Wednesday, February 29, 2012

FRESCOLATE-R.A.P. (Independent, 2012)

As a general rule, I don't discuss digital-only independent releases on this blog. For obvious reasons, first because I favor all vinyl releases, second because there're way too many of these home-made productions being released digitally nowadays and I don't have time or patience to listen to most.  I saw the download link for Frescolate's latest release many times during the past couple of months and I ignored it, for the reasons exposed above, until the other day he caught me in a nice mood and convinced me to click "download" and I even gave it a listen right then, from beginning to end. That's not all, I played it whole twice more on my ipod later that day. 
I've personally known Frescolate since 1997, we were never friends, but we came out from the same scene around the same time so our paths crossed many times. Most of you, however, must have no idea who this guy is, unless you're really deep into Latin American underground rap, or you live in Argentina and you happen to enjoy watching TV. 
So let's start by introducing him. Frescolate is a sort of jack-of-all-trades hip-hop activist and media personality in Argentina. He started as a breakdancer and he dominated that field during the second half of the '90s, being amongst the finalist of every single b-boy battle that took place during that era. I was a judge in many of those battles and rating him was always a hard task. Not only he was a very skillful dancer with the most original moves, he also had a lot of personality on the dancefloor and this showed a lot, sometimes overshadowing his skills. This restless personality later found a better way to express itself when he picked up the mic and started freestyling. In just a couple of years he became one of the best freestylers of the country and he went on to represent Argentina in the first international freestyle-in-spanish competition where he took the first place battling against MCs from all over Latin America and Spain. 
Around that time he became a recurrent guest in many prime-time TV shows in his home-country, not only as a rapper and a b-boy, but also a stand-up comedian. And when he wasn't in front of the cameras on the TV show, he was in front of his webcam posting a gazillion of videos on youtube. Thus, this fame-hungry kid from Burzaco, became the most visible player in the whole Argentine hip-hop scene during much of the past decade and he still reigns supreme in that position. 
However, unfortunately, he has not yet been able to release an album that lives up to his fame. He's a great rapper, with perfect flow and a superlative control over vocabulary. Unlike many rappers out there posing as thug guys, he is not shy or scared of showing his sensitive side and his vulnerability (he wrote a heart-felt ode to his dead mother in this album). He has topics, he has metaphors, he has an infinite arsenal of punch lines. But he lacks a vision of where he wants to take his music and who his audience is, or should be. And that vision can't come from within, from his narcissistic ego, it needs to come from outside. In other words, he desperately needs a good producer to grab him, lock him in a studio and force him to record the album he's able to do but he's not doing. 
Frescolate has mainstream appeal like no one else in the scene. He has the looks and the charisma. He has plenty of mainstream exposure (he was even featured in gossip magazines for dating a famous pop star) and he deeply loves pop culture: his verses are plagued with quotes of The Simpsons, Batman, Dragonball Z... he even dedicates a whole song to his idol, the king of pop, Michael Jackson! But he is still doing all these over underground hop-hop beats and over all it feels like he's only rapping for the tight elite circle of hardcore hip-hop fans and b-boys. 
So he's debated between those two paradigms. His love for the spotlight and popular recognition one one hand. His desperate grasp over underground respect and street-cred on the other. And knowing him like I know him, I can speculate that he would be a lot happier getting more of the first, and he really deserves it. It's almost an insult that an MC of his size and tenure has to give away his album for free on the internet. He should have a major label backing him up with top-notch producers working on his music and he could easily be the Argentine equivalent of Calle 13, getting airplay on commercial radios while still maintaining control over his content. I never thought I'd say this about anybody, but I think Frescolate needs to sell out. 
Anyway, that's only my opinion and knowing him, I know he's probably gonna be pissed off, and insult me. I'm not saying he's bad, I urge everybody to listen to his album, this guys is right there in the Olympus of Spanish-language microphone controllers. I'm just saying he's too good for these underground demos, he should be flying first class and getting his rhymes pressed on wax.

