Grant C. Dull is pushing a different kind of South American product to the world: electro cumbia, a new-school take on old-school sounds that has ignited the global underground. A former Texan turned world traveler, Dull has been in Buenos Aires on and off for over a decade. He started one of the city's top club nights, Zizek, with two friends, and watched it explode, drawing 600 sweaty dancing people a night before the joint was even six months old. Dull celebrated the one-year anniversary with a Super Zizek party, importing trendsetter dj Diplo, who returned to the States armed to the teeth with new sounds and singing Dull’s praises. Shortly after, a label was started to facilitate releases of the scene’s hottest talent, and Dull and his crew hit the road, touring South America, the United States, and most of Europe, including sets at Coachella and Roskilde. Even though he’s been perpetually touring as of late, Dull still manages his niche in Buenos Aires’s underground, with his website, Whatsupbuenosaires, drawing close to a million visitors annually and a new endeavor, FeatBA, freshly off of the ground. If the past couple of years are any indicator, this perpetually-in-the-know man might be one of the top tastemakers of 2010.
How'd you start Zizek? I was brought on board to be the promoter because I'd worked with both of the DJs, DJ Nim and Villa Diamante, my partners. [The first space] was this tango joint in San Telmo. Nobody knew it, so it had that mystique. We wanted to bring everything into the same club and mash it up, where you didn’t go and hear two hours of dubstep or three hours of electro. And we wanted to give a special emphasis to local producers. How'd the night get from a small tango place in San Telmo all the way to Niceto? The tango place kicked us out because they had their December booked Wednesdays. So I called Niceto. In the two months we were doing shows, we got a lot of buzz. The New York Times showed up. Niceto said, "We’ll open up the back room on a Wednesday night and give it to you," which they never do. Within a month and a half, we were doing the front room, bringing in 500, 600 people on a Wednesday night. What were things like when you started in 2006? It was a time when the nightlife scene was trying to get back on its feet after the fire. Not a lot of new artistic proposals were able to get out. It’s the story of throwing parties in Buenos Aires, it’s difficult. There’s so many people that want to do it that it’s hard to make any money. Through the power of the internet, us uploading music and bilingual information, the buzz got out internationally. For the one year party, Diplo came down, loved it, took a bunch of music back. That was around the time we thought we should probably do a record label. We did the first compilation, ZZK Sounds Volume 1 in 2008. Since then it’s been very fast. Six tours in 20 months. Now we’re sort of in la lucha. We’ve got all this amazing talent, we’ve got a great catalogue, we’ve got some agents, but as the music industry is really tough and we’re in Argentina, we’re just kind of like, "Okay, how are we going to make this work?" How'd you pick the DJs/musicians to be on the label? Everyone who is on the label played at Zizek and blew us away. We first heard of Lagartijeando on his Myspace page and then contacted him to play a gig. He totally killed it. Douster is the same way. He’s this French kid who was living in Buenos Aires for two years, played at Zizek, and was already messing with cumbia, dancehall, and a bunch of local sounds. You’re a DJ on top of being a promoter/manager. I am. I started in 2006. I used the club as my training ground. Sometimes I sucked and sometimes I was good. When we started touring, I became the tour manager and the promoter and chauffeur, and then on top of that, to save money I DJ. When I play, it’s a mini-showcase on the label. Since equipment -- computers, mixers, MIDI controllers -- is so much more expensive in Argentina, are you using ancient technology? Your typical ZZK producer’s studio is just like a makeshift bits and pieces of the last five years. Typically cheap PCs to start with, pirated software. The funny story about Chancha Via Circuto’s new album, which got rave reviews, is that he made it on Fruityloops in the family’s living room sharing the family PC with six brothers. So it wasn’t even his computer, it wasn’t even his house, it was a crappy PC. With headphones. And he came up with this masterpiece. Why did you stick around? Did Zizek suck you in? Zizek definitely sucked me in. Although the approach is creativity here, I have a love-hate relationship with that. When you’re working with very little budget in the underground, it can be very frustrating. But at the same time, this crew and this scene that I’ve been able to connect with is just amazing. I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of first world creature comforts for that raw, underground essence that Zizek has. When Zizek has played abroad, are there any places you feel, in particular, that the crowd really got it? We played at a social club in Paris. It was really cool because they were used to harder, faster, electronic music, but we brought this groovy, 90 to 110 bpm electro tropical Latin cumbia music. People were fucking’ loving it, going absolutely crazy. It was probably one of my favorite shows in Europe. It was cool to see this Eurocentric, super-young crowd get into what we were doing. Where do you go out in Buenos Aires? I went to Pipi Cucu last weekend, which is a great joint. Tonight I’m going to have drinks with somebody at Fabrica del Taco. Relaxed, mellow places.
Photo: Emiliano Granado