Tuesday, February 3, 2015

EL SONIDO ROBOTICO - An Interview with DJ Roger Mas of Los Discos Duro & Discos Mas


An Interview with DJ Roger Mas of Los Discos Duro & Discos Mas

Recently some dope tropical gems have caught my interest and they all seem to come from the same mysterious source, one DJ called Roger Más. Who was this masked man?
The only thing I could gather was he was from California and had great taste and some mad skillz. First on my radar was a totally nast-ay re-edit of the classic left-field deep cut “Los Esqueletos” by Cumbia Siglo XX from the LP Cumbia Africana Vol. III released by the Colombian Machuca label, which some of you may know from various Afro-Colombian themed compilation releases by Analog Africa, Soundway, and Vampisoul. 

I first heard it on a French radio broadcast in 2013 of a session by my friend at Vampisoul, Iñigo Pastor, who was visiting Paris as a guest DJ.
He played some great music that set, including this freaky leftfield rework of “Esqueletos” on the Unicornio label – I knew I had to find it! Sounded like if The Residents were Colombian or Eno on peyote! 

I discovered that it had come out a few years before all the hoopla around Afro-Colombian champeta and psych cumbia had gone mainstream, in 2009 in fact, so this DJ must have some pretty deep knowledge, I figured! Check the sick Miles Steuding vid here:

Soon enough I also found out that there was another cumbia rework 45 by Más, “Baila Hihi”/”Cumbia Bonita”, which I picked up and was equally thrilled by.

Then in 2014 the first Los Discos Duro 45 showed up, “Te Lo Creo”/”Muchachada” (Más) – I stumbled upon it at my friends’ online store Ear Candy Music (they are based in Missoula, MT):

And amazingly, within the same week, I found it as well as on my other friend’s spot, Independent Grand out of La Gran Manzana: http://www.independentgrand.com/

Plus, when my man O-Dub on his Soul-Sides.com blog wrote: “Disco-synth-cumbia? Hell yeah!” — I felt it had to be worth my further investigation. And finally, when I saw it was associated with Roger Más, I just knew I had to snag it without question.

It did not disappoint! It fit right in with these other tripped-out dubby electro-flavored cumbias I was into from Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia so it was a natural shoe-in for the Rumba Psicodélica sets I was doing at The Quarters: http://hadleyquarters.com/  
... with my DJ gig/Peace & Rhythm label partner, Andujar.

I am a big fan of dub echo, electro, flange, and other effects, often adding them to my DJ sets, but with this 45 I did not need to mess with anything, it was like it came already Bongohead-ified. The A-side was the spacey, loopy one that really sent me to the outer limits. Thankfully, the B-side brought me back to earth with a super-up-tempo jam (great for getting yourself up in the morning with your cuppa Colombian joe, BTW). Best of both worlds, this little platter o’ wax was, and in addition, what a hoot to hear these old sonidero/picotero classics revisited in such an irreverent and hip way! ¡Coño!, ya nailed it, bro, I wanted to say to him. But I still did not know just who really was responsible for these oddly affecting 45s I had added to my crate arsenal, seemingly out of nowhere. And that was that, for the time being at least!

Then waddya know, a year later DJ Roger Más himself contacted me, mentioning that he had a new one out, and was I interested in checking it? ¿Que que? More vocoder tropical goodness from the dynamic duo Los Disco Duro? Hola, ¡claro que si! Count me in, I said.

So I promptly ordered a couple from him on his Discogs store (that is how I prefer to do it anyway, direct from the source).

You can hear/see it here for yourself:

Despite a snow-engendered delay, the package eventually came (it was hard waiting for it knowing how dope it was gonna be) and I opened it up to discover, lo and behold, more great fun again from Los Disco Duro in an electro-stylee – but this time an original crowd mover was on the A, and a sick “quinceñera” version of the Benny Moré mambo cha-cha classic “La Culebra” was on the flip. Much to my delight, it was done in an up-tempo digital cumbia mix, like some foil-wrapped arepa sabrosa to-go, washed down with a cold Guayaquí yerba maté.