Download it HERE.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

FRENTE CUMBIERO-Unconvention/Ika (NYCT, 2012)

Yes, yes, oh yes. I knew these guys were hiding some aces up their sleeves. I knew they had to have some more Frente Cumbiero stuff to release, specially after the success of "Ananas Tornillo," a track that became an instant classic and a sure candidate to top the list of best ñu-cumbia tracks of all times.
Now that Frente Cumbiero's Mario Galeano has joined the big leagues, representing Colombia in front of the rest of the planet along with the honorary Colombian music ambassador to Europe, Quantic, and before he becomes the world-renown eminence his destined to become, it's the perfect timing for Names You Can Trust to release this nugget.
The vinyl is not out yet, and I wouldn't usually review it until I have it in my hands, but I got a digital promo advance this morning and I couldn't contain my emotion, I had to share the news with y'all.
Following pretty much the same style of the previous NYCT single, this new 7'' by Frente Cumbiero has two new compositions full of crazy sample-based afro-psychedelia. Similarly to that one, this one too has a side that's more evidently cumbia-related, while the other one (aptly titled Unconvention) is way out there in the nondescript department, that's where he gets to experiment on the crazier side of extreme loop juxtaposition. The type of shit you'll probably play later in the night, once everybody is already drunk and sweaty jumping all over the packed dance floor.
As I mentioned, the vinyl is not out yet, so I don't have a purchase link to share yet (will be out in a couple of weeks though, so be patient). In the meantime, you can listen to the soundcloud preview here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

TEQUILA 7'' (Soundway Records, 2011)

So, the other day I went to the record store (yeah, I still go to those) planning to spend some money and I saw that triple-disc cumbia compilation that Quantic curated for Soundway and I was very much tempted to buy it.
It was about $30 and change, which is not much considering the monumental amount of tracks you get for the price, and specially considering most of those tracks are extremely hard to find and even if you find them in original pressing you'll probably have to end up paying about that same amount of money for each one of those songs separately, shipping costs and all.
Still, I didn't buy it and instead I bought this pretty 7'' single for $10. Now, that might sound like a very economically unwise decision, you might say. And yeah, I get it.  I'm paying about five bucks a song here when on the compilation each track would cost me merely above 50 cents (there are 55 fucking tracks on that comp!). But as you know, I favor the 7'' format over the LP and you know what? There're way more chances that I'll play these two heavy dance floor bangers on my sets than the many tracks on that comp. A triple-LP might sound great from the collector's point of view, but as a DJ, they are a pain in the ass, it takes fucking forever to find one specific song you wanna play among six record sides.
Anyway, I'll probably end up buying that comp too, just to have it, just to keep supporting one of the few labels out there who's still putting out Latin music on vinyl and with great quality and presentation.
Now as a side note, what I'm the most excited about is Soundway signing new, current artists. So far they've been a re-issues only label, but they are starting to branch out into releasing new music and I think that's amazing, specially considering their first announced release, a kuduro-inspired album by a Portuguese dude that produces sample-based music under the name Batida.
With this new move, Soundway is opening the doors to multiple interesting possibilities, among them probably releasing Quantic and Frente Cumbiero's joint project Ondatropica, that promises to be one of the most important releases of 2012 if not the most.
Anyway, that's my record review for today, you see, I barely even talked about the single itself, this is how we do it in The Hard Data.

Order your limited edition 7'' vinyl HERE.

Friday, February 10, 2012

BRAZILIAN BEAT (Putumayo, 2012)

Brazil is inherently cool and that's an axiom that very few would dare argue against. That's what distances Brazil from the rest of the Latin American countries. That all-emcompassing aura of über-coolness.

Everybody loves Brazilian music for being so cool and I get it, I love it too. I always did. I grew up in a house where my parents had only two cassette tapes, the same two that we'd listen in every road-trip. Both were Brazilian music recordings. So, in some sense, my earlier years were spent closer to Portuguese-language music than Spanish-language music, and living in Argentina, next door neighbor to Brazil, that wasn't at all an odd thing.

