Matias Aguayo I Don’t Smoke [EP]

[Kompakt; 2011]

Styles: polyglot electro, nu-whirl, italo disco, house, electro pop
Others: El Guincho, DJ Koze, Matthew Dear, ZZK

If there’s one thing that Matias Aguayo can never be accused of, it’s taking himself too seriously. While so many producers and DJs strike messiah poses and relentlessly preach about the limitless depth and earth-shattering importance of their sets, Aguayo is cool with languidly rocking an intimate crowd from behind a bar or even being pictured with (gasp!) ice cream running slovenly down his unkempt beard as he takes a walk down the beach.

If his public image is refreshing, his willingness to experiment is equally as admirable. As half of Closer Musik, he helped popularize the gauzy, lush, pop-minimal Kompakt sound that was so popular in the first half the 2000s, the legacy of which still maintains the label’s popularity and cred to this day. But Aguayo, ever restless and always down for tongue-in-cheek jest, decided to put his baby to rest. With his smash single “Minimal,” Aguayo tried (and essentially succeeded) to crush once and for all the idea of the sound he popularized. It was a song that was minimal in its sonic skeleton as well as Aguayo’s half-there, sardonic vocals, but reflected none of the bloated, self-important ideal of minimalism that had come to define Berlin and so many vaunted DJ nights around the world. 2009’s Ay Ay Ay was another step away from convention. As an album that was mainly constructed from Aguayo’s own voice and included a liberal amount of scatting (a gimmick that normally makes this reviewer more than a little queasy), it somehow managed to be both challenging and welcoming, at once danceable and chin-scratchingly obtuse. At a time when indie rock fans were especially open to music from the electronic dance music realm, Ay Ay Ay managed to hit the spot with its warmth and humanity.

Aguayo’s new EP, I Don’t Smoke, takes strong cues from Ay Ay Ay, but ditches that album’s extreme concept for a relatively more comfortable approach. This EP — or single, as it’s still called in the dance music world — functions as a brief hello, to DJs and casual listeners alike, ahead of the balmy northern hemisphere summer seasons of endless festivals and beach parties. Lead single “I Don’t Smoke” replicates Ay Ay Ay’s humid and cluttered feel. It’s a song full of the lazy repetition that characterizes summer in the most oppressive of climes, when cracking an ice cold beer and gaining a moment’s respite from the heat is a triumph unto itself. “Rebolledo/ Do you have a cigarette?/ No, I don’t smoke/ I don’t smoke” is the constant refrain, representing the absurd repetition that Aguayo experienced on a European tour for his label, Cómeme. The story goes that a drunken tour mate kept coming at Cómeme DJ and producer Rebolledo day in and day out, asking for a cigarette, only to always receive the same negative answer. The fortitude of that determined smoker is represented in the song’s admirable simplicity and hypnotic sameness. That repeated refrain, again iterating “No, I don’t smoke/ I don’t smoke,” will certainly worm its way into your brain. It’s so effective it could actually be used in an anti-smoking campaign.

The simplicity and no-frills approach in these songs has to do with the fact that Aguayo is a relentless touring force. They were mostly recorded on the road, no doubt on planes and trains with Aguayo deep in his seat after many sleepless hours. There’s a deceptive easiness to a track like “Dance Machine,” which serves as the other track most likely to be lifted by DJs. Among jacking beats, halfway between Buenos Aires and Detroit, “dance machine” is repeated ad nauseam. It’s a track that managed to touch a lot of bases, not just the aforementioned geographical disparity, but a temporal one as well, reflected in some definite Italo disco influences. “Niños” also reaches into the past; it’s a reinterpretation of Los Liasons Dangereuses’ early 80s cold wave/no wave classic, “Los Niños Del Parque.” Aguayo, in his wide experimentalism, is capable of existing in two hemispheres and a few decades at the same time. The inclusion and acknowledgement of this particularly obscure influence reflected something of Optimo and their penchant for sprinkling obscure Italo and early synth wave numbers into their eclectic sets, but Aguayo, always Chilean and irrefutably Southern Cone, does those Scots one better by reflecting a particularly personable South American quality.

Through his BumBumBox guerrilla street parties in places like Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Santiago, Aguayo has been championing a rather populist notion of electronic music, certainly removed from the sleek exclusionary nature of ‘minimal.’ These songs, especially the two “riddims” on this EP — which are meant to be sung over, either by Aguayo during his live sets or by the most daring (or carefree) of DJs — represent the best aspect of Aguayo and the music that he is currently creating. It’s wonderfully uncomplicated and unpretentious. These songs are sneaky, infectious, and effortlessly repeatable, especially “I Don’t Smoke” and “Dance Machine.” A new release from Matias Aguayo is always a breath of fresh air, despite how humid it might feel.

Links: Matias Aguayo - Kompakt

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