A few months ago, Tobias Rochman went raving in a Montreal sewer. The “guerilla style” gathering saw hundreds of ravers climbing into the city’s underground tunnel system, to dance under its (impressively professional) light rig, to the sounds of local DJs, all powered by a single generator. It looked like something out The Matrix, he says, except “without the CGI”. “Real end of the world raving. I felt deep love for our city that night.”
Pelada, the rave-punk duo Rochman makes one half of alongside vocalist/songwriter Chris Vargas, feed off the rabid energy of such a party: off the febrile energy found in the underground, the protest it symbolises, and the contradiction in gleaning hope, love and joy in a sewer at the end of the world. It’s an energy that is echoed in their 2019 LP, ‘Movimiento Para Cambio’ on PAN. Translated as ‘Movement For Change’, the pair’s debut album fuses Rochman’s lucid, hardware-focussed house, techno and electro foundations, with dembow rhythms and Vargas' fierce vocals. Confronting topics like power, masculinity, gender dynamics, capitalism and global corporate domination, all with razor sharp, acerbic delivery, ‘Movimiento Para Cambio’ is a vital and contemporary addition dance music’s punk canon.
The duo formed six years ago, unsurprisingly out of the DIY, after hours rave scene in Montreal, and have developed a loyal, cult following both locally and further afield for their incendiary live shows and anti-establishment ethos in the face of gentrification.
“[When we started the project] there were four to five parties on any given night,” Rochman explains. “If something got shut down everyone just moved to the next one. I remember thinking at the time that it wouldn’t last and to enjoy it. Something beautiful happened at that time where people started loosening up. A few years ago with the 375th Anniversary of the city, the cops did their best to ‘clean up the city’, which meant aggressively busting everything. We’re now moving into a new era with intense gentrification and a city known for it’s empty affordable spaces has entered a housing crisis. At the same time the appetite for electronic music is probably bigger than ever, supported by cultural institutions like MUTEK, but also the underground, which will never be defeated. People have likely been attending after hours in Montreal since prohibition in the 1920’s. So some things just never change."
The liner notes for the album read ‘ABRE TUS OJOS, LA BESTIA SE ALIMENTA DE LA EXPLOTACIÓN’, which translates to ‘OPEN YOUR EYES, THE BEAST FEEDS ON EXPLOITATION’. Listening to the record, the message reads like a glimmer of hope and community in the midst of the rage and isolation.
“I think basically we’re all convinced that not a lot is possible but it’s really the biggest lie,” Rochman says. “We’re trained by our electronic devices to just fiend for little controlled doses of dopamine and perform our lives for people in a daze, and serve the economic interests of the 1%. People are feeling alienated and isolated, with a deep profound and growing anxiety and fear.”
“The real trick is your life is so valuable, such a gift and you can do so much with it but you are convinced otherwise. It takes courage to show up for yourself. We need to show up for each other too, and build a coalition between different exploited groups as we share a common enemy. [The liner note] is just an acknowledgement of people and their struggles and a small wave to them. Let’s recognize each other.”
Looking at Montreal’s underground scene, Rochman points to the likes of Marie Davidson, RAMZi and Softcoresoft as Pelada’s contemporaries in hardware driven electronics, but notes the sea change in technique that is taking place within the scene. “I would say there are lot more DJs now than producers or live hardware acts,” he says. “But you see artists like Dregqueen being passed the torch. Korea Town Acid from Toronto is holding it down for Canadians doing the live hardware thing.”
The past year has also seen Rochman, and subsequently Pelada, develop a new, deeper relationship with music, which has naturally fed into their live performance and production.
“There was something about this year where my connection felt deeper,” Rochman says. “I’m starting to be able to express my feelings through chord choices and voicing instead of just relying on the familiar built in aesthetics of the equipment. I find myself ripping out the CV cables on my 101 and just playing live during concerts which is a good feeling of freedom.”
“Music is really the love of my life,” he continues. “The more I learn the more I am able to express and communicate. I really feel like we are just starting to come into our own power. I’m proud of our album because it almost killed us to make it, the live shows have never been better and we’re constantly unlocking new levels to what is possible. We couldn’t make our LP perfect but we could use it as an opportunity to at least say and express something. The difficult decade was winding down and we just felt like after years of advocating for these issues, it was.”
Looking ahead to the rest of 2020, Pelada have a lot of touring scheduled, with the pair setting off for Europe in March with sets lined up in Portugal, The Netherlands, Italy, France, UK, Russia, Belgium, Estonia and Sweden. “In April we’ll return to Montreal for a party with Neo-Perreo artist from Argentina called Chanty OTM,” Rochman adds. “Then we’ll spend May touring the USA again and in June head to Spain for Primavera 2020. We’re very blessed to have work right now, so we’re showing up when people reach out.”
In the meantime, Pelada have stepped up with a Fresh Kicks mix Rochman describes as “messy, unique, creative, expressive, fun”. Those words feel like an understatement when describing the technicolor, experimental frenzy that these 47 minutes offer: from its injections of happy hardcore, garage and high-def jungle to its syncopated rhythm experiments courtesy of club music’s most exciting figures. Not only that, the mix also represents that sense of optimism and light that Pelada time and again prove can be found in chaos. You don’t even have to get into a sewer to hear it.
“It starts with a few minutes of light trolling to thin out the non-believers,” Rochman jokes. “I wanted to take a bright optimistic ‘fight for the future’ message using some overstated happy hardcore idealism but make the listener feel the anxiety and horror of 2020 and the gravity of the current moment. Subtly forcing the past to reckon with the present. I tried to give the listener the sense that something is not right, using glitches and siren sounds just jamming live on top of existing recordings to achieve this, adding scary pads and chopping up parts to make it sound like a chipper malfunctioning robot.
“It is followed by a sketch of a beat I was working on that morning that I felt worked well enough to merit being included. But then I wanted to have an eventual bigger pay-off of just some excellent more contemporary things I’m enjoying right now like cuts from the new Circadian Rhythms comp and the new Couvre Chefs comp from last month, mixed with artists we’ve played with recently like Slikback and Crystalmess. Some more happy hardcore absurdity, painting with bold over the top colours then mixed into a Belgian classic remix of Robert Miles as a life preserver. This is followed by me testing out our new recording interface with some improvised one take acid stuff that kind of resembles the riff from the Stooges ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and then finishing with an acid remix of the last tune on our recent LP I made quickly for the mix because their were some new chords I wanted to try.”
Check it out below.
Last track that blew your mind?
Sully ‘Vérité’ (Check the mix)
Last film you watched?
“Uncut Gems. I took five second piece of the trailer and borrowed and sped it up to intensify certain points of the mix because it felt like it had a pleasing Hollywood-ASMR quality to it. I put a choir on top to give it an extra lift”
Last DJ that blew your mind?
“Honeydrip is a Montreal DJ who the world should discover. Lately, every time we play locally we ask her to join the bill because she is just the best”
Favourite album to relax to?
“Miles Davis ‘Sketches of Spain’ (I don’t relax to club music ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)”
“Organized Noize or Source Direct probably depending on the mood”
What record is top of your wishlist?
“Pisces ‘Datura’ EP”
What's the best club you've played at?