KABLAM in Mexico City

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  • Mexico City's underground dance music scene doesn't have a lot of nightclubs at its disposal. The few that do exist mostly survive by catering towards wealthy young people with an interest in vanilla tech house. For that reason, promoters who book more experimental styles are used to hopping between unusual venues—cultural centers, dance studios, old hotels and industrial buildings in neighborhoods where you might not want to walk alone at night. Even sports bars and salsa clubs are fair game, which often makes for a funny dissonance between the music and the setting. Saturday's party, headlined by Swedish DJ and producer KABLAM (who delivered a whirlwind of an RA podcast this week), took place in a former ice-making factory in a run-down industrial strip just outside of the city center. With its darkened passageways, sprawling murals and breezy tree-lined courtyard, it was possibly the best venue I've seen in three years of partying here. On the way in, a friend of mine joked that it reminded her so much of Berlin she was surprised they weren't selling currywurst out front. The party, JAM, is produced by the Ensamble collective, who are the go-to crew for bass music and experimental club in Mexico City. In the last few years they've hosted everyone from DJ Stingray, Pinch and Paula Temple to Lena Willikens and DJ Spinn. Meanwhile, they've also cultivated an impressive roster of Mexican artists—acts like Siete Catorce, A—rp and Me & Myself—who frequently appear on Ensamble lineups. When I stepped into the warehouse on Saturday night, No Light, one of the collective's most promising artists, was rinsing dark, percussive tunes to a dance floor that was just starting to loosen up. His mixing was adventurous and his pacing clever, moving from syncopated, Livity Sound-style tracks into high-intensity techno. At one point he even dropped a tribal beat—not the English "tribal," as in "tribal house," but the Mexican genre (pronounced "tree-ball") built on galloping triplet rhythms. KABLAM appeared from behind a cloud of fog about 90 minutes later, opening with an insane Evanescence edit that also cropped up in this week's RA podcast. I had heard a lot about the Swedish producer and the buzzy Janus parties she plays in Berlin, which are known for their irreverence toward high and low culture divisions and an approach to DJing that embraces hard left turns over smooth continuity. While her set certainly channeled the high-low dynamic (it included chaotic edits of Kelis's "Milkshake" and Britney Spears's "Toxic"), it was a lot friendlier than you might expect. There were plenty of tough hybrid tracks that paired industrial textures with reggaeton beats—an unlikely crossroads that's made for a lot of great club music in the last year or so. Occasionally she would veer into full-blown gabber tracks, though often with a pop vocal to keep dancers from drifting too far. Chilean artist Tomás Urquieta stepped up next, joining KABLAM for a back-to-back before continuing solo to close out the night. He reeled in the more abstract, cinematic style you might expect from his records in favor of stylish party-starters like Cooly G's "Narst" and Funkystepz's "Fuller." Hearing both of these tunes, which are old enough to have disappeared from many DJs' USB sticks, was a nice reminder that a great DJ set doesn't always need to stick to this week's hottest tracks. He built up towards a frenzy of metallic drum tracks, rounding out a night of wild, unorthodox music that proved how pivotal the Ensamble crew is to the Mexico City scene. Photo credit / Hanna Quevedo