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Mexican Institute of Sound: the best of Latintronica 

Wednesday, Apr 15 2009
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Camilo Lara is a product of his environment. The Mexican DJ and producer (who also happens to hold down a day job as the president of EMI Mexico) didn't grow up with dreams of making Latin music. "I always wanted to sound like Kraftwerk, and I end[ed] up sounding like cumbia," he says in reference to the traditional Afro-Colombian rhythm that has permeated much of Latin America. "But if you listen to a real cumbia, it doesn't sound like [me]. I'm a misfit."

Regardless of his intentions, Lara and his Mexican Institute of Sound project are part of a new wave of artists mixing traditional Latin rhythms with modern electronic sounds. Yet he's no trend-jumper — the recently released Soy Sauce is the third M.I.S. album, and Lara's musical dabblings pre-date the Diplo-inspired baile funk craze and the more recent cultural fascination with electro-cumbia. Oddly enough, the roots of M.I.S. can be traced to the annual Christmas mix CDs he long ago began compiling for his friends. While these discs focused on his favorite songs of the year, he always included a few of his own remixes, usually of friends' bands. Inspired by the positive response, Lara began to seriously produce his own music in 2001, and the Mexican Institute of Sound was born.

The debut M.I.S. album, a cut-and-paste affair titled Méjico Máxico, dropped in 2006, followed by Piñata in 2007. The latter was produced with the help of Holger Beier of leftfield German electronic outfit Le Hammond Inferno, who has returned as producer on Soy Sauce. The records are largely sample-based, but with Beier's assistance, Lara has sharpened the electronic and hip-hop beats that underpin the music's litany of vintage Latin snippets. Lara sees his incorporation of traditional cumbia, mariachi, mambo, cha cha cha, and other "weird" sounds as somewhat inevitable. "If you eat tacos, you poo tacos," he says. "It is the same with music. No matter what you do, you will always be exposed to [these sounds] living in Mexico City." Lara grew up obsessing over '80s post-punk and new wave, Madchester, and eventually hip-hop, but his current appreciation of traditional Latin music is just as genuine: "I love [these sounds] as much as I love Velvet Underground or Joy Division."

If Soy Sauce is any indication, a goofy sense of humor also comes naturally for Lara. While his vocal talents are questionable at best, the latest M.I.S. album often finds him hamming it up on the mike, most notably on "Sinfonia Agridulce," an en español cover of the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" that morphs the original into a drunken, mariachi-backed sing-along. The album also finds Lara dipping into his Rolodex, enlisting Joselo Rangel of Mexican rock legends Cafe Tacuba, and the Beastie Boys' Ad Rock.

Being a music industry veteran has its perks. As Lara explains, "I've been dealing with music since I was 15, so all my friends are musicians or managers. I could do 10 albums with famous musicians who are friends.

"Actually, it is a great idea," he adds. "I could [call] it Namedropping!"

Some of these buddies will be accompanying Lara on tour, as he has finally assembled a proper live band for M.I.S. "I went from being Aphex Twin to Fela Kuti," he says. "It is fun to have a more powerful live set." The group is making a high-profile stop at this weekend's Coachella festival, and will be spending much of the next few months touring the globe. Not bad for a musical misfit.

About The Author

Shawn Reynaldo

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