Motion Graphics Explores The Ecstasy And Agony Of Our Relationship To Technology

Photo by Andrew Strasser

The pace of the digital world can be dizzying. A world of pop-up ads and the jarring disconnect of the invisible algorithms that drive the endless scroll of our social media feeds can create for an overwhelming experience.But Joe Williams, a Baltimore-based producer and songwriter, doesn’t necessarily see the breakneck pace as cause for concern. Whole strains of club music are dedicated to the accelerationist, dystopian feelings that the modern world can conjure, but Williams work as Motion Graphics is a little more complicateda little sunnier somehow.

Even if you only knew the name Motion Graphics, you’d imagine that there are some futurist fixations. But now that the producerwho made some acclaimed records last decade as White Williams, and has since worked in the small scene around the experimental dancefloor enthusiasts in Future Timesis finally preparing his debut album under the moniker, his vibrant explorations of contemporary technology are more clear. Williams’ Motion Graphics works are fractured and high-gloss, cycling through synth sounds and MIDI instruments at random thanks to some nifty Ableton program. The rhythms are familiar (see the subtle nods to juke on “Anyware” or to 80s synth pop on “City Links”) but the movements are fast and flickeringa shuttering collision of sounds and styles that feels like it was generated from the disembodied guts of a rogue central processing unit.

But again, if that sounds scary, take a listen to songs like “Houzzfunction” (premiering here). Despite the relentless chatter of a variety of sounds, there’s no tendency toward darkness. He stays centered, presses forward, sings gently like he’s just on a neon-bright drive down the information superhighway. In advance of Motion Graphics release on Domino on August 26, THUMP caught up with Williams to talk about his unique take on the blinding pace of modern life, and how he chose to reflect it in his work.

THUMP: So from your moniker to the album art, through the track titles, down to the high-gloss sounds you use, this is very obviously a project concerned with the way we use technology and communicate in a digital era. Can you tell me some of the things you were specifically trying to tease out in that realm on this record?
Joe Williams: Nothing was really fully formed from the jump. I knew I was working on a synth pop record of sorts, although as I was writing it I was actively avoiding the sentimentality that often is packaged into that genre. I think a lot of the themes on the record appeared as I was making it, often in hindsight. It took me a while to hear a ringtone in the marimba from “Anyware”, for example. It happens almost by accident. But I think that stuff sort of happens organically when you choose to filter things out in concept. Sift away the detritus and eventually a shape emerges.

The press materials say that the record was made with “randomized software instruments,” what does that mean practically, and was there a specific feeling that you were trying to provoke with that choice?
I made this sampler instrument with Ableton Live that scrolls through 100 different instruments at random. When you hold the notes down it freezes the instruments in pitch and time. It never plays the same combination of instruments twice, and sort of mimics that rhythm we get from aggregated news.

What do you mean by mimicking the rhythm, is it sort of randomness of social media algorithms?
I wouldn’t say its relationship is with math/algorithms, it’s more like this daily activity that we all deal with. We live comfortably with this train of thought that gets divided so finely by however you designed your twitter feed. Everything is abbreviated. You can hear it in pop-ups, or the advertisements that precede any YouTube video. It’s really common, that’s why I like it. It’s a shared experience.

But interruptions are nothing new really, I grew up with a TV pretty close by from a young age and I sort of also see it as extension of that. There’s a personal connection there. It’s fun to think about how attention span affects listening, and I see this area as a frontier to work out my ideas.

There’s a tendency to look at music like this, that’s so fixated on technology and made with state-of-the-art tech as being futurist, but your work seems almost more concerned with depicting the present. Would you say that’s accurate?
I think thats accurate. Theres nothing on the record about an imagined future of this or that with that finger-wagging dystopian prediction. I think of this record as something more like ambient music. There are a lot of incidental pieces that make up a larger whole, and it wouldn’t work that way if it didn’t sample the present day.

Your record feels remarkably lightmaybe optimistic even, despite the fact that it’s concerned with these ideas. Is technology something you’re heartened by, more than scared of?
I’m not sure. I don’t really see it as two opposites like that. Those kinds of topics are so big I don’t know who would be able to represent that in a record. With regard to the sound: I think there is a lightness in some of the tracks but then it can also be contrasted by more intense sounds and transitions. I think the mood moves around a lot. What I like about the record is the focus on these everyday experiences rather than “technology!” for the sake of it. This is also how I see it relating as a type of pop music.

Fabric To Review Its Safety Procedures Following Two Deaths At The London Club

Photo by Danny Seaton, courtesy of fabric

London’s beloved club fabric announced it will be reviewing its safety procedures following two suspected drug-related deaths at the venue. In a Facebook post, the club extended condolences to the family and friends of those deceased individuals and promised to independently review their club policies and procedures for the sake of its customers’ safety. The club has been closed since August 12 while authorities investigate the deaths.