But here's the thing, so close we were to Brazil and it's vibrant pop culture, that the cheesy, disposable, commercial crap also permeated on a regular basis. And being Brazil such a huge music market, you'd be dumb to assume there's not a lot of that too. Only that when you live here, in the English-speaking northern hemisphere the only Brazilian music that reaches out to our ears is the cool stuff, the soulful stuff, the stuff that's been pre-approved for gringo consumption. Not the cheesy one hit wonders that you listen everywhere during the summers at every Brazilian beach bar or nightclub. Brazilian music arrives to the gringo ears after being filtered and curated by labels with high standards for quality and sophisticated taste, like Putumayo or Six Degrees.

That's why when you throw a Brazilian music party (and I've been doing these for many years now) you get a lot more "hip" gringos who want to be down with all that Brazilian inner coolness, the kind who would never show up at a party that says Mexican music on its flyer, for example.

That's why when you see the lists of the Grammy nominations, the Brazilian category is always filled with cool stuff, real artist, awesome talent, while the Spanish-language categories are overflowing in lame-ass cheesiness. I'll never forget that one time, almost ten years ago, when I was assigned to cover the awards ceremony for the Latin Grammys and representing Brazil they had Bossacucanova (über-cool bossanova with breakbeats!) while representing the rest of the Latinos who did they have? Vico C, Jon Secada, Vicente Fernández. I'm not kidding you. Where was the Spanish-speaking equivalent of Bossacucanova (at that time it would've been Gotan Project, who had just released their groundbreaking La Revancha Del Tango)? Nowhere to be found.

And that's mainly because of the way the music market is segmented. Record labels that release Brazilian music in the US have as a target the world-traveled college-educated open-minded gringo, while most record labels that release Latin music in Spanish in the US have as a main target the undereducated working class nostalgic immigrant. 

Thus, the illusion of Brazilian music being infinitely cool, in opposition to the cheesy Spanish-speaking crap, gets perpetuated.

But not for too long. I just DJ'd at a Brazilian music party last week and throughout the night I had five people approach me with song requests. All of them requested the same song. Michel Teló's "Ai Se Eu Te Pego," the current one-hit-wonder that's the number one in all charts in South America and many European countries. It's a cheesy-ass pop-forró song with a catchy chorus and a singing dude that seems like a would-be American Idol contestant for the Brazilian equivalent of that show. And it gets worst, the song has a dance choreography attached to it that all dancers at the club are expected to know in advance. You know, like "La Macarena." (This is a pre-requisite for all cheesy summer hits in Brazilian pop if they want to become number one, by the way). That's how lame it is.

Usually these type of songs don't get out of Brazil or only reach the next-door neighbors for about three months of summer and then fade away. But this one managed to cross over to Europe, imported by Brazilian soccer players in the Euro league who did that fucking dance on the field. And yes, now they are trying to get it to crossover to the United States (they even did a HORRIBLE english version called "Oh, if I catch you," yikes).

And judging by the insistence of last week's party-goers it's already crossing over, because somehow, they all knew that song already and the dance. Which means we are at the verge experiencing a new Macarena-like phenomenon that could damage forever that untouchable image of intrinsic coolness that Brazilian music carries around with pride in the United States.

In the meantime, on the opposite side of the spectrum, Putumayo keeps releasing compilations like this one here, of la crème de la crème of the current Brazilian cool music for export, curated for the demanding ears of the sophisticated gringo who'll play this as background music in his living-room when he invites a hottie over and tries to impress her with how cool he is because he knows Brazilian music.

Buy it here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bondi Blaster's "Cumbia Nena" (feat. Nes & Ephniko)

Here's a free promotional download for Bondi Blaster's "Cumbia Nena" in anticipation for the debut EP, ¡Lo Juimo! to be released on March 6th through Stronghold Sound.

