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In Lima, a Tropical Bass Scene Finds its Footing

A new video takes us into the world of Animal Chuki, where the future of music sounds a lot like the past.

Lima-based digital cumbia duo Animal Chuki in their natural habitat

What does the future of music sound like in the Peruvian capital of Lima? According to a group of young DJs and producers at the forefront of the country's tropical bass movement, it sounds a lot like the past.

In the video above, we get a peek into Lima's underground music scene, where acts like Elegante & La Imperial, Mari Yá, Chakruna, Shushupe, and Deltatron, all armed with the the usual mish-mash of synthesizers, drum machines, and laptops, are charting a new musical future—by digging into Latin America's sonic history. As they bounce from DJ sets to live performances at Noise, one of the neighborhood's hotspots, they're also figuring out what it means to be Peruvian in a globalized and increasingly networked digital present.


The above video centers on Animal Chuki (Andrea Campos and Daniel Valle-Riestra), prime examples of musicians who have turned to the traditional while gazing at the future. The two 22-year-olds make digital cumbia—a techno-centric take on the traditional rhythms that have been like a continent-wide heartbeat for the past century. "Every country has some similar and different way to express [cumbia]," Daniel tells me over Skype. It was in Argentina, he says, where DJs and producers like King Coya and Chancha via Circuito first started mixing cumbia with the vocabulary of electronic music and the swagger of hip-hop and Jamaican dancehall.

Argentinian digital cumbia pioneer King Coya

Daniel caught wind of these hybrid experiments while living in Buenos Aires. When he returned to Lima, he and Andrea decided to try applying the same ideas to traditional Peruvian music. ZZK, the Argentinian record label and party collective that inspired the duo to dig deeper into the continent's musical roots, is now lucky enough to release the duo's debut EP, Capicúa, out December 9. Animal Chuki were the first Peruvians to join ZZK's roster, and they're now starting to make some noise for themselves in Lima's cosmopolitan nightlife scene.

Their packed live performances see the duo dividing-and-conquering according to their strengths. "We both pour our musical influences into the work," Daniel says, "Andrea in a more traditional way—she likes chicha," the 1960s style that transposed cumbia tropes into psychedelic guitar licks, while he brings in "dub, heavy bass, and more experimental stuff."


Their Capicúa EP for ZZK is a dark, worldly record with clever references and ideas drawn from across eras and vast distances—haunted-house organs and throbbing synth drones that recall Tijuana's Los Macuanos, dubwise tricks with echo pedals and reverb, salsa-style piano vamps, and psychedelic guitar licks lifted directly from old chicha records. Underneath it all, the languid shakers and drums of the cumbia heartbeat pulse reliably, looping and looping and looping and looping like a hypnotic mantra.

Daniel and Andrea are at the center of a new conglomerate of Lima-based artists, promoters, and partiers who have taken the global electronic music boom and found ways to make it their own. But Rafael Pereira of the tropical bass duo Dengue Dengue Dengue, who are also featured in the video, insists that their taste for the traditional extends beyond their local heritage: "For us, it's more about a global thing," Rafael says, with influences that range from Kraftwerkian synths to "zouk bass," a slow and sexy grind that grew from Africa's former Portuguese colonies.

Peruvian tropical bass duo Dengue Dengue Dengue on the buttons

Dengue Dengue Dengue and their record label Colectivo Auxiliar "throw massive parties for tropical bass." And as the video documents, there is no shortage of bass heads to fill the dancefloor in bohemian nightlife districts like Barranco, where DJs also serve the usual sounds of house, techno, and dubstep.

"There are people that are involved in the scene. Others just like to go party and get wild," Daniel admits. "But in general, the acceptance is good. Culturally-speaking, the people are evolving, like the music."

Daniel also tells me that new labels and artists are joining the city's tropical bass movement all the time, and the parties are starting to reach capacity faster and faster. "People can identify with the music, but while you're giving them something new to listen to." With ears tuned to both tradition and technological innovation, it's easy to see why the parties are so popular.

Max Pearl will be moving to Lima as soon as THUMP Peru gets off the ground -@maxpearl