beats or big hooks here. The regio producer seems to very consciously omit anything that fulfills the expectations of a club banger, in favor of a coherent and consistent tonal expression that nonetheless haunts the listener long after its 23-minute runtime. “I focused on the sonic depth of the tracks, more than making them attractive,” he explains.
It’s the sort of feeling you’d get if you were walking down a dark alleyway at night, expecting someone or something to jump out at any moment, but instead are left with a kind of paranoid inertia. Much in the way that the muddy snares of “Ojos Negros” almost evoke gunshots, Placas stops short of referencing full-on violence, always leaving the listener wondering if it’s all just in their head.