Ra-pa-pa-pam, here we go again with an interview session under tricky circumstances. This time I talked to Uproot Andy just behind the main stage of Juicy Beats Festival where 2Many DJs started to rock the crowd exactly that moment we started to talk. But tough as we are, not even a little problem for us.
German “Worldmusic” radio station Funkhaus Europa was responsible for a really nice line-up on the “Global Player / Tropical Clash” stage, featuring amongst others The Very Best, La Brassbanda, Toy Selectah from Mexiko, Uproot Andy, Lucio K and Patricktor4 from Brasil.
Enjoy the nice video they put together about Andy, also showing parts of his set – and read our interview after the jump (including a little goodie for you ;)!
Hey Andy, maybe you could first just introduce yourself and say who you are and what you are doing.
I’m Uproot Andy, a DJ and producer, based in Brooklyn. That’s pretty much what I do.
As you are working with a lot of styles I was wondering what your musical socialisation was, where you started, with which kind of music?
Wow, well: I’ve grown up in immigrant cities, I was in Toronto and New York most of my life. There have always been a lot of cultural influences around me. I was mostly making and interested in Hip Hop, until I went to college, where I started studying classical music. It was during college and after in New York that I started really looking for or paying attention to all the different styles of music being around in the city. It was those things that I heard from largely South America or Latin America that got me interested in dance music.
You also run your own party in New York…
Yeah, it’s called “Que Bajo?!”. Me and Geko Jones started it as we wanted a place where we can play Cumbia, but it’s more than that – it’s a Tropical Bass party if you will. We’ve been doing it for over a year now and it really grew, it just had a great response. This summer we decided to make it a weekly for the summer. [The last parties] were all fantastic and we had some really great guests, it just seems in New York this stuff is getting more popular.
Like as you said, you have a strong accent on Latin American music or music from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. So you think that has something to do with your location in New York?
Yeah, I mean maybe. A lot of my friends are from those parts of the world and they introduced me to a lot of stuff. And you hear a lot of this music or new music that comes from these more traditional styles in cars on the streets in New York.
But at the same time I definitely have explored things that aren’t that prominent in NY – and you know, I just go looking for it at this point. It really excites me to find new things, that I haven’t heard, that kind of change the way I think about or can approach rhythms and music in general. So, I definitely look for this stuff, I kind of think what makes me love the music of the Caribbean and that whole area so much is that it is really a cross-culture. You have European influences and you have African influences and you have indigenous musical influences that you don’t find in North America. For various reasons. I mean one of the biggest reasons – they say – is that in North America, Black slaves were not allowed to keep their African instruments. In this the music of South America is just as much a mix of cultures but retains more African rhythms and retains it’s roots more. And it is just super-interesting!
It sounds like the cultural aspect is very important for you, but also the dance-part, the clubbing-part, is of equally strong importance for you?
Well, I love electronic music. I mean I was always around it, I used to go to raves when I was young, but going to rave-parties never made me really want to listen to that music or make that music in any way. I was already making music at that time, but it didn’t make me want to go home and make House or Techno or anything like that.
What really got me interested in making music that would people make want do dance where these more folkloric styles, or even Salsa as well. Those are the things that, certainly more recently, as an adult, made me really wanna dance. And pushed me to want to make music that gives people that feeling. But I think in the context of these rhythms the power of electronic music still is amazing, it’s great. In the club, deep bass, that pushed me, of course. And also, I think more and more, that music is super-interesting, producers in the UK, all over Europe and the United States, everywhere, are doing great things in electronic music, too. But I feel like it is so much more rhythmically complex now than it were when I was going to raves. I mean, there was Drum ‘n’ Bass, but I don’t know… [laughs].
That’s interesting because I think that your productions, I mean they are made for the club, they have like a heavy bass and go forward, but I think they sound kind of warm.
That’s might be partly my background as not producing club music the most of my live. So I still approach it to some degree as writing a song. Melody and harmony are just as important to me as rhythm. I listen to that stuff just as much as I listen to rhythms, when I like a song, I mean I can like a beat, but when the song starts, melody is the essential thing that makes me like it. It might not make me dance but it makes me enjoy it. That’s very important to me.
Also these music that made me interested in dance music as I said, are still song forms, things like Cumbia, Bullerengue, Salsa, Merengue, these are musics that are absolutely made for dancing, but they are also songs, they tell stories, there is call-and-answer, crowd participation, a lot of them are designed to let people clap along (the clap in Cumbia is essentially an instrument, it’s part of it, especially in the older and more folkloric forms). Yeah, they are still songs that are made to engage people on that level.
That’s a really interesting approach for a club producer.
Well, I don’t know, I make my living as a DJ, so I make music to play but at the same time I hope I can find a way of making music that will work in the club and that people still love to listen to at home. Because sometimes listening to music at home or alone on your headphones is the most, the times when you can most connect with it, sometimes are when you are alone, when it hits you for the first time, the first time you hear a song and it really touches you. I hope I can touch people with music that way, someday and somehow. I don’t want that to be just in the club, just late at night, you know?
