If you hear the term Latin hip-hop and the word reggaeton comes to mind, my sincerest condolences. Nothing about the latest Latin turntablists can be considered an over-the-top annoyance a la reggaeton’s hyperbolically blinged-out noise, but rather they’re a whole new phase of contemporary dub all-stars.
But first a brief history. Back in the late ’90s the only blend of Latin hip-hop on a national scale came in one collective sound: Ozomatli, the LA-based band that mixed funk, cumbia, rock and hip hop. Later came the dance electro-rock band Kinky. The musical turning point wasn’t until the release of the soundtrack for the Spanish indie film in 2006, La Mujer de Mi Hermano. This was a massive release for Latin hipsters pining for new music.
The result was a modern Latin sound mixing lounge, dance and hip-hop by Nortec Collective, Mexican Institute of Sound and Bitman & Roban. The latter included Jose Antonio Bravo, a Chilean DJ who released three albums including his definitive 2006 U.S debut Musica Para Despues del Almuerzo. In 2007, Bravo went solo, dropped the collaborative name of Roban (the “robbing of samples”) and he simply stuck with Bitman, the “beat man.”
Bitman and I recently talked over the phone, mostly in Spanish, from his studio in Santiago, Chile. (No Babelfish necessary: I translated.) Bitman’s first U.S. show ever takes place this Saturday the 12th as part of the ninth annual Latin Alternative Music Conference, where he’ll hit the stage along with electro-rock band Plastilina Mosh and the ever-enchanting alt-Latin songstress Julieta Venegas.
Are you excited about playing in New York?
Very excited, and anxious. It’s going to be nuts.
Since you collaborated with Plastilina Mosh on the track “Me Gustan” off your current album, Latin Bitman, will they be playing on your set at SummerStage as well?
It’s going to be a little different than what I’m used to. We have a couple of guests that are performing with me including Plastilina Mosh and Louie Vega.
What artists were you influenced by growing up?
I listened to a lot of punk and hip-hop. In 1986 my sister went to San Francisco for a year and brought me back a Run DMC album. So I just familiarized myself with all of that, like the Beastie Boys too, and started learning how to play the bass and guitar. Then I really got into learning about software programs.
With all the new changes in technology and the music industry, what’s the most exciting thing about creating music today?
The advantage about being DJ is that you aren’t limited. I can mix all sorts of things and the music never loses by mixing. There are so many alternatives to releasing music now and all of it is presented to the listener. Although music is changing, we’re not creating something new. To create something is to take from the past, like Amy Winehouse. She has this amazing sound that is directly from the past. Reggeaton takes from reggae and although I’m not a fan of reggeaton, I do like reggae.
On the latest album you say there are no samples. How is this possible?
The way it works is that I do begin with a sample, like a blueprint. I work over it by writing new beats on top of it, adding vocals, and then when it’s done, I remove the original sample. It still has that original groove but I just add to it, like reorganizing notes.
DJ Bitman performs this Saturday, July 12 at Rumsey Playfield, free.