“When I first heard ‘Pump Up The Jam’ by Technotronic… man, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I immediately knew that I had to learn how to make music” – DJ Baba
Long gone are the days when the periphery sat down, eagerly waiting for the Western tastemakers to let them in on what’s the cool new rhythm to dance to. Bands like Buraka Som Sistema or Bonde do Rolê have proven with great success how the infectious rhythms from the ghettos of Luanda and favelas of Rio de Janeiro have taken over the global stage, setting the tone for a new breed of producers to incorporate kuduro, baile funk and all kinds of world rhythms in their ever-widening spectrum of influences, thus paving the way for the emergence of the Global Bass phenomenon.
But that’s old news, and this brand new Enchufada column is all about the new stuff. While we all know the rhythms that pump out of the sound systems in Angola and Brazil, how many of you are familiar with the electronic music scene in Caracas, Venezuela? Local producers like Pocz & Pacheko have started to introduce the rest of the world to the wild sounds of Tuki, a high-octane synth-and-bass-heavy genre, born and bred in the barrios of Caracas after the early 90s techno and house explosion left many caraqueños hooked on those futuristic sounds. Just like the people who created it, Tuki is energetic, larger than life and 100% focused on the dance floor. After growing for more than a decade inside the impoverished suburban neighborhoods of the Venezuelan capital, it’s now starting to find its way inside the DJ booths of Europe and America’s most adventurous and globalized clubs.
Our obsession with this style has grown even larger in the last few months, after we helped making the absolutely amazing Who Wants Tuki? documentary, so we knew we had to put in our two cents on the subject. We called a few of our fellow Tuki aficionados, sent a couple of emails, watched tons of Youtube videos and annoyed our neighbors with several mixtapes on full blast. After all that hard work, here’s our guide to the crazy and addictive world of Tuki.
Very few people truly understand how much early house and techno influenced the Venezuelan collective subconscious, but phenomena like Tuki and Changa could be the key to understanding this deep-rooted connection to the dance floor. Changa is a Venezuelan slang word used to describe all styles of electronic music, both new and old. This was what was the DJs played at the minitecas, Venezuela’s version of the open-air mobile sound systems popularized by Jamaican dancehall culture, in the electronic dance music parties that would be known as the Waperós, another Venezuelan slang word that originated as a Spanish appropriation of the lyrics to Technotronic’s ‘Pump Up The Jam’ (incidentally, that was also how the Brazilian term poperô was born, although in this case it was a pejorative term to designate all electronic music).
After this early 90s house and techno boom the mainstream began to pay attention to this youth movement and several shows were created on national television to show Venezuelans this weird, energetic new culture of DJs and dancers. Shows like ‘Estudio 92’ or ‘La Tropa de Vacaciones’ ran during most of the decade and held epic dance and DJ battles, showcasing the country’s top dancing crews, minitecas and DJ collectives, who would combine every style of music from hard house to reggaeton. This proved instrumental for several of the leading changa sound systems, such as Excalibur, Maui, Explosion People and Illussion, who rose to prominence through energetic televised DJ battles (many of which are still available on Youtube).
However, this scene remained centered around the DJs and the dancers until the late 90s, when personal computers became cheap and pirated music software could be easily obtained, allowing the DJs to finally produce their own sounds (exactly what happened with Angola’s kuduristas and Brazil’s funkeiros). This concept of the dj-producer solidified in the early 2000s, when the country was undergoing major changes with the massification of the Internet, the birth of the pirate CDR vendor-scene (and illegal file sharing), and the consolidation of Hugo Chavez`s revolution almost simultaneously.
The year 2002 held a weeks-long national oil strike against the government followed by an unsuccessful coup. These tense times inspired producers like Rafael Mujica (also known as Dj El Mago, from the coast town of La Guaira), who was making tracks influenced by acid, tribal and dutch house, combined with baile funk and reggaeton that were heating up CDR mixtapes that would inspire a whole new generation of changa beatmakers.
Among these kids who grew up listening to changa mixtapes was DJ Yirvin, the son of a former DJ from the Eruption Miniteca, who grew up surrounded by the miniteca lifestyle and was inspired by El Mago to make his own tracks, fusing together dembow, reggaetón and tribal rhythms with Changa since he was 18. He would eventually meet like-minded producer DJ Baba and the two joined forces to create the Raptor House miniteca, in the midst of intense political unrest, rising inflation and record crime rates.
