Back in winter, half a year ago now, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Leo Martinelli from Tremor, a genre borders crossing project signed to ZZK Records with an amazing live show. We were also joined by Grant C. Dull aka El G, co-founder of ZZK, so that this interview is basically two-in-one. We not only talked about the sound, style and concept of Tremor (which is not Leo alone: he is working together with Gerardo and Camillo, both esteemed and demanded musicians in Buenos Aires), but also about the philosophy behind ZZK and the spirit of Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires.
Perfect coincidence: the guys are on Europe-tour again right now, so don’t forget to check the end of the post for their upcoming dates!
Would you say you come from Folklore and go into the direction of Club music, or are you just somewhere and you do what you do? [laughter]
Leo: I grew up with Folklore music, at home my mother was listening to all these records. But I also went to conservatory, and I also write scores for documentaries and films, and I did experimental albums too (not under the name of Tremor but under my own name).
It’s like I really love both stuff. So years ago it was like – I knew Folklore music since I was a child, I even studied it, I understand how it works (because in a way music is like mathematics), but there was a point when something made click on my mind. This music (in most cases) was not made for fun, it was religious music. It’s one thing to hear it just as a melody, or if you are trained, understand the mathematics of the music. But it is completely different when you can connect with this spiritual element. This happened to me ten years ago, and I realized there is something really powerful, really special. And in a way I always try to explain that we don’t do Techno-Folk or something like that…
What we are trying to do is to use those elements, to approach this elements. But it is the perspective from someone like me who lives in the city in an apartment – you know, I have this legacy because it comes from my country, but I don’t live in the Andes, I have computers and everything [laughs]. It would be wrong to take this legacy as a museum piece or something you can’t touch. It’s just music! You won’t kill anyone, you won’t destroy anything with this legacy, we keep on living, and it’s great. We can try some stuff, have fun, and if you are lucky some people can get related, and if not, it’s OK, nothing is going to happen.
It’s really interesting that you have a kind of a different angle. Usually it works the other direction: you have club producers who get bored and go like, well, let’s spice it up with some, for example, African elements, or just bootleg sample stuff and name it “Global whatever”.?
I was quite surprised about the kind of people that came to your show in Berlin, it was a very diverse audience. If I look at your music, it doesn’t really fit into a label or anything, so it was probably not that much a surprise. What kind of audience do you usually have when you are on tour?
L: Well, we are used to this – we have a wide range of audience. Obviously our music has elements of Electronic music and South American Folklore. But we also have elements of Worldmusic, and of Psychedelic music. We also work with everyday objects… In a way it’s about experiments and elements. I really don’t know exactly… In fact we play with Rockbands, traditional Folk bands, with DJs, everything. It is hard for us to not be definable so easy, but I like that. I am against labels, because it’s like you already know what you are going to hear before you are listen to the music. Basically it’s something that I am looking for when I write the music. I also like to be surprised by the results.
First we did this little project, it started as an experiment in a way. I was really curious about mixing all those elements. I did a lot of experiments and I keep on doing that – sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t [laughs]. I love performing, but what I like the most is that adrenaline when you are starting to work on a new song, not knowing how the music will end.
I know we are taking a stony path, but first I have to like the music [laughs].
Would you say that it is kind of experimental stuff? Because at some points during your live show I had the impression that there were elements without harmony, very a-tonal. So, of course you have a lot of Folklore in it, you have the electronic element, I guess the drumming has traditional sources – but still, for me it’s very dubby, experimental kind of stuff with a Punk attitude. That’s how I would describe it…
L: On the one hand I love experimental music, and there are always, let’s say, not gentle and raw elements. I don’t like gentle music. That’s one of the things I love about South American Folklore and, I don’t know, the folklore of every part of the world. You know, this music made by aboriginals – it has this very passion and is also very raw. I like that element, that combination. In a way we have some experimental elements, but we also try to keep that tribal feeling. When we play the three bass drums for example, it’s very tribal. And in a way it’s also very simple, very basic. But there is also this raw element…
I like the flutes…
L: Yes, the flutes are really noisy. But that’s what I love – they have this passion, those melodies. But they are also very powerful and strong instruments.
So, I think we combine things that may sound in a way not related, you know that experimental versus something super tribal. But that raw element, that powerful element is what brings them together.
In fact I think some people are hooked by what we do because of this experiments, but other people are hooked by the tribal element. Even if you don’t know anything about South American music or about this ancient rhythms, you get connected with the primal energy.
How do people in Argentina react to the traditional elements? I’m asking because the view of outside/international press is always like: “Oh, modern Worldmusic, blabalaba”. But how is the media (or general) feedback inside Argentina?
L: First, we are still an underground band. We have press feedback, as well interviews in important newspapers in Buenos Aires. But we are kind of freaks in a way, it’s not like we play in stadiums.
