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Local DJ duo the Maracuyeah Collective recently returned home from a brief tour in Mexico, and tonight, members DJ Mafe and DJ Rat throw themselves a homecoming party at U Street club Tropicalia. They’ll be joined by DJ Marcelo C., a New York City Latin disco and pop DJ who mans the Rico Suave party at Fontana’s. This will be Maracuyeah’s final party for 2013, as they are going into “mini-hibernation” until 2014.
Mafe and Rat talked to Arts Desk via email about their Mexican experience—-which involved playing an 8:30 a.m. afterparty and drinking tons of pulque, an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of agave plants.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Washington City Paper: How did you Mexican tour come together and what cities did you play?
Mafe: Thanks to our parties here in D.C., we have built relationships with DJs across the country and the world. One of them is Ali Gua Gua of Veracruz, Mexico (now living in D.F., aka Mexico City). Ali is the singer of Kumbia Queers and a respected DJ who has been part of the rock and cumbia scene in Latin America for more than a decade. We invited her to D.C. as headlining DJ for our two-year anniversary reventón (throwdown) and after this show she invited us to come and play in Mexico. We played in Metepec (Toluca), DF twice, and Cholula (Puebla) twice.
Rat: Going to Mexico was on our wish list for the year, and with Ali, there was a mutual DJ/organizer respect that was felt for doing parties and creating atmospheres with a specific ethic of cariño, or love. Ali was on the tour with us for all but one date, and at first it was set up for her to open and then we played later, but we soon changed it up to be more tag team—-rotating every 30 minutes or hour or so. More flavor that way… more fun. It was pretty awesome working and playing with Ali. She has a lot of experience touring and we definitely benefited from that [instead of] organizing our own tour with individual promoters. She was creative and dedicated about meeting expenses and getting us fairly compensated, and it was great learning from her about booking a sustainable tour. Ali has built a golden network of venues, organizers, friends, and music lovers. She also played the guiro and sang live at all shows (including a lo-fi rendition of the Kumbia Queers tropindie anthem “Kumbia Dark” that brought down the house).
Finally it was really exciting to meet people in Mexico and hear that they know D.C. for its music, arts, and activism movements—-more than that White House stereotype we run into sometimes even when travelling around the United States. It was exciting to represent D.C.’s vibrant tropical underground on this tour and hear recognition for our city.
WCP: Were your sets similar to what you would spin here? What percentage approximately cumbia and what else?
Mafe: In the first party, we took [our] cue from the first DJ and adjusted, but yeah the music we played was very similar as what we play here. We did add way more cumbia though. Cumbia is queen in Mexico.
Rat: Yes! In between we put other sounds within our tropical taste range from electroDembow (like La Delfi y La Insuperable), to ISA GT, to throwback pop like Natusha. We played about three to five hours a night. One of our sets was at 8:30 a.m. at an afterparty. Mexican crowds we met had some serious stamina—-and we often danced till dawn.
WCP: Did you add Mexican music to your sets? Tribal (aka 3ball) from Monterey? Are you interested in Ruidoson from Tijuana or updated traditional narcocorridos or Mexican indie or pop?
Mafe: We love tribal and ruidoson—-its part of the reason we love Mexico from afar, but on this tour we found out this crowds were more cumbia than anything else, with house as a distant second. 3ball didn’t go [over] very well unless it was a song that the crowd didn’t find too tribalish (like Capitan Planet‘s remix of Ana Tijoux‘s “Shock”).
Rat: On our Thursday gig, it was very open crowd that was open to dancing on the bar to many different party sounds, and we played a lot of indie, kitsch pop, and classic Mexican hits.
Mafe: Our biggest hit was a DJ Kue 3ballish remix of “La Puerta Negra,” originally by Los Tigres del Norte.
Rat: Singalongs were received very enthusiastically too. But dancers were also willing to go with a big range of the unfamiliar as long as it was followed up by doses of cumbia.
WCP: Mexican drug violence gets lots of media attention here. Were you in any places where you saw heavy police presence, gated communities, or [drug-related] graffiti—-or had talks with people that reminded you of this difficult subject?
Mafe: Mexico City is heavily policed. We did have conversations with folks who mentioned they have moved to the center of Mexico because it’s safer, or some of their friends have been killed. We were also reminded that you have to be careful, but our friends there commented that many parts of the country also feel very safe.
Rat: I think we saw a common resilience in the people that is familiar to us from home too.
WCP: DJ Rat, you had mentioned to me something about one party where people were making hand gestures to you way up high in a DJ booth. Can you tell that story?
Rat: If DJing is a feedback loop of energy with the dancefloor, the Mexican crowds we met were more than happy to participate. Both at gigs where we were high above the dance space, or right on the floor (and had to invent dance moves to protect the equipment from getting toppled by hyperactive crowds), people let us know how they felt about the music. Hand gestures like making heart shapes out of their hands for songs the liked, or a “keep it moving” finger move to request that another song (any song!) be put on. There was also a lot of cheering, awesome group dance moves (circle versions of soul trains), requests made in creative ways (written on a napkin, texted, passed through a friend, mouthed over and over from the dancefloor)… and then we also saw a few good romantic connections emerge on the dancefloor from the music we played, which is always a good sign to us.
WCP: Have you ever played outside the United States before?
Rat: I started DJing in Lima, and play every time I go back to visit (a couple of times a year)—-many times organizing parties with DJ Flakita down there. Mafe hadn’t yet—-this was super exciting for us both.
WCP: When not working at the parties, did you get to see and do interesting and fun stuff?
Mafe: [We went to the] Mexican Anthropology Museum—-it was massive, so much information, and left us with more mysteries than answers about the Aztecs. Fertile ground for more investigation!
Rat: Pulque runs. If you haven’t tried the drink of the Gods in Mexico, you missed everything. Soothing on the stomach, just a hint psychedelic, delicious in every fruit flavor. Pulque was our guide on the trip.
Mafe: Tacos non stop. Ali took us to the underground joints.
Rat: We enjoyed “deep Mariachi” songs, performed by the roving Los Maestros in Plaza Garibaldi. We couldn’t get enough and went back to listen and sing along till dawn on our last night.
The Maracuyeah Collective and DJ Marcelo C. play tonight at 10 p.m. at Tropicalia, 2001 14th St. NW (enter on U Street NW, downstairs) . $5. (202) 629-4535.