DJ Baba’s winning performance at the Faylan de Oro, an underground DJ contest hosted by a local DJ gear store, where the participants compete for new equipment.
After their fruitful DJing and producing partnership ended and they both went their separate ways, the Raptor House style endured as several minitecas began playing Yirvin and Baba’s tracks, which became huge in this underground circuit while being completely ignored by the media. New minitecas like La Maquina Latina rose to prominence and began calling their scene Changa Tuki, some say after the sound of the changa bass drum (something like “tuki-tuki-tuki…”), and this new word caught on as way to differentiate this particular strain of homegrown changa. Raptor House tracks, being mandatory on everyone’s DJ sets, eventually defined the style and became synonymous with Tuki.
It wasn’t much longer until people began uploading tuki dance battles videos to Youtube, eventually reaching thousands and thousands of views. The most popular ones like Petare Vs Cotiza pitted two of the biggest favelas in Caracas against each other on the dance floor and raised a lot of attention from the public, who generally associated it with the soaring crime rates and violent atmosphere in these neighborhoods. As the popularity of these videos rose, Tuki became an offensive term and a mark of social stigma, which led it to become a common word used among the middle and upper class to describe the people from the barrios. People changed sidewalks upon seeing ravers on the street, holding their bags and warning their young: “Don’t go near that one, he’s a tuki!”
The infamous tuki dance battle video between Petare and Cotiza, two of the biggest and most dangerous slums in Caracas
Tuki producers were very few and far between and the lack of media attention and growing social tensions caused the style to wither, being almost unrecognizable from the exciting and energetic movement that was being televised in the early 90s. Unless you knew how to navigate the small underground scene of the Caracas favelas, you would think that Changa Tuki had disappeared from the map, as no radio station wanted to have anything to do with this style associated with delinquency.
This is when a young collective of artists, musicians, DJs and producers called Abstractor became a part of Caracas’ nightlife in 2011, with the beginning of the monthly Abstractor Nights, hosted by Pocz & Pacheko. This became a sort of experimental sonic melting pot where all kinds of bass music, house, kuduro and the newly rediscovered Changa Tuki was played. This attracted the attention of public from all social classes, who began congregating at these parties to hear that familiar and more or less forbidden sound, which they had grown up with but was now relegated to an ever shrinking scene, fully contained inside the favelas.
Now the word Tuki is beginning to change once again as the work of Abstractor’s Pocz & Pacheko seems be ushering in a new age of Venezuelan electronic dance music, based on the foundations laid by Yirvin and DJ Baba and interpreted through a modern global-bass point of view, inspiring a new generation of young producers like Kiev and Jairomendez to make their own beats and push this growing scene forward. The British bass music scene is now a big influence, as well as house and other modern styles of electronica, which contributes to a more diverse approach to beatmaking in this age of tuki renaissance. Below are several key tracks of the movement, including everything from the classic hardcore changas that gave birth to tuki to the recent, more adventurous and bass-heavy sounds coming out of the studios of the Abstractor family.
‘Caracas de Noche’ by DJ Yayo & DJ Marvin was a huge radio hit in Venezuela in the early 90s that inspired key tuki producers like El Mago or Yirvin to make their own tracks. One of the tunes that started it all.
DJ Yirvin’s ‘Pan Con Mortadela’ is a straightforward dance track created as a homage to the tuki ravers’ meal of choice, a Venezuelan baloney sandwich. One the most recognizable tuki tracks.
Pocz & Pacheko’s ‘Zarbak’ could be considered one of the duo’s first experiments in mixing British bass music elements with tuki dance floor flair.
Enchufada’s first adventure inside the world of tuki was in 2011, when we released this infectious track on ‘Hard Ass Sessions Volume VI’.
Pocz’s solo release ‘Explótala EP’ continues to push this new vibe into the always-mutating world of bass music, claiming a spot for itself by imposing its feverish dutch-house influenced synthwork. Check out the moves on those dancers, too!
Tracks like Yirvin’s remix of Pocz’s ‘Mortal Kombat’ show us how the originators of the tuki style are embracing this new wave of producers who are fighting for the style’s acceptance.