In the statement fabric also says it has “zero tolerance to drugs on the premises,” noting that in a court judgement issued in December 2015, District Judge Allison cited the club as a “beacon of best practice” in regards to the issue. Despite this, they say that there is still room for improvement.

In 2014, local authorities called for a review of the club’s license after eight attendees collapsed at the venue due to illegal drug use within a three-year span, four of whom died. As a result, the venue was required to implement new, stricter security measures, which it later successfully appealed due to excessive costs. It was in this latter case that District Judge Allison applauded the club’s safety practices.

Public health organizations like North America’s DanceSafe encourage a harm reduction approach to taking drugs, advocating for people to use the buddy system, know their source, and test their drugs. UK organization The Loop has harm reduction advice for drug use on its website, encouraging responsible dosing, hydration, and chill-out periods.

Read yesterday’s full statement below.

Follow Alexander on Twitter.

Steve Aoki Is Getting Cryogenically Frozen

Photo by Robin Laananen

EDM celebrity Steve Aoki‘s Netflix documentary I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead only just came out this past Friday, August 19, but he’s already throwing the accuracy of its title into question with the recent revelation that he’s planning to get his entire body cryogenically vitrified once he dies, with hopes that he’ll eventually be revived. Aoki has enlisted the help of Scottsdale, Arizona’s Alcor Life Extension Foundation for the process, which comes at a price tag of roughly $220,000 he said in an interview with Rolling Stone.

The 38-year-old DJ was inspired to make the move by reading influential technologist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, famous for books like The Singularity Is Near and The Age of Spiritual Machines. In case you needed it, the news provides definite confirmation that Aoki is a pedal-to-the-medal futurist, something he hinted at earlier this year by announcing a virtual reality album (not yet released) that will “revolutionize the way you listen to music.”

Chicago Official Says Dance Music Clubs Should Pay More Tax Than Opera Houses

Photo of the Chicago Civic Opera House by Eric Allix Rogers

At an administrative meeting on Monday, an official for Illinois’ Cook County told attorneys for two small Chicago clubs that the music they play does not count as “culture,” and as a result, they each owe approximately $200,000 in taxes, interest, and penalties dating back at least six years. Beauty Bar and Evil Olive are just two of a number of small venues the county is currently attempting to retroactively collect “amusement tax” from, reports the Chicago Reader.

In the county,clubs with a capacity of 750 or fewer are exempt from a 3% tax on cover and ticket charges if they present “live theatrical, live musical or other live cultural performances.” The code defines those terms very strictly though, stipulating that those performances must involve “any of the disciplines … of the fine arts, such as live theater, music, opera, drama, comedy, ballet, modern or traditional dance, and book or poetry readings.” Music and art that does not fit these criteria is described as “amusement,” and thus eligible for the tax.

Cook County commissioner John Fritchey hopes to rally his colleagues to amend the county’s ordinance so it reflects amusement-tax exemptions for live DJ and other musical performances at small venues. In an interview with the Reader, he said that the county’s language “harkened back to the 1950s.” He also added, “No pun intended, but I think the county is being tone deaf to recognize opera as a form of cultural art but not Skrillex.”

Beauty Bar attorney Matt Ryan and Evil Olive attorney Sean Mulroney said that on October 17 the two establishments will present evidence, including live music and testimony from a musicologist, in an attempt to prove their case to the hearing officer.

A number of DJs and industry professionals have spoken out about the situation.

Follow Alexander on Twitter.

Check Out (Almost) Every DJ Playing Burning Man This Year

On Monday, August 28, 70,000 unicornssorry, actual people adorned in flashing lights and furry boas, will make their yearly pilgrimage to Black Rock City for this year’s Burning Man. While people head to The Playa for a number of reasons and activities, a huge draw for those making the long and difficult journey is the musicnot just any music, but some of the world’s best DJs.

Following the success of last year’s music guide, a schedule of various DJs and live acts playing sets at Burning Man, Kate Houston, AKA the Rock Star Librarian, has taken on the daunting task of again compiling close to every DJ lineup from the Burn’s many theme camps and mutant art cars and put them into a handy PDF. In the guide’s intro she notes that those who wished to be included were, and those who wish to remain stealth (I.E.not release their lineup) were not. Houston raised funs to compile all the information and produce the guide on Kickstarter, where she raised $5,961 of a $5,000 goal.

“The Rock Star Librarian (RSL) Music Guide connects you to Black Rock City’s booty shaking beats and live music jams,” she writes on Kickstarter. “Every listing that has appeared in this guide has been no easy feat, but it’s all been worth it when I see your happy smiles and dusty dancing out on the playa.” In addition to the location and time stamps of various DJ sets, the guide also includes tips on how to deal with law enforcement if you are stopped and questions, and where to go if you’re sober on the playa.

Spread throughout more pages than a short novel (20 to be exact), this year’s Burn will include a veritable who’s who of trippy dance music pushers from across the electronic spectrum, ranging from Carl Cox, to Diplo, Infected Mushroom, GRiZ, BT, Maceo Plex, and a variety of Burner regulars like DJ Tennis and DJ Dan. Whether you’ll be heading to the desert next week or not, it’s something of an awe-inspiring read. Check out the guide here.

