Pier Bucci on the Traditional Roots of Dance Music

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Dig through the records of Pier Bucci’s prolific production career, and you’ll find a decade’s worth of travel in the form of track and release titles: “Moscow,” in Europe, “Morocco” in North Africa, “Machupichu” in Peru, and the Atacama EP in his home country of Chile. And this is hardly an esoteric method of nomenclature—the tracks themselves represent the sonics of each location. The sound of the Arabic oud is the melodic driver on “Morocco”, while Latin percussion and Andean flutes glue together the bouncing minimal funk of “Arauco”, named after a central region in Chile.

I had the fortune of catching up with Bucci as he was headed from Santiago to the remote island of Rapa Nui, where he was recording an album of indigenous music as part of the last leg of his two week Patagonica Tour in South America. The tour, organized by the non-profit event production company fundraising organization Parties4Peace, seeks to raise awareness about the unprotected nature in the region at the southernmost tip of Chile, which is currently under threat by plans to exploit the area for its natural resources. Bucci joined the tour from February to March as this year’s guest artist, helping to raise awareness for the initiative in his homeland.

As a producer and purveyor of electronic music, Bucci maintains that traditional music remains at the heart of even the most modern and computerized forms of dance music. “It’s not a parallel,” he explains, “traditional music is the basis of electronic music: the machines start to emulate and imitate tribal sounds. That’s why the 808 has a conga sound, and Latin percussion.” Though he currently resides in Berlin, Germany, Bucci’s indelible musical roots are linked to the traditional sounds and rhythms of South America, which are prevalent in his music. “The music I work on is completely based on the roots from my environment, I always produce with those roots. And it’s not to save the culture, it’s about being realistic from where I came. I grew up with the colors, the rhythms, the cumbia.”

Bucci is one of several Chilean producers who helped spur a musical connection between South America and Germany in the early 1990s. But Bucci’s interest and involvement in electronic music began years before in the late 1980s, while living in Brazil, South Africa, and particularly in London, where he found an affinity for the music of English electronic label Warp Records. “I was very much influenced by Warp Music from the 90s, and I met all of them, I was at all of the Warp parties. There were parallel movements in England to what was happening in Detroit and Chicago. One was talking more about sentimental and emotional music, while the other was talking more about dance music. That’s why you have people like Aphex Twin and Autechre.”

“The machines start to emulate and imitate tribal sounds. That’s why the 808 has a conga sound.”

Pier Bucci’s family relocated to Berlin around the same time as the dissolution of Chile’s twenty year dictatorship, and Chilean artists began moving back and forth between the two countries, bringing with them the sounds from the newly reunified Germany. At the time, Bucci began working out of his family’s home in Santiago, which had been known as an important activist art gallery during the 1970s and 1980s. “In that time my house was an important cultural place. Underneath was an art gallery, a very important art gallery in Chile. My father owned it. And upstairs we had the penthouse where we produced electronic music and listened to electronic music…we’re talking about ’91, ’92, ‘93.” Concurrently, artists who had relocated to Europe including Dandy Jack, Ricardo Villalobos, and Luciano, were organizing and performing in the country’s first electronic raves.

By the early 2000s, Pier began seeing success from both his own records and from his collaborations with other Latin American artists. Projects like Skipsapiens with Danieto, Monne Automne with Luciano, and Mambotur with Argenis Brito were not only well-received, but helped to cement Chile’s role in the advancement of dance and ambient styles. Through the incorporation of South American hand percussion, Spanish vocal lines, and traditional instruments into the rigid techno of Europe, Bucci and his collaborators created a uniquely transnational musical style, joining the progressive futurism of electronic music with the improvisation and ritualism of traditional music. “It’s not to say that we were the first ones to use bongos and congas in electronic music, because those are the [original] roots of electronic music. What we’re doing, influenced by these roots, is creating our own projects.”

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“And that concept results in tracks like ‘Hay Consuelo,’ ” explains Bucci of one of his breakthrough releases. The record features a warped vocal by famed cumbia singer Aldo Asenjo, superimposed onto a swinging, uptempo techno groove. Bucci reinforces the fact that all of these sounds originate in African and Middle Eastern countries. “Latin American music comes from a mix of African music with regional music and Spanish music. Then you have Caribbean music like reggae and dub, then the salsa and cumbia from the slave trade, mixed with the Spanish and the Creole…the guitar went into Spain with the Moors. It’s an invasion of African music with Arabic music. All of these are the roots of music.”

But Bucci’s rhythmic sensibilities are not so much a bridge between two cultures as intuitive tools for making dance music. His 2010 album Amigo is a perfect example of the marriage between club-ready dance tracks with a more reflective, if not ethnographic recontextualization of traditional music. “If I go to Europe and just do minimal [techno], there’s no way it’ll do anything, because they already have that. Latin Americans have all the congas and the movement, the disorder, the improvisation, the smack!. From the beginning, I knew that with this, I could arrive to Europe. And the European influence, it brings things together. German efficiency with Latin soul.”

“From the beginning, I knew I could arrive to Europe with this…German efficiency with Latin soul.”

I asked Pier if he felt that there was any connection between Chile’s current artistic output and the country’s musical traditions. “There’s a problem of identity, you know? It’s a problem in Latin America and Chile. It’s like you feel ashamed of your roots or something, and basically, it’s the most important part of music for me. I’ve explored the whole of South America—dub, reggae, Andean music, chacha, salsa, the whole thing.” As in many countries, a Europe-focused outlook dominates Chile’s electronic music culture. The successes of artists hailing from and headed to Berlin seem to promise a career for many young artists. “The tendency of emulation effects the new artists. To be a revolutionary, someone who doesn’t break the rules, but does something new…it’s evolution. For me, I’m more focused on the evolution of the context of the music than the emulation. Emulation is something that is happening a lot these days.”

As for the legacy of Latin American electronic musicians, the history is relevant and the influence perhaps even more so. “There’s been nothing new for more than ten years, we haven’t had another revolution, something that moves it to another place. We moved it to another place. From minimal, we gave life and emotions to the sounds.”

Keep up with Pier Bucci’s travels on Facebook, and look for the upcoming release from his trip to Rapa Nui on Patagonica.

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