Funnily enough, I grew up with El Bárbaro Del Ritmo’s records blasting on the stereo hi-fi of my parents’ various pads back in the day, and had just gone to Moré’s home city of Cienfuegos in November, so he was fresh in my mind. It was really cool to hear this version right after getting back from a trip to my father’s birthplace, Cuba. 

Makes perfect sense to hear it in this updated, translated style since Roger Más is based in “Califas” (California), home to so many Chicano and other Latino/a people who love cumbia, and Benny Moré (some spell it Beny) made his career in the Chicano homeland of “México Lindo” during the film blitz there of the 1940s and 50s, and since cumbia has always been huge in Mexico as well, the whole thing dovetailed perfectly in my mind. Yeah, this is perfecto, I thought, and the timing is just right too. I want to get to know this Roger Más cat a little better, I decided. It seemed worth it to try and get a little deeper into his mind to see what makes it tick and whatnot. I was not disappointed (but in honor of his wish for anonymity, I will not reveal his name or publish photos of him). Suffice it to say along the way I discovered we have a mutual friend in DJ Beto, aka Ernesto Gyemant, another thing that only endeared the guy to me even more (más)!

Here’s what Roger had to say:

Bongohead: Are you in the SF/Bay Area?

Roger Mas: Yes, Bay Area, Oakland specifically

B: Do you do remixes?

RM: I do remixes mainly for my DJ sets. For the most part just adding a little bass and bass drum to make stuff friendly for the dance floor.

B: So you have a band? 

RM: Yes, I like to think of it as a hybrid between a band and a live studio session. Parts of our set are sequenced and we play and sing live so dynamic things happen much like a band but we have the consistency and fatness of working with a drum machine which gives us the 80’s electro type vibe. 

At a bare minimum it’s me playing guacharaca (a type of metal scraper used in cumbia percussion) and babysitting the vocoder and midi sequencer while Marcos sings. We usually perform with timbales. The main idea is to get everyone dancing to our weird cumbias and the timbales make that happen.

B: Are you guys playing out much?

RM: Our first show was in San Jose in June 2014 at a monthly roving party called Sonido Clash hosted by Raul y Mexia from the Los Tigres del Norte dynasty. It happened to be at Chinese restaurant called Peking House, which sounds weird but it actually ended up being a perfect place to shoot our first video. 

Our second show was at the Electronic Sriracha festival, which drew almost 10,000 people. It was a crazy second show to say the least.
We are scheduled to play our 3rd gig on March 20th at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco with Candelaria and Afrolicious. That's a big deal for us, I mean, that’s where Robin Williams filmed his famous HBO special.

B: That is totally cool. Who are the players? 

RM: Basically it’s me and Marcos and an excellent percussionist named Eric Mendez on timbales and conga on the records. Eric is busy most of the time playing with the major salsa acts in the Bay Area so my friend Miles Steuding has played timbales for our live shows.

B: I have always had a soft spot for electro/break-beat elements, I guess because I came of age in the early 80s with Bam, Strafe and Mantronix. When it is tastefully combined with Afro-Caribbean ritmos pegajosos (especially if there is some sort of organic element), it can have a really excellent frisson, like The Empire Strikes Back meets carnival time in el caribe. How do you do the robot voice, with modern digital effects or an old vocoder?

RM: We use hardware vocoders live and in the studio. Our first record is all Korg MS2000 and MicroKorg which are essentially the same beast.

It's a really good sounding vocoder but not the most stable or predictable so we’ve moved on to other hardware like the vintage Roland SVC-330, of “Transformers, more than meets the eye” fame and the Electro Harmonix Iron Lung pedal. It sounds really good and you can flavor it with any synth you like. In conjunction with the Korg Volca Bass synth it makes for a super compact live setup.

B: When did you first get into cumbia? What are the influences on the music you make?