Meet DJ Jigüe, Cuba’s Answer To J Dilla

All photos by Jude Goergen unless otherwise stated

As the sun beats down on the streets of Santiago de Cuba’s old town, an open doorway of a tired blue faade beckons with a respite from the heat. Inside, the building’s concrete walls are peeling, and the staircase is all exposed cinderblock and rebar. Once the grand residence of a wealthy family, the colonial-era house was later carved up by the revolutionary government into a solar, or collective housing for a handful of families. This solar is currently home to a couple dozen occupants.

Isnay Rodriguez, a 35-year-old who performs and produces under the name DJ Jige, used lived here as a kid. He tells me that during the early-90s heyday of Santiago’s underground party scene, up to 300 teenagers crammed in here on weekend nights, when he and his friends from the neighborhood threw wild parties despite Cuba’s worst austerity period. “Here is where we set up the soundsystem,” says Rodriguez, pointing to a wall that didn’t used to be there. “Man, we packed this place.”

I meet Rodriguez in early May, two days before Manana festivala first-ever fusion of electronic and folkloric music in Santiago that brought an unprecedented influx of foreign artists. Rodriguezwhose nom d’artiste refers to a river-dwelling creature in Cuban folklore that scares unsuspecting travelersis back in his hometown for the occasion. The Havana-based artist has a unique success story, having worked his way to the top of Cuba’s nascent hip-hop and DJ scenes. Today, he’s got an international touring career as a DJ for the country’s hip-hop sensation Obsesin, as well as recent solo shows at festivals like SXSW. Rodriguez also runs his own label, Gumpara Records, which he says is the country’s first independent hip-hop imprint. His productions cover everything from instrumental hip-hop, to synth-heavy club bangers, to slow grooving house jams, grounded in a palette of Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Rodriguez’s restrained approach to beatmaking and sample prowess make him something of Cuba’s answer to J Dillaa comparison that makes the modest producer blush when I bring it up. He also excels at editing visuals, winning Cuba’s best music video award last year for the clip he made to accompany “Electrotumbao 2030,” a head-nodding original which marries the tumbaoa standard bass rhythm underpinning most Afro-Cuban music with a grabbag of theremin-esque stabs and quavers. What’s more, he manages this very 21st-century career without a home Internet connectiona challenge that most Cubans musicians also have to contend with.

With the gradual normalization of US-Cuban relations, Rodriguez is poised to be one of the island’s breakout DJ talents. In July, he made his New York City debut at the Afro-Latino festival in Brooklyn and La Isla Bonita on Staten Island. Due out August 30, his new EP APA sees him going straight for the dancefloor jugular, reworking Cuban rhythms like makutaa dance played on a drum of the same name that predates the congainto everything from a slow burning Afro-house number to a quasi-Baltimore club break on “Dengele (Makuta Club).”

Rodriguez has been involved with Cuban DJ culture pretty much since it began back in the 90s. In fact, he is the former associate director of the Cuban Rap Agencyyes, in the heavily bureaucratic country, there’s even a government office for rap. But before Rodriguez started incorporating hip-hop from the US into his repertoire, he took inspiration from Jamaican soundsystem culture, which was instrumental in developing Cuba’s DJ scene.

Cuba’s first soundsystem arrived in Santiago in the late 80s. It belonged to the Muteliers, a Cuban Rastafarian family who imitated the Jamaican tradition by pumping out reggae and dub on a rig they called “One Love.” “They played on the Callejn de los Perros, even the police wouldn’t go in there,” says Rodriguez, referring to the rough block where the One Love crew hosted its street dances. Santiago’s perch at the eastern end of the island also meant that Rodriguez and his friends could pick up Jamaican FM radio broadcasts.

In Brooklyn, Dub-Stuy Takes Sound System Culture Back to its Roots

Still preteens, Rodriguez and his friends wanted to strut their stuff too. The problem was how to come by sophisticated DJ gear and sound systems in a country with limited access to basic foodstuffs. At the time, Cuba was going through its “Special Period,” a period of economic hardship that followed the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s biggest trading partner, and lasted until roughly 1998. This resulted in a scarcity of medicine, oil, and foodmuch less sophisticated music production tools. The solution Rodriguez and his crew came up with was an ingenious workaround: they would build their own soundsystem with repurposed materials from the black market.

To build speaker boxes, they relied on foam that students stole from state-run boarding school mattresses and the leather-tough fibers of sugarcane scraps. The speaker components came by way of a friend’s father, a touring musician who brought back two subs from Mexico. To erect a truss to support the lights, they used metal beams and joints likely from construction workers building new hotels around the city. For the lights themselves, they used bulbs provided by airport workers who pilfered what they could from the landing strip. Rodriguez’s father, meanwhile, was an electrician and helped solder it all together. He also strung a disco ball from the ceiling of their solar. “All the parts were recycled, nothing was used for its original purpose,” Rodriguez explains.

