Rionegro – An Electronic Ode To The Music Of South America


Forthcoming on Cómeme Records, the Rionegro album is quite unique. An electronic ode to the dance music of South America, the record was recorded by four friends, Sebastián “Sano” Hoyos, Gregorio “Gladkazuka” Gomez, Natalia Valencia, and Matias Aguayo, holed up for a month in a house studio buried in the countryside outside the Columbian town Rionegro. The record they emerged with pulses with night heat, crackling rhythms and raw grooves – jacking house played to a salsa beat. We caught up with Rionegro lynchpin Sano Hoyos to discuss late nights, salsa records and chucking away the sequencer…

How did the idea for Rionegro first come about?

We had a collective idea. First of all, the idea of trying to explore this music was something I always had inside of me. The first time I started to work with Matias [Aguayo] was in a summer camp in 2012, then we went to Thomas Feldman’s house in the countryside near Berlin, 6 or 7 of us, sharing experiences and meeting for the first time. I spoke to Matias about this idea of making some kind of music that I could imagine, but I’d never heard before- it wasn’t just about sampling and looping salsa, it was about making something with more depth; finding the grooves, the attitude, the feeling, something that reminded me of the hard style of samba that I really like. It’s the soundtrack of my life and my city. So we had a lot of chats and we spent like 3 weeks or something together and we did one sketch, it’s included in the album, the track Mojada

At the same time I was doing things with my friends and colleagues in Columbia, and it was just an idea to go out and focus 100%. One day Matias told me he could access economic support from Columbia, so we had an opportunity to sit down, relax and focus on this idea – not try and make common or regular house music, but really explore the idea. For me it wasn’t just the opportunity to develop an idea, but the opportunity for me to work with my masters, literally. Matias was my mentor, and he helped me focus on my ideas with some talented musicians. We went to Gregorio’s house in the countryside in Rio Negro in 2013, and we started from scratch, listening to music and understanding music. The first steps were playing records and understanding the grooves, trying to mimic them, and from there try to grow. So we did 20, 30, 40 loops in the first couple of weeks, and we started to discover the sound of the album.

It feels like the sound of the record is very tied to the space you made it in

Yeah we had the opportunity to be loud and noisy without disturbing anyone, and we had the time; we were just cooking and eating and making music. We were there for a month, working every day, 10 or 12 hours a day. It was super important to be there all the time, day after day, together focusing on music and what we’d done so far, and what’s going to be next. We didn’t get out of the house, it was like a reality show situation

It must have become quite a strange reality with you spending so much time together inside the house-

Absolutely. It was a total change for me. I had another job, I was doing other things, and I started to realise in this process that I had to put 100% of my energy into the music. It was something like a call that I had to answer. It was a total change, and it gave me the power to leave my country and keep pushing the project until now. Now I’m asking myself what I’m going to do after this…   

It sounds like you were replaying the original beats on different instruments rather than making some sort of fusion

Yeah, it was important for us to try not to repeat the experiments that the people from Chicago, Hot Mix 5 had done when they were like, ‘OK we’re going to do Latin House,’ and they sequenced the beats. That’s something we tried to avoid. We tried to play everything, we don’t have any midi files for any of the songs

So it’s all live performance?

We didn’t sequence anything – we had an MPC, and used it for congas, bongos and timpani’s – we were just using it as an instrument, we just wanted to avoid things other people had already done, looping, sampling, trying to process something someone did already – we wanted to go from scratch trying to learn, trying to mimic things. So we did this exercise, we picked up a lot of songs and played them on one soundsystem to hear the rhythm, and on top of that play – not on the computer, but just play to get into the rhythm, to get into the mood. We did this exercise again and again, and in the end we ended up with 20 loops to build on. We were trying to sound like our references, to sound like something you could dance to, that sounded cool to us. We had to get an MPC kit with sounds that we liked, and program an effects unit to sound more similar to the music we liked.

5 tracks that formed the basis of Rionegro:

Orquesta Dicupé – Aguantate

Eddie Palmieri – Azucar

Conjunto Miramar – Carruseles

Willie Colón – Calle Luna Calle Sol

Los Mirlos – Sonido Amazónico

Every single song, except for Mojada as that was produced before, the beginning was played on top of something. You can hear on the single Amazonas, it’s an Amazonic Cumbia classic – we tried to play again the guitars, the keyboards, and some melodic elements. Merecumbé, that’s a common rhythm, and we played it again, then on top of that built a song.

There were also kind of conceptual mash ups – Perro Negro, the rhythm is a basic merengue rhythm, but the bassline and piano are from Willy Colon, one of our biggest references – he’s one of the icons of hard salsa. We made these exercises of rebuilding rhythms a lot of times, I hardly remember what one belongs to what track.

The album is very raw – it’s always odd hearing dance music that hasn’t been quantised.

Hahaha That’s nice. You have to see the studio, it’s very punky. But I think it’s a funky kind of punk thing. The sound belongs to our attitude, but also the way we see the world, and the kind of music we like. Personally I really like raw stuff with texture in it and distortion, that’s something that’s similar to the way we listen to old classic salsa music, because it was recorded in really humble studios, with just one stereo mic, then pressed on vinyl – maybe not the best – and after that the vinyl gathers 20 years of dust, and then we listen to it –so for me the salsa has this crunchiness and dirtiness on it, it belongs on it. We tried to find the same kind of distortion of sound and in the end I guess we did.

And you’ve got a dog that can be heard barking on the recordings-

Hehehe there’s a lot of dogs. Basically Wilson was part of the team, he’s Gregorio’s dog and he’s super special. He’s a border collie with an attitude that’s amazing, so he’s part of the recording. We also had this Casio SK5 sampler – it’s part of a another genre that’s super strong in Columbia, Champeta, it’s a classic sampler with this dog sound on it –  but also there are dogs from around the house- we did some recordings of the drums outside in the woods, and we had the dogs from the neighbourhood barking – it wasn’t by mistake, it was things aligning in the universe. When we discovered that we tried to keep an open microphone all the time to record what was happening around and put it on the mix. It was induced by the music’s spirit itself I guess.


The spirits of #RIONEGRO

Posted by Cómeme on Tuesday, 20 October 2015

What’s your relationship with Salsa? How did you first get into it?

For me it’s the soundtrack of my life. My city, Medellín, is one of the places Salsa was really strong back in the 70s – the Disco Fuentes label from my city had a huge Salsa catalogue. You can hear the music all the time everywhere; you take the metro and you hear the cowbell sounding, in the street, from someone else’s headphones, in the taxis, in the bars, you hear it everywhere and it’s part of the energy and the attitude we take to embrace life.

I can remember the first salsa song I got captured by, it’s Willy Colon, Pedro Navaja, it’s the story about a street gangster and a hooker that kill each other in the night, and a drunk guy arrives and finds the two bodies.  And at the same time I was obsessed with Pump Up The Jam. I used to make mixtapes at home and have the A side with Pedro Navaja and the B side with Pump Up the Jam, and maybe some Two Live Crew or something. So it’s been with my since the beginning.

Are you planning on taking the album live?

It’s part of my dream to have this jacking salsa futuristic thing as a performance, but for me as a musician, it’s hard to imagine how I can build that. I’m really going for it, studying piano for it, but it’s also hard because Gregorio is in Columbia, Matias is touring from here to there all the time, and I’ve just moved to Barcelona. So we have to do this some time, but it can’t be now, we have to take time so the thing fits. The time will come I’m sure.      

Rionegro is released through Cómeme on October 30th