Thoughts on the current Chilean socio-political situation and Underground Electronic Music.

By Pablo Ruiz and Pía Sotomayor.

NOVEMBER 25, 2020
IMAGES KhynthosKhaos
LEAD IMAGE Photography by IME

Chile is a country with a strange democracy. We are ruled by a Constitution created in 1980, during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which was designed by economists educated in Chicago by Milton Friedman, with the aim to establish one of the most free-market economies in the world. In the meanwhile, during the 17 years of Pinochet’s government, Human Rights were systematically violated, and we sadly registered thousands dead and missing people. Since the exit of Pinochet in 1990, we have lived in a democratic country with a presidential system and free elections, in which the Constitution has been reformed numerous times, but which have maintained its original essence and principles. 

In such context, on October 18th, 2019, the student movement escalated to what is now called “Social Outbreak” (Estallido Social), which pressured the current government to call a plebiscite to write a new Constitution.


After being postponed due to the health emergency generated by the COVID-19, on October 25th, the referendum took place, and won by an overwhelming majority the deep desire to change the Constitution, with a ballot marked as “Apruebo”. 

In what was the most popular vote in the history of Chile, with more than 7 million ballots counted, the results favored the constitutional change with a 78,27%, a huge majority from the civil society asking for a new Constitution that guarantees dignity in matters of housing, education and health,

recognition of indigenous peoples, environmental and natural resources protection, a new pensions system and advances in judicial and criminal matters, as well as the feminist agenda, where the legal and free abortion for all women in Chile are essential matters. 

“Also, IME has been taking action by participating at RAM (“Musical Associations Network”, Red de Asociaciones Musicales), that will lead the conversation between the Government and music sector, to put on the table the issues that interest us to ensure that we are recognized as cultural agents of value.” IME

At the face of a state that wants to tear up any form of people’s organization, how are projects like IME significant? In the context of Chilean politics, what does it mean to talk face to face and organize in order to defend and represent the work of people inside the realm of electronic music? 

That is a very tough statement because in Chile, we live in a democracy and people are allowed to gather and organize. IME as a union, gathers a relevant fraction of the local independent electronic music environment, mainly from Santiago. It has existed since 2018, and is growing consistently since then. At this very moment in Chile, we believe that associativity between people who have common convictions and needs, is the only and best way to solve problems that affect many. The struggle of our industry is to achieve the conditions so that our artists emerge and can live from what they do. That’s our core, and we are working straight forward towards that aim. 

IME is the only and unique legal union protecting intellectual rights and having an active role to push boundaries in terms of recognition of our work as electronic artists before both society and public authorities. This has allowed us to have a closer look to what will happen with culture and music rights under the new Constitution, and have an active participation in the formal political system that will define our liberties from then on. If you as an individual are willing to have a voice during this process, the only way is to organize with your equals. 

We believe that today is the right time to demand these changes. The presence of the industry is a political issue, and it is, therefore, time to unite and make ourselves heard, with the clear objective of influencing state decision-making in pursuit of initiatives that support and sustain culture. The independent scene will not lower its arms.

What kind of support can creatives expect from the government?  How is IME not only an alternative but also a counteract, an act of resistance?

From the actual government, it is expected very little to none. During these months of quarantine, lockdown, and curfew, we have fully seen how the government, -and more profoundly, the State of Chile-, does not value the culture and artistic manifestations, something that we have always known, but that was evident after the last words of the Minister of Culture. Among many different actions taken by the government, none of them have been directed to the culture field, nor to provide or guarantee any support for artists. 

The situation is critical. Both crises dissolved a very active independent scene, conscious of its own identity as part of a decades-long musical tradition. The immediate transition to the police and constant surveillance state in which we have lived since the outbreak has definitively paralyzed our sector, canceling up to 90% of the shows scheduled from October to date. Honestly, it has been devastating. A good percentage of members lived entirely from live performances and party production. 

Making a living out of music in the Chilean underground means is just impossible. The fees you can get paid for a Dj Set or Live show go in between 50 to 200USD (in very specific situations). This is just a fraction of many people’s salary, exposing artists to look for other possibilities when it comes to looking for a job. In Chile, culture is a parallel, informal economy where you are not part of the system. Since most are developed in underground terms, there are no invoices, therefore no taxes, meaning it is difficult to declare and validate income to access government COVID-19 funds. 

