- Where political passion is matched by outstanding club tracks.
- There's no shortage of politically oriented electronic music today. It's never been easier to make or remix a beat and tie it, however loosely, to activist inclinations. This DIY approach and penchant for political message over production quality is the heart of punk. Like a lot of punk rock, a lot of punk-adjacent electronic music comes off as derivative or just falls flat on the ears, despite its best intentions. So what does it take for this type of music to stay afloat under the weight of its own message? Movimiento Para Cambio, meaning movement for change, the newest album by the Montreal-based duo Pelada, avoids the pitfalls of political zeal and drives home the social impact that rave-ready tunes can have, both in and out of the club.
Pelada's internet presence is sparse—they don't have a SoundCloud page—but they're beloved IRL in Montreal's underground scene for their raucous live performances. Chris Vargas is known for setting crowds aflame with their impassioned delivery of vocals in Spanish; the producer Tobias Rochman has said the live production he provides is made "as a background for the lyric." In 2016 they set their adversarial tone with tracks like "No Hay" ("There Is Not"). "No hay la solución," shouts Vargas, and then growls, "Sigo sin teniendo la solución" ("I still don't have the solution"). Rochman's sparse, straightforward acid synths, alongside claps and hi-hats, enhance the mood without outstripping Vargas' fiercely vulnerable lyrics.
Pelada is a natural addition to the PAN roster, a label known for releasing electronic music from artists that buck conventions and defy easy labels. Movimiento Para Cambio lifts off with the upbeat house track "A Mí Me Juzgan Por Ser Mujer" ("I Am Judged Because I'm A Woman"), but Vargas offers an unexpected counterpoint to the beat. Where one might expect soaring vocals, Vargas opts for a corrosive delivery. It's a fitting choice for a song that rails against the implicit and explicit oppression of womxn. The track not only defines itself by being against the patriarchy but also recognizes a sisterhood that has to fight for survival.
Movimiento Para Cambio is a double entendre, referring to the movement of club-goers' bodies while addressing hot-button issues including sexual harassment, digital surveillance and environmental degradation. "Habla Tu Verdad" ("Speak Your Truth") also addresses issues facing womxn, this time in a post-#MeToo diatribe about speaking up against harassment and abuse. The bouncing organ melody and piano chords make for an exceedingly danceable house track. But it's not just issues of gender that get the club treatment. The following track, "Asegura" ("Secure"), might explain Pelada's scant online presence. "Connexión al internet / ¿Á dónde va tu información?" ("Internet connection / Where does your information go?"), is how Vargas opens over stuttering synths as the song introduces elements of gabber and hard techno.
The variety of dance music styles taken apart and rebuilt on Movimiento Para Cambio is part of what makes this music so singular. However, on the track "Caderona," the upcycled reggaeton rhythm and over-processed vocals almost make it sound like every other deconstructed dembow in my SoundCloud feed. Much more successful is "Perra," which is similarly rhythmic but eschews overembellishment. It's difficult to listen to without mouthing along to the lyrics, over and over again: "Soy esa perra" ("I'm that bitch").
The content of Vargas' lyrics will be lost on many listeners. French and English are the dominant languages in Montreal, and even though the lyrics mostly consist of simple declarations, they exist out of easy reach for those who don't know any Spanish. Vargas, who is of Colombian heritage, is aware of this linguistic disconnect. "People have brought up that maybe writing in English would make the content more relatable," they have said in one interview. They pointed to personal reasons for this choice, wanting to "do right by the heritage that [they were] raised in" and that, "Writing in Spanish, and often performing to audience members who don't all speak Spanish, is a way to protect myself from how honest I like to be about some things perhaps." The gap in understanding between artist and audience creates tension, intentional or not.
Punk performers rejoice in tension and many won't shy from implicating their audience in the systems they stand against. Years ago, I saw MEN perform in the basement venue of a liberal arts college, their anger and playfulness equally palpable. During a brief pause between songs, JD Samson called on the audience to buy their merch using mommy and daddy's credit card. Some laughed, some looked uncomfortable. But most didn't notice or ignored the jab. The synth sequence had already cut the air and bodies were bouncing. Can political consciousness be born in the club? Probably not, but artists and audiences can use music to connect and confront each other. Movimiento Para Cambio rides the line between being approachable and adversarial. But in order for change to take hold, the movement needs to break out of the warehouse and into the streets.
01. A Mí Me Juzgan Por Ser Mujer
03. Habla Tu Verdad