DJ Jige and percussionist Ivan Farias

When I ask Rodriguez how they were able to construct turntables, toca-discos in Spanish, he responds with a laugh and a play on words. “Toca-que?” he says, which loosely translates as “What-players?” Turntables were an unimaginable luxury at that time. Instead, to play music, Rodriguez and his friends used a pair of tape decks that Cuban sailors had brought back from an overseas tour in Angola. At first, they inserted their fingers inside the cassette reel to speed up and slow down the tempo. Later, someone with electrical knowhow hacked a tape player with a power surge and figured out that bursts of electricity could speed up or slow down the motora primitive pitch adjuster. It all sounds incredible, but Cuba perfected this necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention approach during the Special Period, when aluminum food trays became TV antennas, parts from decommissioned army tanks powered primitive electric bicycles, and motors from broken dryers were repurposed to spin fans.

The influence of Jamaican soundsystem culture led to the birth of a blossoming party scene in eastern Cuba. “Pum pums,” as these early-90s parties were called, were named after “Tu Pum Pum,” the 1988 ode to lady parts by Panamanian proto-reggaetn singer El General. At the time, reggae and dancehall, especially versions en espaol, was the soundtrack of Santiago’s early soundsystem scene.

DJ Jige at a “pum pum” party in the 90s (Photo by the author)

In addition to Caribbean sounds, Santiago’s soundsystem culture was influenced more by European than American music, because of the embargo. By the time the young crew got into full swing circa 1993, with Rodriguez as hype man (he wasn’t yet a DJ), the scene’s dominant sound had veered away from dancehall riddims and toward the cheesy house-inflected pop brought by European tourists taking advantage of cheap Cuban vacations during the Special Period. Sets from that era read like the tracklist of a Jock Jams CD from your local record store’s dollar bin: Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants,” Haddaway’s “What is Love,” Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam,” Reel 2 Real’s “I Like to Move It,” and Robin S’s “Show Me Love” were the hitseffectively, young Santiagueros were crazy for four-to-the-floor dance music. Rodriguez refers to those heady nights as “house music parties,” denoting a distinct soundtrack before hip-hop entered the scene.

For almost four years, pum pum parties raged every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday across Santiago, including the one at Rodriguez’s solar. Echoing the way early hip-hop was born in the 70s from crews in the South Bronx battle-rapping to Jamaican-born jock Kool Herc, in Santiago, the first MCs banded together to compete for bragging rights, often rapping in a made-up language when a song contained Jamaican patois they couldn’t quite parse. The different crews organized soundsystem competitions, where Rodriguez routinely took home the prize for best hype man. “It was totally underground,” he says adamantly. While the police occasionally shut down parties because of noise complaints and concerns about underage drinking, for the most part, it was a golden era of non-interference from the authorities. “Frankly, young people had nothing else to do, so the government knew this was the only option,” Rodriguez explains.

By 1996, that hands-off approach changed abruptly. The same hotels that had inadvertently provided spare parts for soundsystem rigs had finally opened their doors. To continue extracting much-needed foreign revenue from visiting tourists, hotels hosted state-run discothequesmany of which played the same top 40 tracks as the underground parties. But according to Rodriguez’s retelling, drugs crept into the tourist-friendly party scene via rival city Havana, which led to a severe government crackdown on nightclubs and pum pums alike across the country. That year marked the end of the flourishing sound system culture for Rodriguez and his friends.

With the pum pums’ demise, Rodriguez drifted toward the hip-hop scene taking hold in Havana. Radio broadcasts from Miami had resulted in a small but dedicated community of raperos, rap fans, in the city, who had to fend off accusations that the US import was an imperialist plot. By 1996, they had convinced authorities that hip-hop could be an expression of Cuban culture, and that same year, the capital’s first major hip-hop festival brought in overseas firepower from the likes of Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, and Dead Prez, as well as the debut of Obsesin, a duo that became Cuba’s top rap export, later hiring Rodriguez as their tour DJ.

How do Cubans Make Electronic Music Without Reliable Internet?

Back in eastern Cuba, Rodriguez started his own rap crew, Regimiento, in 1999. The next year, while in university studying industrial management, he convinced the local branch of a government-run youth outreach program to let him coordinate activities like hip-hop workshops and freestyle contests. Regimiento competed at the 2000 edition of the Havana Hip-Hop Festival, an opportunity that inspired him to take up DJing and music production. His combined skills as a performer and advocate ultimately led him to move from Santiago to Havana in the mid-2000s for a position with the newly founded Cuban Rap Agency, which manages the country’s hip-hop scene by booking shows abroad, promoting festivals nationally and providing recording space. Although a Santiaguero at heart, Rodriguez remains based out of the Cuban capital to this day.

