The Art of Friendship
Photos: courtesy of Tomás / Nico.
The Art of Friendship
A Mexican, a Chilean and an (us) American walk into the Yu Yu record shop, situated right above Yu Yu club, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Mexico City centre in the quiet Juarez neighbourhood. These guys are Nico Guerrero (White Visitation), Tomás Urquieta and James Whipple (M.E.S.H). They are about to play the Infinite Machine party at Yu Yu club. But that’s not the only thing the guys have in common and it’s not the first gig they are playing alongside each other.
They come from different places and different backgrounds, their music and creative processes differ as well. But music brought them together. And it keeps them connected ever since, be it sharing music and ideas or remixing each other’s music (M.E.S.H. remixing Tomás’ Anatomia from La Muerte De Todo Lo Nuevo, Tomás Urquieta remixing Mimic from M.E.S.H.’s Hesaitix LP).
Berlin-based artist James Whipple, a.k.a M.E.S.H., has been around for quite some time releasing his “futuristic” music on labels like PAN and Black Ocean, holding his Janus club night residency in Berlin and doing other exciting art things we do not know much about, yet. His deeply textured sound design could be, probably called “genre-defying” or “genre-bending” but to avoid cliches, I would rather say that it exists in its own creative dimension, where you can easily get to by listening to his music.
I met Chilean producer Tomás Urquieta in Yu Yu a few months after his Dueños de Nada EP debut, a 12 inch white coloured vinyl, brought to the record shop by Infinite Machine label boss Charlie. I found this record very beautiful, emotional and for some reason quite unsettling. Tomás says “Whipple’s music was a huge influence” on his style, especially while working on Dueños de nada EP, which is, he admits, his most experimental piece of work up to date.
As for Mexican dj and producer Nico Guerrero, having released his Ancestors EP on Styles upon Styles in 2013, followed by Blank slate 013 in 2016 (under his White Visitation moniker), he went into a period of creative gestation. Now, as he says, his music changed and got less “linear”. He acknowledges a big debt to James Whipple, whose first EP encouraged Nico to explore new sonic horizons and go “experimental”.
Interesting, how we have this urge to give things names, to organise and categorise everything. When it comes to music, what can’t be pigeonholed easily, is usually labelled “experimental”.
It seems like James, Nico and Tomas have now reached the point where their “experimental” music reflects originality of their music minds, which, I reckon, is a sign of one’s maturity as an artist.
The following chat is about friendship, music and other things these guys are very good at.
Pat: How do you keep in touch in everyday life?
Tomás: We message each other and share music.
Nico: We talk about things, share memes and links and interesting stuff…
James: Sometimes Tomás sends me voice messages in Spanish while giggling.
P: How did you all meet?
J: I met Nico at Mutek MX in 2014.
N: In 2014 i was working for Mutek and Jamie came to play the fest. Then the following year I booked him to play here in Mexico City, then he came to Mexico again, then I booked him again…
J: We have become good friends over the years and I’m grateful to Nico for showing CDMX to me. He even came for a month last year to Berlin to sit on my couch watching Narcos. I don’t really remember when I first was in contact with Tomás, but he happened to be in Germany when my first album, Piteous Gate (2015, PAN), came out, so I invited him to play at my album release party at OHM alongside Kablam. Since then I have been a big admirer of his sounds and his incredible rhythm tracks.
P: Tomás, you were saying James messaged you on soundcloud and that’s how you got in touch for the first time. Won’t you tell us what was this all about?
T: Well, he said he liked my music (Manuscript EP, 2015, Infinite Machine), – says Tomás reluctantly, – Then I mentioned I was gonna go to Berlin in a couple of weeks, so I came to Berlin and we went for a beer. You know, – he adds, his eyes brighten, – Jamie showed me this beer, Augustiner, it’s really good, it’s my favourite beer now. And then he invited me to play his album release party in OHM.
P: And how was the party?
J: It went really well. Although someone attacked someone else with pepper spray outside, and it got into the air inside.
But let’s begin at the beginning and find out how did this all start. So I ask guys how they started making music.
J: Around 14…
N: I’ve been playing bass and guitar since I was 13 years old, then around 15 I got Reason installed on my computer. It was pretty horrible back in the days.
T: Yes it was. And Fruity Loops too. I still don’t know how to use Fruity Loops.
N: Me neither!!!
T: I was playing in a band when I was young, I just wanted to make music. Then I left the band, downloaded software, including Fruity Loops. I didn’t really get FL and then started working in Ableton.
Now if you let the three of them get too deep into this talk about software, the case is lost.
So I try to nudge them gently back to mundane stuff.
P: What were you listening to back then?
N: A lot of Nine Inch Nails… Massive Attack, DJ Shadow’s first albums. I recently remembered how big the Animatrix soundtrack was for me back then as well, I think I’d blocked that out… A lot of hip-hop later on.