Yet music is still being made and has been the cornerstone of resistance. Every weekend you can find an online festival in support of a solidarity cause. That shows us the resilience, solidarity and creativity of our scene.

Also, IME has been taking action by participating at RAM (“Musical Associations Network”, Red de Asociaciones Musicales), that will lead the conversation between the Government and music sector, to put on the table the issues that interest us to ensure that we are recognized as cultural agents of value.

It’s a delicate situation Chile is going through. Working together as a union, having the chance to have a voice on behalf of the growing independent music industry is a statement in the long term for IME, as it is in the present.        

Also, as a way to overcome the COVID-19 crisis for our members, we created “Resiliencia Vol.1”, a compilation and fundraising project, that was a very successful first intention to really try to help those in greater financial risk. We made an open call to our members to collaborate on the compilation album, and 35 artists shared tracks that helped create an assistance fund, and all proceeds collected from the album sales, plus a streaming festival we promoted, went to the artists most in need in this contingency.

Many artists have decided to settle abroad in search of better conditions because here it is simply not possible.

Which are the challenges of having so many voices participating, so many visions, latitudes, and experiences of the industry converging?

Chilean music tradition goes decades back, and is rich in a variety of styles. We see all those voices and visions as an opportunity to create bridges.  

When IME started back in 2018, there wasn’t such a thing as a clear work plan or objectives, except for some obvious considerations that motivated its formation, such as defending our intellectual rights, making visible the lack of structures for the development of our craft, etc. Ultimately, it has been the community of members that have been showing the main needs, and over these two years, we have created progress consistently, in community, and with principles that we respect in each of the decisions we make.  It’s important to bring ethics, parity, neutrality and equal opportunities for everyone. 

One of the biggest struggles we have to face is centralism, very deeply rooted in Santiago. However, for some time now, the independent scene has actively sought decentralization and connection with regions. An example is the Bosque Libre festival, which historically was celebrated in the Metropolitan Region, last February it was moved to Hualqui, in the Biobío region.

As IME we are aware of the work of various artists, collectives and groups in Punta Arenas, Puerto Montt, Temuco, Valdivia, Concepción, Rancagua, Valparaíso, Iquique and Antofagasta, to name a few active cities, and we have plans to make a much more exhaustive investigation to characterize all the independent artists in our territory.

What are the challenges of keeping this project self-managed and self-produced?

IME’s compromise is with Chilean independent electronic artists, and is key to keep it independent and from here to negotiate with current and future governments on behalf of the artists we represent, but also keeping certain neutrality, since we work for people, not for corporations, nor specific groups with other interests beyond proper recognition, or art itself. 

Also, it is important for IME to help Chilean music to finally reach audiences abroad in a consistent way, and for IME itself, to project a transparent image as a union to the local music environment through the years.

It has been a path that has taught us a lot, because we have learned how to manage the union along the way. It has been an evolution, from understanding the representation and defense of a very active but precarious sector, to identify the specific needs and demands of the members. Two years after our establishment, we have consolidated ourselves and we have understood how to move forward in a more coordinated and sustained way, with much clearer aims and objectives.

Projects like compilation and festival Resilencia address the extreme position of vulnerability that Chilean creatives are facing due to Covid-19. Could you tell us more about the name of these two projects, what it stands for and how it relates to you as a group of people who have to not only face the consequences of the pandemic but also the consequences of a right-wing, repressive government?

Resiliencia is the first campaign coming from IME, divided in an online festival, a compilation and fundraising campaign that’s still active on Bandcamp, and on our website.

The idea came from the most basic definition of the word “resilience”: the ability to stand up and overcome adversity in difficult moments. That’s how we made an open call to the members of the union to share a song for the compilation, and as a result, we ended up with Resiliencia Vol. I, a catalog of 35 exponents, showing the variety and consistency of the national electronic production, with a high end and diverse palette of sounds that pass between House, Techno, IDM, Electro, and different avant-garde electronics styles. 

We needed to do something. We were in the most dramatic state of vulnerability due to six months of absolute suspension of our professional activity after the cancellation of festivals, events and tours, and the closing of clubs and bars.

Resiliencia Vol. 1 and the festival that followed were a symbolic and practical answer to the crack of Chilean culture system in which workers are abandoned at the present moment, left to their own devices.

“… in terms of social representation, the streets are obviously the space where the population has been pushing boundaries to generate change, while the dance floor is a free space to manifest ethics through music and dance in a way of catharsis with your peers.” – IME

How would you say organization strategies (dialogue, planning, support, resistance) may be applied to the context of people’s protest in the streets? Do similar principles apply?

