Now and Then
In the 90s, the underground dance culture in Buenos Aires began to flourish, and international DJs began visiting the city for the first time.
Something was born in the discotecas during those years, and an entire generation started dancing to the rhythms of the counterculture. One night in 1993, Diego Irasusta met Mariano Caloso a nightclub called The Age of Communication. They are now widely known as Djs Pareja.
For 15 years, the Cómeme-affiliated duo have lived in an apartment in the Congreso neighborhood. As both their home and their studio, the space is crammed. The shelves in their living room are crowded by endless rows of CDs and vinyl that cover a great deal of the music produced in the 80s and 90s. Their musical selections are careful: that same morning Mariano woke up and put on the record by the Pet Shop Boys, and Diego argued that it was too melancholy. In fact, lately both of them are starting to value silence as a method of mental purification.
Sitting on the sofa, they look at their huge musical collection and are prompted to remember that there is a long story here – the past Friday was their 22nd anniversary. And what at first seemed like a cordial meeting ended up being a relaxed conversation with coffee, humour, understanding and lots of music.
How did you go from being a pair to being a pair of Djs?
Diego: In reality we always had the urge, we always bought records, we were always fans of the music. In ‘98 we started playing at friend’s parties. But really, everything started in the nightclub Morocco in the year 2000.
Mariano: The owners were from here but the star of the disco was Alaska, the Spanish singer. She came and started an entire movement that was great. We met in ’93, but until 2000 one of us lived in the north and the other in the south, so we took advantage of our meetings to visit the capital and went to art shows, parties.
Diego: Yes, we were nourishing ourselves constantly, meeting people, we were involved in the scene of the time. But we began producing in the year 2001, when we bought the computer. In the 90s, it was much more difficult.
And what was your creative process like in the beginning?
Mariano: More than anything, playing around. Versátil, our first record, was a record full of samples. We mixed all the music that we liked from some vinyl. It was all done with a very basic program: Fruity Loops. We didn’t have equipment or anything, it was all done with this computer.
Diego: When we didn’t have a microphone in those days, Mariano recorded with a headset. In the 90s the equipment that we needed was very expensive and furthermore, we were in another situation, with little work in the era of Carlos Menem. [Music] was more of a subconscious possibility. Later we could buy the computer, and from then on it was an explosion. We spent the days making music.
And you only worked as musicians?
Is it profitable? Or rather, feasible?
Diego: Well, we are very active. We are creating things all the time. Nowadays it’s not only making music, but you also have to create news on Facebook and Twitter. Or generate new content. For example, lately we’ve been asked to do a lot of podcasts, mixes, etc. You have to do this, to continue being present, promoting ourselves. You can never sleep.
Mariano: Information moves so fast that people also forget very quickly. On the other hand, we’ve always been connected to the Buenos Aires underground and in one moment we felt that we had hit the ceiling and this is when an agency called Surface proposed to work with us, and we were able to begin to live a bit more off of the music. In any case, it’s difficult.
Speaking of profitability, how do you deal with downloads? Is it still worth is to come out with a new CD?
Diego: Recording a new record is like an excuse to keep on playing afterwards. An investment of time to later have press, dates, etc. Besides, people are starting to buy CDs again, at least in Europe.
Mariano: In fact, the situation with downloads is also different here from in Europe. Here it’s totally free. For example, when we were in the home of Matías Aguayo in Berlin, we couldn’t download music for free or get into certain things on YouTube.
Diego: I don’t see it as bad that people have to buy the music. Here it’s different because it’s really expensive. Or for things that happen to us, like that our records are held in customs because of policies that control how much you can buy foreign things online. But well, to make a record now is how it always was. For small artists like us it was never really profitability.
“In the era of Carlos Menem, there was little work and the equipment that we needed was very expensive. Later we could buy the computer, and from then on it was an explosion”
Are the lyrics of your songs autobiographical?
Mariano: Yes, experiences, things that happen to us, thoughts… or for example, the song Llegaste is a continuation of a classic from the 80s, Small Town Boy by Bronski Beat, about a boy from Glasgow that goes to London. It’s like an homage to that song. Or there’s the case of Spanish is Beautiful, which is a song that protests how Latino artists used to sing in English – or still do. We always sing in Spanish because we view it as a way to show our identity.
Diego: Besides, we read a lot and we also write lyrics about the stories from some books. We took some things from a book by Gore Vidal one time. On the topic of language, it seems that because something is sung in English it’s going to be more successful, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
Are you always looking at what’s going on abroad?
Mariano: Yes, from here quite a bit. But you also can’t forget that many of us have European ancestry, so there’s always an aspect of how to return, to look over there.
As for your style, how did the leap from electro-pop to techno occur?
Diego: In reality we were always dance music DJs, we have a lot records of minimal, techno, house, but it occurred to us to make those records more electro-pop and there came a moment in which those two things had separated a lot. So we would present those discs with a live format and on the other hand play DJ sets. This is when our audience began to divide: those that came to listen to the songs we’d always had and didn’t want to hear techno, and vice versa. This started to hurt us because the concept was not well understood and we weren’t comfortable on stage. It just sort of happened, it wasn’t very planned. This was also the time of the creation of Cómeme. Moreover, electropop had its moment, but now we couldn’t make songs like that; we are doing things that are more instrumental and “colder”.
How did you end up getting involved with Cómeme?
Mariano: We’ve known Matías Aguayo for many years, since when he came to play in Buenos Aires and we opened for him. We had a lot of friends in common and we got to know each other. Then he came to live in Buenos Aires, he was my sister’s boyfriend and we were always pretty close. He created the label and started to ask for music from his friends that produced and that’s how it happened. He threw some parties that were called Bumbumbox that they did in the street and we played a DJ set in those parties.
Diego: At first it was a type of community. There was a Soundcloud where we uploaded songs. Now Cómeme has a very defined identity that’s being copied and it’s been transformed into a type of stereotype. But when it started, nobody knew where it was going. Matías gave us some guidelines: it should rhythmic, primitive, darker, street… and that created something that kept on going. Now that’s considered to be the Cómeme sound, it’s become like a formula.
And the contacts with international artists like Tiga, how did that happen?
Diego: Because Tiga has been a big fan of Cómeme since the beginning. He put songs of ours, like Humedad, in a mix.
Mariano: One time we even played in an Off Sonár, in a party that was called Cómeme vs. Turbo. That always brought the two labels closer together. We had stuff that we’d done and we’d send it to Matías. He didn’t like it much because it was very techno and we went to Thomas Von Party, who is Tiga’s brother and he brought the label with him. He passed it on to Tiga, he liked it and he put it in the magazine Mixmag.
Diego: Last year we also did a tour in Mexico and the United Stated and we also went to Thomas’ club in Montreal. We played there; we went to the studio and coordinated to do some things together. We didn’t think we were going to do an EP with Turbo and then we came to a point where we are more techno and more electronic.
Mariano: We are thinking of doing an EP with Cómeme for the coming year. We would like to do something for the label but something different. Like something minimal, for example. Break a bit with the Cómeme sound. We always like to leave a mark on something, a surprise.
“Now some of the people that throw parties in Buenos Aires don’t understand the underground, so there isn’t a counterculture like there was before”
You have travelled quite a lot, do you have a favorite city – professionally and personally?
Diego: Well, personally for me New York was incredible. We played two shows, it’s a big city and it was good but it wasn’t “la gran fiesta”. There are good places in Brooklyn but the city is kind of past its heyday, I don’t think it’s the same city it was in the 80s.
Mariano: I remember a show in Glasgow that was great. The audience was incredible. Also we love to play shows in Mexico. They really like the Cómeme sound and when we go there to play it’s great.
Regarding what you just said about New York: Buenos Aires, is it also stagnant?
Diego: Yes, it depends. There are times that nothing is going on, it seems like a little town. On the other hand there are good things that happen, but there isn’t much of a real underground. There are parties that are great like Undertones, Dengue or Fun Fun, but there’s not much.
Mariano: In some places it’s not like a big city like Buenos Aires really is. The last most underground thing was Pulp Fiction, which was part of a generation that’s already not really around. Now the people that throw parties don’t understand the underground so much, it’s more branded, there isn’t a counterculture like before.
Diego: But for example, in Córdoba there’s the club Berlin that’s best in all of Argentina. It’s like in the big cities they’ve lost their innocence. It happened to us in Madrid, where we went to see María Minerva and we realised that there was no scene, it was isolated people and nobody knew each other. It was really strange.
Have you ever thought about moving?
Mariano: No, we are very rooted-down here. There are sporadically good things here but compared with other times there isn’t the same effervescence. Before, there was a lot more counterculture.
Diego: It’s not that it’s all bad. Now you can get married, have kids, change your name… many things are possible in this sense. And on the other hand, everything has been absorbed by brands and by politics. There are people defending the politicians, something I had never seen. We would defend the artists, not the politicians.
How did the current political situation arise?
Mariano: I try to maintain myself at the margin because I’m conditioned to do so as an artist. I think about whom I’m going to vote for and I do it, but I try to not let it affect me.
Diego: With us, it’s not that we’re individualists but we think about what each person can do with their life. I don’t pretend that a politician can save me or change my life. The media is harping on it and people are talking like crazy on social media. We try not to involve ourselves.
And, going back to the music, what was the creative process like on the last EP?
Mariano: Well, we got together with Tom Tom Clubber, we found out that he was a DJ, we started to listen to his stuff and we liked it. We all came here to make music. Then in addition we played with Thomas in Montreal. The name Multimedia was his idea, which came up as a way of laughing at the concept.
Diego: It was good because we felt very free. We mixed the songs and turned them in and they did the mastering. It wasn’t necessary to make changes, we even chose the songs that were going to be on the EP.
Have you thought of releasing an album?
Diego: I almost don’t even listen to albums. I prefer the idea of continuing to release EPs with a few songs on them. The album demands a concept, an idea that’s worn out.
Mariano: The idea of an album doesn’t interest us too much. Maybe it’s because being DJs we keep on looking for that song, we don’t listen to the whole album.
Do you prefer DJ sets or live shows?
Mariano: When we tended towards the live format, we didn’t enjoy it so much. The label in that moment proposed that we go out and play live shows and I started to study singing. We rehearsed a lot but we didn’t ever feel comfortable.
Diego: The DJ set, definitely. Besides, we improvise a lot and that’s what we most like about being DJs: being in the present. Playing live had more rules. Additionally we didn’t like it because Mariano isn’t a singer and I don’t consider myself a musician, we do everything by ear.
Do you feel that a moment will come when you want to stop doing this?
Mariano: We don’t think much about the future, at least I don’t. I always just let it take me.