The crowd at DJ Jige‘s performance

Now, twenty years after Rodriguez threw his last pum pum party, he is back in the Santiago house where he got his start in music, preparing for a private performance he’s giving to a group of three dozen spectators, mostly foreigners in town for Manana. Inside the house, he decorates the walls with African masks and strings up a Cuban flag on the back window, then sets up a laptop running Serato and a combination keyboard/MPC on the staircaseall connected to a proper speaker. On the dusty floor, percussionist Ivan Farias toggles between congas and tambourine. Together, he and Rodriguez play an improv set that blends Jige’s mid-tempo beats with a live rhythm section. It’s a preview of what the duo will play at Manana a few days later, and the audiencemany of them first-time visitors who have been in Cuba for less than 24-hoursare awed into silence.

Listening to Rodriguez’s mesmerizing set, I’m reminded of the short speech he gave beforehand, where he called the performance a “solar ceremony”a double entendre referring to both the hot sun beating down outside and the communal house that nurtured his music career. He wanted to bless the space, he said, suggesting that for all the laughable, youthful debauchery that took place there, it is still hallowed ground.

Meet DJ Jigüe, Cuba’s Answer To J Dilla

All photos by Jude Goergen unless otherwise stated

As the sun beats down on the streets of Santiago de Cuba’s old town, an open doorway of a tired blue faade beckons with a respite from the heat. Inside, the building’s concrete walls are peeling, and the staircase is all exposed cinderblock and rebar. Once the grand residence of a wealthy family, the colonial-era house was later carved up by the revolutionary government into a solar, or collective housing for a handful of families. This solar is currently home to a couple dozen occupants.

Isnay Rodriguez, a 35-year-old who performs and produces under the name DJ Jige, used lived here as a kid. He tells me that during the early-90s heyday of Santiago’s underground party scene, up to 300 teenagers crammed in here on weekend nights, when he and his friends from the neighborhood threw wild parties despite Cuba’s worst austerity period. “Here is where we set up the soundsystem,” says Rodriguez, pointing to a wall that didn’t used to be there. “Man, we packed this place.”

I meet Rodriguez in early May, two days before Manana festivala first-ever fusion of electronic and folkloric music in Santiago that brought an unprecedented influx of foreign artists. Rodriguezwhose nom d’artiste refers to a river-dwelling creature in Cuban folklore that scares unsuspecting travelersis back in his hometown for the occasion. The Havana-based artist has a unique success story, having worked his way to the top of Cuba’s nascent hip-hop and DJ scenes. Today, he’s got an international touring career as a DJ for the country’s hip-hop sensation Obsesin, as well as recent solo shows at festivals like SXSW. Rodriguez also runs his own label, Gumpara Records, which he says is the country’s first independent hip-hop imprint. His productions cover everything from instrumental hip-hop, to synth-heavy club bangers, to slow grooving house jams, grounded in a palette of Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Rodriguez’s restrained approach to beatmaking and sample prowess make him something of Cuba’s answer to J Dillaa comparison that makes the modest producer blush when I bring it up. He also excels at editing visuals, winning Cuba’s best music video award last year for the clip he made to accompany “Electrotumbao 2030,” a head-nodding original which marries the tumbaoa standard bass rhythm underpinning most Afro-Cuban music with a grabbag of theremin-esque stabs and quavers. What’s more, he manages this very 21st-century career without a home Internet connectiona challenge that most Cubans musicians also have to contend with.

With the gradual normalization of US-Cuban relations, Rodriguez is poised to be one of the island’s breakout DJ talents. In July, he made his New York City debut at the Afro-Latino festival in Brooklyn and La Isla Bonita on Staten Island. Due out August 30, his new EP APA sees him going straight for the dancefloor jugular, reworking Cuban rhythms like makutaa dance played on a drum of the same name that predates the congainto everything from a slow burning Afro-house number to a quasi-Baltimore club break on “Dengele (Makuta Club).”

Rodriguez has been involved with Cuban DJ culture pretty much since it began back in the 90s. In fact, he is the former associate director of the Cuban Rap Agencyyes, in the heavily bureaucratic country, there’s even a government office for rap. But before Rodriguez started incorporating hip-hop from the US into his repertoire, he took inspiration from Jamaican soundsystem culture, which was instrumental in developing Cuba’s DJ scene.

Cuba’s first soundsystem arrived in Santiago in the late 80s. It belonged to the Muteliers, a Cuban Rastafarian family who imitated the Jamaican tradition by pumping out reggae and dub on a rig they called “One Love.” “They played on the Callejn de los Perros, even the police wouldn’t go in there,” says Rodriguez, referring to the rough block where the One Love crew hosted its street dances. Santiago’s perch at the eastern end of the island also meant that Rodriguez and his friends could pick up Jamaican FM radio broadcasts.