We see both streets and underground electronic music as a way to resist and occupy the city. Although the street, as the scene of the protests and the Social Outbreak generated visibility and collective organization through insistence, the underground scene hides because it develops in illegality, and is not organized so much with the community, but rather maintains a spirit more on the edge. 

It’s hard to make a parallel because the streets and underground are both resistance, but in terms of social representation, the streets are obviously space where the population has been pushing boundaries to generate change, while the dance floor is a free space to manifest ethics through music and dance in a way of catharsis with your peers. 

There is hunger in Chile nowadays, we have 11,2% unemployment, the largest number in 16 years. Artists are part of that number. Being under curfew for already more than 180 days (and until December), while also losing so many social rights, is devastating. 

Several solidarity campaigns through online electronic music festivals get donations to feed large communal pots around the country. You see similar social spontaneous NGO’s arise through these crises. The organization has become a historical way to protect ourselves against a militarized, police state which is sadly the present, where we have seen serious violations of Human Rights.

We won’t overcome this process as individuals. Being united is the only way, and we see electronic music as the music of the generation that’s now changing the Constitution to live in a country of social justice. 

The movement that arose from Lastesis’s performance “El Violador eres tú”, is a House track, and a clear example of how electronics can engage large audiences and become protest anthems, this track in specific against sexual abuse and violence against women. Similar cases are “Nasty Woman”, by Matías Aguayo and Valesuchi, in the context of President Donald Trump’s election. Nicolás Jaar’s “No” sings “Ya dijimos no pero el si está en todo” (We already said no but the yes is in everything) making reference to Chile’s national referendum held in 1988 when the “No” brought down the de facto leader, Augusto Pinochet. Is not a coincidence either that Miguel Conejeros (a member of the underground avant-garde punk band Pinochet Boys, during the 80’s), defines ”Techno as the new Punk”.  AtomTM’s new record <3, with tracks as “Time 2 Kill”,  is highly inspired by October’s Social Outbreak when the protesters were victims of police brutality. 

To give a little context about the local club scene: there’s only one electronic music venue called La Feria for professional / legacy Techno, Tech and Minimal House and commercial tendencies. Noa Noa was the other club, specialized in underground styles, but had to close due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Nowadays, the underground happens in squat houses, warehouses or random places around the city. The local regulations to develop a club scene depend on the municipalities that grant a limited number of permits, most of them for reggaeton or popular music clubs. “Discotheque” permits are almost non-existent, and those granted are for what is called “cabaret” that requires an on-stage show, without encouraging people to dance. The authorities show themselves to be very reprehensive when dispositions around the permits are violated, putting a lot of stress on venue managers and promoters. When it comes to the underground, the party or rave is usually met with fines and sanctions by the authorities. 

How do you build bridges of dialogue with other countries of Latin America facing similar circumstances under similar forms of government? 

One of our greatest needs today is to create alliances with other countries in the region, and we believe that doing so with equivalent associations would be the best way to achieve this in order to make South America an ecosystem that feeds back between all of us: together. Our media, our venues, our festivals. 

We are in a position where we want to break those chains of colonialism when an artist from EU or USA comes to SA and we open doors and hearts, but we don’t really connect professionally. It’s a bit of a situation like “come and take”. It’s not healthy for us, and is not growing a healthy and fair scene. We want to share and collaborate, but as the way it is now, is just being colonized. We need that to stop, and we feel like the only way is to create our own structures to strengthen our own pole, and make it competitive with Europe or the United States. Germany is a different case, they have built their own reality, they are just outta competition, and there’s also a bigger language barrier. 

There’s a growing movement in the area to connect more in between countries, but we need to take distance from the model and do things differently. This can’t be an Instagram fan page, it’s a new ecosystem and economy focused on us, not in what happens somewhere else. 

In countries like Argentina, Perú or Colombia, the necessities have already been moderately understood. Brazil is another world, and we would love to get more connected. 

We can’t go back to those dark days. During the 70’s and 80’s, the whole cultural system was vanished, censored, and many people were killed, tortured, or forced to exile, if you know Ricardo Villalobos, or Matías Aguayo and Dandy Jack, their families left Chile in exile, and that’s why Chile is in a way connected to German electronic music. 

We are in a historical circumstance when we are about to give great steps forward.