Another recent tuki hybrid created at the Abstractor family labs and voiced by MPEACH, who incorporates several afro-caribbean rhythms and Venezuelan melodies to create tracks that are tailor-made for those unstoppable tuki dancers.
MPEACH’s tuki/global bass fusion work shines in the addictive ‘La Hora’.
‘Hay Un Camino’ (Spanish for ‘There Is A Way’) has become an anthem for tuki-lovers who oppose Chávez’s regime, being regularly played at anti-Chávez demonstrations. The author is unknown.
Jairomendez’s ‘Club Cocaine’ combines the tuki vibe with that heavy breed of modern American dubstep, assimilating even more contrasting influences inside the changa style.
The official soundtrack of the ‘Who Wants Tuki?’ documentary, compiled and mixed by Pocz & Pacheko.
Maybe we should thank hip-hop, the most popular ghetto culture manifestation in recent history. All the music genres born in the 21st century in a similar urban context, come with a dance movement attached to it. Some of them get world exposure, some remain obscure, lost in the back alleys of the internet. Baile Funk, Kuduro and Azonto were local dance phenomenons that became well known via viral videos on Youtube. Since Tuki has the same ghetto drive and it comes from the “minitecas” culture of battling, it’s easy to assume that dancing plays a huge role in the rise of the Venezuelan Tuki scene.
Since the beginning, Raptor House had strong dance aficionados creating the steps for it or with it. Young kids inspired by the music from Dj Baba and Yirvin took some classic hip-hop steps and added some house influence to it, developing a dance style that is growing faster than the beats, at least on Youtube. We all appreciate a new dance movement: it seems like it is more and more necessary for a scene to grab attention in the blogosphere, and it’s easier to do so if it comes with it’s own unique dance style. Long gone are the times of just getting a well known global music ambassador to spread the word and generate buzz around a new scene. Now things happen much faster and having kids posting videos on the internet dancing to a new beat is redefining the way new music genres are broadcasted.
In the words of Dj Baba, the Changa-Tuki dance is a fusion between the music and the dancer. They express through their body how the melody of the synths affects them, sometimes just improvising the movements. The basic Changa-Tuki or Raptor House dance steps focus on the legs – the people that dance it are of Latin origin, and they grow up with Salsa, Merengue, Bachata and other latin rhythms – which basically means that they have good footwork. Observing the way Tuki dancers do their thing, we could make a connection to uptempo dancefloor jazz dance, since the dancers rapid leg movement has some similarities with movement that also inspired house dance, combining Footwork with Jacking, and Lofting steps. We can clearly see an adaption of it in the 130/140 BPM Tuki dance, although it wasn’t contrived – it is all about expression, the body movement, the manifestation of the life of the Barrios.
THE CITY OF CARACAS
As with every music phenomenon that comes from the outskirts of big urban centers – or “ghettos” as we sometimes like to call them – to be truly understood, we must study the places where this sound flourishes, as well as the social context of the creators. It is this way with Kuduro, Baile Funk or Kwaito, and it is no different with Tuki.
The Venezuelan capital of Caracas is located in the Caracas Valley near the Caribbean coast. Being a cultural melting pot since the late XV century when the locals (some people would call them indigenous, but we hate this term) got in touch with the Spanish that brought Africans over due to the slave trade, and were then followed by a large number of European immigrants from Italy, France, Germany or Portugal, chasing the El Dorado in South America. Such a culture clash and diversity produced a hot blooded, fiery, let’s say “multi cultural” society different than the rest of Venezuela.
However, from the 1950s until the 1970s, Caracas was a safe and stable city, with a growing European immigrant population who found in Venezuela the peace and prosperity that post-war Europe lacked. But then the 1980s arrived and with it came terrible economic policies and a sudden massive influx of Colombian guerrilla refugees, who all found a new home in the already overcrowded favelas, leading to a colossal rise in violence and delinquency. The 1990s signaled the arrival of Chavez to the Venezuelan political scene, who after 14 years of presidency was unable to slow down the soaring crime rates and social instability, making Caracas one of the murder capitals in Latin America. This ingrained atmosphere of violence caused whatever nightlife there was in Caracas to disappear, making the locals refer to it as a “ghost town”.