We always get a good response from people that come from this traditional music background. I think they understand that we take it seriously, that we are not speculating with it. I think that’s obvious when you hear our music [laughs]. It could be much cheesier. In a way it’s cool, I really appreciate that. But people use to be surprised of what we do in general.
Because of the traditional elements, or the Folk elements? Or: what do they usually expect?
L: Well, both. You need to know that this music is from outside Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires might be the main city of the country, but it’s like Folklore was completely un-cool for Buenos Aires people while it was huge outside the big city. When we started, people were like: “What are you doing?? Mixing a Charango with…???” It was like completely un-cool. Now, ten years later, younger people starting to get closer to this music, even to the original music. And I think that’s really cool, because usually people were tending to look for new things outside their own country.
So you think it’s kind of a new wave?
L: Yes, it’s something new, it started a couple of years ago and is getting bigger. More young people getting closer to this rhythms, to the contemporary style we do but also to traditional stuff. That’s great! In fact that’s how we started – discovering that there is something valuable in the traditional sounds.
Let’s talk about your releases – former and upcoming ones…
L: The first Tremor album was released 2004, it’s called “Landing”. It’s more IBM and Ambiant in a way. I was by myself and worked with a lot of everyday objects for the tunes. I was very excited about that stuff back then. It was more like an experiment, a collage.
Then we have another album from 2008, called “Viajante”. This one is different because in the middle of working on it I met the other guys and so they also recorded some instruments for it. It’s a different album because I started the composition playing the instruments, but after that, quite opposite way, putting the basement on it. I also started to work with more instruments like violins and different stuff then.
2010 we released a remix album in Argentina, called “Para Armar”. It’s a compilation of remixes I have done during the last six years. We decided to release this because we are also playing a lot of live remixes, and Tremor mixed with a Pop singer or another Folklore or Experimental act is just an interesting combination.
Then there is a vinyl only EP release called “Caracol” which has quite the opposite concept – other artists remixing a couple of songs from our second album. The remixes are coming from Nortec Collective, El Remolon, Chancha via Circuito and King Coja.
Right now we are recording a new album [back in November 2010]. We are really excited and I can’t wait to go back and work on it. This one finally will sound more like the band Tremor in a way. We are working with new equipment and have all those new toys (that I had to learn to play and work with). The sound is going to be more raw in a way, more extreme, let’s say. Interesting is that there are three or four songs which will have vocals – that is ordinary for the rest of the world, but for us it is something new. It just happened, it wasn’t a plan. They are still not like traditional songs, we are playing with structures, languages, different stuff – but we are working with vocals, which is very interesting for us, but also very risky.
Business-wise or musically risky?
L: Musically. It’s the first time we are doing this, and you never know where it ends. So again, the adrenaline by not knowing of how it is going to work… You might know Tremor right know, but how is Tremor with vocals? You know, you always have your comfort zone, which I want to leave. If I stay there, we always get the same results – that’s boring!
How do you feel musically – do you feel like part of the ZZK family?
L: Yes! You know, I started Tremor ten years ago, before ZZK came in the way, and we don’t do Cumbia basically. I met Grant at one of the first shows we did with percussion players, when I already saw this scene started to grow. In fact I went to the first ZZK party, so I know the guys from the beginning – it was kind of cool to find more people that share that interest in exploring South American music. And well, then we became friends, we share tours, and projects and the stage.
Would you say Buenos Aires is a music city?
L: Yeah, absolutely! Buenos Aires is a very intense city. We have a lot of artists there – although it’s hard to be one in Argentina, mostly because you don’t have enough resources to produce. But what you get is that a lot of young people want to be artists and have to be very creative to overcome all those obstacles. There is a lot of theatre, a lot of music, a lot of dancers. There is a lot of stuff I hate about the city, but this is something I love. The artists are very passionate, as it is not easy you really have to love what you are doing. The important thing is this energy. I think it’s a place worth to go – we have some people who came and spent some years [laughter]. Maybe Grant is the one who should answer that question.
So, Grant, is the label ZZK born out of the spirit of Buenos Aires?
Grant: Yes, I think ZZK is definitely 100% Buenos Aires, it is kind of a Mash-Up of cultures and ideas and people. There is a lot of foreigners also experimenting with Cumbia right around the time ZZK started, even before – for example Senor Coconut. And then you had Oro11, the Californian guy who started Bersa Discos, me (although I’m not a producer I got very inspired by the whole experimental Cumbia scene). Well, ZZK is a very Buenos Aires label, but it’s also very global. Essentially we got big and we got known through the internet, because the internet was so quick on reaching people all over the world. I think on that level it’s mission accomplished, yeah internet woohoo… Like finally something good came out of this whole sharing of ideas and information quickly. And music is something that can be an art immediately appreciated and understood. Maybe not on a cultural level per se – but art and music transcend culture, it can immediately speak to you and you can feel it and understand it or at least appreciate it quick. And maybe do your own version of it or play it at your party or in the office.
