When the Reader‘s music staff launched the Listener almost a year ago, we hoped that you, the great reading public, might come to see it as a weekly way to hear from your imaginary friends who always have a new band or record they’re excited to tell you about. To explain why I’m excited about this week’s record, I have to confess to a long-standing bias against electronic dance music—perhaps an unseemly attitude for a music editor to hold. But I’m also inviting anyone who feels the same way to benefit from my efforts to break myself of that prejudice.
I’m not an absolutist—over the years I’ve enjoyed Autechre, Jlin, Hyph11E, Amon Tobin, Arca, Benge, Sote, Gost, Slikback, Blacksea Não Maya, and plenty of others. I think I just don’t respond to the big swath of club music that relies heavily on a four-on-the-floor beat. That beat is predictable, and while I realize that’s one of its main strengths, I prefer to be surprised.
This brings me to my latest favorite electronic dance artist: Dengue Dengue Dengue, the masked duo of DJs and producers Rafael Pereira and Felipe Salmon, who formed the group in Lima, Peru, in 2010. When they released their first album in 2012, they were identifiably part of South America’s digital cumbia movement, but since then their cosmopolitan, omnivorous tropical fusion has continued to incorporate diverse homegrown dance styles from around Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa, among them zouk, dancehall, kuduro, and tarraxo. Most notably, Dengue Dengue Dengue have evolved to explore traditional Afro-Peruvian rhythms, especially on the 2019 album Zenit & Nadir—one of a handful of their releases to feature live percussion by the Ballumbrosio brothers.
I found Dengue Dengue Dengue with the October 2020 release Fiebre, at which point I listened back through their Bandcamp page. Fiebre turns out to be my favorite of their records, possibly because it’s the strangest and most abstract. Though many of the tones clearly originated with real-live hand drums, bells, shakers, and rattles, elsewhere digital sounds and acoustic sounds blend into each other: That’s obviously a synth patch, not a steel drum, but is that ocarina sampled or simulated? What about that pedal tone in the piano? The music rarely seems to be attempting a specific genre with its freewheeling combinations of unmoored elements—the title of track three, “Menestra,” means “stew.”
Fiebre includes a few heavily edited or manipulated vocal samples (always risky for me, given my tastes), and they nearly spoil the title track. The song’s repeated “unh,” always on the same note, consistently distracts me from the many other excellent things happening, thanks to the way our brains are wired to foreground voices (even when they’re not saying anything).
“Menestra” also demonstrates the best trick Dengue Dengue Dengue know: they can create the impression of complexity with very few elements, thanks to the tricky, slippery way those layers interact. The phasing, triple-time bass riff that comes and goes on “Alborada,” tugging your attention toward an entirely different subdivision of the pulse, is another great example. Fiebre leaves plenty of open sonic space, but it nonetheless feels full—Dengue Dengue Dengue do the same thing to the sound field that heat and humidity do to the air. v
The Listener is a weekly sampling of music Reader staffers love. Absolutely anything goes, and you can reach us at email@example.com.