T: I liked N-Sync!
Tomás is truly the master of the unexpected.
T: Yes, Timberlake is a genius!
I can’t help but say that N-Sync’s music was just bad (then I immediately start feeling bad for saying this).
“Wow! I didn’t really follow N-Sync. I was severely alt,” James contributes.
Then I try to sugarcoat my previous line by saying “Well, I was into Backstreet Boys.”
T: Backstreet Boys were cuter, I give you that.
P: And Limp Bizkit?
N: Hey, that was the first concert I ever went to. I was 12.
J: My first concert was either Foo Fighters or a hardcore show at The Living Room in Goleta CA. Around the age of 13 or so. My friends were a bit older and I went to a lot of punk, hardcore and ska shows in my early teens. And got to see Photek, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Dieselboy, Roni Size and Blonde Redhead at Coachella 2001.
P: When did you pick up djing?
J: I started DJing in Baltimore around 2007. Not sure why.
N: I was 18 when I started making club music and djing, with a friend who was a dj at Pasaje America…
At this very moment one of our friends, Carlos, makes a cameo.
“Hey guys! What are you doing in here?”, Carlos enters the shop all cheerful and in a good mood. “An interview? Nice! Were you just saying you played at Pasaje America?”
N: You know the place? I played there twice!
C: Do I know the place? Of course I do! It opened right where the Buddha Bar was before, Buddha bar was a legendary place In Mexico City back in 1994. Then Pasaje America was opened, I think, in 2008?
P: Was this place cool?
C: It was of those iconic venues with bad sound, but it was still amazing and very important for the electronic music scene. Well, i’m not distracting you anymore, I’ll bring you more beer and I’m off.
Thats is exactly what he does. We go on with our conversation.
P: How was your process of finding your identity through music?
J: Very slow, this is like a cliché. I waited for a long time to catch a sound that sounds like me, that really represents me, and I found it after a while.
N: It took me quite a while as well. In the beginning it was always about imitating and copying other people, and after some time of copying ineptly you get to a point where you start sounding like yourself.
P: Why White Visitation by the way, always wanted to ask…
N: It’s from Thomas Pynchon.
P: You like Pynchon?
N: I do, yeah.
P: Gravity’s Rainbow is one of my favourite books! Have you read it all beginning to end?
N: Yeah, yeah. You know there’s been attempts to adapt it to film?
P: This is kind of difficult, it has so many plots…
N: Yeah, could be a series, maybe. But that last movie based on Pynchon’s novel was actually good!
P: Yes, Inherent Vice by Paul Thomas Anderson, it is very good. What other books do you like?
N: A lot of Borges always, Sontag’s diaries currently, read some history this year…
J: I’ve never actually read Pynchon although I just got a great fix of real life 70’s parapolitics via Tom O’Neill’s new Charles Manson book, CHAOS. Very recommended!
P: You all seem to be very keen on reading or even writing. Do you think writing and making music are related, interconnected in a way?
J: Music is like a cloud of vape-smoke we exhale into our environments, while the written word is a laser cutting through it. I’ve always tried to write as much as I can, but not very well. I started writing lately cause djing was starting to make me lose my mind in some way, it’s like a different part of me.
P: What do you mean? Was it because of the pressure? Was it touring?
J: No one wants to hear a DJ complaining! But I’ve been trying to go in too many directions at the same time which makes everything I do happen really slow.
This is actually not true, I remember DJS Complaining Twitter account, which was very popular a few years ago, It gained a ton of followers and was really fun.
T: I love reading, I was very fond of Haruki Murakami back when I was 18. I even wrote a novel about my childhood. But I haven’t been writing ever since then, I just didn’t feel like it. Later I grew very fond of Guattari, Espinoza…
P: Now that’s interesting! And what about Deleuze?
T: Of course, yes, one of my tracks is called Rhizome, and its dedicated to Deleuze.
N: I have Mille Plateaux lying around somewhere but haven’t gotten around to it…
T: Yes, Mille Plateaux!
J: I basically worship Gene Wolfe, whose Solar Cycle is sort of like Borges meets Proust in a depressive sci-fantasy setting. Those who find it tend to become obsessed but it’s not really for everyone.
P: Do you ever think about how people perceive your music? Does this affect your work?
J: It’s very different in both ways, I’m a Dj, but I also make my own music. I mean, as a Dj I’m very oriented to the dance floor, and as an artist, it’s a totally different situation.
T: I’m trying not to think of the audience when I’m making music. I’m always interested in what my friends would say though. As a musician, I guess, if I managed to make someone feel empathy for what I want to convey, for what I feel, then I am rewarded. As a dj I want to make people dance, I want them to connect and feel free. I think that dance floor is a metaphor of chaos.
