Music in the twenty-first century has taken a dramatic shift both in its creation and in its reception.  Thanks to a refined ear for the music of foreign cultures and an increased interest in participating in/experiencing the humdrum exoticism of everyday indigenous peoples, young people the world over are actively drawing on their local music cultures and making great use of them.  In a time where internationalism is celebrated and cultures are dialoging on an entirely new level, it makes sense that the art and music being created reflects that.  There is a strange irony in the fact that it is through technology – the internet specifically – that people of the twenty-first century have been able to engage with primitive cultures most directly.  People are the cultural amalgamation of everything that has come before them, and a bold collection of artists are uploading their cultural blueprints onto the internet in the form of a new kind of music – one which finds no precedence in World Music or crossover conceders.
The music listener of yesteryear browsed the World Music section of their local music retailer to take a break from MTV, to leave the confines of the monoculture (a shared cultural identity, manifested by singular pop cultural deities – Madonna, Coca-Cola, Hollywood, Top 40 radio) (Ewing) – to escape N*sync and other overtly contrived popular acts in search of something more “authentic.”  Those listeners lazily picked up the latest Enya album thinking that they were getting a glimpse of the past, of some faraway place free of the hustle and bustle of modern pop culture.   They took pleasure in the music’s foreignness only insofar as it was foreign.
That is to say that in their own condescending way, Westerners re-imagined the music of the “other” as a clever little show put on for their amusement.  On some level, that music was meant not as a document of the cultural forces it claimed to espouse, but rather as a loose, easily digestible representation of an idea of “otherness” not explicitly linked to any specific culture, country or reality for that matter.   Until recently, Western approximation of primitive music has been deeply rooted in a Western understanding of music.  The very classification “World Music” is indicative of the type of heavy handed strokes with which Americans and Europeans fashioned their imagined vision that all cultural otherness was one in the same. (Aladdin= India, North Africa, China, Mid East, Arab)
With the advent of the internet and a meltdown of the monoculture, purveyors of music everywhere have been actively seeking out music the world over.  People are no longer limited to the narrow media that is brought to their doorstep via cable television and FM radio.  The internet has afforded millions the luxury of finding music that sparks their interest, and listeners have adjusted their tastes accordingly.  Rather than engaging with the music with a foreigner’s interest though, this new breed of listener is concerned with how said music relates to them specifically.  Culturally, this century's renewed Western interest in the music of Africa, the Middle East, South America, China, and elsewhere seems largely free of the condescending and touristic tones that it carried in the 1980s.  Instead of searching for a supposed remedy for MTV and synth-pop and whatever else got authenticity snobs up in arms a quarter-century ago, now it seems as if people are exploring increasing amounts of non-Western music simply because they have increased access to it and are frankly enjoying it.  This internationally enjoyed increase in access has spawned and entirely new breed of musician.
This new musician lives in the modern world but is well versed in primitive music.  He or she interacts with older primitive genres and folk music yet, is concerned with how they relate to the here-and-now.  They mine the rhythmic music of their home countries for inspiration.  However, whereas in the past, Western musicians who appropriated primitive styles did so in an attempt to capture the primitive as a new alternative, this new musician uses it as a means of self-definition.
There is a movement emerging from South American countries that can be understood as a microcosm of this phenomenon.  Most of these artists work with electronic music, specifically Techno.   Electronic music lends itself to this kind of expression.  It is exploratory by nature.  Moreover, it charts an oddly parallel path to primitive music in that it is concerned with rhythmic complexity while it creates and helps define communities.  Both types of music rely heavily on improvisation and live settings.  Likewise they demand little in the way of formal training – in fact, in both arenas, classical instruction can impede on the vitality of the music.  These parallels work in practice; however, intellectually, where primitive music can be seen as a celebration of the past, electronic music is almost explicitly concerned with futurism.  It is at this crossroads that artists like Ricardo Villalobos – a forerunner of this South American scene – can flex their creative vision. 
He is not the first Techno DJ to work with primitive aesthetics, yet he is among the first to do so in a constructive manner.  His music is built upon Latin rhythms, rather than sprinkled with cultural signifiers as an afterthought.  In the past, electronic music has engaged with primitive music, but did so only topically.  Music was considered primitive so long as it featured a bongo or a foreign language – never mind how it was being played or what was being said.  Tribal House music of the mid 1990s was a foreigner’s suggestion of the unknown.  It situated itself firmly on the streets of New York and pointed eastward toward Africa.  Its concerns were a New Yorker’s concern, its rhythms were American.  And yet the very presence of those uncommon features – the high pitched yelps, the clunky bongos – was enough to color a song exotic.
Villalobos is a Chilean-born musician whose family fled General Augusto Pinochet’s military coup of Salvador Allende’s democratic government in 1973.  The family relocated to Germany where Villalobos was educated and was first exposed to electronic music.  However, his interest in Chilean music was there long before he started exploring Germany’s budding electronic scene of the 1980s.  The Villalobos family is a deeply musical one, whose presence is still felt in Chile today.  “My father comes from Parra and Villalobos; the Parra family is very musical and was very important also in Chile. For example, Violetta Parra… She was doing very deep protests and political folk music.” It is upon this framework that Villalobos has re-imagined what Techno is. (Villalobos)