(right click/option click to download)

A little bit of history behind this track:
It all started in late 2009. Dub Snakkr was working on building his own recording studio in his basement and invited me over to check it out. He then suggested that we should work on the production of some cumbia tracks together. Up to that point I wasn't really planning to turn into production because, honestly, I don't know shit about making music myself. But with my ideas and his equipment and know-how we could probably do something interesting, so we decided to give it a try.
I suggested we should join forces in doing a remix for "El Himno Del Cucumelo" a classic punk/cumbia from the '90s in Argentina. There was a tribute compilation in the works and my friends from Cabeza Netlabel invited me to participate with a remix. So we did that one remix that, unfortunately, we were not able to turn in in time for the release. It was never officially released, we only gave it away through this blog in early 2010, but to be honest I wasn't completely satisfied with the results.
Throughout 2010 with Dub Snakkr we started working in a handful of new tracks and thus came the idea of separating this new entity from the mercenary DJ Juan Data and we decided to call it Bondi Blaster. The name was actually chosen between myself and Tami, the girl singing on "Salchichón Primavera" the song that would become Bondi Blaster's introductory card.
Then one day at a party I was approached by rapper Nes (from the group R.A.P. Squad) who wanted to drop some verses over our tracks. But we didn't have anything to offer him at the moment. A few weeks later we've got a message that Miami's rapper Ephniko was coming to the Bay Area and he was coming recommended by Kinky Electric Noise. I've heard the stuff those two have done together mixing rap and ñu-cumbia and it was dope so I knew it'd be awesome if we could get him in the studio.
Still we didn't have any instrumental, so I called Dub Snakkr, last minute thing, and asked him to dust off that lost remix of the Cucumelo cumbia, remove the vocals and all the middle part with those weird abrupt changes and use that as a riddim for this session.
Nes and Ephniko didn't know each other prior to the recording of this song, they met that morning at the Stronghold Studios and it was magic. Nes brought his sixteen bars written and memorized but Ephniko had nothing so he sat down and wrote it on the spot. I got so inspired by this that I decided to join in and do a verse myself so I wrote my sixteen bars and recorded it as the last third of the track. I used to rap during most of the '90s but I haven't done it since 2001 (when I decided to become a DJ instead). So it was quite a challenge. Plus, I'm hella dyslexic so I can't really rap while I read words, I have to memorize the lyrics before hand and we didn't have much time, the whole thing had to be recorded in one day.
That song, along with "Salchichón Primavera" (Tami's version) were later included in Stronghold Sound's debut compilation The Audio Refuge, released last year. In the meantime we kept working on Bondi Blaster's own release but it was a very long process because in the middle of all this Dub Snakkr relocated the Middle East and, as I mentioned above, I can't do much on my own.
We finally got the tracks for Bondi Blaster's debut together by late 2011, thanks in big part to the help of Gabriel Navia who joined the project with his incredible multi-instrumentist talent. I wasn't satisfied with the sound of "Cumbia Nena" in the original Stronghold Sound compilation, so I decided if we were going to include it again in Bondi Blaster's release we had to mix it down again and remaster it. This new version sounds so much better than the original that I couldn't contain my urge to show it around to everybody, so I decided to use it as a promotional track for ¡Lo Juimo! That way, those who bought it last year on the Audio Refuge Comp can get it again for free with a lot better sound. Also, the instrumental version of this track will be available on ¡Lo Juimo! and there you can appreciate the amazing work Dub Snakkr did with the wobble bass!
I think "Cumbia Nena" represents very well the spirit of Bondi Blaster, even though the release is very diverse in styles and ways to approach cumbia (there's even some funky chicha and some bastard Andean folk) but in encompasses my love for the whole ñu-cumbia phenomenon, representing the four countries that  had been pushing forward the evolution of this movement the most: Argentina, Mexico, Colombia and the US.
Stay tuned for the release of Bondi Blaster's ¡Lo Juimo! coming up on March 6th, available on all your digital vendors.