Meet the Montreal Techno Duo Who Are Getting Punks Dancing
Pelada's Tobias Rochman and Chris Vargas discuss their new EP.
Photo by Paula Vera
There's an immediacy to live performance that can be so difficult to capture in a recording. Much of Pelada's appeal comes from the raw energy of their live show, and their recent self-titled debut EP, is a perfect distillation of that sound. While it's only two tracks, Tobias Rochman's highly danceable acid techno lays the groundwork for Chris Vargas' fierce vocals sung in Spanish.
The duo formed in Montreal in 2014, initially as an idea for an artist residency, but became a full time project once they realized the potential of what they were doing. After playing a handful of live shows, including one at Toronto's punk and hardcore festival Not Dead Yet, the duo recorded the EP with help from Pierre Guerineau of Montreal's Essaie Pas and released it on Rochman's label New.
THUMP: How did Pelada come together? Tobias Rochman: I remember Chris asking me "Do you want to go to Colombia?" So that was the first thing we worked on—an artist residency application for arts & music. We were very optimistic and definitely naive. When we were denied we sort of looked at what we had built and decided there was something there so we booked a gig.
Chris Vargas: My interest at the time was to start performing in an electronic dance project but did not have the means to do so. I wanted to find a creative exercise to write my lyrics in Spanish and perform them in such a way that felt true to me. At times we just sat around and listened to music for hours to get ideas going.
When did you start producing electronic music?
Rochman: I was asked by the [Olympia, Washington] group Cosmetics if I wanted to do some small tours with them in the US and they gave me my first synthesizer. I wasn't in the band in a creative capacity but more to fill out the live sound. I think I had been playing for maybe a week and suddenly we were flying to gigs. I still had the notes taped on the keys with little stickers!
After that, I got a promotion at my day job and travelled to Australia for six months teaching teenagers in unitards about radio-frequency identification chips. That was weird and fell apart when I began sleeping with my boss. I tried to break it off with her, because I felt like a sex slave and was fired immediately.
However, since that's totally messed up, they offered me $5K to shut up and never tell anyone the details of what happened. I invested that money into building a home studio and spent the next couple of years just locked in it learning about synthesis and drum programming. Getting paid off by those creeps was actually a blessing and a catalyst.
Pelada has opened for acts like Pharmakon and Marie Davidson—do you two feel more at home performing alongside punks?
Rochman: I'd argue that punks in 2016 are kind of mutated and maybe the vocabulary just hasn't caught up yet. It's not just this conformist version of anti-conformity like you saw it become in the 90s, like a sort of dog collar cabaret dress-up thing. I see our audience as just open-minded people about fashion, music, gender, drugs, politics etc., who are all marginalized by enormous wealth inequality and by the same neo-con/neo-liberal exhausted late-capitalist system. Basically, most young people.
Vargas: It's very satisfying to make a room full of punks bust out dancing. But regardless of how people present themselves or the scene they fall into, its most important playing to an engaged audience.
Speaking of Marie Davidson, her partner in Essaie Pas produced the EP. What was it like working with Pierre Guerineau?
Rochman: I met Pierre and Marie when they used to run a loft venue called La Brique a few years ago. It was a magical place that was formative for me when I first moved to Montreal. They would host three day experimental music festivals that also served hot food and had tarot readings. They've been among our biggest supporters and I'm really excited we got to collaborate on some ideas with Pierre in the studio.
Vargas: He wasn't afraid to give us an honest opinion in moments when tensions ran high. His participation brought something more to these songs.
The EP was released on Tobias' label New, is the imprint going to continue releasing primarily electronic acts?
Rochman: The idea behind New is to release only electronic acts based in Montreal who are future-focused and under-represented. The label name sums up the entire mission statement. Lately, I've felt like I wish I could do more, so I've been test-driving this digital-only stuff. More physical releases will come in the future, but most likely only once or twice a year at most.
How will Chris' move to Berlin affect the project moving forward?
Vargas: Because of the distance we'll be doing less regular live shows and instead more one-offs and small tours. In our existence, we focused so much on finding our sound and our identity through playing live shows.
Rochman: We talk every day on FaceTime. We haven't stopped working since Chris left. I guess the idea is we'll meet up in whatever city is convenient, record tracks, and hit the road. In the meantime, I'll test new sounds at parties in Montreal playing live under my own name.
Michael is on Twitter.