Some months ago I was interviewed by Amauri Stamboroski Jr. for Vice Magazine, Brazil.
The journalist had seen a show of mine in Villa Devoto, this was the ocasion.
Unfortunately, as my visit to Brasil is postponed, the note was in the refrigerator, and we decided it could come out. Here it is.
Vice-Brasil : So, how did you get the idea of you experimental cumbia project? Because it seems pretty awkward, in a good sense, but maybe cryptic to anyone outside the Latin America.
A: I just grew into it in a natural sense to me, but in a complete bizarre way to many. I will just give cue words with some explanation….
I have an artist’s group IBW , (transl. Institute for Affordable Lunacy) rightful anarchists and we did a lot (*1) , we do little now. But in 97 we had earned a lot of money doing something for the biggest tv-mogul on european earth (we designed interactive soapopera sculptures) and i decided to take the group to Honduras, to see how people were living there one year after the terrible Mitch huricane . The idea was then of course “disaster is glamour, with the corresponding minute of fame”…but when it comes to the stage of situation-solving, bye bye mediacoverage…only the US crewcut-christian churches stay to save souls, build their hermetic schools and amnesize (verb to give people amnesia).
We never thought and strived to do a documentary or whatever artwork that would cristalize a line of thought on that visit. It had been a clean approach of plain observators. All IBW art/members had to do what they thought was adecuate. But then of course we came back to Holland with a lot of good material. So what to do with it ?
That’s when i thought to make an alibi-platform on the web, an excuse, we are talking HTML-times, with all urban-geeks and fonctionaries etc having their own “internet-homepage”, with hobby, wife, children and pirana-aquarium, or trikes, or whatever specialty.
I came up with inventing a musicfestival of a style that had never existed, and that was the beginning. Festicumex, a festival of experimental cumbia that supposedly took place in La Ceiba, Honduras… a html-page with a daily program, a page that explains how to get there after arriving at the airport, hotels, hostels, etc… and of course, pages on the musicians, ficticous musicians. Padre Teresa (the main man), Hygienica Gonzalez, The Underdevelopped of the North, etc… Each one had his webpage with material that we had brought back from La Ceiba Honduras. So here is the music-category already (experimental cumbia) , but with no music. It’s existence is merely due to create a new support.
I went to live with my family in the desert of Calanda, Aragon, in honour of Luis Buñuel, who was born there. My favorite Buñuel film is Los Olvidados, and I had already done the Honduras Excursion under the name of Olvidados 2. I thought it was a good approach to my dear latinamerica, that had always treated me well in my youth, and was investigating how i could make a bridge with my anarchist group and latin america.
In the desert, far away from my usual method of working -which is with people- i now was with solitude and machines and started hitting on the MPC-sampler, and working on the cumbias as a guideline, cumbia being the style i so deerly remembered from when i lived in Argentina (60-66). I had a lot of experience with sound-machinery and live-effects on sound, since we used to make hundreds of legendary radiotransmissions in Amsterdam (*2). So i thought i would bring in that anarchism into the cumbia, including, as a point of reference, the candid musical skeleton that I love, Dub. It meant, skinning down the music. That’s when I started to make the music that corresponded to the Festicumex-idea.
I wrote a book there. By now i was already hooked to this whole new world i had invented like a Frankenstein, and in this book i proved the existence of the lunatic and experimental cumbias (title of the book: “La lenta pero incesante degradacion de las cumbias lunaticas” (*3). It was in the format of a sociological study, with interviews, legends, dialects, etc of this experimental cumbia It included a cd that i had filled with different songs (I made), mostly “style-experiments” from the “different” ficticious bands.
Not much later I thought, well, we have a festival, we have the legends, we have heroes, we have all these possibilities…now i have to have the balls to prove that this field has a right to live. So i made a complete cd of those cumbias lunaticas, flagging my name Dick El Demasiado.
Do you still follow me ? That was in 2000-2002. The cd is “No Nos Dejamos Afeitar”… ( transl. we will not be shaven) , and it had me on the cover with south america as a beard.
Of course, experimental cumbia is like saying curly-bold or wet-desert. Cumbia has it’s certain rules, and experimenting is the complete opposite. I was of course aware of it, but i wanted to created this socalled category that would be one that could be as wide as possible, making it into a non-category (very wide categories are not categories anymore). That was by now the strategy. As an artist I hate categories, and i hate mapping. We should be happy to have a lack of mapping in culture, because that is life, whereas drawing boundaries is killing it. And God knows how well we strangle it incessantly.
Vice-Brasil : Actually, in Brazil we don’t know much about cumbia – except that Teves had a cumbia villera band, and that’s all. How do you explain the style to ignorant foreigners like us?
A: Just imagine you make a cartoon of a galloping horse, and you have to do the sound of it’s galloping. Tocotoc, tocotoc… Just imitate that sound in your skull and you will hear cumbia.
It has a simple drive.
I am allergic to exaltation in music, in those rythms that are a show-off of percussive precision and olympic armthrowing. I like music that moves as easy as the water in a womb, that swings a sleepy child in a hammock… and cumbia is that to me. Cumbia is a colombian thing (although a hybrid of European, Indian and Black elements)… then it travelled all over southamerica (except brazil, where, soaked in pervertive drum-ism, the people excluded it’s simplicity). In every country of America it took on another look, significance and of course sound.
Vice-Brasil : You’re Dutch (Am I right?) and your father was an executive of Phillips that lived on different places with you and your family, and it seems to be a pretty affluent upbringing – don’t you think you’re cheating when you’re playing poor people’s music?
A: This question deserves sectioning.
- Compared to total nothing we are all affluent. You definitely have richer and poorer people around you yourself, I imagine. You have poor saoudi arabs, and rich favela-kings. So all is relative. And I was born in a industrial town, Eindhoven, in a working-class family. My father was a technician who helped create technical schools all over the world, in favour of (Dutch) Philips, but also in favour of LOCAL skills, LOCAL technology, of the wallet of the LOCAL technician, and thus the study he could afford to pay to his LOCAL (*4) sons. I have never felt in a bad light, since i lived my comfort with grace, knowing very well the contrasts. As a child of three i was already aware of the discrepancies in richness, misery, etc. I have never put myself to sleep, and have always seen that and handled as i thought good, as a child too.
- Okay, I am Dutch, but warcrimes (nearly everything) can simply not be made hereditary.
The question is: how dutch am i ?
Did you know i leaned to read, when i was 4 in spanish ? And where was that ? in guatemala !
And did you know that maya-women of Chichicastenango would argue amongst themselves to hold me in their arms, with my white hair, considering me an angel. I was three then.
I have lived many state-of-siege’s, in Guatemala and Argentina, even before the first man on the moon.
So what I mean is, i am dutch by passport, but my first word, my first fruit, love and song were from the latinamerican continent. I am off-limits, and know latinamerica from earlier then most of my public. On top of that i am not embittered by the so many dictatorships that difficulted your parents illusions, in Latin America.
- Now ‘cheating’, that is a beautiful accusation that many a gringo dj deserves, people that come to buy out the local vinyl, etc, but why not also accuse many bigtown brazilian with che guevara t-shirts too, and in fact all the urban magazine readers of the world, with their poverty-fashion. They are all cheats suggesting disobedience but terminating in Yo brother Gold.
- As for MY actions: I have not Taken Away, on the contrary, i Have Brought ideas and opened a till then unexisting platform (cumbias experimentales, lunaticas and the Festicumex) in Argentina. Once again, i have Brought. People believed in it when I first presented it, embraced it, and by now say it’s theirs too. My cd’s are edited in Argentina, which means no-business at all, i have no distribution whatsoever, because it has no priority within me, I have no label outside argentina, except for a license in Mexico (Nuevos Ricos) and a cd in Japan (Utakata Records). I have not seen my adventure and it’s incredible results as a cashcow. I am 55, i am not doing this to get rich and famous. I have spent the equivalent of two years of salary of a Minister of War to create a provocative field for brain and friendship. I am happy already.
- I WOULD be a cheater, yes, if i would fake cumbia villera, which is the ghetto cumbia of argentina, but I don’t think it is for me to work on that. The slum–people have done it beautifully themselves, which is very dignifying, and i am not going to appropriate myself of their right to anger (just as Manu Chau in his well-to-do custom, indirectly has done).
I can certainly see the point you are looking for, but you would be making yourself ridiculous if you would enter into a substantial dialogue on this with me. I am not a proper example.
By the way, if i’d want to steal i’d steal something else: the innocence of the stupid voter.
I will not have oversimplified new-wave-anticolonialism thrown on me.
- In terms of musical overexploitation and erosion: I think the world is completely burning out it’s culture and patrimonium, Samplehunters steal everything, and the blog-boys have made that splattering of ethnic soundcandy enormous, we are living as if music was like petrol in the 60′, unfinishable. This is not the case. We will indeed always have new genres, or variations, but the sources are being worn out by those least appropriate. I am aware of that and manoeuvre delicately within the theme.
Vice-Brasil : To me you sound as freely as a Captain Beefheart doing cumbia, mixing dub, electronic, noise and other shit, and you also said in a interview to Jonah that you were influenced by Butthole Surfers – a band that was very innovative and also sometimes shocking at their own time. You sound pretty away from anything that should be labeled as mainstream, and tend to leave “common people” a bit uncomfortable – like that video of yours on Russian TV. Do you think that your music wouldn’t sound as powerful as it seems without the intensity you show onstage?
A: I will single two parts out of your question: “leave common people uncomfortable” and “powerful music and intensity on stage”.
I think, in short terms that both elements, my recorded music (cd’s) as well as my shows have a forked method that help me transmit my stuff: humor (power of imagery) and an intens conviction in the distorted form. They have different priorities, in each field. Cd’s can do a lot with humor, since it makes it easier to listen to them regularly, and it also opens worlds: there is no way yo can turn yourself away from happy anarchy in lyrics. But after two joyful ones, every third song is a minefield. My shows, on the other hand, have a lot of power-pushing, and then the humor helps as a relief.
So, in fact, in my cd’s humor opens the door and then the postman brings the oversized letters in… and in my shows i push down walls and help the people accept with contagious laughter.
Somehow, and it is not surprising, people get convinced i am handling a lot of material and ideas, and they are curious,how it ends, what it could mean for them, etc…and by then, tend to inform their friends, neighbours and collaegues about their bewilderment.
And this happens with both platforms, cd’s and shows.
I could never have been invited to so many countries and cultures through a show reputation, since it all just is youtube-ing trash telephone-recordings, etc… but my cd’s do the work, are the ambassadors.
My work is appreciated through radio and pirated cd’s, all over…. in highschools of Patagonia (both teacher and pupils), in the prison of Eseiza, in Football Tv programms, in a US feature film (Sin Nombre). Even in Osaka, where long ago, musicjournalists compared my recorded material to the Buttholes Surfers, Sin City Girls, the japanese Omoide Hatoba and Boredoms, this was lightyears before i went there to play..
I think and have seen that, in many circumstances, the first time you hear what i do leaves you uncomfortable… it’s like mongol cavalry galloping on wild hogs …. what to think of it ? is the inmediate question. But at the second round you are fascinated.
Vice-Brasil : When I saw you onstage you looked pretty big and seemed strabic – looking at the photos I took after the gig, you didn’t look that huge, and I have sources that says you´re not strabic at all. How do you manage to look that way, do you rehearse to do it?
A: You seem to think i stand here as if this was showbusiness, with attitudes, gimmicks, and a soul full of photoshop. This is not the case. You were drunk when you checked your photos back.
I am big, 95 kilos of multicultural insemination at your service.And yes i am striabic, that is, one eye is not centered. I fell out of my crib when 1 year old and it dammaged a muscle. The impact and effect is very simbolic. I still do see with two eyes. I see more information, and experience more sides, and yes again, when i adress somebody he might get confused, just as a puritan girl is confused when she sees her first policehorse shitting without permission.
We, as a band, are favoured by this visual phenomena.
For those who see us for the first time, our music seems very harsh, although certainly danceable, So in the case of our band, you have to come in and confuse the public by overstimulation, as if stealing a wallet.
With my eyes, my shirt and age, people have difficulty to handle the stimuli of their selfeducated rejection. And by the second song they have thrown down their fence.
Vice-Brasil : I heard that you’re also (and mainly) a performance artist. What do you think of people like me focused just on the music – am I getting this project the wrong way?
A: I think it is perfect that you only focus on music, i think a dentist that thinks only about teeth, is good too (just imagine a dentist that wants to be a jazzdrummer)… I think music is a wonderful way of resting, feeding, envigourating the public and/or yourself. So, never mind if you only focus on that side of the gem I am developping.
I don’t think that two arts together are better then one… there is no such thing as additions and formulas in qualitative art.
I, myself, don’t define this all as a sequence of songs (although i have by now 5 cd’s !), it is a big conceptual work, one long extensive thing of manipulation, provocation, contagiation, finalising in poetry and friendship. I simply just pushed and am still pushing a shovel over latin america, an enrichening funshovel !
yours faithfully, Dick El Demasiado…Humilde pero Exagerado.
Vice-Brasil : I saw you at Bareto, a very far place, besides the municipal jail, and there was like 50 to 80 people, and most of them were hardcore fans, who sang the lyrics of all the songs, even that ones that surpasses the barrier of surreal to the realm of nonsense. Who are that poor bastards? Do you know them, talk to them?
A: My public circulates.
Sometimes they come back irregularly, sometimes they see me for a month at a stretch…
That night for instance, there were two pretty vampirelike girls, that had been to several shows, and whispered as i passed “Dick, your words resume it all, they sum up all life” (because, yes, my words are among the best of Argentina, many agree on that).
Then there was the man that had climbed onto a gate to see our show and appeared on it in a argentinian tv-programme, he didn’t want to buy a ticket because it was too expensive, he was there and pulled my shirt ” Dick, i was the guy hanging at the gate”…
Then there was a poet of 50 years, who has a franchise of the International Astronauts Association… He had seen me 7 years ago.
There were many punks that i don’t know, people came from far. There were people who, after the show, had to wait through the night to be able to get home, far from the metropole, to their poorer neighbourhoods, There were artists, foreign artists too.
Yes, i have a very varied and truthful public, they cherrish what i do very strongly, and their mails break my heart. As i walked up to the stage, the show after the one you witnessed, two guys came up from the dark and handed me “something”, it was wet and heavy… it seemed like a filled baby-diper. On stage I saw it was two kilos of meat.
In my way of living this, such a moment -someone hands you two kilo of meat- is worth the 10 years of idiosyncacracies i have been generating and living in. My public is beautiful, sometimes stupid, cliche, sometimes very smart and with rich ideas, but they have a wonderful element: they have not harvested their poet-beacon from the media, they have discovered him for themselves, this is very solidifying for an individual. Let’s be truthful: I am breaking contexts. Only someone with the aptitude of an outsider’s perspective can do that. They appreciate this.
Vice-Brasil : Speaking about rehearse, where did you find the guys who play with you? The bearded one looks like a regular indie bearded guy, and the other with the curly hair seems like the prototype of the Argentinean rockero (you know, the ones who play that crappy “rock nacional”). Do you rehearse very often?
A; the guys you mention have names, identities, and are my friends. Diego Seoane, the bearded, is a poet. Pedro Buschi (the curly one) is a silent. Nico is a chaos-injection. We rehearse very little, very little. But we laugh a lot. Mostly, what we say, is how good we are. It’s about the only thing we really know. The rest is some mechanics and igniting power.
I never fabricated a band, i don’t come from that guild, I never tested a musician or had him come to check. As i arrived in Buenos Aires, I was completely unconfident with the idea of “band and shows”, but my exceptional perspective on the cumbia was already so hot that all was evident and fell into consistency without the slightest effort and with the best disposition of many excelent musicians. But I went for the easiest magnets, and i was right. My band is a fistful of nails. At night, I only need to cut the barbed wire, and the cattle runs loose.
Vice-Brasil : I bought three albums of you (and got one poster as a gift!) at you show, for 50 pesos. Do you have any problem if I rip them to mp3 and share it with my friends (I’ve got a good number of friends)? How do you make a living?
A: The question is a little bit impotent. Has no elegant exit.
I like people to know about my work, the words, and the sounds, and the force. But do you really think that i am going to play cool and say OF COURSE…. ripping me and saying that that is democratising and cool… that is a little naive, and wrongly focused. People tend to think that pirating a little duck makes them Malcolm X, and putting a tag on a wall is robbing a bank to feed the children. Well, this is not the case. Music Industry is a petit stupid territory, and playing alternative desisting the covering of the recording- and production-costs DESTROYS the possibility of furthering the music. It is, to say it the amazon way, burning a tree to have a direct result. Trees finish, recording budget of independent musicians finish.
But i am aware that the distribution of the cd’s is bad, so i will never complain. Daily people put my stuff on their rapid-download pumpum. Be illegal, but don’t make it a simbol.
I don’t live from music. Argentina is the worst payer of all. I am “european-poor” and make films, have exhibitions, sell work.
Vice-Brasil : I think an interview with you would be incomplete if I didn’t ask about the Joy Division show legend. Do you really taped their last concert and gave it for free to them? And when they used it for commercial reasons, did you sue them? Because you probably could make a lot of money with this stuff after de death of the singing guy. Besides, was Ian Curtis a pussy tortured-soul-blah-blah or was he a real crazy fucked up?
A: I wasn’t a fan of Joy Division, so i didn’t care much about them. But I did film it well. I was part of a legendary dutch punk tv-program, Neon. I was about 26 then, and my “angry young men” music had already lived it’s purpose with Jimi Hendrix, the Stones, Mott the Hoople, Blue Cheer, etc…. so, when punk and new wave came, it was already a thing that i enjoyed, the angry energy, but i was aware it was a generational therapy.
So i filmed them very well, in my hometown, Eindhoven, and a couple of months later, Ian Curtis “commited suicide”. Of course he was already a hero, and in the obscurity of his suicide this could even more be the case… a James Dean. But i didn’t want to take part in that exploitation, not for his sake, neither for the misguiding on the punks as a consequence. They should not be fooled by heroeisms… so, i didn’t want to be an actor in that commercial circus. But i did offer the material, a copy of it, to the musiicans, thinking they deserved it, as it was their companion. The conditions were to keep it for private usage. But I had done wrong. They didn’t respect my integrity and conditions and brought it out without my permission, to milk the cow. I was pissed on them and their hip manager, poor widows without their singer. But could do nothing, england has very expensive justice, and there was no internet to follow their strategies.
Now, two years ago, as they were finalising their Joy Division Documentary, they were so stupid to think again, that i was going to fall for their long eyelashes of groovieness. I told them, I had no sympathy whatsoever for their cause, and that excluding my material for money matters out of the edit would make their product a fraude, since everybody agrees my material is the best. I was so incredible harsh to them, poor-little-woolly-them, they were playing the sympathy card on me but they have bled for it (*5). No compassion on those celebrated Manchester Few.
I haven’t seen their final edit. But i do know the contract i have with them by heart, with my additions…and it’s funny and reads like the best litterature.
(*1): Our policy was “uncontrolled growth”. We had G-Force Radio and Video (hundreds of Pirate Radio, trash video) Rederij voor Suyposia (travel agency and two boats) Hiroshima Lightshow (5 kilometers of wiring, selfmade lamps and Bram Cox, a blind artist, mixing the sound), Brabodramax (theatre for actors who don’t want to learn the text), Delight My Wires (adaptation and distortion of machines), Derde Fase (Post-post Graduate art education, to forget what you learned at the postgraduate), hundreds of performances, etc…..
(*2): G-Force Radio, at Patapoe, 97,2 FM Amsterdam.
(*3): “La lenta pero incesante degradacion de las cumbias lunaticas” … the link for a net-version: http://www.periferico.org/ibwww/texten/lalenta/index.html
(*4): LOCAL being in this case of , for instance, a Latin American country.
(*5): the money went to the Faculty of Popular Distortion.