Dance Steps in the Beautiful Neighborhood: On Barrio Lindo’s Fulgor

Ben Grenrock explores the electronic producer's newest effort.
By    June 13, 2019

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Notorious Berlin club Berghain and the Amazon rainforest are not exactly similar environments. The former is a concrete monolith filled with black-clad ravers, industrial techno played at DNA-warping volumes, and ice cream; the latter is 2.1 million sq. miles of jungle, filled with, well, basically the polar opposite of everything found inside of Berghain.

And yet, there are a few commonalities between the temple of techno (and, by extension, much of the Berlin club scene) and the most biodiverse swath of nature on the planet. They are both hot and sweaty places. They are both populated by human beings who view dance as an important, if not holy, ritual. The music, the cultures that revolve around these places create tends to be rhythmically driven and its impact is often turbocharged by various psychoactive substances. Neither is a space one enters lightly.

On his new album, Fulgor, Barrio Lindo superimposes these different worlds, highlighting, illustrating, and invoking their similarities to delicately fuse the sounds of urban hedonism with those of natural mystery. Drawing on musical influences rooted in the Amazon, the Andeans, and the Caribbean coast, the Berlin-based Colombian-Argentine producer takes the traditional sounds of his native continent and infuses them with the essence of his adopted home’s famed night life. The result is a species of electronic dance music that feels at once timeless and cutting edge, in which techno sounds bend into the shapes of cumbia, murga, and chocalho rhythms, and nature and technology sweat together in harmony.

Having worked as a luthier, building guitars, marimbas, and various traditional South American instruments by hand before becoming an electronic producer, Barrio Lindo has experience bridging ostensibly opposite sonic worlds. Throughout his discography he has sampled himself playing the instruments he physically built, turning his analog creations into the digital elements of his songs. His seamless integration of traditional folkloric sounds with the synthetic textures of modern electronic music is the defining characteristic of past albums like Albura and Menoko, as well as of most of the music released on the record label he cofounded, Shika Shika.

Fulgor finds Barrio Lindo continuing down the same path, but as his years in Berlin stack up, more and more of the city’s dark, industrial ambiance has found its way into his music. Metallic scrapes, twangs of springs, and ominous synths pepper the record, plunging its vibrant forest landscapes into night. Opener “Floating Ñoqui” ushers in Fulgor’s hybrid environment, texturing a woozy, polyrhythmic groove with metal creaks that sound like the groans of old wood. The thick rumble of bass and kick on “Luciernagas” keep the track rooted on the dance floor while shakers, whistles, and the other organic sounds that pepper its high end threaten to float off into the mist. Even when the album’s lightest tracks (“Perfume,” “La Luz”) revolve around vocals that seem too airy or exotic for the club, Barrio Lindo makes the beats just gritty and intoxicating enough to be danceable.

Laying a heavy downbeat under otherworldly sounds works well for Barrio Lindo on Fulgor, but he doesn’t stay complacent with that formula. On some of the album’s strongest tracks (“Sandugeo,” “Caballos”) he limits the beat to a reined-in kick drum paired with marimbas, making it sound more like the work of humans than machine, adding melodic elements reminiscent of techno and house that still fit naturally with his distinctly South American style. The shifting balance between which sounds feel of the forest and which feel of the city keeps Fulgor sounding fresh and surprising from end to end.

The style of music Barrio Lindo produces has been called by many names; Andean step, slow techno, electronic folklore are just a few of them. But regardless of what it’s called, its worldwide success has been growing over the past several years. Born in Buenos Aires and Sao Paolo towards the end of the last decade, there are now record labels dedicated to electronic folklore based in the U.S., Canada, and even Japan.

But nowhere has it caught on as strongly as in Berlin. Parties thrown by label/collective Voodoo Hop—which, like Barrio Lindo’s label Shika Shika, was founded in South America before relocating to Berlin—take over sprawling warehouse complexes to inject the traditionally monochrome color palate of the city’s dance scene with color. Shika Shika’s recent sold out event at Berghain adjacent, Kantine am Berghain, have only further affirmed the movement’s growing popularity.

Barrio Lindo’s Fulgor is the next musical step in bridging the gap between jungle and city, ancient and modern. Historically, when the two environments have collided, it’s concrete that wins out over canopy. But in a music scene that was born of urban aesthetics and desires, Barrio Lindo and his fellow techno-folklorists are reversing that flow, taking over parties with the sort of primal nature that grows increasingly scarce as time marches on.

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