FLON: Hi. So first I’d like ask about the prevalence of Cumbia beats in your work. Though common in a lot of different sounding music from a lot of places in the world, I first found it odd in your kind of atmospheric experimental music. (Maybe that’s just because I’m American and backbeats and breakbeats are so ubiquitous here.) What is your connection with Cumbia, and was it a conscious choice to employ it in this project, or just a natural development?
ULADAT: I first discovered Cumbia music on a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina about 8 years ago. Prior to the trip, I actually had this weird premonition that I was going to find some amazing new sound that I had never heard before, and while in Buenos Aires I came to know of record label named ZZK that released “digital-cumbia” music and this sound they pioneered really seemed like the exact thing I thought I was going to find–It was incredible, I had never heard anything like it before. So I came back to Toronto very stoked and thinking that, even though Cumbia is actually a very popular genre, I wouldn’t likely find listeners of this particular very niche genre of “Digital-Cumbia” in Toronto. However, not long after returning from my trip I was flipping through radio stations and low and behold heard a track being played (on the University of Toronto’s radio station) from one of the ZZK/digital-cumbia albums I had bought in Buenos Aires! My mind was blown. I contacted the host of the show and we met up. We struck up an instant friendship and he began turning me on to related genres and one party in the city that actually played some of this. He eventually started throwing his own parties which featured digital-cumbia/tropical bass/world music 2.0 genres and he invited me to DJ the parties with him so I accepted his invitation. The parties were a fun time but eventually I got tired of Djing straight up dance tracks (even though a lot of this music was very exploratory and cutting edge in some ways) and started doing opening experimental sets of this music (pitching tracks way down, adding delay, etc, etc making it all very dubby actually and I had a lot of ideas of where I thought the Cumbia genre could go). From there I decided to make tracks and release an EP in this style I had been forging. And so yes, It was a conscious choice to employ it in my music.
FLON: So, were you making music in the experimental electronic realm before you discovered Digital Cumbia? Is your latest stuff an amalgam of this new thing and what you were doing before, or a strict departure?
ULADAT: Yes, some years before this I played on and off with a group called Figure & Ground that made Experimental/glitch hop/IDM music. I accompanied them on guitar in live settings and put out one track with them. The main guy who produced their music basically introduced me to electronic music. He showed me that it could be legitimate in ways I had never knew it could before because I was coming from a rock direction and had a lot of prejudice towards the genre of electronic music. He also introduced me to Ableton Live and MacBooks…. I would definitely say that playing with them informed my musical sensibilities especially as heard on my two Uladat EP’s. I also performed a lot of live Friday night jams on guitar with members of a group called the Nihilist Spasm Band (often considered the first noise group by some) and these were hosted by a noise/jazz/experimental saxophonist named Eric Stach in his home. Playing in those openstage jams introduced me to new forms of musical expression which I had never really attempted or known prior. But I also found that style of experimental a bit navel-gazing and too inaccessible for some people so while making my two Uladat EP’s I maintained a focus on making my experimental music more accessible than a lot of other experimental music I had experience with.
FLON: That’s awesome, though to have that connection to such a legacy. So when you perform live, are you laptop and boxes with knobs, or more of a DJ setup? What should someone expect from one of your performances, and what kind of places do you play?
ULADAT: My live setup usually consists of a laptop running Ableton Live where I trigger loops and samples with an APC40 midi controller and a Novation Remote 37SL midi controller. I also employ programmable lights and a smoke machine as well as other visual props such as Christmas lights, a sort of garden arch, flowers, cups, skulls…really anything to make it visually interesting. I take a lot influence–visually speaking– from Horror films, Catholicism, Latin American style Virgin Mary shrines, pre-Hispanic art, and Halloween. I always try to ensure that the space is as dark as possible when performing in an attempt to really enhance the visual dimension. One of the major shortcomings I find, is that a lot of live music, in particular, experimental live-music, lacks an interesting and engaging visual component. Mostly, the pieces I play are usually my own but sequenced differently and manipulated sonically than heard on the records. If a listener is familiar with the recordings they will hear aspects of familiarity and newness in the live set. I also like to throw in other tracks I have produced and released but under different monikers (from my Black Tropical label). Sometimes I throw in sound edits/bytes and unfinished works into the mix too. For example, one of my favourite sound bites to open with is part of a very beautiful Saturday night Mass I recorded in Baños, Ecuador some years back. And, occasionally I enjoy throwing in other peoples tracks (dub, reggae, cumbia, baile-funk), very pitched down and usually wet in effects, into my sets too. I always try to give the entire live set a real sense of contour and movement; I never like get too stuck in the same spot. As for the types of places I like to play, I’m open to playing anywhere, but of course venues that cater more to experimental music are always preferred because the venue itself is usually tends to be unorthodox and the attendees are more likely to be engaged in what I’m doing.
FLON: Do you tour? Do you have any shows coming up?
ULADAT: I have played shows in Southern Ontario, Upstate New York, and Pennsylvania, but not too much. At the moment I do not have any shows coming up.
FLON: So, tell me more about Black Tropical. What other artists have you released? Do you work mostly with people you know, or do you get submissions?
ULADAT: Black Tropical is an imprint/vanity label I conceived of to release my tracks under the “Uladat” name as well as collaborations with others, and tracks by me but under different monikers. The other stuff I have released on Black Tropical is a departure from Uladat but still within a similar vein of sound–experimenting with Tropical genres using darker moods and abstract approaches not typically found in these genres. The name “Black Tropical” is an allusion to the sound I am trying to engineer; the name is also a kind of play on and an hommage to “Black Metal”. I have collaborated with other musicians and producers but none of that stuff has been released yet; in fact I am sitting on a whole pile of finished, or very near to it, material of collaborations with other people, stuff I intend to release under different monikers, or other Uladat material. I have never really sought out submissions or received them for the imprint.
FLON: Cool, well great talking to you! Keep us posted about any future releases or performances.
ULADAT: Yes, thank you so much. It has been a pleasure, and I will be sure to keep you updated on any new material released or upcoming performances.