RM: Coming from a DJ background, a segment of my musical taste is informed by what moves people on the dancefloor. I realize that’s different for every DJ, but for me, I cut my teeth playing in the SF Mission for the last 10 years where there are people from all over the world, especially Central and South America who react viscerally to cumbia, merengue, punta, salsa, champeta, etc.

I just decided to try and cover some of my favorites of the songs I would keep coming back to week after week in my DJ set for this Los Disco Duro project. My approach to the material was similar to how Tomita interpreted all the top euro classical music, with synthesizers. We literally just take the music apart and reconstruct it with synthesizers just like Tomita did except by ear, no sheet music.

Instead of Beethoven we mess with Fito Olivares. Instead of Bach we prefer Banda Machos. Franz Schubert, Fruko Estrada...

For instance, on the new 45, I’m not sure if you know about this version of “La Culebra”, but it’s the cover of the cover that we covered:
Originally we were only doing human vocals but the vocoder was just a natural fit to our ultra synthesized renditions of these tunes that we created Los Disco Duro to explore themes in this totally over the top way.

B: Are you a musician as well? 

RM: I am a musician more in the studio/recording artist sense. The last time I played in a conventional group setting was in college at Laney in Oakland playing guitar in the jazz band in the department run by Jay Lehmann and Ed Kelly but that was 20 years ago. Since then, I have become somewhat proficient at keyboards, picked up the clarinet again (hadn’t played since the 5th grade) and I’m currently learning timbales.

B: The clarinet could come in handy with recording cumbias! So tell me who is Marcos? Is it the M. Juárez credited on side A?  How did you guys meet and start your robo-collabo fantástico?

RM: Marcos Juárez and I went to the same high school at different times but actually met years later through a mutual classmate friend of mine Devin McDonald (his father is Country Joe McDonald.)

Marcos and I began messing around with music together around 6 years ago. Our first successful recording was of a son jarocho (form of son music from Veracrúz, Mx. – Ed.) tune called “El Jarabe Loco” (mean literally “crazy syrup” in Spanish – Ed.). 


Marcos played jarana (guitar from Veracrúz, Mx. - Ed) and maracas and I played bass and did the drums. We call that group Los Guapos Sensibles.  Marcos studied and performed son jarocho on jarana with Los Cenzontles in San Pablo, CA. He is a natural performer.

B: Do you do radio?

RM: Marcos and I both did quite a bit of radio at KALX in Berkeley. I had a show in the 90s and early 00s playing hip-hop, soul and Latin and more recently with now defunct all Latin showcase program, Amedianoche. There might be links to those shows on:

B: Why put your music out only on 45? I get the sense that you are of the generation like mine that loved vinyl and never left analog recording, and are an MP3 hater. We are kindred spirits… Are you planning on doing a full length ever, or more 45s? If you did an LP would there be cover art (as you may know I am big into that aspect of Latin music as well)?

RM: I have a personal belief that vinyl, is in fact, final. I question if music even really exists in digital form at all. While I'm not a straight up digital denier, I feel there is something important about manifesting your ideas in physical form.

Plus, these days music is so cheap with everybody listening passively on their streaming services or actively looking for specific stuff on YouTube, we’re all moving towards a world where people are willing to pay less and less for digital sounds. 

It seems like the most the undiscovered independent artist is willing to do is post their stuff on Soundcloud, and from an investment standpoint, I can see why. 

For now we are full-steam-ahead making 7” singles. They are cheaper to produce and it’s easier to do refine 2 songs at a time. Once we hit the big time, I would like to re-issue our singles in album form.

When you decide to take your own stuff seriously enough to want other people to hear it, vinyl is a good way to make that happen. It shows that you are serious enough to potentially waste money on your ideas. It takes ganas (i.e. desire and will – Ed.) but I’d like to think there are people who appreciate that. I certainly do.

Plus, there is just something nice about vinyl and the fact that it’s physical, mechanical, orthophonic medium. You can play it without electricity and you can't erase it with a solar flare.

B: So there you have it folks! An electro-cumbia-vinyl-maniac like me but with a lot more talent for making music! Mil gracias, “Roger”!

Check him here:
And here: