Cheesy synths. Big Beats. Velociraptors. Venzuela’s Barrio Dance Sound Finally Gets Some Light
Take a walk around Petare, Venezeula’s biggest slum, and you’ll soon notice colorful posters at every turn bearing the words “X-Dimension” in metallic, flame-embossed fonts straight out of your Microsoft Word ClipArt folder. It’s the name of a popular soundsystem run by local dance music pioneer DJ Yirvin. Locally, it’s known as “La Bestia de Caracas,” (“The Beast of Caracas”).
“For their anniversary party they packed a club with 5,000 people,” relates Francisco Mejia, alias Pacheko, a Venezuelan DJ/producer. “5,000 people! I’ve never had more than a few hundred people come to my parties downtown. These guys are famous in the ghetto and completely ignored by the Venezuelan media. It’s crazy! But in Venezuela, there’s the barrio culture and the middle class culture, and they don’t know anything about each other.”
DJ Yirvin is part of an elite group of barrio producers who have been making larger-than-life, speaker rattling, 4×4 dance music in Venezuela since the late 90s, while somehow staying under the radar both in Venezuela and abroad. Since house music arrived and took root here, a constellation of homegrown flavors of dance music have sprung up, including the genres street house, raptor house and hard fusion – collectively known under the umbrella term changa tuki. After over a decade of being ignored, the cheesy yet delicious beats of changa tuki are finally starting to generate interest beyond the barrio, sparked by a new documentary called Quien Quiere Tuki? (Who Wants Tuki?!), produced by Pacheko’s Abstractor collective and video producers Monstro Contenidos, as well as a smattering of tuki comps and releases coming out of Europe. And it’s about flipping time.
The story of tuki begins way back in the 1980s when a culture of minitecas, or mobile soundsystem parties, developed in Venezeula. The minitecas played a wide mix of music – including Latin dance music like salsa and merengue, but they also played American sounds such as rock, disco and soul. “Ever since the oil industry started, we’ve been very closely connected to the US,” explains Pacheko. “We play baseball instead of soccer, for example. So a lot of American music reached Venezuela.”
When house records like Techtronic’s 1990 hit “Pump up the Jam” reached Venezuela, electronic music – known locally as changa – became a mainstay of the minitecas. The music enjoyed broad support, and TV stations broadcasted DJ and dance battles on shows like Estudio 92. The first Venezuelan-made hit track came out in ’99, called “Caracas de Noche,” (“Caracas at night”) a hard house track with an acidic-sounding, Crazy Frog-esque synth hook, which would become typical of the Venezeulan sound.
“Caracas de noche,” by Dj Yayo and Marvin DJ (1999)
With time, however, the Venezuela electronic scene split in two, with the posh kids in the East side hi-rises migrating towards British drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep, and the kids in the hood forging their own, uniquely Venezuelan party sound.
Various producers were pumping out dance music in the barrios in the 2000s, but the variant that has really captured the attention of the bass music cognoscenti is so-called raptor house. Raptor house was the creation of two producers, DJ Baba and DJ Yirvin. “Baba was the best from the West side, and I was the best from the East side, so we decided to work together and form a collective of producers who made changa,” explains Yirvin. For reasons that remain unknown, they called their group Raptor House, and decorated their CD-Rs and posters with a snarling velociraptor. (Pacheko suggests a reptilian connection: DJ Baba is named after a kind of Venezuelan river crocodile, for his shifty eyes). “People started to make the same kind of tracks all around the country, and the rhythm got stuck with the name raptor house,” says Yirvin.
“Pan con mortadela,” one of DJ Yirvin’s raptor house classics.
“Raptor house was around 140bpm, with kuduro-style beats and heavy, Dutch house synths,” says Pacheko. “But they didn’t think of them as Dutch house synths – they liked them because they were hard.” The music is raw and big, with a tropical, almost dembow flavor in the drums. “Before house, my genre was Caribbean music, so I brought those rhythms into the electronic music,” says Yirvin. “I always put in the Afro-Latino things: salsa, samba, etc.”
