Photo: Villa Diamante

The Story of ZZK Records – Argentina’s home of digital cumbia

By | 02 August, 2010

ZZK Records is currently blazing a trail across North America. A three-month tour which started in Denmark before passing through Ireland, Germany, Spain, Belgium and France has now gone state-side. The artists, El Remolón, Fauna, Chancha via Circuito, Tremor and El G have all grown out of an electronic music scene that started in Buenos Aires in 2007 with the beginning of Zizek club. Electronic musicians started taking cumbia from Colombia, cumbia villera (a variant of cumbia borne in the slums of Buenos Aires) and traditional Argentine music and mixing it with reggaeton, dancehall, hip-hop and electronic beats. The scene became known as ‘digital cumbia’ after ZZK Records released their first disc, ZZK Records Vol. 1: Cumbia Digital. In truth this name has many shortcomings as the music has grown to include many different rhythms, though it does evoke the mix of urban culture and sense of tradition that this music represents.

Two of the most recent releases by ZZK; El Remolón’s Pangeatico EP and Chancha Via Circuito’s Rio Arriba show new directions in which electronic music can manoeuvre. Both albums manage to take the digital cumbia sound on new and unexpected journeys, showing that ZZK is a label where artists can really grow. We spoke to Guillermo Canale aka DJ Nim to find out a little more about the label and digital cumbia.

How did ZZK start?
The three of us [Guillermo, Diego aka Villa Diamante and Grant aka El G] decided to start a party. In Buenos Aires there were a bunch of artists that didn’t know each other that were experimenting with cumbia beats, mixing cumbia and Latin American music with electronic sounds. We decided to find a place for those artists to play and so created Zizek club where we played a mix of cumbia, hip-hop, reggaeton, dancehall, dubstep, grind, all kinds of electronic music. There were many moments, magic moments between the audience and the artists, a vibe between them all and we noticed that almost all the music being played in those nights was original and unreleased, and so we thought that we should begin releasing that music to the world, not just to 200 people in Buenos Aires. We started with a 16-track compilation, ZZK Records Vol. 1: Cumbia Digital – that was the beginning.

So when you started, were there other places playing electronic cumbia or similar music?
When we started doing the party there were two nights other nights but those were parties that only happened once in three months, or once in two months. The music around those parties was amazing but there was some artists that never played at those nights. There were artists such as Fauna, Marcelo Fabian and El Hijo de la Cumbia that were artists having some experiments without there officially being any scene. Certainly nothing would have been possible without some of these amazing artists. What happened was that they began to know each other at the Zizek Club and the scene started to grow. For example, many artists arose after the Zizek Club started. For example Chancha Via Circuito, El Remolón, King Cobra, Lagartijeando, many of our artists today started thinking about this kind of music at the club itself.

Why do you think that Argentines like cumbia?
There is some kind of movement in Argentina with the young generation wanting to take the legacy [of Argentine music] and raising the grade by mixing it with new concepts such as electronic music. They wanted to make their own music and they did this with computers because that’s all they had. Chancha via Circuito began making music with Fruity Loops in his parents house, in their living room, just with headphones on. None of us has the money to have a studio, but by doing it in the computer everyone is able to make music.

Why do you think the music is proving so popular in Buenos Aires?
To be honest, cumbia digital is not that popular in Buenos Aires. There are very few people that know about it. At our weekly parties we have 300 people a night. There was just a few times when we had huge artists and we attracted maybe 600 people. That’s not a lot here. The really popular parties can have thousands of people.

Why do you think that is?
Cumbia is almost urban music in Buenos Aires. Everyone in the city listens to it, it’s one of the most popular genres of music in Argentina. What has happened in Buenos Aires is that this type of music is not appreciated by the cultural elite, so that intellectuals always saw it as being the music of the poor people. So there was never a mix between artists with some kind of intellectualism and cumbia music, there was no bridge between these types of mix, we are making this bridge.

Are there are other places in Argentina where there is some following in the scene?
The other two cultural capitals in Argentina are Cordoba and Mendoza, and there they also like cumbia. For example in Cordoba there is a night called Switch which is run by Frikstylers, which are one of our artists here. In Mendoza, which is where Fauna are from, there are also parties.

What is ZZK’s plan?
One of the things that we are trying is to put Buenos Aires on the map as somewhere where something new and fresh can come from. Saying that, we have artists that are from Cordoba, Mendoza, Jujuy, La Pampa, but primarily we wanted to let people know what was happening here in Buenos Aires. The thing was that in one moment we realised the music was incredible. We had been doing months of months of parties and we couldn’t believe what was happening, the music and the atmosphere was really incredible and we just wanted more people to know about it.

I was in Argentina a couple of years ago and there was definitely a sense of there being some kind of musical crises, a real lack of underground parties. Do you want to tell us why this was, from your perspective?
We began with the party [Zizek club] after there had been a big accident in 2006 in a discotheque when over 200 people died in a fire. What happened was that all the small clubs closed afterwards because of new regulations and rules so there was no underground clubs. At that moment there was nowhere to go if you wanted to listen to some new, fresh music. We were okay because we found a place that was okay with the regulations and so we began with that.

Even with that, do you think that it’s sometimes hard to fight against the amount of rock in Argentina?
If you turn on the radio it is mostly rock, some cumbia [popular cumbia, not electronic cumbia], some pop, but it was mostly rock, average rock and pop. The big record labels here they didn’t want to build an artist, to believe in the career of a small artist, they want big artists and not to take any risks. There are almost no cultural authorities.

How is the tour going in North America at the moment?
There’s lots of people having lots of fun and what our artists say is that they are maybe tired when they arrive at the place but the people and the atmosphere of the place recharges their batteries, so they are happy, tired but happy.

Listen to the latest releases. First, Chancha via Circuito’s Rio Arriba:

Or alternatively, El Remolon’s recent EP Pangeatico:

More info:
ZZK Records
Tour Page on Facebook


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