Power on the Perimeter: A Conversation with Alisú

alisu-1Alisú (aka Jessica Campos) is something of a veteran in Chile’s electronic music community. While she’s often associated with the early 2000s vanguard of local electronic musicians, Alisú’s growth as a recording artist and versatility as a live performer has cemented her presence in Chile’s changing and expanding creative environment.

While Santiago takes much of the credit for being Chile’s metropolitan center, Alisú resides in the charming, scrappy Valparaíso, a port town on Chile’s coast known for its colorful street art, jagged hills, and intimate, informal late-night parties. In clubs like Terraza Mimi, Valpo offers a bit more creative freedom to artists like Alisú, where audiences are often more attentive than in Santiago’s larger, mainstream nightclubs.

Since 2006, Campos has released six albums and EPs under the Alisú alias and with the former group Manziping, in addition to many appearances on compilations for the netlabels Tropic, Impar, Epasonidos, and Modismo, the label which she manages. She’s also known as a talented graphic designer, her trade by day. By night, Alisú crafts music in styles ranging from upbeat techno to hypnotic downtempo to glitchy bass, always incorporating or simulating ephemeral, biological sounds throughout. On tracks like “Ultramarine” from her split A Su Lado EP with Jack_Plug, she employs subaqueous burbles, avian squawks, and siren-like choirs as sonic backdrops for a dub-techno dive.

As one of the most vocal supporters of the netlabel model of releasing music (which in Chile, has helped artists avoid the steep costs of manufacture and distribution) Alisú has maintained her critical stance toward the growing commercialization of music in Chile over the last decade and a half. At the same time, she still works towards disseminating Chile’s electronic music to a larger audience through collaborations and releases that feature musicians from around the world.

Alisú spoke with us briefly about her productions, inspirations, and her balance of time as an electronic musician and graphic designer.

What equipment are you currently using in the studio, and what’s your live setup like?

In the studio, I have a Waldorf Pulse, KORG Volca Bass, and KORG Electribes EMX1 and SX. I also use a Tascam sound recorder, MIDI controller, MPC Studio, Focusrite sound card, and a Shure microphone.

How do you divide your time between careers in music and in design? Is there an overlap of the two? 

I would love to be able to dedicate more time to music, but in this country it’s difficult as it’s not very lucrative.  It’s hard to be paid well—you have to do a lot of lobbying and the pituto* happens a lot in Chile. There’s a lack of meritocracy. In my case it’s all self-managed which as you know, is complex and often exhausting.

My work as a graphic designer gives me the foundation to pay my bills and to be able to project myself musically as well. I dedicate my weekends to music, and during the weeknights I work on new projects that we’re putting out on Modismo Netlabel. I design some of the album art, so that brings together the music and design.

*A practice of favor exchanges within a social group or institution.


Netlabels offer artistic freedom in releasing and distributing music, but what are the difficulties in working within this model? 

There are different models for approaching music and its production, and it’s true that netlabels have more freedom. But you have to do various promotional activities like concerts, parties, and events to be able to earn back a little money to finance the mastering and promotion for musical projects. The downloads have gone down in comparison to 2007, when there was the boom, but now there’s a growing interest in going to live performances and being inside the artist’s environment. It all complements the diffusion of music.

The labels that produce physical media in some ways have a more commercial approach, though there are various exceptions. From Chile, it’s very expensive to release on vinyl and to work with international promoters. If this changed at any moment, so that the costs decreased and there was an explosion of Chilean vinyl around the world, it would without a doubt be really interesting!


How do you represent your Chilean or Latin American identity through your music? 

I often record natural sounds from my environment and incorporate them into my music. I also raise issues that I find interesting, for example the theme of animal abandonment on the track “Paisaje Sideral.”

There’s also the ecology and conversation of the Los Molles Región of Chile, a unique place that needs urgent protection. I reflected on this through music and underwater images (captured by my friend Jaime Labbe), in a video we just released called “Ultramarine.” The video is part of an EP I did together with Jack Plug, which is out on Epasonidos.

You can explore and download Alisú’s releases via her website, and keep up to date with her performances and upcoming work on Facebook and SoundCloud.

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