As El Guincho, Pablo makes music that creates new fusions and re-wirings of existing sounds from around the world, at once familiar and dizzyingly alien. But this is not because of any desire to be on the cutting edge, not to look hip to the latest obscure discovery, and most emphatically not to merely pep up a standard indie or dance template with something spicily “other”. Quite the opposite: Pablo's musical connections and collisions are entirely because of who he is and how he has come to understand the creative process.
Two years ago Young Turks / XL Recordings released his debut album, Alegranza! to wide-spread critical acclaim. The New York Times said “Mr. Diaz-Reixa makes joyful music from an international assortment of loops and drumbeats – African, South Asian, Caribbean, Brazilian – and vocals, with free-associative lyrics in Spanish…the repetition of the loops turns from mechanical to hypnotic to hallucinatory to ecstatic as the songs barrel along.” and Paste Magazine wrote “El Guincho’s sample-cluttered, buoyant avant-pop pulls in a world-wide array of sounds to captivate passive listeners and rowdy dancers alike Now, though, there's a new element to the mix which pushes the second El Guincho album, Pop Negro, into a completely different space. Pablo came to a realisation that “what kids can do with just a computer now allows them to access frequencies that previously only the most expensive studios could get; this freedom means that every single decision is an aesthetic decision, everything you do has an effect. With that in mind, he turned to the people who had created the most note-perfect, painstaking productions in pop music: going back to the sounds of his childhood, he became steadily more and more obsessed with Spanish and English pop's mega-producers of the 1980s and 90s.
Tony Visconti, Trevor Horn, Nile Rogers (particularly his work in Spain with the band Olé Olé), Quincy Jones, Rhett Davies' work for Bryan Ferry, Luther Vandross with Marcus Miller, Babyface, Teddy Riley, Walter Afanasyev, Jerry Masucci of Fania Records, Paco Trinidad, Nacho and Jose Maria of Mecano... Names to conjure with. These were the scientists of pop who created the sound-world of modern life, and it was their sounds and techniques that Pablo applied to Pop Negro in an attempt to capture his memories of Spanish pop radio from 25 years ago. So began a quest that took in studios in Barcelona, Berlin, Gran Canaria and Madrid, but also time spent sailing Zodiacs in the Atlantic, and hours of reading biographies of the great producers he revered so as to get not just their techniques but the inspiration and feeling that lay behind the stupendous size and dazzling sheen of their productions.
With the assistance of studio legend John Gass, who worked as engineer on Babyface's work with Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey, and, unlike on Alegranza, not a single sample but every note and beat played afresh, he has made his sound as imposing as anything in – as he puts it – “the big years of the music industry”. Pop Negro is a quantum leap into something beyond “alternative” or “mainstream”: sounding as lush and plush as anything by the biggest megastars of the 1980s and 90s, with gleaming surfaces and vast echoing spaces that could fill stadia or take you on a voyage through inner space, it's still as bizarre and individual as any El Guincho material to date. Gass, says Pablo, showed him the art of creating kickdrums that sound as if they were made to reverberate around a stadium and sounds panned far out to the edge of the stereo field so, like a classic Stevie Wonder record, when listened to on headphones it places you inside a wide open space of its own. Pop Negro shows with amazing clarity the psychedelia of the mainstream and the surprising accessibility of the psychedelic.
Its combination of the sounds of the biggest records of all time and Pablo's idiosyncratic vision is like nothing else out there: Afrobeat guitars and deliriously chanted vocals straight out of the most experimentalist Brooklyn or Berlin all-nighter will be placed in a context that makes them sound as familiar and easy on the ear as a Miami Sound Machine classic; surrealist twists and turns from dischord to harmony will sound so familiar you'd swear they were a radio staple in a half-remembered past. It's a strange kind of pop magic. But as he says, tastes have become more open in just the three years since he started releasing, and are only going to get more so. “I'm always surprised by how much people are willing to listen to things that are not the standard US or UK sounds now,” he says, “but then I listen to all the amazing sounds from around the world that my younger cousins will find with a few clicks on the internet, and I realise the opening up to different ideas and sounds is very real!”
Díaz-Reixa’s road to a record deal and the subsequent recording of Alegranza and Pop Negro wasn’t the typical one. Growing up in the Canary Isles – specifically Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – off the west coast of Africa, Pablo didn't have much access to pop culture beyond a bit of 80s and 90s Spanish and American pop on the radio. Indeed he didn't have much call for culture in general, being just “a homeboy, who didn't know about much except the beach and the sea.” There was music in his life, though, thanks to his grandmother, a singer and music teacher, who gave Pablo and his siblings a strong grounding in singing and basic theory. Like so many in the Canaries, the family had roots in Latin America, particularly Argentina and Cuba, so Pablo absorbed rhythms from throughout the Latino diaspora from birth.
All this was there in the background, but the outdoor life was more enticing – and sport seemed a far more rewarding thing to pursue than music. It wasn't until age 15, when he started three years in Paris as part of a cultural exchange programme, that Pablo finally got a passion of his own for music. He was a boarder at the school he had been sent to, and felt it was even more of an self-contained world than the island he'd come from, but still he made new friends and listened to radio, and very quickly discovered France's bubbling hip hop scene. He was bowled over by MC Solaar and La Funk Mob, and quickly discovered the more politicised or Afrocentric sides of the scene, with the likes of NTM, Les Sages Poetes de la Rue, and La Rue et Le Biz all opening his eyes to the possibilities of modern technology-driven music for powerful self-expression.
He begun to make beats, fooling around with Fruityloops like a million other teenagers in their bedrooms, but this was still not a serious pursuit; his route into music production would be more circuitous. Though music was not his focus, he returned from his Parisian experience hungry for new cultural experiences, and went on to college in Barcelona. There he discovered clubs, often going alone “simply to absorb what the DJs were doing, to understand the changes and blends that they made happen and how they controlled the atmosphere” - and in his second year, worked as an intern in a studio where film soundtracks were recorded and dubbed. It was here, seeing music mixed to the exacting standards of film-makers, that he got truly hooked on the production process and threw himself into the construction of what would become El Guincho.
So there are the constituent parts of El Guincho: the blurring together of multifarious Afro-Latin grooves and pop of his youth; the cut'n'shunt attitude of hip hop that with enough force of will any combination of source material can be pushed together in pursuit of the groove; the physical kick and subtle shifts of club music; and the impeccable precision and sense of space of movie sound design. And for two albums that has served him well, creating a sound that both fit neatly with the new psychedelic globalism of major hipster bands like Animal Collective and Vampire Weekend and stood alone as completely distinctive.