In Brooklyn, Dub-Stuy Takes Sound System Culture Back to its Roots

Still preteens, Rodriguez and his friends wanted to strut their stuff too. The problem was how to come by sophisticated DJ gear and sound systems in a country with limited access to basic foodstuffs. At the time, Cuba was going through its “Special Period,” a period of economic hardship that followed the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s biggest trading partner, and lasted until roughly 1998. This resulted in a scarcity of medicine, oil, and foodmuch less sophisticated music production tools. The solution Rodriguez and his crew came up with was an ingenious workaround: they would build their own soundsystem with repurposed materials from the black market.

To build speaker boxes, they relied on foam that students stole from state-run boarding school mattresses and the leather-tough fibers of sugarcane scraps. The speaker components came by way of a friend’s father, a touring musician who brought back two subs from Mexico. To erect a truss to support the lights, they used metal beams and joints likely from construction workers building new hotels around the city. For the lights themselves, they used bulbs provided by airport workers who pilfered what they could from the landing strip. Rodriguez’s father, meanwhile, was an electrician and helped solder it all together. He also strung a disco ball from the ceiling of their solar. “All the parts were recycled, nothing was used for its original purpose,” Rodriguez explains.

DJ Jige and percussionist Ivan Farias

When I ask Rodriguez how they were able to construct turntables, toca-discos in Spanish, he responds with a laugh and a play on words. “Toca-que?” he says, which loosely translates as “What-players?” Turntables were an unimaginable luxury at that time. Instead, to play music, Rodriguez and his friends used a pair of tape decks that Cuban sailors had brought back from an overseas tour in Angola. At first, they inserted their fingers inside the cassette reel to speed up and slow down the tempo. Later, someone with electrical knowhow hacked a tape player with a power surge and figured out that bursts of electricity could speed up or slow down the motora primitive pitch adjuster. It all sounds incredible, but Cuba perfected this necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention approach during the Special Period, when aluminum food trays became TV antennas, parts from decommissioned army tanks powered primitive electric bicycles, and motors from broken dryers were repurposed to spin fans.

The influence of Jamaican soundsystem culture led to the birth of a blossoming party scene in eastern Cuba. “Pum pums,” as these early-90s parties were called, were named after “Tu Pum Pum,” the 1988 ode to lady parts by Panamanian proto-reggaetn singer El General. At the time, reggae and dancehall, especially versions en espaol, was the soundtrack of Santiago’s early soundsystem scene.

DJ Jige at a “pum pum” party in the 90s (Photo by the author)

In addition to Caribbean sounds, Santiago’s soundsystem culture was influenced more by European than American music, because of the embargo. By the time the young crew got into full swing circa 1993, with Rodriguez as hype man (he wasn’t yet a DJ), the scene’s dominant sound had veered away from dancehall riddims and toward the cheesy house-inflected pop brought by European tourists taking advantage of cheap Cuban vacations during the Special Period. Sets from that era read like the tracklist of a Jock Jams CD from your local record store’s dollar bin: Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants,” Haddaway’s “What is Love,” Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam,” Reel 2 Real’s “I Like to Move It,” and Robin S’s “Show Me Love” were the hitseffectively, young Santiagueros were crazy for four-to-the-floor dance music. Rodriguez refers to those heady nights as “house music parties,” denoting a distinct soundtrack before hip-hop entered the scene.

For almost four years, pum pum parties raged every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday across Santiago, including the one at Rodriguez’s solar. Echoing the way early hip-hop was born in the 70s from crews in the South Bronx battle-rapping to Jamaican-born jock Kool Herc, in Santiago, the first MCs banded together to compete for bragging rights, often rapping in a made-up language when a song contained Jamaican patois they couldn’t quite parse. The different crews organized soundsystem competitions, where Rodriguez routinely took home the prize for best hype man. “It was totally underground,” he says adamantly. While the police occasionally shut down parties because of noise complaints and concerns about underage drinking, for the most part, it was a golden era of non-interference from the authorities. “Frankly, young people had nothing else to do, so the government knew this was the only option,” Rodriguez explains.

By 1996, that hands-off approach changed abruptly. The same hotels that had inadvertently provided spare parts for soundsystem rigs had finally opened their doors. To continue extracting much-needed foreign revenue from visiting tourists, hotels hosted state-run discothequesmany of which played the same top 40 tracks as the underground parties. But according to Rodriguez’s retelling, drugs crept into the tourist-friendly party scene via rival city Havana, which led to a severe government crackdown on nightclubs and pum pums alike across the country. That year marked the end of the flourishing sound system culture for Rodriguez and his friends.

With the pum pums’ demise, Rodriguez drifted toward the hip-hop scene taking hold in Havana. Radio broadcasts from Miami had resulted in a small but dedicated community of raperos, rap fans, in the city, who had to fend off accusations that the US import was an imperialist plot. By 1996, they had convinced authorities that hip-hop could be an expression of Cuban culture, and that same year, the capital’s first major hip-hop festival brought in overseas firepower from the likes of Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, and Dead Prez, as well as the debut of Obsesin, a duo that became Cuba’s top rap export, later hiring Rodriguez as their tour DJ.