Before Villalobos, Techno had become an abrasive genre with sounds that were more at home in a late night Sci-fi film than a traditional dance floor.  The stark beats and eerie atmospherics that characterize pre-2000 Techno were jagged and uninviting.  Techno is a genre explicitly linked to (you guessed it) technology.  Music was made to showcase new machines and sound generators, grooves were vehicles for brand new synthesizers.  But tellingly, Techno originally gained its footing by reworking Disco tracks.  Its initial purpose was to get people moving and something had clearly been lost along the way.  Villalobos’s aim was to reincorporate the human spirit into a genre that had become increasingly alien. 
Ricardo Villalobos’s landmark album, 2003’s Alcachofa, released on the German label Playhouse Records, reinvigorated the genre and rediscovered its soul.  The album, now considered a classic among electronic music fans worldwide, finds Villalobos establishing a whole new grammar for Techno music. (Sande) Rather than adhering to the claustrophobic spaces that Techno’s formal devices afford a DJ, Villalobos stretched and squeezed its structure, cooking up an elastic, wobbling organism that slithered across the vinyl with deft precision and daft punk.
With this release he proved to the world that Techno could be at once warm, indigenous, and percussive while equally maintaining its frigid, otherworldly rigidity.  It presents both minimal organic dubs, complete with soft analog hisses and purrs, juxtaposed against sleek, metropolitan Techno.  One can hear with each trembling note, in each snapping snare, Villalobos trying to reconcile his Latin roots against his German surroundings.  Unlike the labored exoticism that World Music attempted to construct, Villalobos wove the primitivist nuances of his family history into his music.  “In a way, the electronic music we listen to when we dance is very similar to African and South American percussion music…It’s the same rules and ideas behind techno: to make people go crazy, lose their realities, let go.” (Villalobos)
Through his exceptionally long songs – the lengthiest of which, “Fizheuer Zieheuer, clocks in at a staggering 37:11 – he is able to reproduce the live aspects of the primitive music he has appropriated.  His songs embody the looseness of the Chilean music he grew up on without sacrificing any of the abrasiveness of modern techno.  On “Waiworinao”, track  number five off of Alcachofa, Villalobos showcases his ability to fuse organic instrumentation (in this case a treated guitar from a South American folk song) with hiccupping electronics.  (Hampson) Villalobos is at once a landmark DJ and an inspired muse for a vast crop of South American Techno DJs who have taken up the mantle of using the primitivism that they encounter on a daily basis as a springboard for their own self-defining electronic music.  In doing so, these DJs have redefined primitivism’s place in modern music’s discourse. 
Villalobos and his compatriots have introduced an entirely new way of looking at South American music in the West.  Once viewed as a corky upbeat playground for curvy bright-eyed “crossover” acts (à la Jenifer Lopez) to hone their skills before they hit the real stage – American top 40 radio – South American music has transcended said confines and has been able to speak for itself, on its own terms.  This is in large part due to the mediums by which youth culture shares and discovers music today.  Online music communities afford DJs with an opportunity to be heard.  No longer are they subject to prescriptive and dogmatic media outlets like television and radio to mediate the flow of information and art.
The internet has created a place within which these South American artists share their art – albeit with a measured degree of monetary compensation – to international acclaim.  The authoritarian confines that once demanded conformity to Western standards of acceptability have all but melted away.  Musicians of the twentieth century engaged directly with the prevailing trends and cultural movements of their time.  Artists either defined themselves as part of the monoculture or as part of a counterculture.  Regardless of which association an artist chose, he or she had no choice but to define themselves in relation to the dominant discourse. 
Internet music communities exist in a fundamentally different space.  Regardless of what is happening on the radio in each participant’s country, young people from around the world can track down Ethiopian Jazz, Brazilian Tropicália, or Syrian Dabka in an instant – and they are.  This movement exists neither as part of the stiff monoculture nor as fussy counterculture.  Rather, it is helping form a new global culture – one of globalization’s most prodigious feats.  The willingness to share one’s life with the world, as exemplified by such social utilities like Myspace.com and Twitter.com, has translated to an eagerness to share cultural identities with the world.  These forums have formed a grand web of connectivity where cultural and national boundaries evaporate above the feverous transculturation.  Intellectuals concern themselves with socio-cultural chin-stroking; youth culture does not.  The new music that is being created simply wants to be heard, by whoever is willing to listen and enjoy.
Absent are the flippant attempts at authenticity.  South American DJs make no claim that their music is somehow piously cocooned off from Western music.  It is true global-pop.
The fact that their music speaks to communities, to post-colonialism, and to the limits of political structures while somehow still managing to appeal to the beauty of everyday life that resists and challenges those very structures is a testament to dance music’s transcendental ability to stay weightless in the face of reality’s horrors.  Their music is an explication of their cultural identities, reassembled and set to a beat.  It is the unearthing of primitive past that has served as a catalyst for these artists, but indeed it is through the music culture that it has helped spawn that we will chart the future.


Ewing ,Tom. “Poptimist #23: Chartopia.” Pitchfork Media.  Pitchfork.  10 July, 2009

Sande, Kiran “The Essential…Villalobos” Fact Magazine. The Vinyl Factory.  12 April 2009

Villalobos, Ricardo. “Autobiography: Ricardo Villalobos.” Fabric London Press Website. 26
            July, 2007

Hampson, Simon. “100 best: Albums of the Decade” Fact Magazine. The Vinyl Factory. 01
            December, 2009

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