DJ Python: Travelling without moving
DJ Python is vaping, worrying and wearing a gleaming white ten-gallon hat.
It’s early May in locked-down New York City when I first speak to Brian Piñeyro.
Just a few months prior, Piñeyro, a first-generation American raised by Argentinian and Ecuadorian parents in Miami, visited Ecuador for the first time in four years. As coronavirus rapidly enveloped the world, the country was hit with terrible force. In Guayaquil, where a number of his aunts and second cousins live, residents are still struggling to contain the outbreak. “Some of my family has money,” Piñeyro exhales. “The other side is very poor. And they are really not doing well.” There’s no reprieve for him back home, either. He’s barely left his apartment in Queens, and when he does, he notices freezer trucks parked outside hospital doors.
He’s got a new album to promote but he hasn’t truly felt up to it. Everything that has anchored Piñeyro as DJ Python in the past has melted away. Touring is unlikely for a year or two, and there’s been moments where he’s wondered about the utility of making music at all. His day job at LG has remained stable, but he’s felt rudderless. Life might be easier if fewer people valued what he does. The problem is, he has captured the aching dislocation of 2020 better than almost anyone else.
© Brian Piñeyro
Mas Amable is Piñeyro’s second full-length as DJ Python. It follows 2017’s Dulce Compañia, which broke the Python alias to the world, adding it to a cluster of names the producer already had in play (Deejay Xanax, DJ Wey and Luis are either dormant or have been shelved for good). Something about the ambling pace, dembow rhythm, smeared effects and lightly toasted vibe struck a chord. His output mirrored his personality – though Piñeyro has the vibe of a sleepy dopesmoker, there’s depth beneath the surface. Both the man and the music are thoughtful, warm and intensely likeable. DJ Python quickly became a fixture with curious electronic music fans of all stripes. Derretirse EP, released in 2019, was every bit as good, drilling in that this was a project with staying power.
With a signature that feels simultaneously assertive and passive, you could say Python would be hard to pigeonhole, if he hadn’t accidentally done so himself. When Anthony Naples, who has put out Piñeyro’s records on both his Incienso and Proibito labels, needed a hook to explain DJ Python in the liner notes of 2016’s introductory ¡Estéreo Bomba! Vol. 1, Piñeyro blurted out “deep reggaeton” – which stuck. “It was tongue-in-cheek but it also did kind of make sense,” Piñeyro says over a combination of FaceTime, Skype and a cell call (the connection is shit). “I don’t like to milk it. It’s fun to mix ideas, but honestly there’s a ton of people making music like this who don’t call it that.” For the majority of his audience, the rhythm was unfamiliar enough to feel genuinely new, even if it had been an anchor for reggaeton since Piñeyro was a teen, obsessed with the powerhouse production duo Luny Tunes. “The history of music is important, but lineage is complicated. You can’t really control it, so I try my best not to overthink it.”
On the road, Piñeyro got a sense of the challenge posed by not fitting into a pre-ordained niche. He laughs about clearing entire dancefloors within minutes, as promoters would lazily pick his name from trendy festivals and then slot him to perform after, say, Shed. Having internalised concerns about playing for predominantly white and often miserably stiff Europeans, Piñeyro also initially sweated the hesitance of more traditionalist Latin audiences. It had begun to click as of last year, though: “[Audiences] get it. I’m doing my thing and maybe it’s not all the way what they’re used to, but if there’s an understanding then the party can work.” That’s how he prefers to enjoy music in the flesh, anyway: when 80 or 100 people are truly locked in, forgetting their troubles and going with the flow until daybreak. This mentality, forged at house parties and DIY punk shows, is central to his approach – even if he’s two years sober now, with sights set on a third.
Though his DJ sets often favour the time-stretching of jungle and the juddering impact of grime (alongside the odd classic from Röyksopp or Ace of Base), he has gone in the opposite direction as a recording artist. “I don’t personally think I can add anything to faster music,” he says. “A lot of new rave stuff has this retro fetish, and those records have kind of already been made. I never find myself satisfied when trying it.” Then he pauses and drops the façade with a laugh: “Maybe I’m just not very good at sound design.”
Mas Amable suggests otherwise. It makes Dulce Compañia and Derretirse sound positively hyperactive. We don’t hear a kick until the seventh minute and once we do, the tempo remains fixed until the end. Mas Amable synergises Piñeyro’s other entry point to dance music: the headsy trip of Mixmaster Morris, Boards of Canada and Kompakt compilations. It is a salve for the all-encompassing menace of 2020, soft pads and dewdrop synths ebbing in and out like the tide of endless news. It’s no mistake that the album bears the sensation of floating in the ocean and staring at the sky; bodies of water are Piñeyro’s ultimate happy place.
“Forcing up positivity is this odd thing. My own life is quite clear-cut, but life in general is very up the air”
On record, the wave crests with the 11-minute ADMSDP, a self-help seminar set to rhythmic pitter-patter that feels dumbfoundingly prescient in its topics of loneliness and numbness. Poet LA Warman, AKA Laura Warman, poses questions and offers solace throughout: How are you feeling today? Think three things about yourself that you really like. Repeat these three things in your head over and over and over. Remember how nice it feels to walk around. You can hate the world and love the people around you. You can cry and be okay. Can you say goodbye to everything in your mind?
“Laura and I met in 2012,” Piñeyro explains. “I read her poetry on Tumblr, we started chatting on Google Hangouts and made a kind of deprogramming guided meditation together. We fell out of touch but ran back into each other and started writing again.” Collaborative performances at Sustain-Release and Unsound were a success, with Piñeyro recognising the subtle power of a one-take, no-overdubs recording which can function as a complete experience to get lost in. He has felt powerless, though. Mas Amable was nearly pulled as the world lurched into total crisis, but Piñeyro had pledged the proceeds to an HIV-positive friend in need, so released it in April as intended.
Charity and community remains at Piñeyro’s core. He’s bashful about it, but it’s notable. He usually chats in an ultra-laconic drawl, couched deep in his throat and barely above a mumble. When hitting a topic that isn’t his own music though, he dramatically speeds up and speaks with acuity. He puts being bilingual in the Big Apple to use as much as possible, coaching hopeful applicants in how to attain their Green Cards, posting shifts at the food bank in his neighbourhood and assisting with jail support programmes. These topics are left to percolate as we wind up our call and agree to stay in touch.
Flash forward six weeks, and the world has lurched anew. Piñeyro is out of self-mandated confinement now, and is more buoyant in tone. He visited his local family for Father’s Day and has hit the beach a couple times in off-peak hours to surf. There are plans to build a sound system before the summer’s out. He’s enjoying the meme going round of society’s No. 1 Non-Essential Job: the artist. He’s also been busy sorting out the launch of a new record label, though the details are opaque. After a string of Instagram DMs where he alternates between calling me “bro” and “king”, and a download link to some chugging electro-dancehall hybrids marked WWUNTLD022, I’m still none the wiser. I hit up the releasee, Manchester’s riddim-happy Henzo, and extract some concrete info: DJ Python’s new label is called Worldwide Unlimited. The cat number is #022, a number they’ve picked at random, just because.
In between digital pranks, Piñeyro has returned to physical community work, and has marched as part of the protests that have absorbed NYC. He had an unsavoury experience coming into contact with Blue and White Lives Matter resistance in Middle Village, not far from his apartment. This generates a clear-eyed monologue about reallocation of police funding, the need for more than gestural change at a federal level, and “bringing light to people who are a little tapped-out and think there’s no racism in the world.” For the most part, he’s been reading and thinking. And worrying, again.
“Music helps spread communication. As an artist I can help put people on, get people shows, spread money to charity. Music is comfortable, but it still seems like a pretty good thing to do”
“What is my responsibility? I’m having trouble understanding what I’m meant to be doing,” he says. He mentions that for Worldwide Unlimited he will be splitting the proceeds 50/50 between artists and a charity chosen by the artist. “Forcing up positivity is this odd thing. My own life is quite clear-cut, but life in general is very up the air. I was talking to [Peruvian duo] Dengue Dengue Dengue about what we do and if it’s whitewashing. We’re hoping to do a co-op and donate the money to relief initiatives in Ecuador, but we’re having conversations all the same about our place in this.” So, I gingerly prod, do you reckon music is an unneeded luxury at this time?
He rejects this with surprising clarity. “A number of things in this life are technically unneeded luxuries. I don’t want to seem disingenuous: I’m engaged but I don’t see myself as an activist. Music helps spread communication. As an artist I can help put people on, get people shows, spread money to charity. Music is comfortable, but it still seems like a pretty good thing to do.”
Listening to Piñeyro say this, it strikes me as similar to the mantra of ADMSDP – an addendum to the self-help seminar, an attempt at resolution and conviction in the face of existential questions posed by this awful year. I leave the conversation feeling more optimistic than I have done in months. This stuff really works.
Mas Amable is out now via Incienso