“Chicanismo is a concept that integrates self-awareness with cultural identity, a necessary step in developing spiritual consciousness. Therefore the term is grounded in a philosophy, not a nationality. Chicanismo does not exclude anyone, rather it includes those who acknowledge and work toward the betterment of all people of the Earth.”
These words by Gerard Meraz introduce Chicanismo, the new album that drops in September from Los Angeles native Santiago Salazar (twitter/facebook). To “celebrate life with booming bass for a loving race” (in Meraz’s words), Chicanismo is one of the most electrifying albums released this year – an unlikely “debut” from a producer who has been filling your crate with essential records since the late 1990s.
“I met Santiago for the first time back in 2004,” Thomas Cox of the label Love What You Feel says. “He was already responsible for so much amazing music on great labels, and to me it’s insanely crazy that in 2015 he hadn’t had an LP yet.” A meeting over Mexican food in Los Angeles cemented a partnership between Santiago and Cox, Preslav Lefterov and Adam Ratana of Love What You Feel which is releasing Chicanismo – three guys Santiago says are “at the forefront of knowing what’s up and knowing what’s good. They have their finger on it right now.”
Santiago’s story is probably well-known by now. A native of LA, he moved to Detroit and joined up with Underground Resistance and Los Hermanos, the highly underrated group which fused UR’s aggressive Techno with a Latin influence that inherited the sensibility rather than straight up jacked the sound of Latin music. Back home in LA, he’s churned out a staggering number of 12″ masterpieces, which culminate with Chicanismo, which drops this month on double vinyl and today on digital (Beatport/iTunes).
It’s hard for me to believe you haven’t released a solo album yet. Were you a part of the group when the Los Hermanos albums were recorded?
Well I moved to Detroit in 2002. I think Rolando and Gerald Mitchell had just released the first album then. I worked with them from 2002 to around 2006, which is when I moved back home to Los Angeles. I think 2008 was the last time I did anything with Los Hermanos, because after that Gerald defused the name and started releasing material as a solo project, as Gerald Mitchell. So it was about six years I was with them.
Was the Los Hermanos style influential on Chicanismo? I feel like it shares the same sensibility – of being influenced by Latin music and culture without simply grabbing a couple of signature instruments or sampling riffs, if that makes sense.
Definitely, but what’s crazy is I feel like I put in both what I was taught by Mike Banks at Underground Resistance and just being influenced by Gerald’s sound. To me, Gerald Mitchell is one of the most talented artists from Detroit. That whole Los Hermanos sound had a heavy impact on me, but just being there and listening to how he crafts his songs has had a heavy influence on me up until this day. Everything I do is influenced by Gerald Mitchell.
How often do you get a chance play in your home town?
I’d say on average about five times a year. Lately it’s been picking up more, which I think it has to do with the mini-documentary that the USC film students did about me. Earlier this year a radio host who is a really good friend of mine began attending USC film school. He came to one of my gigs here in Los Angeles and said, hey I want to do a documentary about you. It was a class assignment but it came out really, really good – it was about how I shuffle my DJ career with my job life. It’s like five minutes long, but ever since I’ve been hit up by a lot of promoters here in Los Angeles, and a lot I’d never met or anything. It’s kind of opened up doors to new possibilities here.
Do you feel a kind of lack of stimulation without being able to play at home more often?
No, I don’t think so. When I first moved back from Detroit, though, I really did expect to get gig after gig, because I was touring with Underground Resistance and Los Hermanos and I had just released a record on Planet E. I thought it was all going to happen! It never really did, though. I still had to, like, pass out mixes to promoters and everything, you know what I mean?
I didn’t give up on playing because I still got gigs in Japan and Europe and everything. What I did with that was instead of focusing my energy on trying to get gigs here in Los Angeles, I just focused it all in the studio. Just kept making 12 inches and 12 inches and 12 inches.
On the subject of that, this has been a long time to wait for your first album. I think Chez Damier has yet to release one, but you’re no longer on that list!
Yeah it is a long time! I probably released my first ever track in 1998 or so, so it’s not as long as Chez. I never really planned on doing an album up until last year when the Pittsburgh Track Authority guys were here for a gig in Los Angeles. We all went out for some Mexican food and Tom and Preslav just asked me – hey, we want to put out a whole album on Love What You Feel. The next day I sent them like 25 to 30 tracks and they picked from them.
