If you asked me whether I knew many Mexican artists, I would probably answer ‘no’. Yet, ironically, Ritualz (a.k.a Juan Carlos) was a one of the first contemporary dark electronic artists that opened up the current experimental ‘internet’ music landscape to me. For me, that makes him kind of a big deal.
Now he has a started netlabel Maligna, which showcases a wide range of unique and challenging artists who question gentrification, as well as cultural boundaries. Damn, was I pleased about getting the opportunity to ask him some questions about creative enterprise, the artistic collective Negative Youth, the scene in Mexico and his plans for the label’s future.
Press Gang: How did Maligna begin and why?
Ritualz: Me and two other guys started a website a couple of years ago called negativeyouth.net. We just blogged about cool music and threw parties every other month. Many local acts played those parties and they’d be featured on the site whenever they put something out and everyone just sort of became friends. Late in 2011 I asked some of them to make a remix for one of the two Korn tracks featuring Skrillex. There was a remix contest going on so stems where available on a website. The winner would get to DJ as an opening act for Korn. That was super lame but having the stems I wanted to remix one of the tracks myself just for fun and then I thought I also wanted to hear what other local people would do with the stems […] we put that out as a compilation on the site for free in January last year. Then the summer after we wanted to make another comp so I had this idea to make one with Mexico as a theme. Anything Mexico: politics, food, whatever. 2012 was a very political year in Mexico with the presidential election and all that shit so a lot of talented people liked the idea and they started working on the songs. Then I thought it’d be cool to release it under a label not just on the site as another post. I had always wanted to start a label and have been releasing my own stuff independently for a couple of years so when the time came to release the compilation we did it on MALIGNA. Then I knew some people were working on new music so I just asked them if they wanted to put it out on the label and that was it. It’s been 7 months and we have 9 releases, all digital and free. It started as a netlabel but we’re making physical releases pretty soon.
PG: What does MALIGNA actually mean?
Ritualz: ‘Maligno’ means malignant, which means prone to do evil. The most common translation for evil would be ‘Mal’ or ‘Malo’; ‘Maligno’ implies something darker for me. [I] like that it’s a word religious people would use, I guess. True evil. ‘Maligna’ is the female form. It sounds catchier and even cooler that way. Girls are better too. The label’s not evil or even about dark music exclusively but I like dark stuff and that word really stuck with me. Also I wanted a Spanish word cause the label is based in Mexico City and was kind of tired of using English names for everything.
PG: What does the label itself stand for?
Ritualz: Fresh music. Trying to help artists get noticed. I feel everyone in the label is doing really good and interesting stuff but getting noticed is hard and having a label, even if it’s this small and new, behind you can help a lot. And DIY. And destroying stereotypes about Mexico, I guess.
PG: What is the label hoping to achieve?
Ritualz: Just trying to help artists get noticed but also let people know music in Mexico is as good as anywhere else. Half the releases so far have been by Mexican acts, the other half by Americans. I wanted to focus on local acts but Mexico is a weird place for this sort of electronic alternative/experimental stuff cause it’s just starting and then I find stuff online I just can’t resist putting out like Brite Aid or Digital Latex. So yeah, I guess the goal is putting out great music and help the people making it get noticed.
PG: What is Negative Youth?
Ritualz: That’s hard. We have the site/blog, we do monthly parties, we have MALIGNA, we book foreign bands in Mexico City and it’s also a Tumblr. It’s just a group of people trying to do what no one else is doing here, I guess. Always with a focus on weird/alt electronic music, the Internet and the culture around it.
PG: How do you feel the Mexican underground differs from the rest of the electronic music world?
Ritualz: I hate to think about it. To be honest most people in Mexico are really close-minded and/or ignorant in regards to music. Most people are content with whatever they are shown on TV, the radio or whatever. The ‘cool’ stations and magazines cover shit that was cool maybe 8+ years ago in a first world country. Massive festivals happen every year here but the line-ups are like a bad version of Coachella 2005. It’s pathetic. Everyone’s still into indie rock. The hipsters, which are the people into electronic music, still listen to Dim Mak or Mad Decent at best. Then 99% of music fans will never ever support a local act just because they’re local. It’s ok to pay $80 for a ten years too late Interpol show but not $4 for a show with three local bands. There’s no live/local music culture like other big cities in the world have, it sucks. There’s a small group of people that actually know what’s going on and they do support us and some try to be involved in a way. Not everyone’s making music and out of those making music, not everyone is good obviously. Still the past couple of years have been good for the underground (people will debate if what I’m talking about is *it* or only a portion of it, idgaf). People [are] slowly getting interested a bit more newer and local stuff. I think Ritualz kind of helped with that. When the whole witch house thing was hot (lol) it was a surprise to many I was local so when they met me that connected with Negative Youth and the parties and people met people and stuff started happening. I’m not the only reason obviously there are other reasons it’s been growing. I’m hopeful cause I’m meeting more and more people doing stuff that’s good for real and appealing worldwide AND that don’t have to resort to the inclusion of Mexicanisms in their music to get attention. That’s important to me. S/o Internet generation. No flags. No nationalities.
PG: There is a wide rang of musical style on Maligna. With the more tech house leaning of Digital Latex to the trap/Hip Hop palate of DJ Smurphy and Electric Set moving away from Electronic all together. What makes all these artists typically Maligna?
Ritualz: Electric Set is something special. Brandon from Indian Jewelry is in that band and I’m a huge fan of them. When Harrison, a mutual friend, approached me about it I was instantly excited about it. I love the EP, it’s really great but yeah, hardly electronic. Probably the only release like that in the label ever. Maybe. I love what Teehn Bwitches does, he’s going hard-trance with huge j-core influences and I love Japanese techno, Makina and all that, so it’s great. DJ Smurphy is just great, she’s way ahead of everyone. Brite Aid and Digital Latex are great because they make stuff that has real depth and emotion. Occultdanse and Vermz are really interesting too because you’d never guess they’re Mexican. I guess everyone’s on the label for a reason. I’m putting out something on the label as DJ Maquina de Muerte in a couple of months too. It’s my side project. The Ritualz tape is coming soon too which is both of my experiment EPs, Outworld Music I & II, in a single release. There’s an indiegogo campaign going on for that – you can get rare Ritualz merch and sold out releases through it. The purpose of the Ritualz tape is to make enough money to make tapes for the other artists on the label. It’s all about that. Everyone in MALIGNA growing together. I don’t wanna spoil it and say what’s coming next but it’s gonna be cool.