N: When producing music I try to communicate an idea, however vague; to convey sensations or images, and I don’t think too much about whether the track is floor-friendly or not, because it should work on its own. When I am djing I try to find a middle ground, you’re trying to get people to party but you also still want to convey…something, so you compromise a little. I realize this is all very vague (Nico laughs).
P: What other artistic forms do you explore?
J: I worked with design in the past, I made quote-unquote contemporary art.
P: What kind of contemporary art were you making? Why did you turn to music?
J: Mostly net art, video and sound installation. I was writing music before that, and I returned to doing that after some time. I turned back to music because I like how it is sort of a flimsy container for ideas, it can contain or embody text and ideas, but in an unreliable, non-didactic way. The numinous always re-asserts itself in music and someone who makes music has to give up a lot of control.
P: What have you been studying? Do you consider yourself a professional musician?
J; I studied design at Parsons in NYC. I don’t really play any instruments so I think of myself more like a composer, producer or artist rather than a musician.
T: I’m not sure if graphic design can be called art, but I do a lot of music related design work, I do artwork for my own releases and releases by my friends and like minded artists. I‘ve been painting a lot in 2014, even sold 10 works of mine. I had an exhibition and it went quite well. For me art is a form of expressing your feelings, letting them out. etc Art doesn’t need an artist.
P: What else, apart from art?
T: For me it’s sport, I guess. I like boxing. It helps me to cope with stress and to feel good.
N: I just make music…
P: Come on, there should be something else.
N: I lift weights, I read, work at the Yuyu store every once in a while…
P: With what do you identify apart from sound?
J: Landscapes, the people I meet, reading stuff online, I try to be like a sponge, I’m open to experiences. There’s a lot I don’t know and don’t understand, so I just follow my intuition. I’m super sensitive to sounds. Sometimes I can’t sleep because of high-frequency sounds in different environments from like USB chargers and appliances.
T: I love plants, seeing them grow.
N: For me it’s all about…eating with friends, spending time with my dog…
Here one probably needs to know that Nico’s dog, a gorgeous American Akita called Roberta, is quite famous in the city’s electronic music scene. Everyone knows her, and her cute dog face gets often featured on Instagram accounts of musicians and music lovers who cross their paths with Nico.
P: Is Roberta’s story music-related too?
N: Actually it is! The story goes like this: my friend Indigo, who runs Terminal club, had been fostering her for about a year but needed to find a permanent home for her; he already has a dog who’s Roberta’s only dog friend. So after a party at Terminal we went back to my place and he suggested I keep Roberta for a couple of days to see how it worked out. And it worked out! She stayed with me and is the best thing that happened all year probably.
J: Yes! She’s very good! – says James. He is staying at Nico’s place while in Mexico City, so he knows what he’s talking about.
P: So Nico booked you to play his parties in Mexico a couple of times. How was it? Did you like the crowd, the party?
J: It has been a really nice education getting to know the audience(s) in Mexico City. There is a more refined musical sensibility in the city compared to other North American cities. In my opinion. I played in Mexico 5 times I think? But still not outside Mexico City. I think the Mexico City crowd is slightly more “European” in the style of clubbing, compared to other North American cities. But it is still totally its own thing.
P: Tomas, and how did you end up moving to Mexico?
T: Before moving to Mexico I was (living) in New York. I was invited to play NRMAL festival in 2015, then I came back to perform again in 2016. I’ve met many amazing people and felt like there was a place for me here. I think moving to Mexico was quite important for my music career, it triggered something and now I am working on some new music.
Our conversation drifts slowly towards inspiration and childhood memories.
J: I’m very into sea and mountains. My dad was a good surfer, I could never do that. Now I like running and chilling in the mountains.
P: And what does your family think about your music?
T: I’ve always had this sense of a very special, personal connection to the sea ever since I was a little kid.
P: How important is it to have connections with other (like-minded) artists?
J: I think every artist needs to build their own network and not rely so much on the press and other parts of the “industry” to create the narrative around their work. When I try to follow everything and feel like part of “the conversation” it can be really alienating and boring, but when I reduce it down to the people who I’ve made a personal connection with through their work, it becomes more exciting. It’s like building a parallel universe.
N: Very important, I met most of my friends and the people I interact with regularly through music.
T: Well in my case not almost, each and every one of them! and yes, exchanging your ideas and sharing your music with friends is essential
P: What’s a community to you?
T: Your friends getting together to have a beer and spin some records… it’s already a community!
P: Are we a community?
T: Haha, yes.
P: How would you describe this point in your music career you are at right now? Are you satisfied with what you have achieved? Where do you think you are going with all this?
J: I will keep releasing music for those who are interested. My goal was always to create the conditions that give me the most freedom. I’m also teaching this year at an art school in Germany so I can take a little bit of time off DJing.
T: I have some short- term goals, and the long-term ones…I’d rather not tell. I am very happy with where I am now music-wise, I will keep on working on my new music and preparing my next release.