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Music is Sociology: An interview with DJ Dolores

DJ Dolores has been on the cutting edge of Brazilian music for over two decades. His career first began in Recife during the 90’s, a period in which the long dormant north-eastern city was bubbling over with an almost overwhelming amount of musical activity. (The best American comparison might be with the Seattle scene that birthed grunge).  Adopting a sample-heavy aesthetic that mixed the cutting edge of international electronica with a variety of northern folk musics, Dolores and his compatriots played an important role in helping to kickstart the development of a particularly Brazilian form electronic music. After releasing several critically acclaimed albums in the late 90’s to early 2000’s, Dolores is back with Stank, a new project that features him in collaboration with the guitar player Yuri Queiroga. The duo have an EP out now on Mais um Discos records. You can buy that HERE. Dolores sat down (digitally at least) with Afropop’s Sam Backer for this interview.

Sam Sacker:  Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us! Or, rather, to type with us.

Helder Aragao de Melo: he he he

S: So let’s get started by talking about your new project. How did it come about?

H: STANK?

S: Yes

H: Well- The project first got started during a tour in Canada, during the summer of 2010. It’s based on improvisation between me and Yuri Queiroga, the guitar hero.

S: Improvisation?

H: Yeah! You know, between machine and guitar… Because I think that now, the software has gotten to the point that its like real instrument, and the DJs are very close to the idea of being a musician. You’re not only playing records, but sampling in real time, editing…

S: So you could just jam?

H: We had some themes to start with…

S: What kind of themes?

H: The improvisation are about pieces of music… I mean to say that they were over pieces of tunes, samples, voices

S: So it really lent itself to remixing?


H: Yes. Remixes can be improvisation. It’s like in jazz: you take somebody’s theme and play it your way. But one thing that’s important for us: it’s dance music. Not cute! [Laughs]

S: That’s really interesting- once you say it, that connection seems obvious, but I’ve never seen it described like that. Does that approach carry over to when you play a track in a DJ set?

H: It is same spirit. But when you play as a DJ,  you are improvising with only yourself. With another musician it’s like having a public conversation! In this group, we used to invite people to play with us, and the conversation just kept getting better and better. Sometimes that’s what happens…

S: So it was the two of you with other musicians added?

H: In that early period, in Canada, we were jamming with lots different musicians. People like like Arrested Development, Los Aterciopelados, Calexico, and even some country groups…

S: Cool! Were those collaborations recorded?

H: I don’t think so…

S: Oh. that’s too bad… I would have loved to hear Stank with Calexico!

H: Yeah…They’re great! Very generous musicians.

S: The EP is mostly remixes. How did you pick the tracks that you were going to remix?

H: They’re from friends. Remixes are a way to start a project easily, so you don’t spend so much time- plus, it’s a nice way to come to new audiences, especially for a almost unknown project like us. We actually have a new one, for a Sizzla song. It’s an unreleased track mixing Jamaican flow with tecnobrega. Each artist we are remixing comes from different styles. From roots to rock or forro…

S: I’m excited to hear that one too! So I take it that you have more music planned. Are you going to release an album?

H: Yes. We are working on an album of our own compositions. Right now we have 5 tracks recorded. They go from a really heavy (metal) samba to sweet jazzy stuff played on a rhodes.

S: So- Is this improvisational approach something that you would have done earlier if you had the technology? Or is it something that you’ve only recently become interested in?

H: I’ve always tried to do this. In the begining I used loops from a k7. My first “sampler” was two ghettoblasters with k7 loops! After, when I bought a PC 286, I realized that the thing was my guitar, my drum, my instrument. So yes- technology changed my life.  Because I had the ideas but not the tools…

The thing is that now, laptops and the web are creating a new concept of FOLK. A kind of global folk. Because people are producing and sampling, creating like groups without leaders- most of the time you don’t know who is sample who. And styles like moombahton or tecnobrega (in Belem) are good examples of the collective, anarchist way to create..

S: That’s really interesting… It’s something I’ve noticed myself- that when you sample enough, music almost returns to a pre-written, pre-copywrite form.

H: Yes, that what I think- it becomes “original.” In the past, we had different styles based on tempo, chord sequence, the way you play, the groove, etc. Now, in the remix culture, the style is defined by the way you mix- the sounds, the timbres and the samples can come from any kind of musical style. I like to watch a musical genre being done by several people, changing the tone, adding plug-ins, etc …

S: So it’s more about the organization of musical information then the musical materials themselves?

H: But, what are musical materials themselves?  [Laughs] Music is not chords. Music is sociology. I’m exaggerating. Just a little teaser …

S: No- I really agree. It’s a very global approach. Which is interesting because I feel like a lot of the music that you’ve done has been, to a certain extent, about engaging with local traditions. And I guess I wonder how that engagement can be challenged by the remix culture? I mean, for example, technobrega being made in boston, or something like that.

H: I grew up in the period of dictatorship in Brazil and everything was censored, information was hard to obtain, nobody spoke English, etc… Today I’m excited because there is so much available to everyone, there is much knowledge and creative possibilities of exchanges. and yes!  The best tecnobrega record I listened this month was from a Berlin label

About tradition: What people call traditional is part of my life, for me it’s like the Beatles…

S: So tradition is anything that enters your musical world in a meaningful way?

H: Yes, but not like a freezer thing or something that could be in the museum- like carnival. It’s what is a part of our lives, it’s something that breathes… I felt the same in Istanbul and Havana- music as a part of the day-by-day existence.

S: And it can incorporate new elements and technology while still maintaining its nature?

H: Yes, but is not an intellectual, academic act. It is very spontaneous, I think. Not like a theory.

S: To bring it back to this new record- one of the things I thought was really interesting was how it clearly engaged with a lot of the new forms of electronic music from Brazil, while moving away from others (no drum and bass for instance). So- who have you been listening to? And what do you think of the new generation of electronic musicians? (Sorry if that’s a big question!)

H: Ha ha ha!  I don’t even know the name of much of what I’ve heard. I get many things from various parts of the world, and I can not always remember who did what song. Currently, one of my highlights is Maga Bo’s “Quilombo do Futuro.” It’s a disc for sound systems, but with a lot of acoustic percussion. He placed himself in an apparent paradox- it’s very interesting and well done technically.

S: Does anyone else stand out in particular?

H: There’s a musician named Vitor Araujo. He studied classical piano and has a strong concepts on his last disc. He actually played on one of the Stank tracks…

The new generation of electronic musicians that interests me are unknown guys playing and updating your tracks. They’re free from copyrights, just creating! Like this guy, Leo Justi…I met this kid in Rio, and he had a small studio in his home. And now he’s working with MIA! He’s always doing things, looking for his style… a natural talent!

S: Definitely! Well- that’s about all the time we have. Thank you so much for the interview! And I can’t wait to hear more STANK!

H: Thank you!

LISTEN TO THE MUSIC!

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