The complex relation between Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president in power since 1999, and the United States is well known. Different political “ideologies” always clash, and Chavez is a socialist to the core who advocates Bolivarianism and Socialism for the 21st century. We did a quick research on the subject and one particular sentence from Heinz Dieterich, the first man to speak about ’21st century Socialism’, stuck with us. He claims that neither “industrial capitalism” or “real socialism” have managed “to solve the urgent problems of humanity, like poverty, hunger, exploitation, economic oppression, sexism, racism, the destruction of natural resources, and the absence of a really participative democracy. Chavez believes in the same principle and we all know how America feels about socialism. Oil, politics and crime involve all aspects of the Caraqeueños’ (people of Caracas) life, and they are absorbed, ruled by and tired of it.
Tuki is somehow the manifestation of all those social idiosyncrasies.
Another aspect of the tuki phenomenon that has captured our attention is the bright and colorful artwork that’s been a staple of the genre since its very first mixtapes and minitecas. From the DIY “anything goes” approach of the late-90s changa mixtape covers, to the vibrant modern designs by the talented artists at Mostro Contenidos, Abstractor and Design or Die, which you can see in their amazing documentary “Who Wants Tuki?”. Here is a small selection of images to showcase the aesthetics of tuki, as well as a quick explanation by Luis Itanare of this visual style, as he is one of the creative minds responsible for this colorful new world of Changa Tuki.
“Our main idea was to bring back the ‘tuki’ aesthetics, a willingness to use different colors without prejudice or restrictions and to make it all extravagant. We wanted to represent what to us is the most interesting aspect of this movement: the visual richness of the caraqueños that’s created by a constant appropriation of bits and pieces from all the different tendencies that they like, without thinking about where they come from or if they fit together, as the only thing that matters to a tuki is to have a unique and original style.” – Luís Itanare
The iconic Raptor House logo – the DJ and producing crew started by DJ Baba and DJ Yirvin – which to this day is still synonymous with tuki.
A classic example of Yirvin’s mixtape covers (which he made by himself). We especially love the “100% marmalade” warning.
Raptors! Raptors everywhere!
An example of the modern approach to the tuki aesthetic as seen on the “Who Wants Tuki” documentary.
Catia is one of the biggest slums in Caracas and the birthplace of tuki originator DJ Baba.
Petare is also one of the main slums in Caracas and it’s the neighborhood where DJ Yirvin has his studio.
How cool is Venezuela? It’s got sunglasses and everything!
MPEACH’s beats could be considered a modern hybrid of tuki, which could also be said of the artwork on her records.
DJ Baba and DJ Yirvin didn’t just define the tuki genre musically, as their trademark dinosaur imagery was picked up by the new generation of Venezuelan producers.
We remember the day when Buraka‘s own Mr João “Branko” Barbosa, came to the studio and showed us this Kuduro influenced music from Caracas. He joked and said “listen to kuduro from Venezuela” We were intrigued and we asked ourselves ‘What do we know about Caracas?’ NADA! From the first track Branko played – it was a delicious surprise similar to what we felt when we first listened to what Znobia was cooking in his bedroom studio in the slums of Rangel, Luanda. Fresh and Raw – another branch discovered in this Global-Ghetto-Bass-World-Strange-Weird music tree we absolutely love.
In the years since ‘Arular’ and ‘Piracy Funds Terrorism’ where MIA, Switch and Diplo showcased what would be know in the lack of better term as “Ghetto Bass Music”, we witnessed the rise of multiple dance music genres from non-obvious cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Luanda, Monterrey or better known places like Lisbon and Baltimore that somehow remained under the radar for a long time, until we had this global ghetto thing step to the forefront of dance music and gather attention from the media seeking the “new” and the “next”.
Its community is more like a bunch of nerds connected via social networks, a movement of people moving towards a common musical goal more than an actual movement per se. Tuki brought light to a city and group of creators that are forging a new cultural identity for a country in transformation in this digital era. We can thank Youtube and the DJ culture that manages to always bring more than just beats or home videos. You can now find their work on the dance floor, radio, podcasts and blogs of global instigators such as Toy Selectah, Addison Groove, Eric Rincón (3BallMTY), Generation Bass, Mixpak Records, Diplo, DJ Deville, Buraka Som Sistema, that not only welcomed the Changa-Tuki but shared it with the world.
Special thanks to Francisco Mejía, Luis Itanare, Juan Manuel Acosta and all the people at Abstractor, Mostro Contenidos and Design or Die for their invaluable help in the making of this article.