Describing his sound as "right there in between a quinceañera and Burning Man," L.A. producer and DJ Canyon Cody combines traditional Latin music with modern electronic beats. Growing up in Hollywood in a half-Scottish, half-Cuban household in the '90s, he was exposed to a mixture of music, from old Cuban records to '80s to West Coast hip-hop. His love affair with music continued through his college years, when he hosted a Boston hip-hop show on WZBC 90.3 FM. In 2008 he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in ethnomusicology to research the Arab roots of flamenco in Spain. Today, he is back in L.A. and is the mastermind behind Subsuelo, the band and monthly underground global bass party featuring live percussion over the past and present sounds of tropical, funk, and cumbia music. We spoke with Canyon Cody about DJing in Spain, Subsuelo, and working at Nacional Records. He performs tonight, Nov. 7, at Elbo Room for Afrolicious, Friday for Loose Joints! at the Makeout Room, and Saturday at Elbo Room for Tormenta Tropical.
How did you become so interested in global culture and ethnomusicology? Can you explain what that is, for those of us who don't know?
I grew up hearing a lot of different music coming from my grandparents, my mom, and my friends, and I guess I just got curious. My grandpa listened to old Cuban records at home -- Cachao and Celia Cruz -- while my mom would play tapes in her VW bug's stereo from new wave bands like the Cure and Talking Heads. My friends were bumping West Coast hip-hop CDs purchased through the mail, 10 for a penny. All of these worlds seemed normal to me, and more importantly, they seemed compatible with each other. The first band that really spoke to me personally was Sublime, because of the way they brought together all these different influences -- punk, reggae, hip-hop -- without sounding contrived. It felt like the natural consequence of confluent immigration paths. All roads lead to Los Angeles, at least in my family.
Ethnomusicology basically means the study of music and music culture. I highly suggest checking out the phenomenal blog Wayne & Wax, which focuses more on modern Internet music culture, and not as much on ancient bamboo flutes and archipelagan gongs (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Your Fulbright Scholarship had you living and producing in Spain for awhile. What was the DJ culture like there?
They definitely know how to get down, especially in the south. I started getting into more experimental raver-ish electronic music while living in Spain. Until that point I had been playing mostly just boom-bap hip-hop and other funk derivatives. But more than anything else, that's when I fell in love with flamenco, which in retrospect, really ricocheted my life in a different direction. I was there as Fulbright scholar studying flamenco, and the experience got me excited about the potential of improvised, collaborative music that blurs the line between audience and performer.
What was something you wish you could have brought back to the States?
I used to arrive at the club at 3 a.m. and play til dawn. In the U.S., I'm always surprised when the lights go bright and the music gets cut at 1:55am, right when the vibe's getting right. I'm a night crawler. Tapas are a pretty genius idea also: free finger food with every drink?!
Upon coming back, you started Subsuelo. What are some of the inspirations behind the party/band?
I wanted a place to play global bass. Not sip-your-tea "world music" and not chug-your-Jaeger club bangers, but something in between, like Putamayo at Burning Man. Basically, I just wanted the musical freedom of DJing a house party, without actually having to clean up the mess in my living room the next day. I also wanted to create a context for flamenco in the U.S. outside of cheesy tapas restaurants or drab cultural centers.
What are some of the challenges of sets that comprise of live musicians and DJing?
You have to leave space for the live musicians. I like songs with a lot of syncopated rhythm -- I'm a drum junkie -- but if I'm playing with live percussionists, I have to restrain myself and play music that actually leaves some space between the beats for the drummers to improvise. You also have to be a good communicator and give clear warnings for upcoming transitions, especially if you're playing along with melodic instrumentalists. You can't leave that poor trumpet player hanging with an unexpected quick mix into new song in a different key.
How would you characterize your DJ sound?
Bouncy. I like a sweaty dancefloor. I try to relate to a dancer's simplest sense of bodily joy, with a focus on the hips. We spend so much time in our heads, the club is a place to bump bodies, shake your bones, and stretch your tendons. I play a lot of very recently created music, so my sound evolves with the Soundcloud seasons, but generally I gravitate towards electronic bass-heavy beats with analog, soulful call-and-response vocals.
You also work at Nacional Records. Where do you usually find artists for the label?
My dad's advice was just to keep my ears open and my eyes moving. That's worked pretty well for me.
Who is an artist on the label you think everyone should know more about?
Ana Tijoux is an amazingly deft rapper, and La Vida Boheme is my dream future of badass rock. Great songwriters, passionate performers, and just lovely people. I'm excited to hear what's next from both of them.
Where can we catch you hanging out in between your three parties at SF?
Walking. Just stumbling around on foot, since I hardly ever get to meander outside of the car in L.A. I love checking out all the new graffiti in the Mission. I'll be on the prowl for some burritos too, since apparently California can't make a decent burrito south of San Jose. I'd love to catch a Warriors game, go digging for vinyl, sample some local micro-brews, and frolic at Dolores Park , but I'll probably just end up on my friend's couch eating toast and marmalade, trying to find a neighbor's Wi-Fi with no password so I can convert YouTube videos to MP3s.