For the gentlemen of Sub.Culture, San Antonio’s newest electronic music collective, the experience of being up on stage with a bag full of tricks provides the opportunity for imagination and creation to meld together in synchronistic sonic sensations.
The collective is comprised of Ernest Gonzalez, Nick Ruiz, Xavier Gilmore, Aaron Pena, Adrian Rivera, and Josh Lucio a.k.a. Fourhands, who are producers, players, and proclaimers of the electronic groove. The group most recently shared their music at Dreamonoid’s Arcade, and will start their First Saturday monthly residency at The Mix on Saturday, July 2.
Producer and musician Gonzalez, known for his independent work and that with Mexicans With Guns, has just released his eighth studio album, Dreaming In Color. His tune, Seafoam, can be caught on the Sub.Culture’s second album, Sub-Culture Vol. 2. The album showcases the artists that play a major role in the collective’s effort, many of whom will be featured at The Mix each month.
While you can see each DJ individually, they will be coming full force at The Mix with tag team sets on synchronized computers and live 808 drums programming. Gonzalez will be on the DJ booth and producer Starfighter Dreams will lay down his music through an old-school Nintendo Gameboy. The collective stretches the limits of what’s possible and goes at it with the tenacity of a big-wave rider searching for that monster break, only their waves are sonic.
While catching up with Gonzalez, Ruiz, and Gilmore at the Eastside’s Burleson Yard – which was playing electronic music at the time and is primed for such a musical collaboration – a light shined bright on the future of their work.
“I think we’re at a good time for electronic to (evolve into) something new,” Gonzalez said, referencing what he called “the 80s big hair phase” of electronic music where people have lost touch with the music. “I feel we have maxed out in the digital age and people are looking to return to their roots.”
Many debate about what it takes to be an electronic musician, but Gonzalez said he uses many of the same composition and performance facets when he’s creating and presenting his art. Music training programs like Ableton allow Gonzalez and the Sub.Culture crew to store myriad beats and clips that are then brought to the table alongside real-time instruments, creating a dynamic effect.
“Electronic music has always been a genre where experimentation is the most exciting factor,” Gonzalez said. “The closest comparison for someone who doesn’t know what’s happening is Photoshop. Layers can be put together on a real photo, but technology is the main tool to make it happen.”
Gilmore believes there are a lot of myths surrounding their craft, and wants to debunk them.
“There’s a strange theory that we just go up and press play,” he said. “We still have to be on beat, feel the crowd, know when to go up to 160 beats per minute or stay at 80. This keeps us connected.”
All of the guys referenced jazz music as pivotal in helping them understand the improvisational element of electronic music. They mentioned artists such as Thundercat and Flying Lotus as inspirational, groups who helped build a bridge between jazz and electronic.
“How do you introduce new ideas into the sounds of today? It’s just like starting with free jazz and going into be-bop,” Gilmore said. “Would Cecil Taylor not use this kind of technology were he creating today? I believe he would.”
Gilmore also riffed on the role that live musicians have in creating the music. He mentioned wanting to transition away from computers and turntables to use newer equipment like drum machines and live artists.
“People can record it all without musicians, and then bring them out to play it live,” Gilmore said. “It’s that human hand in the work.”
Ruiz lives by a similar sentiment, and works to integrate his own touch with instruments while constructing his tracks.
“When I’m producing, I play the melodies like a keyboard, try to keep it as raw as possible. I want it to have that human feel,” he said. “You can program it to sound perfect, but I keep the mistakes, as if it was live.”
Ruiz loves integrating his environment into his music. Some venues like Alamo Beer Company or Dorcol Distilling have stages right next to railroad tracks, allowing room for creativity and improvisation.
“There is a lot of improv going on when something spontaneous happens, like a train goes by, and I’ve derived tracks from that,” he said. “You try it out while you’re there live, not knowing what’s going to happen next, and sometimes it becomes an awesome new song.”
Gonzalez called it the “Wu-Tang effect,” where the success of one individual positively impacts another. Ruiz echoed the idea.
“Motivation was the biggest thing for me coming into Sub-Culture,” Ruiz said. “After I hear Ernest’s new track, I want to build my own. It pumps me up.”
Top image: Nick Ruiz is one of six DJs in the Sub.Culture music collective. Photo by Daniela Riojas.