Describe your sound in 5 words or less?
Fun, bass-heavy, tropical outer-space party.
If your music was an artwork what would it look like?
Like an old-school Colombian ‘Pico’ Sound System. In the 1960s, music produced in Africa really inspired the Afro-Colombian population of Caribbean cities like Barranquilla and Cartagena, as local DJs played African pop music which locally became known as ‘Champeta’ and eventually ‘Terapia’ (literally “Therapy”, as it had such a therapeutic effect on local communities). The Sound Systems – or Picos – through which this music gets played to this day are amazing works of art. Local artist and historian Fabian Altahona Romero makes and documents this: http://africolombiablog.wordpress.com/fotografias-los-picos-soundsystems/
Who’s your favourite artist/artwork?
I have many favourites, but here I’d like to mention Sun Ra. Not having grown up with jazz, I was unaware of Sun Ra until a few years ago, when someone came up to me after a Cumbia Cosmonauts show and recommended I check out Sun Ra & The Arkestra. I watched the film Space Is The Place and it’s been a huge inspiration in how it blends music with film, sci-fi with politics. I named my PBS FM radio show after it. I have since seen also seen his band The Arkestra several times and love their sense for spectacle. Apparently pianist Thelonious Monk reprimanded a critic who said Sun Ra was “too far out” by responding, “Yeah, but it swings.” To Sun Ra it didn’t matter where art began, and reality ended, it was all one. There was no myth behind the man, he is the myth. That is pure Cumbia…
What’s your favourite gig you have played to date?
At Fusion Festival (north of Berlin) playing to a dance hungry crowd a few thousand strong inside a former Soviet Air Force hangar. When the Berlin wall fell and the Soviets left Germany, a group of anarchists occupied a formerly secret airport of the USSR in the middle of nowhere in northern East Germany. This site has developed into one of the most amazing festivals on the planet featuring four days of non-stop music and art. Our Berlin-based label Chusma Records hosts the Salon de Baile stage there every year. Here is a brief taste of Cumbia Cosmonauts at Fusion Festival 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGXiBRV2DjA
What inspires/influences your music the most?
Mexico’s “Sonidero” Sound System culture is hugely influential in my approach. Whilst on the surface “Sonidero” simply refers to a particular DJ, it actually extends to include the whole community the DJ is part of: from the roadies to the flyer designers, to family members and residents of the neighbourhood they come from, and right down to every person on the dancefloor. In return the Sonidero DJs don’t simply mix music, but toast – or MC – the whole community. The music they play can be anything that makes people dance – especially Cumbia. Aesthetically I’m also inspired by Jamaica’s electronic “dub” music pioneers, Peruvian Chicha, and constantly evolving Africa-inspired club music.
What song do you wish you wrote?
Cumbia Sobre El Rio, written in 2001 in the Mexican city of Monterrey. The song is a meeting of pioneers in the Mexican music scene. Cumbia legend Celso Pina y Su Ronda Bogota collaborating with hip hop superstars Control Machete. It’s a song that changed the lives of everyone involved. It made a musician from previously humble origins – Celso Pina – a superstar all over Latin America, and the Control Machete producer Toy Selectah launched a solo career as DJ and producer. It also features Venezuelan rapper Blanquito Man, so is a truly international phenomenon. The lyrics are like an anthem of the myth behind Cumbia and it means to so many millions of people, especially in Monterrey. I often DJ this infectious song and it always gets a reaction. It was also in the soundtrack to the the film Amores Perros.
What part of making music excites you the most?
When you forget all sense of time and place.
What can a punter expect from your live show?
An urge to dance.
Tell us about the last song you wrote?
The latest Cumbia Cosmonauts song is a re-imagining of the classic Colombian cumbia ‘Cumbia Sampuesana’ which has just been released on the Mexican label cassetteblog.com. I’ve loved this song since hearing a psychedelic-funk version of it by Mexican 70s band Chicken Y Sus Comandos. Our version was produced inside a garage in Coburg (Soup’s Studio), and the accordion parts by Mexican musician Hernan Cortes Navia were recorded whilst on tour, on a handheld recording device in a top floor flat in Paris. I first met Hernan as percussionist for the Mexican cumbia superstar Celso Pina y Su Ronda Bogota, so it was a great honour to tour Europe with him last summer as our percussionist and accordionist, and now have him recorded on Cumbia Sampuesana.
What is the most unique/memorable item of clothing you own?
I collect unique tropical shirts, and silver items of clothing. But my most memorable item of clothing would be my white Mexican cowboy hat. It is the classic ‘Tejano’ style, and a model you see everywhere in rural Mexico, and even in cities. Every man wears one, so it’s not unique in Mexico, but here in Australia I often wear it and it always intrigues people. I wear it everywhere.
What was your worst fashion crime?
As a seven year old I insisted on wearing a white ice-cream container as a hat, and a pair of thick-rimmed red glasses (without lenses) to accompany my Dad for a walk into the centre of town. To his credit my Dad let me wear it. I haven’t really moved on from there, as you can see me wearing a silver astronaut Halloween outfit matched with blue-yellow leather safety gloves for the filming of our video clip for Our Journey To The Moon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETP5vreBBoQ
What would your dream stage outfit be and who would design it?
Jean Paul Gaultier’s silver space age outfits from the Paris Fashion Week 2014 would be a great stage outfit. But if it’s a dream it doesn’t yet exist so I’m dreaming up an outfit just for Friday nights at Jean Paul Gaultier with multitalented Melbourne-based artist Kate Geck (http://www.kittykake.com/textiles.html). I also love the work of globetrotting Mexican artist Meteoro a.k.a. Mariana Camberos (http://meteoroart.com/LIVE), who has designed outfits for other like-minded acts in the Cumbia Digital and Tropical Bass scenes including Frikstailers, Copia Doble Systema, Fauna, Bomba Estereo and Alo Wala.