Bomb magazine just published an in-depth interview with me. Poet Alan Gilbert asked good questions. I did my best to answer.
here are two excerpts, on cumbia and dub & noise (which works well read in conjunction with the talk betwen Kelefa Sanneh & I in Bidoun):
AG: …How does your more recent obsession with cumbia fit into this?
JC: My old mixes are noisier. More abrasive. Less feminine. Three-and-a-half years ago I moved back to New York City. While I was in Spain I was mostly interested in North African music and some flamenco, collaborating with local musicians. But when I got back to New York I started hearing lyrics of some of the duranguense and Norteño—Mexican music which is hugely popular now, much more popular than cumbia, at least in New York. I was in a car service going to the airport and I heard Los Tigres del Norte’s “Somos Más Americanos” and immediately got into the lyric “Yo no crucé la frontera, la frontera me cruzó,” which is “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.” Then at some point I discovered cumbia—again, in a car service, an Ecuadorian guy was playing Polibio Mayorga, and I was floored. I offered to buy the CD from him. I was going to Europe for two weeks, and I needed to hear this music. He was like, “No, take it and give it back to me when you return.”
That was my gateway drug into cumbia. I just started digging and digging and digging. It’s akin to discovering reggae for the first time. Reggae has been interesting since the late ’60s. It continues to be interesting without sounding anything like it did back then…
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AG: You mentioned reggae, but I feel as if dub—whether earlier in your work with reggae and dancehall or more recently with dubstep—is the one constant I see in your music over ten years or more. Is that because you’re a DJ and that deep bass sound gets people moving?
JC: It’s definitely the constant and probably the music that has impacted me most. Why is a good question. When I’m doing a live DJ set, dubbing is a way to be impressionistic with sound. You can take some Armenian flutes, pitch them so they match the main track, put them through a bit of delay, and suddenly have them rhythmically related to the beat. It’s almost like a means of painting in sound.
AG: It’s sculptural.
JC: Exactly. I’m always trying to avoid dub clichés. Dub isn’t a heavy-handed bass line or some person pounding drums like a rock musician or anything that sounds like “reggae,” but more of a way of thinking, of cracking songs open and having the edges bleed together.
AG: I want to touch on the noise question again for a second. In the essay “Confessions of a DJ,” you write, “The DJ’s job is to make disparate records sound like a whole. DJs have to work to avoid silence and make things appear seamless.” One of the things I’ve always liked about your work is how you also have an opposing tendency to make a mix sound abrasive, how you avoid the easy groove for any extended amount of time. How does the DJ’s requisite seamlessness interact with dissonance and noise in your work? You’ve written about how important it is for you to sense what the crowd is responding to, but, at the same time, I feel as if you’re consciously looking for dissonance within the overall experience as a kind of conceptual decision.
JC: Definitely. I chose the name DJ /rupture because Boston DJ sets at the time were very horizontal and dynamically flat. They’d be playing the same music and not even interrupting it! (laughter) To me, playing varied music and not allowing for an easy smoothness has always been important. I’m very interested in moments of blowout, moments of rupture—jumping from music to pure sound and texture or moving from melody and rhythm into sheer volume and dynamics. In live situations, there are often moments where I’m trying to get the sound system to feed back or totally saturate the mixer. My friend Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, played at one of Barcelona’s biggest clubs a few weeks after I did. They told him that I’d blown out the speakers; they never said anything to me, but I never got invited back. (laughter) The logic of DJ music is that the beat must go on. But no, the beat doesn’t have to go on. We can shoot the beat and let it die.
In terms of the audience, I’m encouraging people to react differently. Those noise moments don’t have to be extended, they don’t have to be frequent; it’s not about being abusive. It’s about other possibilities, stepping into them and going elsewhere.
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Los Tigres del Norte – Somos Mas Americanos