“Everyone here is either a journalist or a DJ,” observed a young music journalist, looking around the room. He was taking a break from writing about the latest, hippest Latin music to come see the U.S. debut of Dengue Dengue Dengue!, a DJ duo from Peru specializing in electro nu-cumbia, at NYC’s renowned world-sounds venue SOBs. “This is my shit!” The journalist said. “I’ve been into digital cumbia since way back.”
The music journalist’s claim about the crowd seemed mostly correct, with a few possible exceptions: a group of older Japanese men (perhaps tourists, who probably came to the show on the reputation of the club) who were dancing enthusiastically and beaming; a young woman in very baggy cloth pants who hopped around for an hour right in front, then, tired out, leaned against the stage, observing the sparse crowd with a sour expression while checking her phone; and a crowd of middle-aged Latinos who photographed themselves and each other obsessively. Of course, these are just (admittedly biased) assumptions based on appearances: any of these people might also be journalists or DJs. The other attendees (presumably DJs or journalists) were divided between observers hanging around the elevated bar or leaning casually against two parallel banisters that delineate the small dance floor from the rest of the large room, and dancers milling around between the two massive concrete columns that block side views of the stage.
On the stage were three humans behind three mac-books, in front of a large projection screen with pulsating neon visual displays produced by VJ Sixta on the third laptop. The DJs, Felipe Salmon and Rafael Pereira, wore neon ‘tribal’ masks that matched the visuals. They took turns at two stations, one manipulating the basic tracks by bringing in and dropping out elements of the slow, grinding cumbia beats, while the other played rhythmic fills with his hands on a digital pad or augmented the groove with ambient effects. During their two hour set, they occasionally dipped into remixes of pre-digital cumbia and afro-diasporic drum and chant music (from Colombia and Brazil), but mostly they reworked their own bass-heavy tracks. The neon visual displays and consistently down-tempo grooves became tiring after about an hour, since the tempo never picked up to provoke heavy, sweaty dancing (in the opinion of this humble music journalist). The crowd had thinned out considerably by the time the two DJs left the stage, thanking the crowd in English and Spanish through talk-back mics that were detuned to give the DJs low, robotic, non-human, nu-cumbia voices.
The show was put on by #FUTUREROOTS, which promotes ‘New World World Music,’ with a focus on DJs and other artists who re-work roots music for the digital age. The show was billed as “Taking Back Columbus Day By Celebrating New World Global Electronic Sounds From The Southern Hemisphere For The World,” and opened up with two other experimental Peruvian artists, Philly-based precolombian, and NYC-based Afrocaribbean X, the solo project from Efrain Rozas, the leader of up-and-coming NYC psychedelic salsa band La Mecanica Popular. It remains to be seen if this initiative will take root (as it were) in NYC’s music scene, but as music journalists, we will surely be there to check out the next #FUTUREROOTS show. After all, it’s our job.