Over the years, Protect-U—Mike Petillo and Aaron Leitko—have proven to be quite the crafty innovators of DIY house and techno music in D.C. Never one to stand stationary behind a pair of turntables, Protect-U’s live performances employ synthesizers, distortion pedals, and a myriad of other gizmos and gadgets to bring its sounds to life in real time. Protect-U has been relatively quiet since they dropped its 2014 LP, Free USA, released via D.C.’s Future Times imprint, a home for avant-garde dance music founded by Petillo and Andrew Field-Pickering of Beautiful Swimmers.
But this past July, Petillo and Leitko finally released Messix, a four-track EP under a brand new moniker, Ocobaya. Messix was officially released by 1432 R, another D.C.-based label home to an amalgamation of worldly dance music. Founded by kindred D.C.-based DJs and producers, Joyce Lim, Sami Yenigun, and Dawit Eklund, 1432 R specializes in Ethiopian dance music and other experimental electronic sounds, so it was an intuitive outlet for Petillo and Leitko to explore an even more expansive take on dance music, which is very evident in the vision of Messix.
Messix opens with its atmospheric title track, a delicate invitation into the brand new world of Ocobaya. “Messix” generously decorates time with mesmerizing, panning drum patterns and whirring synths to create a tranquil dreamscape. “Adult Parking” hurries into a true late-night groover with the playful pitter patter of percussion and an accelerated rhythm fit for a dance floor. Messix reaches a climax with “Karma Slap,” where it’s all too easy to feel enveloped by the hypnotic whirring and elastic, textural beats. “Quality of Life,” where haunting voices echo in the distance of an enduring groove, closes the EP with little energy lost and feels like a late night drive has finally ended with a stunning view of an extraordinary sunrise.
Due to an editing error, this article originally stated that Leitko co-founded Future Times. It was Petillo who co-founded the label with Field-Pickering.