Historically, Chile has been the most isolated country in South America, due to our location and natural limits: The Andes and the Pacific Ocean. 

“Being a formal union, legally speaking, is in itself a great victory for us. Being able to have committed members is a gift, and the idea of being able to work together is what motivates and moves us.” IME

How do you feel Latin America is represented right now in the circle of the global scene? Thinking about how the world has changed due to Covid, do you have to adjust or rearrange the strategy and practices in your work? What are the new opportunities and what are still the lacks to access more space and reach for artists, topics, culture and music from Latin America?

The truth is we are undeniably underrepresented in the media, record labels, club or festival bills, streaming platforms. Europe and the States concentrate most of the so-called relevant media, so we don’t really get to compete inaccessibility or representation unless you are actually in a label, and then acknowledged in the media. 

It would be naive for us to suppose we would be granted access to those spaces without an exchange, so that’s why we have to build our own structures, to be able to share in a proportionate way, and not to ask.  It’s a bit complicated to talk about these subjects without going political: Germany’s GDP per capita is around 46.000USD, Chile is 15.000USD. 

The world changed forever. Here there are thousands of people who lost their jobs, and a whole chain of decades of cultural productivity faded away, so it’s important to be organized to protect what’s left. We are under curfew, the streets are censored but the Internet still has free space away from social networks and legacy media. For the last decades, the Internet has been obviously revolutionary, and the most important and essential tool to keep a whole continent’s cultural independent ecosystem alive and connected, creating a new reality. We must build new interfaces, away from censorship and algorithms. 

What makes the international media so important for local scenes and what would change to be a regularity part of their news?

International media allows you to dialogue in pairs with others. Is the only way you can spread the word of your work as a universal language we can all communicate, identify, and relate. Media should be more committed to integrating music without caring its origins, but then all the PR, contacts, influence, and cronyism chain breaks. Now we are in a world that’s waking up from a long nap of privilege, so our call to the white male Anglo-Saxon establishment is to be aware of your privileges.

We saw some short term initiatives during COVIDV-19, but the truth is we need more coverage and improvement on the way we are presented in the media: not like some extraordinary effort so we feel like someone is “helping” us, but as art that is qualified to get some space on an outlet, no matter where it comes from.

Only if approached with a mid-long term planning, international media will make a difference for us to make Chilean music easier to reach and to listen to in the coming years, overall in a fragile situation like our present where a whole music culture is endangered. That’s an important collective goal.


How did the project start and when?  How do you get into IME and how and by whom is it operated?

IME Chile was officially born as a guild in 2018, with the mission of bringing together and supporting independent electronic music artists in Chile.  It started as a way to prevent and protect electronic artists from the police who were showing up in parties and clubs, checking for licenses to play copyrighted tracks. 

We are 135 members and there is an elected board operated by 7 board members with specific tasks or areas of development, with the participation of members that want to collaborate. There’s a lot of volunteering because we are a non-profit organization, so we work pro bono.

What is the audience and what is the ultimate goal for IME?

We are defined by independence, parity, we are a lot into the DIY motto, and we reject sexist patriarchal commercial music, and all the ethics that come associated with those styles. Everybody that embraces our beliefs and is interested in electronic music, is welcome. 

Our goal is to strengthen the local independent scene and artists so we can develop our craft in proper conditions. IME in the long term aims to protect working rights and take Chilean music abroad, giving everyone the chance to have access to these opportunities.

Tell us about positive experiences you had in the project and what are you looking forward to, in terms of projects, people and ideas that you are working with?

Being a formal union, legally speaking, is in itself a great victory for us. Being able to have committed members is a gift, and the idea of being able to work together is what motivates and moves us. 

We have and done many things that make us proud: our team, the feeling we get in our assemblies, the project Resiliencia, the women and minorities participation, the creation of RAM (Red de Asociaciones de Música Chilena), FASE (our Lives project), the possibility to be in industry festivals such as PrimaveraPro (España), BIME, Connecting Countries o Música Corriente (Perú), etc, and our Ethics Committee, that is about to be created.   

We would like to connect with people in Chile or anywhere in the world that believe in our same principles and have similar aesthetic ideals, or non-corporate art forms, away from the patriarchy, racism and nationalism. We don’t want to become a platform ourselves, we want to build and be part of a more healthy and integrated world wide community, so our members shine by their own talent.

Visuals courtesy of hl-art.

This story has been published in its original version.