The Latin Music Gold Rush
a.k.a. A closer look at electronic music's current fascination with Latin sounds.
Last week, the ACA label announced its first release. A joint venture between Phran (a Venezuelan artist based in Barcelona) and NAP (a Colombian artist who came of age in Canada and currently resides in Mexico City), the new imprint will officially debut in March with The Tribe (Baila), an archival EP from DJ Babatr, a veteran producer from Caracas who’s credited with developing the “raptor house” sound. Within days, news stories about the forthcoming record appeared on Resident Advisor and DJ Mag, both of which hailed his status as a raptor house “pioneer.”
A few days later, Hyperdub—a label that’s practically synonymous with the concept of the UK hardcore continuum—announced the forthcoming release of Eslabón, an EP from Houston producer Santa Muerte. Said to be “inspired by the mythology and religion of Mexican culture crossed with the bass-heavy sound of the city’s hip-hop scene,” the record looks to be the first overtly Latin entry in the storied label’s catalog. That same day, I received an email from a UK-based PR rep who literally led her pitch with the fact that the record was coming from a Colombian artist on a Colombian label, and went on to describe the forthcoming release as “another shining example of the sounds of LATAM breaking out into the global underground scene.”
Something is going on here, and while it’s been bubbling up for a while, it’s pretty clear that the attention paid to Florida producer Nick León—who was interviewed here in the newsletter last year—is what truly threw open the floodgates. His breakout 2022 tune “Xtasis”—a collaboration with the aforementioned DJ Babatr—was named the track of the year by both Resident Advisor and Crack, and also prompted electronic music tastemakers to take a fresh look at Miami. Once the butt of countless jokes (many of them related to tech house and bottle service), the city—and specifically, its Latin-influenced new generation of artists—has been widely christened as the hottest up-and-coming scene in dance music, and Latin rhythms, with a major assist from the press, have suddenly become electronic music’s hottest hype. (Need proof? TraTraTrax, the Colombian label which released “Xtasis,” was recently described as 2022’s label of the year by Resident Advisor, with writer Andrew Ryce going so far as to say that the imprint “feels like it could be this decade’s Hessle Audio.”)
That’s great, right? Throughout its history, the electronic music industry has generally held firm to a resoundingly UK and Eurocentric focus, and while some of that focus has since been shifted to the US, regions like Latin America have often been left almost completely out of the conversation. The electronic music press has been especially egregious on this front. Prior to last year, the only mention of the phrase “raptor house” in Resident Advisor’s editorial offerings was a single 2011 news story; in truth, even calling it a news story is generous, as the post provided zero context and merely pointed listeners toward a short piece on the genre that writer Dave Quam put together for the now-defunct publication Cluster Mag. (The article’s text has thankfully been archived elsewhere online.) DJ Mag’s record is even worse; before 2022, it seems to have published exactly zero mentions of the term “raptor house.” Given that history, the fact that DJ Babatr—a working-class artist who’s been active for more than two decades but has never achieved widespread recognition—is suddenly someone whose latest release is automatically newsworthy does feel like something to celebrate.
At the same time, what’s really driving this sudden surge of interest? Is electronic music truly looking to broaden its musical (and geographical) horizons, or is what’s happening now just the latest “hot new thing” in a subculture that’s always been susceptible to fleeting trends? At this point, it’s not really clear, and even if questions about those motivations are completely set aside, it’s nonetheless concerning that both the economic success and perceived artistic validity of Latin artists continues to be so highly dependent on the whims of European, UK and US decision makers—particularly when the relevant knowledge base of said decision makers does little to warrant such a responsibility.