I think ZZK is totally Buenos Aires and also very Argentina, because now we have artists from Mendoza and Córdoba and other big urban centres of Argentina, but at the same time also very global, 2.0…
You are probably the strongest voice now for Digital Cumbia, Experimental Cumbia, whatever you want to call it. In which direction are you heading?
G: I’m not using the term “Digital Cumbia” that much these days (which was the name of the first album we released). I’m more using “Digital South America”, because acts like Tremor, Chancha via Circuito, Lagartijeando are taking other South American rhythms and experimenting with them. There is a long list of rhythms coming out of South America that I know very little about but like very much, but being in Buenos Aires for a long time now I have seen and experienced some of them, in traditional formats. And I’m very excited about experiencing them in the hands of Chancha and Tremor, more experimental and modern and futuristic.
I would say Cumbia is certainly a big sound that we are always going to work with, because it’s a huge folkloric South American Sound, and it’s fun and it’s groovy. Our producers work very well with Cumbia, like El Remolon, Frikstailers, Fauna, Villa Diamante. But I think what more and more people will do is “Digital South America”.
Like you said, Internet made many things possible and you get a really strong echo internationally. Where is the bigger market for you? Not in sold units but in response and people’s reaction on the music – is it a more local thing or more global?
G: It’s everywhere, it’s crazy. The responses we get from places anywhere we play is super-positiv. You know, ZZK was born in Buenos Aires but at a time when it was very international, so our crowds were maybe 70% local and 30% foreigner or 50/50 sometimes, so I think that spread very quickly. And because it was produced by me with a bi-lingual website (all the information we are pushing out is in English and Spanish) it was immediately understandable on a global level. But you know we have played in really far off places, like an island of the east coast of Massachusetts, and they went crazy. Or Minnesota, they went crazy. Or Oslo, the kids went crazy. We got booked in Oslo before we got booked in Montevideo, which is like an hour away…
Did people say at some point ZZK are some outsiders who take our music and make money with it?
G: We had some critics. But critics will be critics, and most of the guys on the label, if not all of them, have a very pure and respectful way of approaching the music. Also we bastardize it, and we rip it, we steal, all the sample-based culture of digital music that we live in… but in the end what we are doing for South American music and music in general is extremely positive, far more than anything negative.
L: I think for some people it might sound strange that Grant, the label manager, is not from Buenos Aires, but all the artists are from Argentina. But in the beginning the music as a starting point is something real that just happened. One of the coolest things about the ZZK parties is that we used them as a laboratory in a way. Once a week we had the opportunity of trying new things, musicians and audience together.
So the music is absolutely authentic and real. Grant is a guy that went to Argentina, fell in love with the country and spent several years there – he is like one of us, he is doing this amazing job. I think that people who criticize us should not forget that we love this music we are doing, which has nothing to do with a nationality or a country. It’s just music. We are doing this because of passion, and you can see that…
So the label grew more or less out of the club?
G: The original mission or statement of the ZZK club was to focus on local producers experimenting with local sounds. We actually said, put Buenos Aires on the map of urban global culture. That’s kind of what we did, and it happened a) because we were super-excited about the people we were going to work with, and b) because the music is good. We pushed it out through podcasts and Youtube, and you know, a lot of DJs and taste-makers also came to our parties and spread the word. It was something new, something fun, something good. So thankfully the sound was able to get out fast.
L: The guys took a lot of risk when they did this parties, which gave a lot of underground artists the opportunity to play. The label started as a natural consequence of it. And they are still taking risks – we are not an easy band, but they love what we are doing! If they want to have a hit on the radio they should do Cumbia with a pumping beat, not travelling with us. It is like it is. We work a lot, we work really hard, but the main energy is something that is flowing. We might think of the art of an album, but it is still alive and evolving. All of us share this feeling of taking risks.
ZZK SUMMER TOUR W/ TREMOR, CHANCHA VIA CIRCUITO & EL G:
June 03rd – Chancha Via Circuito & El G @ Divan Orange, MONTREAL (CAN)
June 04th – Chancha Via Circuito @ Mutek Festival, MONTREAL (CAN)
June 11th – Tremor, Chancha Via Circuito & El G @ Music Meeting, NIJMEGEN (NL)
June 16th – Chancha Via Circuito & El G @ La Lupita, BERLIN (GER)
June 21st – Chancha Via Circuito B2B w/Deadbeat (3-7pm) Club Der Visionäire, BERLIN (GER)
June 23rd – Tremor, Chancha Via Circuito & El G @ C/O Pop Festival, COLOGNE (GER)
June 26th – Tremor, Chancha Via Circuito & El G @ Hangar 49, BERLIN (GER)
June 30th – Tremor, Chancha Via Circuito & El G @ FUSION FESTIVAL (GER)
July 01st – Tremor @ Chico Tropico Festival, Casa America, MADRID (ESP)
July 03rd – Tremor & Chancha Via Circuito @ ROSKILDE FESTIVAL (DEN)
More dates TBA….