The sound of muffled beats grew louder as I approached "The Heat Factory," a notorious house full of techno kids parked on a quiet street in the far-flung but rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens. The house is both the living space and headquarters of Exotic Dance Records, a record label started about a year ago by South Florida-bred, New York-based producers J. Albert (Jiovanni Nadal) and Person of Interest (Juan Bocca). It's also become a creative hub and hangout for some of New York's most promising electronic producers, with the pair crediting their housemates Will DiMaggio, DJ Wey, and Proibito label honcho Anthony Naples for their prodigious output over the past two years. "Having this space with the guys upstairs is the luckiest," says Nadal when we sat down for an interview in their living room last week.
A chance encounter between Bocca and producer Ron Morelli at New York's A-1 Records in 2014 led to Bocca releasing EPs on Morelli's labels L.I.E.S. and Russian Torrent Versions. Nadal's productions also began to attract global attention, leading to releases on imprints like Australia's Cult Trip, England's Black Opal and New York's Lover's Rock. Exotic Dance's first release, a cassette-only album by Nadal called Dance Slow, followed in 2015, and led to a distribution deal from Scottish label Rubadub.
This week, Exotic Dance are releasing their inaugural 12-inch, a split EP between J. Albert and Person of Interest, the first two tracks of which are premiering on THUMP below. Often recorded in one take, the synthesizer and drum machine-centered EP sounds like the lovechild of J. Dilla and Frankie Knuckles, with a stripped-down, muffled take on dreamy house and techno that wouldn't be out of place in the L.I.E.S. catalog. We talked to the producers about how the seedy side of Florida inspired their new record, experimenting with samplers, and their secret love for gabber.
THUMP: Why did you start this label?
Juan Bocca: We've been amassing a bunch of tracks for a while now and we have a lot of friends making what we think is quality stuff. I think we want to represent the community that we're a part of.
What is that community?
Bocca: This is it right here. This house. Upstairs, we've got a bunch of talented friends who also make music, run a label, that kind of thing. We just want to leave our mark as well.
Who are your roommates?
Bocca: Just in the house, we've got DJ Wey AKA Deejay Xanax. Anthony Naples lives upstairs. He's doing pretty good with his label, Proibito. Will DiMaggio, who has a record coming out on Future Times, lives upstairs. Super talented producer.
Are they releasing on your label?
Bocca: One of the dudes upstairs is releasing under Deejay Xanax. That's going to be fast jungle, breakbeat stuff. Really heavy.
Nadal: It's going to be really fun. You can imagine, Deejay Xanax is a more drugged out sound. A little harsher. Not as easily digestible.
Bocca: That's like the darker side aesthetically with the label. We're trying to capture this impression of the seedier side of South Florida. That's where we're from. That's where DJ Xanax is from. Growing up down there left a mark on us and we're still processing that.
Nadal: I don't know if you remember like eight, nine, ten years ago, you could just open up your local magazine in South Florida and [find] a pain clinic and basically pay for painkillers. That's the whole concept: Florida, the darker side of things. Florida in a lot of ways is just a touristy, retirement trap—and then there's all of us.
You've had releases on labels like L.I.E.S. and Black Opal. Is your output on this label going to be a continuation of that?
Bocca: I don't see [Exotic Dance Records] primarily as a platform for me to release music on. I see it as a whole aesthetic project... [Like when] we go record digging and we find something that looks unbelievable, whether or not the sound matches the visual impact of it, there's still an aura around these old records. There might be three records in the whole discography, but somehow they communicate really strong feelings. Definitely, we want the music to be all bangers, all the time. Nothing but quality. No filler. But also we want it to go hand-in-hand with the visuals.
I noticed a lot more breaks than your older material when listening to your new music on the Rinse.FM show. Are you incorporating more of those elements in Exotic Dance records?
Bocca: For me, I just got a sampler. Chopping up breaks is a completely new thing for me and I'm enjoying doing it. I think that's why I'm gravitating toward that sound. I think it's fair to say that lately we've been really interested in that.
Nadal: Everyone got a sampler around the same time; I've always had one and then he got one and then someone upstairs got one. Since we've all started to work almost at the same starting point, it's fun to see where we end up.
Bocca: In a lot of ways, it feels like we're going through the history of dance with music [with our production], like from the late 80s until now. I started with acid house. I got a 303 clone and a drum machine and I wanted to make acid house records. Then I went into wanting to make hard-edged fast techno, and now I'm feeling this Kerri Chandler breakbeat thing. Maybe tomorrow I'll be into micro-house?
Bocca: I love gabber! That's a secret though. I played a gabber set a little over a year ago and it was insane.
Can you give us a sneak peek at future releases?
Bocca: We got four tracks from the tape we put out last year are going to make it on a 12-inch. That's the next one. It's called the Dance Slow EP. After that is Deejay Xanax. After that is Angel De La Guardia. We've got at least three records ready to go.
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