At the same time, a unique vibrant dance style was emerging from Venezuela’s miniteca parties. Teenage boys in baggy streetwear would face off in a loose-limbed, wobble-legged style with footwork that looks like it could have been inspired by a game of Dance Dance Revolution on the “expert” setting.
Elber and Danny face off in a tuki dance battle
Eventually DJ Baba and DJ Yirvin split ways over a feud – to this day they don’t talk. Yirvin began to produce a harder, techno-influenced sound he calls hard fusion. Then, around 2008, the electronic scene began to wither, partially due to the rising violence that has choked out nightlife throughout the city. Today, Venezuela has one of the world’s highest murder rates, with more people meeting violent deaths than in actual war zones like Iraq, and much of it concentrated in neighborhoods like Petare.
The violence associated with the slums is one reason why changa music became so marginalized. Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution” has egalitarian aims, but has resulted in pitting rich and poor against each other and heightening class tensions. More and more, the middle and upper class locked themselves behind their gates. Meanwhile, the word tuki (presumed to come from the tuk-ee, tuk-ee sound of 4×4 drums) began to be used derogatively about anything that came out of the barrios. “Nobody took the time to care or learn about the music, they just dismissed it as tuki,” says Pacheko.
The latest phase in changa tuki history began when Pacheko and his DJ partner Pocz, middle-class kids who were spinning dubstep and kuduro for Caracas hipsters at his Abstractor parties, looked into their own backyard and realized Venezuela was sitting on ample reserves of face-melting bass music. He began to mix classic raptor house tracks into his sets, and eventually invited DJ Yirvin to come out and spin some tunes at his events. “People became crazy,” recalls Carla Páez, one of the producers behind Quien Quiere Tuki ? “They started dancing and jumping. The music was unique, it had a hard tempo, and we all just fell in love.”
Soon Yirvin told the guys at the barber shop about the Abstractor parties, and dancers from the barrio began to show up. “Then things started getting really interesting,” says Pacheko. “We started by just connecting through the music, but we ended up all becoming friends.”
To non-Venezuelans, this sprouting friendship between social classes might not seem like a big deal, but for Pacheko and his crew, it seemed like a miracle. “It makes you realize we’re all the same,” says Pacheko. “They’re just nice guys.” They realized something special was happening, and needed to start filming. Less than a year later, Quien Quiere Tuki? was born and uploaded to YouTube with the aim of educating Venezuelans – and the world beyond — about tuki history. Since going up, the film had garnered over 100,000 views online.
Carla Páez says the response to the documentary has been really powerful. “Even in the comments, there were people saying ‘this is terrible, why are you filming this?’ and people saying ‘wait, give this a chance, let’s learn about this’,” says Páez. “There is a huge difference between classes in Venezuela . You can see it in the recent election. Half of the country supports Chavez and half of the country hates him and supports the other candidate. There is a constant fight between people over these kinds of things.” With time, Páez and her fellow producers realized that the documentary was about more than just music. “This might sound kind of idealistic, but we really hope to help a little bit to make people see that these differences are not important, and we can make them disappear,” she says.
“Tuki Love” by Pacheko and Pocz, off their Enchufada “Hard Ass Sessions” release.
For a few years, Pacheko and Pocz have been making their own, spiffed-up version of changa tuki (see “Tuki Love,” above) and helping spread the word about the sound. So far it seems to be working. Pocz & Pacheko have a tuki release coming out Buraka Som Sistema’s Enchufada label in Portugal as part of their “Hard Ass Sessions” series. Pacheko is also helping Mental Groove Records put together tracks for an upcoming compilation titled Changa Tuki Classics.
As for DJ Yirvin, he says he’s getting emails and calls from around the world every day since the documentary hit YouTube. “We’re pushing the sound, and hopefully it will be good for everybody,” says Pacheko, who says he’s committed to bringing up the real-deal tuki producers and dancers with him if the sound blows up internationally. “We started as fans of theirs, but we’ve become friends. It’s like ‘ok, this is our scene now. As long as we keep it original and Venezuelan, we want to be part of it.”
Watch Quien Quiere Tuki? below and if you like what you hear, they are offering the film’s all-tuki soundtrack for free download here.