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Credit: Jazmin H (@_hashis_)

Recognise: Regal86

Monterrey, Mexico producer and DJ, Regal86, has made a splash with his prodigious release schedule and wide stylistic range. Alongside a thundering techno mix for the Recognise series, he speaks to Michael McKinney about relishing imperfections, coming up in the local underground, and the parallels between car customisation and his ever-evolving sound

Regal86’s tour rider is, all things considered, fairly minimal: he wants a pair of high-quality monitors, some water, and a few snacks for the road. If you’re planning to book the Monterrey, Mexico producer and DJ, though, make sure you’ve got a few disposable cameras available. On his recent tour, he’s been using the bright-green Fujifilm QuickSnap Flash 400, snapping pictures of his travels. “If I want to take a photo to show my parents, I’ll use my iPhone,” he says, “but I like low-quality photography too.” Eventually, he plans to compile these photos into a book or a film. It’s his way of documenting what has been a particularly busy chapter in his life, which has seen him hopping behind the decks in clubs across the globe: London, Barcelona, Paris, Dublin, Toronto, New York. But it’s also a celebration of detritus and imperfection. To Regal86, the grit matters.

At this point, Regal86 is best known for his dancefloor material, with a catalogue that runs the gamut of dance music idioms: white-hot jungle, dimly lit Memphis rap, fleet-footed hardgroove techno, brain-bending juke, skull-cracking gabber, shoulder-rolling house. He’s become something of a sensation in the past few years thanks to his prodigious work ethic and stylistic range; his sets, which often run north of six hours, vault between genres, styles, and moods with ease. Again and again, the connective tissue is those rough edges. “I like when there are little mistakes in my tracks,” he says with a smile. “We’re not robots. My music isn’t perfect. But it has something that makes you want to hear it again.

In conversation over coffee one evening in Minneapolis, Regal86 — who prefers not to share his full name due to visa concerns — is generous and thoughtful, pulling out maps on his phone and jumping between timelines, unfolding his histories and tracing them back towards the present. Before he found himself staring down months-long touring schedules and uploading hundreds of tracks to his Bandcamp page, he was just another kid growing up in Monterrey. When he was a teenager, a friend passed him a CD of local rap music, and it lit a spark that burns to this day. He’d heard rap before — this was around the turn of the century, and MCs like Snoop Dogg and Eminem could be heard blaring from passing cars. But this sound was a bit different: its musical DNA hewed closer New York than LA or Detroit, but its lingua franca was born in the heart of Monterrey’s underground.

Once he got a computer of his own, Regal86 grabbed a copy of FL Studio and went to work, making boom bap beats for his friends to rap to. He dug deeper into hip-hop, diving down rabbit holes on a nascent YouTube and finding the sludged-up sounds of Memphis rap. “Southern rap was slower [than New York or LA rap],” he says. “The BPMs were perfect for club music."

His budding interest in production found a grim companion in 2010. Monterrey was hit particularly hard by the Mexican drug war, which reached a bloody peak right as Regal86 came of club-going age. He holds no illusions about this side of his life growing up. “Being outside wasn’t safe,” he says. “I went to school, to work, and to my house. I didn’t go to parties; I didn’t go to other things outside.” Cooped up in his bedroom, he dove deep into his DAW, finding his way towards a fusion of zonked-out Memphis hip-hop and low-slung breakbeats, producing beats at a staggering clip.

Regal86’s monastic approach to production proved prophetic. Even after he enrolled in university, he made music whenever he could. (Over a decade later, this still holds; in 2019, in an on-the-nose testament to his work ethic, he released ‘Delayed’, an EP of tracks recorded during a five-hour delay at the Guadalajara airport.) A friend offered to master his tracks, but he made new material faster than it could get processed. Regal86 ended up taking to SoundCloud and Instagram, sharing deliberately stripped-back beats to build his online profile. Slowly, with one grainy instrumental after another, he was building a universe, straddling the lines between Memphis hip-hop, Chicago footwork, and mid-’90s jungle, each drum break coated in a thick layer of dust.

Regal86 sitting on a small chair in a room next to a window
Credit: Jazmin H (@_hashis_)

To hear Regal86 tell it, it was only a matter of time before he got involved with dance music. After a friend invited him to DJ a party in Monterrey, Regal86 pulled up YouTube, searched “how to play a Pioneer mixer”, and gave it his best shot, spinning nocturnal trap and high-speed breaks. By his own admission, it wasn’t perfect, but it was something. That night led to an invitation to a club downtown, where he proceeded to bring his underground stylings to an audience more used to Drake and Top 40 hip-hop. As he got deeper into DJing, his sound started to change, broadening in scope even as he further refined his aesthetic. “My music was good for sets, but it was too slow for the end, and it would be tiring for warm-ups,” he says. “I started to make a lot of genres: house, garage, jungle, techno, breaks.”

This versatility is perhaps best displayed on his ‘Unearthed’ releases. They’d be impressive for length alone: the first volume runs a hair over six hours, and ‘Unearthed Vol. II’ runs an hour longer still. But it’s their range and sheer dynamism that pushes them over the top. Regal86 is best known for his techno productions, which split the difference between Detroit machine-funk minimalism and the layered shuffling of early ’00s hardgroove, but these releases show him widening his scope more than ever before. As much as he loves techno, he bristles against being pigeonholed so easily. “I like to teach my listeners,” he says. “I don’t only do hardgroove. I try to keep a vibe, but I don’t care about what genre it is.”

These compilations are meaningful in another way, too. After he released ‘Unearthed’ in 2021, after years of DJing and producing, he quit his day job to focus on making music full time. “I showed my parents,” he says with a glimmer in his eye. “I said, ‘I made so much more than my paycheck with just one release.’” It took his parents time to come around to his new work, but they got there recently. “They didn’t believe that I could pay my bills and buy my food with my music. But now they do, and they understand that I’m happy. Fifteen years ago, I couldn’t have imagined this.”

Regal86 takes his handle from the 1986 Buick Regal, a car prized by automobile aficionados for its customizability. His record covers, taken as a whole, act as a monument to car culture: wrenches and wheels and gleaming chrome, drawn in as many styles as there are models of lowrider. When he’s got a disposable camera in his hands, there’s a decent chance he’s out on the street, photographing rims that catch his eye. “I like the process of [customisation],” he says. “I like when people buy old cars and make it a project: [getting] new wheels, pimping the motor, pimping the paint and the interiors.” 

He’s talking about automobiles here, but you’d be forgiven for mixing up the metaphor. His music, whether it’s bass-heavy hip-hop, steamrolling breakbeats, or rib-shaking techno, sounds at home on subwoofers; its construction — umpteen seemingly disparate parts working towards one goal — isn’t unlike a well-oiled machine. He’s been building his own apparatus for over a decade at this point, pulling out old parts and swapping in new ones at his leisure, and he seems content to keep tweaking the motor. In the next few months, he’ll tour Europe, culminating with a slot at Dekmantel 2024. Beyond that, he’s looking forward to taking a moment to breathe. He doesn’t fully know what’s coming next, but he seems content with that. “We never know what the future holds,” he says, “but I’m gonna make music until the last day of my life.”