Thursday, January 27, 2011

DJ DACEL-Sol De Octubre (Potoco Discos, 2010)

I was waiting for this one for a while, since I first saw that amazing promotional video they posted on youtube last year. I finally got my hands on it yesterday and I have to admit, I was a little disappointed.
Not that the album is bad, at all, it's actually great. As I've said before, Chile has delivered some of the best quality hip-hop to ever come out of Latin America and DJ Dacel is really at the top of the game. Fortunately, thanks to Ana Tijoux international breakthrough last year, many of you abroad are finally catching up with the Chilean hip-hop goodness. As for myself, I've been a fan of Dacel (who contributed scratches to Tijoux's tracks on many occasions) and his artsy rap crew, FDA for a decade now and when I heard about his first solo project coming out, I was expecting something else.
You know, hip-hop DJ/producers are usually restricted by the rap-song rigid format when making their beats: eight bars intro, sixteen bars verse, eight bars hook, scratch a little bit in between, etc. So, when a DJ is finally able to break away from that formula and make their own shit the way they like, that's when often the best stuff comes out. I hate it when DJ's finally release an album on their own and all it is is a who-is-who of his rapper friends featuring over said DJ's beats. Even if the beats are dope. That's just a rap album. I want a DJ/producer album!
Knowing Dacel as a huge fan of J Dilla (he even hosts a Dilla tribute party) and his school of beat production, I was hoping for something more abstract, in the lines of Dilla's masterwork Donuts, maybe some madlibian experiments with the MPC, you know, that type of shit. I know he is capable of something like that and the Chilean hip-hop scene is advance enough to welcome it. Plus he would get way more international exposure if he focused more on the beats and move the rappers to the sidelines. Look at where DJ Raff is now after Raffolution and the two Traveling Partners digital EPs.
That being said, if you like tight beat production made of 100% pure vinyl samples, and you don't mind people talking over them, you should definitely try to get a copy of this. Unfortunately, so far, it's only available legally in Chile.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MR PAUER-Soundtrack (Independent, 2011)

There's one US city that has historically and systematically affected negatively the overall image of Latin music, turning it into synonym of cheesy, commercial and utterly uncool. That's, of course, Miami, Fl.
Known worldwide for its shallow and image-obcessed dance scene, Miami has given the world some of the most annoying summer hits to ever pollute the airwaves with the Latin label attached to them. I'd even go as far as saying that it's thanks to Miami and its pop artists (from the Estefan assembly line to Pitbull and his clones) that Latin music is almost never taken seriously by the mainstream Anglo world (just look at the Grammy nominations for the Latin music category on any given year!).
That being said, every once in a full moon, I receive an album from a Miami-based artist that defies all my preconceptions and surprises me with its freshness, leaving me with the hope that, somewhere in that city there must be an interesting underground scene that counteracts the generic bad taste dominant in the peninsula.
Mr. Pauer is a good example of this. I found out about him last year through Locos Por Juana's Evolución, where he provided the best remix. Now he's releasing his debut album, Soundtrack, with seven freshly squeezed tracks of pure Floridan electropical, not from concentrate. In one of them, Locos Por Juana's frontman Itagui returns the favor by delivering some vocals and the result is the first song of 2011 that I actually liked!
Release date for Soundtrack is Feb 15th. Check on Mr Pauer's website for more info.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Digging: More 45 rips for y'all!

Since, apparently, nobody is releasing new music in 2011 and I'm eager to write, well, I'm gonna do something I should've done a while ago, write about old music. Yes, once again, here's a collection of vinyl rips done by yours truly, generously made accessible to you all in MP3 format, all of them from 7'' records I've been finding in the last few months. 

EMIR BOSCAN Y LOS TOMASINOS-Yolanda/Carmenza (Top Hits, 1976): I'd never heard of this guy before but from what I found online he's Venezuelan and was particularly famous during his time in Mexico. This last bit I'm just inferring, because this record has been widely sampled by ñu-cumbia artists from that country. The actual songs are not really remarkable (they mix cumbia with Spanish-style singing, too weird), but you'll recognize the samples right away. "Carmenza"'s opening break was the foundation of Up, Bustle & Out's "Cumbión Mountain" sampled by Chico Sonido and that right there is one os the most important tracks in cumbia's new school, period. On the B side you find "Yolanda" which was sampled by M.I.S. on his memorable "Para No Vivir Desesperado." As a side note, the name Yolanda was apparently very popular in the cumbia circles, I have at least four different songs from the 70's and 80's titled after women with that name! Is that where the Yolanda Be Cool guys got their name from?

AFROSOUND-Nadie Sabe De Mis Penas (Discos Fuentes, 1991): Afrosound is like every Cumbia connoisseur's favorite group, but this one single in particular came out way past their prime. I didn't even know they were still pressing 7'' vinyl in 1991... and in Latin America! Anyway, there's one instrumental song in here with a Peruvian chicha style guitar and some cheesy drum machine beat. It's not very good but it has a clean bass line loop ready for sampling in the intro and a breakdown with dubbed out vocals in the middle that's pretty sweet. The b-side however was so wack that I didn't even bothered ripping it, it's a synth-lambada with kids singing about how the poor kids in Cuba wanna leave the island but Fidel doesn't allow them. What the fuck?!