I was all like, Are you guys serious? You want to put this out? Great! Run with it! [laughs] Without the Love What You Feel guys I probably wouldn’t have released one. I never planned on it. I was really grateful when they asked me for it.
So the title track, “Chicanismo.” What does “Chicanismo” mean?
I always considered myself a Chicano growing up here in Los Angeles. I was born here. It’s a vibe that a lot of us had here growing up in Los Angeles as a part of Chicano culture.
I have a friend, Gerard Meraz, who is a professor of Chicano Arts. I was originally going to call the album Chicanoism but he was like, “Well the correct term is ‘Chicanismo.'” I was like, “Thank you very much! This is perfect!” He kind of checked me on it. He wrote the forward for the album as well and that’s a nice description of what it means. It pretty much sums up everything that we feel. When I asked him if he could write something, he came back with it in like an hour. I was like, wow, this is perfect! It fits the whole album. It’s a whole philosophy and I stand behind it.
The interesting thing about it is that Gerard used to do a show here in Los Angeles on a popular radio station called Power 106, every Saturday night from 2 to 4. It was him, Richard Humpty Vission and David Alvarado. His show was key to a lot of us young Latino DJs here in Los Angeles. We would stay up all night or even fall asleep and then wake up at 2am just to listen to the show. David Alvarado was a resident and his mixes were so influential to a lot of us. Me, I would record his shows and listen to them all week long on cassette tape, waiting for the next show so I could tape it again and listen to it over and over. That was the first time I heard David Alvarado and he just blew my mind – his mixing styles, his productions, everything. He was the man! If it wasn’t for Gerard producing that show – I think he had a big influence on a lot of us, you know?
This is interesting because as far as the history of electronic music goes, the first eruption of the rave scene in Los Angeles gets all the attention. There’s not much on the homegrown scene.
Oh big time, big time, Terry. The whole backyard party scene was here before the rave scene. I remember growing up in the 1980s there would be maybe three parties on my block and all of them playing Italo-Disco, Hi-NRG, early ’80s rap music – everything. Those were our raves growing up.
I like this album a lot and thought we could go to through a couple of the tracks for my own curiosity. Like “UKB 2 LAX” – what’s UKB?
Oh that’s the terminal in Kobe, Japan. That track was started in Kobe when I was doing a couple of gigs there, I was staying at an apartment for about a week. The people that brought me there set me up with a whole little studio. I actually started it there and finished it back in LA. That track is probably from 2005 or 2006. Another song, “Mama Paz” is from 2005. I actually made that in Detroit.
Did you make and forget them?
Yeah I did! A couple of years ago I had to buy a DAT player. I had all of these DATs from Detroit that I forgot all about.
The album closes with “The Farce” which is about as politically charged a track as I’ve heard come from the Techno scene lately.
Yeah, that’s basically my frustrations with the politics of the United States put into a song. That’s my social commentary track, I think, though without saying too much. I want to do it through music and try to translate how I feel through tones.
So how is it working with the guys from Pittsburgh Track Authority (who run Love What You Feel)?
I met Thomas Cox in Detroit a long time ago – 2004, 2005, I want to say? Ever since then we’ve stayed in touch. After they formed PTA, I remember I did a Boiler Room set and they sent me one of their records. When I played it… I just remember the feeling it gave me. It gave me chills down my spine. I was like, these guys know what’s up! So when they asked me for a record, I totally put all of my trust in them because to me, they’re at the forefront of knowing what’s up and knowing what’s good. They have their finger on it. Anything they ask for with this album – I was like I trust you guys, if you think it’ll work, let’s do it. It’s been fun and it’s been inspirational.
So what’s next for you aside from Chicanismo?
I have some remixes coming out before the album. One just came out right now for an Italian label called Opilec.
Oh, that’s I-Robots’ label.
Yeah, it’s actually for him. It just came out on vinyl last week. It’s called “Zeroth Law.” There’s another one coming out from Minimal Soul. They’re from Austria. That should be out in the next couple of weeks. And Chicanismo drops on September 7th.