How do Cubans Make Electronic Music Without Reliable Internet?

Back in eastern Cuba, Rodriguez started his own rap crew, Regimiento, in 1999. The next year, while in university studying industrial management, he convinced the local branch of a government-run youth outreach program to let him coordinate activities like hip-hop workshops and freestyle contests. Regimiento competed at the 2000 edition of the Havana Hip-Hop Festival, an opportunity that inspired him to take up DJing and music production. His combined skills as a performer and advocate ultimately led him to move from Santiago to Havana in the mid-2000s for a position with the newly founded Cuban Rap Agency, which manages the country’s hip-hop scene by booking shows abroad, promoting festivals nationally and providing recording space. Although a Santiaguero at heart, Rodriguez remains based out of the Cuban capital to this day.

The crowd at DJ Jige‘s performance

Now, twenty years after Rodriguez threw his last pum pum party, he is back in the Santiago house where he got his start in music, preparing for a private performance he’s giving to a group of three dozen spectators, mostly foreigners in town for Manana. Inside the house, he decorates the walls with African masks and strings up a Cuban flag on the back window, then sets up a laptop running Serato and a combination keyboard/MPC on the staircaseall connected to a proper speaker. On the dusty floor, percussionist Ivan Farias toggles between congas and tambourine. Together, he and Rodriguez play an improv set that blends Jige’s mid-tempo beats with a live rhythm section. It’s a preview of what the duo will play at Manana a few days later, and the audiencemany of them first-time visitors who have been in Cuba for less than 24-hoursare awed into silence.

Listening to Rodriguez’s mesmerizing set, I’m reminded of the short speech he gave beforehand, where he called the performance a “solar ceremony”a double entendre referring to both the hot sun beating down outside and the communal house that nurtured his music career. He wanted to bless the space, he said, suggesting that for all the laughable, youthful debauchery that took place there, it is still hallowed ground.

Check Out (Almost) Every DJ Playing Burning Man This Year

On Monday, August 28, 70,000 unicornssorry, actual people adorned in flashing lights and furry boas, will make their yearly pilgrimage to Black Rock City for this year’s Burning Man. While people head to The Playa for a number of reasons and activities, a huge draw for those making the long and difficult journey is the musicnot just any music, but some of the world’s best DJs.

Following the success of last year’s music guide, a schedule of various DJs and live acts playing sets at Burning Man, Kate Houston, AKA the Rock Star Librarian, has taken on the daunting task of again compiling close to every DJ lineup from the Burn’s many theme camps and mutant art cars and put them into a handy PDF. In the guide’s intro she notes that those who wished to be included were, and those who wish to remain stealth (I.E.not release their lineup) were not. Houston raised funs to compile all the information and produce the guide on Kickstarter, where she raised $5,961 of a $5,000 goal.

“The Rock Star Librarian (RSL) Music Guide connects you to Black Rock City’s booty shaking beats and live music jams,” she writes on Kickstarter. “Every listing that has appeared in this guide has been no easy feat, but it’s all been worth it when I see your happy smiles and dusty dancing out on the playa.” In addition to the location and time stamps of various DJ sets, the guide also includes tips on how to deal with law enforcement if you are stopped and questions, and where to go if you’re sober on the playa.

Spread throughout more pages than a short novel (20 to be exact), this year’s Burn will include a veritable who’s who of trippy dance music pushers from across the electronic spectrum, ranging from Carl Cox, to Diplo, Infected Mushroom, GRiZ, BT, Maceo Plex, and a variety of Burner regulars like DJ Tennis and DJ Dan. Whether you’ll be heading to the desert next week or not, it’s something of an awe-inspiring read. Check out the guide here.

Chicago Official Says Dance Music Clubs Should Pay More Tax Than Opera Houses

Photo of the Chicago Civic Opera House by Eric Allix Rogers

At an administrative meeting on Monday, an official for Illinois’ Cook County told attorneys for two small Chicago clubs that the music they play does not count as “culture,” and as a result, they each owe approximately $200,000 in taxes, interest, and penalties dating back at least six years. Beauty Bar and Evil Olive are just two of a number of small venues the county is currently attempting to retroactively collect “amusement tax” from, reports the Chicago Reader.

In the county,clubs with a capacity of 750 or fewer are exempt from a 3% tax on cover and ticket charges if they present “live theatrical, live musical or other live cultural performances.” The code defines those terms very strictly though, stipulating that those performances must involve “any of the disciplines … of the fine arts, such as live theater, music, opera, drama, comedy, ballet, modern or traditional dance, and book or poetry readings.” Music and art that does not fit these criteria is described as “amusement,” and thus eligible for the tax.

Cook County commissioner John Fritchey hopes to rally his colleagues to amend the county’s ordinance so it reflects amusement-tax exemptions for live DJ and other musical performances at small venues. In an interview with the Reader, he said that the county’s language “harkened back to the 1950s.” He also added, “No pun intended, but I think the county is being tone deaf to recognize opera as a form of cultural art but not Skrillex.”