Uproot Andy gave us a little goodie for you, an (so far) exclusive download for a mash up of the Chimpo dubstep tune “Lockoff” with a vocal from El 5to Elemento, extra spicy through a pretty typical Mexican Tribal Guarachero sample and other added percussion.
For example: I for my part am totally hooked on your Refix of Los Rakas “Abrazame” at the moment, which is not that much a club song, but a perfect Caribbean pop song…
Right, it’s a song. Well, exactly, I play that when I deejay, I play at those tempos. What is considered a club song in Europe is different – I mean, dancehall music is club music in my part of the world, so… and it’s really a dancehall song!
Do you think that the quality of being able to touch that you mentioned depends on the location? Location is a big issue in this whole Global Bass and Tropical thing, because every DJ is located in another part of the world, and the music is as well strongly located.
As you just finished a tour through Europe, played across the US and even deejayed in South America – would you say there are differences between Europe and the US, or South America?
Absolutely, I felt the difference in Europe. I mean there is absolutely a cultural expectation difference. In the States if you are in a typical popular club with no very strong musical character then people more or less expect Hip Hop and R&B. And here [Europe] people more or less expect Techno/House. That’s a big difference, playing down-tempo music is much more easily swallowed by Americans and Europeans really want that Club feel, you know? I say this in a very generalized way, it’s obvious everyone has their taste, but I definitely felt that touring Europe versus when I’m home. But I think the fact that I was brought to Europe to deejay and just the fact that I’m making music like that shows that people, no matter where they are, once they get introduced, they can like it even if it doesn’t come from something where they come from. Music is – that sounds totally corny now – music is an universal language, you know. Half the music I listen to I don’t understand the lyrics [laughs]. Nowadays where all culture moves so quickly and migrates so quickly it will just continue to happen more and more that the differences or the places where people’s music is accepted will be less specific.
There’s one thing I’m interested in: like in Europe over the last years all those Balkan Beats and Eastern European stuff really got big and kind of cross-over, mainstream.
Could Cumbia be the next thing that crosses into pop music?
I kind of think that what’s happening now that these kinds of music are coming together or merging too quickly. Cumbia will never on it’s own become this thing like the way Balkan Beats happened in Europe. [In the international club scene] anywhere they are playing Cumbia they also play Baile Funk, Kuduro, whatever else. I just think this stuff will just become part of other parties or parties will rather start to play a wider range of music rather. Like the Balkan thing seems to really sit on it’s own a lot, and I don’t see anything like this happening with anything South American. Cumbia is a too narrow, even though there are so many different kinds of Cumbia, there’s Argentinian, Mexican, Colombian and whatever anyone else is deciding to make now. I still think that new kinds of music will continue to be embraced by the people that are now embracing Cumbia and that it will be a larger field rather than a more specific.
But still, you can already see that a lot of those global mix-up stuff is influencing pop music more and more, and I could imagine that the South American stuff will get stronger and stronger in the (Western, US-American, European) pop music sector too.
Yes, I can see that.
But: a lot of music I like is pop music, if it’s a good song it’s a good song, if it gets popular, great! In the states like Dirty South Rap is very popular, it will break into the Top 40 and sometimes I really like a Gucci Mane or Little Wayne song, sometimes I really like a Rihanna song, I love that Ciara song “Ride”. I don’t have a problem with pop music per se, most of it I don’t like but, you know… [as you can see we are digging deep here into the best kept secrets of our interview partners].
And what do you think about tags like Global Bass? Do you see yourself in this section or is it just a name for you or can you identify with it?
Yes, I can identify with it. I’m bad at naming things and I never knew what to say if people asked “what kind of music do you make?”. I’ve definitely found myself using those names to describe my music, I absolutely have. How good a job they do in describing it I am not really… sure. But we have to make up words, it doesn’t really bother me.
But sometimes we do overplay the obsession with bass, you know? [amusement all around]. The thing about my music that makes it somehow distinct is that I do pay a lot of attention to that tremble, I use Guacharacas and Maracas and Güiros, and these are non bass-frequency dwelling instruments.
Before we finish, a look in the future would be cool: What are you doing at the moment, do you have plans for EPs or stuff like that, releases?
I’m making an album, I plan to get the single out in the next couple of month, when I finish travelling this summer. I’ve been working on it, it’s well underway. I’m also doing a lot of remixes for a lot of different people. So, there is no timeline yet, but the album is absolutely my goal.
And in which direction will the album go?
Well, a lot of the same influences that I’ve been working on in a lot of ways. I think the remixes I do sometimes are kinds of tests or serve to kind of play with a style that I haven’t played with before. I get a sense how it works from that. It evidently ends up in my original productions.
I am working with a bunch of different vocalists, so I’ve recorded a song with Esau Mwamwaya from The Very Best, one with 77Klash, I’ve begun stuff with a bunch of people. There will definitely be some guest stuff and I’m also doing songs with my own vocals. Anyway. It is hard to say what it will be like until it exists.
What a great close! TropicalBass says thank you for the interview, and thank you for the music!