Verraco Isn't Just "That Latin Guy"
a.k.a. An interview with the TraTraTrax co-founder about hype, tokenization, the complexities of being Latin in a Eurocentric cultural sphere and his upcoming EP for Blawan and Pariah's Voam imprint.
If 2022 was the TraTraTax label’s breakthrough moment, then 2023 is the year that the Colombian outpost has officially ascended into dance music’s top tier. Latin rhythms have arguably never been hotter within the electronic music sphere, and in a moment when artists on both sides of the equator are actively plugging bits of reggaeton, cumbia, dembow, guaracha and more into the wider continuum of techno and bass music, the hybridized approach of TraTraTrax has become something of an archetypal blueprint.
That blueprint was created in part by Verraco, an artist from Medellín who co-founded TraTraTrax alongside partners Nyksan and DJ Lomalinda. (As it happens, the imprint is actually an outgrowth of another label, Insurgentes, which got started in 2017 and is less explicitly focused on the dancefloor.) While TraTraTrax itself has often tended to be the focus of the industry’s attention—last year Resident Advisor famously (some might same infamously) declared that “it could be this decade’s Hessle Audio”—Verraco’s own upward trajectory has been hard to miss. Building on the momentum of his 2020 debut album Grial, he’s delivered standout contributions to compilations by Tresor, Fabric and TraTraTrax, and will soon de dropping a new EP, Escándaloo. Slated to arrive on September 15, it’s both his debut for Blawan and Pariah’s Voam imprint and the first-ever Verraco solo release to appear on a label that isn’t his own.
Working with a label like Voam—which is routinely cited as one of techno’s most innovative and vital outposts—is undeniably exciting, and Escándaloo will undoubtedly be seen in many corners as not just a validation of Verraco’s talent, but a sign that he’s been officially welcomed into the UK / European circuit. Having read a number of previous interviews with Verraco, however, I had a sense that his feelings about not just the record, but also the recent spate of success he’s experienced, might be more complicated. Having spoken openly about the lingering effects of colonialism and European paternalism on his work and worldview, Verraco always seemed more interested in establishing new paradigms than garnering superficial accolades, so I reached out to see if he’d be interested in having a chat that went beyond the specifics of his latest release.
It’s a conversation that felt necessary to me, particularly as the hype around TraTraTrax (and Latin rhythms / culture in general) continues to grow unabated. What’s happening now isn’t the first time that dance music has fallen in love with Latin America—it seems to happen every 10 years or so—and while this latest wave of interest has propelled a handful of new artists, including Verraco, onto the international DJ circuit, it also continues to be largely rooted in stereotypical / monolithic views of the region and its culture. This is something I’ve written about before, and as journalists, industry types and fans repeatedly engage in what looks more like trend chasing, performative box-ticking and plain-old cultural extraction than meaningful engagement, it’s no wonder that artists who are actually from Latin America so rarely seem to be the ones primarily benefitting from the current “boom.”
Verraco, to his credit, was willing to address these thorny issues head-on, and he hashed them out with me over the course of a lengthy video call that took place a couple of weeks ago. Despite being one of the industry’s current success stories, he openly discussed the hurdles that he and his TraTraTrax compatriots have faced, both inside and outside of Colombia, and explained why conditions for Latin artists continue to be challenging, no matter how much attention has been thrown their way. (Moreover, he did so while acknowledging how his own privilege has occasionally given him a leg up over his peers.) That said, there was more to our conversation than just sociopolitical critique; Verraco also made a point to celebrate the many special moments he’s experienced in recent years, revealed a few details about what projects he and TraTraTrax have in the works and shared some optimistic thoughts about where he hopes electronic music culture is headed in the years to come.