Raw Dancefloor Rhythms: An Interview with Sofrito’s Hugo Mendez

By 18 July, 2012

Sofrito started in 2006 as a series of warehouse parties in London. Since then it has grown to become a record label releasing 45s of tropical treats from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as compilations such as last year’s Tropical Discotheque and the forthcoming International Soundclash. The latest release comes out on 23rd July with a launch party this Friday (20th July). We had a chat with Hugo Mendez, half of Sofrito, about the forthcoming party, latest release and all other things tropical.

The latest compilation International Soundclash, containing 15 tracks from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin American, continues the formula of last year’s Tropical Discotheque. “It’s a similar vibe, it’s the tracks that we enjoy playing in clubs, the classic tracks or things we’ve been playing over the last year or two that go down well,” adds Hugo, the “we” referring to himself and Frankie Francis, the other DJ/producer behind Sofrito.

“With both compilations we’ve tried to produce a mixture of new and old tracks, stuff from Africa and the Caribbean, styles that are less well known to people in England, so there’s some soukous on there, and some merengue; merengue’s a dirty word for some people, but we love it!,” continues Hugo.

The compilation contains two tracks from Colombia, a new track from the Pacific coast’s Grupo Canalon de Timbiqui, as well as a rare gem from La Pesada. Although featuring Latin grooves, it’s the Caribbean and African tracks that fill much of the compilation, as Hugo explains, “a lot of the tracks are Caribbean, there’s a Haitian track, a track from Dominique. The Latin styles are probably less evident on this compilation, there’s a kind of cumbia track but it’s not really cumbia [“Cumbia y Tambo” by La Pesada]. And then there’s a Congolese version of “El Manicero” which is nice to mix two styles. The melody of course is a Cuban thing but the rhythm is rock hard soukous.”

Part of the signature sound for the Sofrito DJs is the dubplates they use when DJing, allowing them to edit and master their favourite vinyl records. “A dubplate is a one-off record. When you normally buy a record it’s been made out of a stamp or printed, but with a dubplate you basically use the same machine that makes the mother copy of a record, so it’s like a massive turntable with a very serious needle on it. You have a blank record and as the music is playing from a tape or computer, the blank disc is going round and the needle is writing into that record. That is the only copy of that record. A lot of the time we will do things live in the studio with effects or reverb – how a lot of people used to make dub back in the day – and it’s being recorded straight on the record, and once you’re finished that’s the only copy of it. It’s a good way of testing tracks to play in a club,” says Hugo.

“We play a lot of old tracks that don’t sound so good, old pressings, and we want to get the best sound quality possible. It’s not about playing the rarest records but the best sounding. That’s Frankie’s job so we spend a lot of time in the studio experimenting with new tracks and old records, and we prefer the sound of vinyl to CD and that’s why we use dubplates.”

The launch party for International Soundclash will take place at a brand new venue in East London. “A friend of ours has taken over the building, and he’s going to be working with two or three promoters only. There won’t be many parties there, that’s not it’s primary function. This will be the first party in that venue ever, which is always fun to do, and a lot of stress! We always find that fun to do, to move around, and find interesting spaces.”

The venue address has now been confirmed as 110 Pennington Street, E1W 2BB (Tube: Aldgate East/Tower Hill/Shadwell, Bus 253/D3). The event is billed as featuring the best and most famous vocalists, percussionists and producers from Cali, Barranquilla, Bogota and Medellin in a one-off sound clash hosted by Manchester MC Kwasi.

Sofrito: International Soundclash will be released on July 23rd by Sofrito/Strut. More information can be found at sofrito.co.uk

Sofrito International Summer Soundclash is taking place this Friday 20th July. Details of the event can be found at facebook.com/events/375648869157214

More details about the party, as well as a video about the making of the first Sofrito documentary can be found below:

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