By Francisco Cornejo de Souza Art by Jo Minor March 18, 2022
Landlocked and sandwiched between two of the continent’s largest territories and strongest economies, Paraguay is a good example of how geographic insularity and cosmopolitanism can be balanced, creating a fertile environment for vibrant nightlife. and the culture that usually accompanies it. Life hasn’t exactly been easy for its citizens over the past two centuries; the country was involved in a devastating war with Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina in the 1800s, as well as one of the many US-backed dictatorships that characterized Latin American politics in the second half of the 20th century. For Paraguayans, music has always been an essential element in making difficult times bearable.
Like other countries where the Iberian colonization generated a myriad of national identities thanks to its amalgamation with indigenous elements, linguistically, Paraguayan culture is marked by the coexistence of indigenous and Hispanic traditions (Guarani and Spanish are the two official languages). Musically, the absorption of outside influences into a rich indigenous lexicon has taken many forms in recent decades, from the Paraguayan polka to Guaraniathe latter being one of the classic historical examples of a musical genre playing a vital role in consolidating national identity.
The predominance of American popular music, from rock ‘n’ roll to disco, on the airwaves during Alberto Stroessner’s dictatorship set the aesthetic standards for what became the local music industry. “There were a lot of our own versions of Italo Disco and Hi-NRG playing on radio stations in the 80s,” says Cosmo Lopez, himself a cornerstone in Asúncion’s dance music history. as a seasoned DJ, producer and curator behind LPZ Records. . “Back then, bands competed for production resources, showing off their possessions – who could get the best instruments to play or create the most modern studio. Everyone was always trying to outdo themselves, and it was fun to watch.
Democracy returned in 1989 via a relatively smooth transition, bringing with it more freedoms. Clubs have found a more conducive environment to thrive in the capital, Asunción, and venues such as Sequence have become gathering places for an emerging cohort of talent who are now leaders of a new era of electronic dance music. Paraguayan. Opportunities to perform or even appreciate the new types of dance music that were then becoming popular around the world were relatively rare before then. Caracol remained the sole bastion of nighttime entertainment for over 30 years (it was demolished in 2020). Over the next few decades, new venues began to open across the country. Communities began to welcome the new revelers, and these performers found audiences and eventually success within and outside the borders of their home countries.
The mindset that guides Asunción’s electronic music talent today differs profoundly from that competitive ethos of yore, with a stronger sense of community shaping the interactions of those involved. It’s the result of years of constant collective effort and constant dedication of an entire generation, according to DJ, producer and promoter Amanda Mussi, who is also active in São Paulo, her second hometown. “Each contributed with a particular set of skills or assets outside of the game, usually related to our respective ‘everyday’ professions,” she says. “I used to do graphic design for a lot of our events at the time, someone else would provide the studio space and equipment, or a sound system, the other would be aware of promotions… and this cooperative dynamic always dictates our actions.”
Collaboration was crucial to make it cohesive, and inclusion is key to keeping it diverse. These days, labels, collectives, clubs, projects, DJs, producers, and promoters are putting out some of their best work to date and, most importantly, doing it all together fairly evenly. In such a vital creative atmosphere, artists like the prolific Victoria Mussi (yes, she and Amanda are first cousins) can develop their visions and hone their abilities. Victoria is an uplifting presence within the scene; his label Inbetween, created with Ariel Soler in 2019, has gradually established itself as a reliable source of electronic music from all over the country.
The name Inbetween comes from the tagline of Victoria and Soler’s old radio show, “From here to there and all the places in between”. It serves as a powerful metaphor for their nation’s geopolitical situation in a vast and musically abundant South America. Moreover, it reflects in its catalog the type of open eclecticism that makes the Paraguayan scene so vibrant and promising. A similar perspective also guided the curating of SQNC, the label attached to Sequence.
Below are a few artists who hopefully can provide insight into the variety of sounds and spirit of independence that make Paraguayan electronic music alluring.
The aforementioned Victoria is a vital force in Asunción’s electronic music circuit and someone who embodies the DIY spirit in multiple ways. DJ, producer, writer, club owner and label executive, there seems to be no limit to her willpower and wisdom in spearheading an effort that has music at its heart, be it the label or her club, Tango. . His last two albums are astonishing tours de force. The last, Constructionis filled with percussive and introspective exercises that travel through different moods through dense pads bearing simple and effective melodies, all structured on a sophisticated drum line-up as delicate as it is complex.
Lopez started his career as the bass player in a rock band, then went on to form a hip-hop production team called LPZ with another circuit figurehead, Octavio (real name: Jorge Carron), who later became a record company – and is today one of the main platforms for distributing Paraguayan electronic music. A veteran who was involved in most of the pivotal moments that shaped the scene in his hometown, he also wears many hats in the community. Yet it is as a gifted DJ and experienced producer that he shines the most. This track is a nostalgic breakbeat affair using a classic drum break reinforced by a thundering drum kick beautifully wrapped in arpeggiated strings. A simple but effective contribution to a compilation made by SQNC.
Ariel Soler is a man with many nicknames, including P. Lopez and Demian, and master of many professions whose participation in the musical history of the city is as important as it is multifaceted: engineer, producer, DJ, composer, beatmaker. His output is as immense as it is diverse, hence the need for an array of nicknames to accommodate his incessant creativity.
These two pieces transmit his signature sound which is based on a refined sound design and an economical approach to composition and harmonic games. Each has their own way of taking us on exciting journeys evoking familiar soundscapes built around classic techno and house timbres.
Part of the talent that helped launch the current scene alongside Soler and Lopez, Octavio’s approach to music creation is pretty straightforward. His productions usually extract the maximum strength from a few carefully chosen sounds. It’s clearly a holdover from the repertoire of production strategies characteristic of drum & bass, the genre around which the three initially bonded, which he deftly rewires to create powerful works such as this stripped-down techno track, as well as an essential part of the identity of someone who was once the drummer for the nation’s leading black metal band.
An alum of Sequence and one of its former resident DJs, FreakG’s take on the classic Detroit techno sound comes from carefully reading the principles and reinterpreting them in inventive ways. A Jeff Mills-esque sound palette lends an eerie tone to this track, gliding over a simple yet perfectly crafted rhythm. A wonderful example of FreakG’s secure mastery of the basics.
Pulso AS is part of the contingent of young talent that grew up listening to the artists above and now carries the torch of innovation. This piece exudes the boldness of youth, especially in the way it is put together. The syncopated bass is worked to its limits with effects and filters, pausing at times to extract maximum tension. Pulso AS evokes a mechanical and industrial atmosphere with an irresistible groove underneath using soft but dark sounds.
Amanda is the main link between Asunción and São Paulo; she has lived most of her life between the two cities and dutifully contributes to the exchange of talents which now bears fruit in the production of the artists presented here. This track is both an excellent example of his style and how it has evolved in recent years; these are the forces created by a few sounds as dense and intense as possible. Synth hits reminiscent of the “rave of the golden age” forcefully hold the energy so that the percussion can do its work on our bodies.