When I conceived of Discobres in early 2015, I was intent on discovering a new world of music through one which I already knew. My understanding of Chile’s contribution to electronic music dealt primarily with a group of artists that had long been residents of Europe, figures who now serve more as members of an international cohort than as homeland ambassadors. What I’ve come to find is that even in light of these artists’ pioneering, their stake in Chile’s current musical culture is residual at best.
Chile’s electronic music scene is indeed connected to the larger music capitals of Europe and the U.S. by way of a variety of musical exchanges, including some boutique record labels, internet radio stations, and international collectives. A handful of artists and DJs migrate between continents in the contrasting seasons, and a few local promoters draw foreign artists stopping through on South American tours. But the reality is that many artists in Chile are working within a growing independent music community that exists, for the most part, outside of the influence of its expatriated flag-bearers.
Of the diverse and distinctive musicians I’ve met and spoken to, most recapitulate similar difficulties that beset their artistic pursuits. An increasing corporate influence segments music markets and thus segregates communities of musicians and listeners based on economic class. Steep taxes on goods crossing the Andean cordillera make instruments, recording gear, and vinyl records substantially more expensive than their standard retail prices, and shipping costs are already high. A lack of suitable performance spaces and low performance fees mean that DJs often make grueling trips further out in Chile, Peru, or Bolivia to earn money playing in disreputable spaces or to empty dance floors.
Despite these challenges, Chile’s underground electronic music community is an incredibly tight-knit network of people who are passionate and hopeful about pushing ahead. It seems that every musician, label owner, and even graphic designer is part of at least one larger musical or artistic collective that bolsters collaborative creative initiatives. Independent organizers produce at-capacity [sometimes literally] underground parties despite being nearly impossible to find. And the fans, if not musicians themselves, maintain a pretty steady engagement with performers and DJs (even during some of the less digestible experimental acts). I’m not sure I can forecast exactly where the future is headed, but it certainly feels like the nascent stages of something bigger to come.
The conflicts at play—mainstream/underground, experimental/dance, upper/working class, local/international—are hardly endemic to Chile, and they’re certainly more complex than binary tensions. But the ways that artists are enabled and/or limited to work amidst these intersections are precisely what define a culture’s musical sphere.