LA SONORA DINAMITA-El Apretón/Canto, Amor y Pena (Discos Fuentes, 1983): I don't like La Sonora Dinamita. Even though they are Colombian in origin, they represent the status-quo of über-commercial cumbia in Mexico, the country where they're the most popular. I only discovered them after moving to the US and DJing at Latin parties with a Mexican-immigrant majority and they'd come up and request their songs. First I used to reject them, but eventually I ended up giving up and including a few of them in my sets. I still don't like them (too much focus on brass instruments make them sound like salsa) but I have to give it to them for always releasing good dance-floor packing tunes like these two.

ANIBAL VELAZQUEZ-Gloria/Cumbia De Los Aires (AMS Records, Date Unknown): If you like accordion cumbia, you can never go wrong with this guy! He has recorded some of the most amazing gems of the genre and if you're smart you have already picked up a copy of that Mambo Loco compilation that Analog Africa released last year. These are two dope uptempo tracks irresistible to any cumbia dancer. I know for sure both will stay in constant rotation on my DJ sets for a long time.

LOS TRAFICANTES DE ACAPULCO-La Cumbiambera/María (Cintas Acuario, Date Unknown): Whenever I'm digging for old Latin music vinyl, I always follow this golden rule: unless it's Los Corraleros de Majagual, NEVER waste my money on music by any group with a name like "Los (something) De (somewhere)", especially if they're from Mexico. That's a recipe for disaster. Even if they have the word cumbia on the label, most probably they're not a cumbia band but a ranchera/regional/
norteño/banda/whatever-crap band playing a cumbia; and since those mustached dudes suffer from a collective absolute lack of rhythm, any time they wanna do a cumbia, the results are nothing short from horrible. This one here sounds like it was sung by a 12 year old boy, but the nonsense lyrics suggest it's probably a girl. Anyway, I didn't bother ripping the other side because it's a ranchera. Why did I break my golden rule in this case you might ask? Let's just say amid the confusion of digging the record accidentally slipped into my bag and wasn't really "paid."

LISANDRO MEZA-Me voy para la luna/El Soldado (FM, 1982): Another of the all time Colombian cumbia hall of famers, who many worldwide know for his epic cover of Fela Kuti's "Shacalao" and some might remember as the original interpreter of "La Baracunatana," a song that later became a rock en español classic in the hands of Aterciopelados. This one however is not his most relevant recording. The A side is a decent cumbia with a funny lyric about going to the moon where "there will be no gringos acting like the rulers of the globe." The B side is a boring ass slow jam about a soldier who came back after fighting the guerrillas in the jungle and found his mother sick.

LOS CORRALEROS DE MAJAGUAL-La Gustadera/Mi Sombrero Viejo (Discos Fuentes, Date Unknown): Another favorite from Discos Fuentes. Along with Afrosound, Los Corraleros are the best group that came from that legendary label during its golden age. Especially when they had Calixto Ochoa as a singer. These are two very up-tempo dance tracks, so fast that they don't fall under the cumbia category and are labeled as charanga and paseaito, respectively. Still, whatever you call it, for the untrained ear it all sounds like cumbia but faster. If somebody wants to jump in and explain the differences between all those Colombian cumbia subgenres, please feel invited to do so.

LOS HERMANOS MARTINEZ DE ALLENDE-La Ardilla/Carterita de Nylon (Discos Dominante, Date Unknown): Once again I have to admit my complete ignorance about this one here. My assumption is that it's a Tex-Mex group, but they could be just Mexican too. I picked it up for a dollar in a box full of random crap and although I was afraid it could be one of those Mexican rancheros doing horrible cumbias, what made me decide to get it was the inclusion of the song "La Ardillita" (in this case wrongly named "La Ardilla") a Peruvian chicha classic by Enrique Delgado and his group Los Destellos (included in Vampi Soul's Cumbia Beat compilation). Of course it's not better than the original, but it's an ok version worth having.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Three Years Hard!