Beauty Bar attorney Matt Ryan and Evil Olive attorney Sean Mulroney said that on October 17 the two establishments will present evidence, including live music and testimony from a musicologist, in an attempt to prove their case to the hearing officer.

A number of DJs and industry professionals have spoken out about the situation.

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Steve Aoki Is Getting Cryogenically Frozen

Photo by Robin Laananen

EDM celebrity Steve Aoki‘s Netflix documentary I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead only just came out this past Friday, August 19, but he’s already throwing the accuracy of its title into question with the recent revelation that he’s planning to get his entire body cryogenically vitrified once he dies, with hopes that he’ll eventually be revived. Aoki has enlisted the help of Scottsdale, Arizona’s Alcor Life Extension Foundation for the process, which comes at a price tag of roughly $220,000 he said in an interview with Rolling Stone.

The 38-year-old DJ was inspired to make the move by reading influential technologist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, famous for books like The Singularity Is Near and The Age of Spiritual Machines. In case you needed it, the news provides definite confirmation that Aoki is a pedal-to-the-medal futurist, something he hinted at earlier this year by announcing a virtual reality album (not yet released) that will “revolutionize the way you listen to music.”

Fabric To Review Its Safety Procedures Following Two Deaths At The London Club

Photo by Danny Seaton, courtesy of fabric

London’s beloved club fabric announced it will be reviewing its safety procedures following two suspected drug-related deaths at the venue. In a Facebook post, the club extended condolences to the family and friends of those deceased individuals and promised to independently review their club policies and procedures for the sake of its customers’ safety. The club has been closed since August 12 while authorities investigate the deaths.

In the statement fabric also says it has “zero tolerance to drugs on the premises,” noting that in a court judgement issued in December 2015, District Judge Allison cited the club as a “beacon of best practice” in regards to the issue. Despite this, they say that there is still room for improvement.

In 2014, local authorities called for a review of the club’s license after eight attendees collapsed at the venue due to illegal drug use within a three-year span, four of whom died. As a result, the venue was required to implement new, stricter security measures, which it later successfully appealed due to excessive costs. It was in this latter case that District Judge Allison applauded the club’s safety practices.

Public health organizations like North America’s DanceSafe encourage a harm reduction approach to taking drugs, advocating for people to use the buddy system, know their source, and test their drugs. UK organization The Loop has harm reduction advice for drug use on its website, encouraging responsible dosing, hydration, and chill-out periods.

Read yesterday’s full statement below.

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FYI Chris' "Secret Bullshit" Isn't So Secret Anymore

Chris is a good name. A strong name. A name that Chris’ can be proud of having. Think of all the famous Chris’ in history: Martin, Rock, Isaak. Legends one and all.

Our favourite Chris has two heads. Peckham based duo FYI Chris have rocked up to Scottish label Lionoli Industries with a brand new four tracker that’s been seeing some serious action round our way. Stuffed to the gills with the kind of wonky house you’d expect from duo that overlook the racks at Rye Wax, the Lionoil EP is 20 minutes of total bliss for those of us who prefer their club music slightly off-kilter.

Tuck into the weird and warped lead track “Secret Bullshit” right now. It sounds like being underwater on quaaludes. Or something. We had a very quick chat with the lads as well. All the goods are, as ever, below.

THUMP: “Secret Bullshit” is a good name for a song. Do you think secrets are really fundamentally important to each and everyone of us.
FYI Chris:
The name is really a catch-all term for any kind of human applied mythos. Humans are seriously good at ret-conning stuff and finding patterns in things when confronted with events too big to deal with at the time, and that fascinates us a lot I think. How things can be misconstrued or subverted for individuals to gain. Or some bullshit like that.

What’s the WOAT acronym, FYI Chris?
COBRA, the White Hall terrorism crisis response room, actually just stands for “Cabinet Office Briefing Room A” which is surely the lamest of all time. Even our high-tech spy control centres sound like Ken Loach films.

You’re DJing on Friday night right? Describe your perfect Friday night in the most minute detail possible.
Finish work at 6. Get a pint and a taco from Taco Queen to fuel up. Probably go home, play some 2k16 or NHL16 (at least at the moment) until we see what pub we’re going to. Go to the pub, figure out what the best/cheapest lager on tap is and grab one. Probably spill a bit on my coat, but it’s sound because I remembered my waterproof. Sink a few and chat the shit that needs chatting. Hopefully there’s a good jukebox and possibly a pool table or even better a mate playing records. Dance around; smoke my way through half an Amber Leaf pouch and leave after last orders. Maybe go to a mates via the shop to get some fire water. Then it’s records and arguing about records for as long as it takes, always searching for that perfect last tune. Nothing too special.

The Lionoil EP is out very soon on, yep, Lionoil Industries. The lads play in Edinburgh this weekend at Sneaky Pete’s and you can head here for more information on that.

FYI Chris are on Facebook // SoundCloud