Happy new year to y'all and happy third anniversary to The Hard Data! 2010 was a year of significant growth for this blog, doubling up the average daily hits from the year prior and gaining a lot more recognition and yeah, hate mail. I'd like to personally thank you all, followers, casual readers and haters, for making this possible. But let's cut it out with the stupid formalities.
It's been three years of irreverent, sarcastic and ultimately honest commentary on Latin music, something I always thought the specialized media here in the US was missing big time. But not any more.
Let's do some history. I remember back in 2001 when I first moved to the US to join the team of La Banda Elástica music magazine, I was shocked about the almost absolute absence of first-person commentary, honest reviews, combative editorials, etc. And it wasn't just in that particular magazine, it was the same in all other media that covered Latin music and culture in general (and Latin alternative in particular). There was like a universal tacit agreement within "the industry," something like nobody should talk shit about anybody else out in the open (only behind closed doors or behind their backs, of course) because we are a small niche and we all need to help each other to make it grow.
I was of the opposite opinion, I thought there was way too much garbage produced and sold under the Latin label and the fact that nobody was pointing it out and labeling it as what it really was, was counterproductive to our main common goal. Nobody is going to really pay attention to the newest, most innovative, most cutting-edge Latin (but cool) music if they aren't able to distinguish it from the 99% of surrounding crap. So if you give only positive reviews to virtually every record on your magazine (nowadays, websites) how can people tell which ones are the ones that are really worth listening to, from the ones that the reviewer felt pity for, or the ones where he's is just focusing on the positive aspects because its record label pays for advertising?
I've always been of the theory that you need to be honest and say it out loud when you dislike something and people will trust you a lot more when you recommend something to them. Don't you think so?
The Hard Data may have started three years ago today with the birth of this blog, but the real Juan Data the hard writer actually debuted in the US in 2001 with a controversial one-of-a-kind editorial I wrote about Shakira's then-recent crossover to the Anglo market on the aforementioned magazine. We received so many e-mails and even some actual letters (handwritten, on real paper!) because of that editorial that soon I was allowed to write more button-pushing articles and reviews (like that explosive coverage article for the Latin Grammys of 2002). So I started building a tiny reputation as someone who would say things that apparently many others thought but wouldn't dare put in words. Of course, I knew that there were always limitations to my free speech because as they say, free press is only free for the owner of the press. I wasn't the owner of the media and the media was surviving on advertising--a big chunk of it coming from record labels. I knew the only way to be 100% honest was to manage my own media and write all the shit that I wanted without it having to be cut and polished by a responsible editor in chief. I knew that because, before moving to the US, I used to be a successful fanzine publisher for many years in Argentina's underground.
It took me a very long time between that realization and the actual inauguration of The Hard Data, three years ago. A very long time because I sort of took a partial leave of absence from the music industry between the years 2003 and 2006, when my interests shifted towards another industry, something more adult oriented... (oh, and don't bother googling juan data + porn, I did all that naughty stuff under other various aliases).
But the idea was still there and my love for music never faded away. In 2006 I was at LAMC promoting the release of Koxmoz's debut album when I briefly reunited with my former bosses from La Banda Elástica, then recently relaunched as a website, and I remember telling the publisher something in the lines of "I wanna write Vice magazine-style record reviews, but about Latin music." His answer was something like "you can't do that in the Latin niche because we are very few, we all know each other and people really get offended, they take it personal," and then he added "but if you ever do it, I'll definitely read it!"
After doing it sporadically and in Spanish for a while on my previous blog, I decided in early 2008 it was time to make the switch into English to reach a wider audience. Maybe not too coincidentally that was also the moment I decided to pursue a more mercenary-inclined DJ career. Up to that point I was mainly DJing at friend's house parties and small events where I got to play whatever I wanted, but during the second half of 2007 I started "selling out" and playing commercial events to be able to pay the bills. This changed drastically my perception of music, leaning toward a more utilitarian angle and forcing me to leave behind (at least some of) my snobbish attitude while embracing massive dance-floor oriented music. Also not at all coincidentally that was the copernican moment in Latin music history when all of a sudden cumbia started crossing over to the Anglo audience.
It felt like all the signs were aligned in that direction so I decided to clean up my act a bit by getting rid of all the embarrassing triple-x evidence of my dirty past, and start from scratch with a new (masked) persona and a new blog where I could expose all my un-journalistic, unedited, impulsive writing; all honest personal opinions, with attitude, sense of humor and total lack of respect for any big name or institution. In other words, the type of writing that I wouldn't dare submit for a "professional" gig.
I do still write professionally on the side, and I still do my journalistic duties of thorough research and virtual objectivity. But this blog proved to be a lot more fun. Here I can allow myself to play dumb, to admit my ignorance beforehand and still go ahead and make a (probably unfair) judgment, to make questionable politically-incorrect generalizations, to base my opinions simply on personal anecdotal experience or to even write a whole review without even opening the shrink-wrap of a CD and basing my judgment solely on the graphic design or the names of the songs. And then the real fun comes when readers (mostly casual web-surfers who are unfamiliar with the blog's dominant tone and just dropped by by accident) get offended and send me hate mail, like the three moronic merengue listeners from the East Coast who last week took it as a personal offense that I did not like Rita Indiana's album (I wish there were many more like them. They make this experience complete).
So here we are, three years later, still iconoclastic and impertinent, still not kissing asses, still a trusted source for brutally honest critique. Let's hope for three more, or actually a lot more years, of more unadulterated, opinionated reviews. And for the haters: you don't have to agree with me, these are just my personal views, you are entitled to have your own and free to open your own blog and share them with the world, just don't be a coward and sign it with your real name, as I do. After all, it's not so hard.

Juan Data