By Tom Spiegel
Coming from the Riviera Maya in Playa del Carmen Mexico, two dudes who were born in one of the music meccas of the country thought it would be a good idea to move past the conventional ways of making music and cross over to the electronic music world. I know both of them, but have a tight friendship with Luis Mario Mijangos, who people call 'El Negro' (and no, it's not a racial slur - only a nickname). This guy has always shown a devil may care attitude, worthy of a true rockstar from the 1960's, and I've been fortunate enough to follow his path both in music and in life for quite a while.
That easy going vibe translates into his art, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Moonlight Shapes' best hit, “Pieces Ft. Gustavo Lobo.” The atmosphere and samples on that song are just perfect for the hedonistic lifestyle people live in a place such as Playa del Carmen. But the background that Luis has, combined with the technical abilities of music engineer Pablo Candelaria, perfectly portray the roots of a city presumed to have a nearly perfect palate when it comes to music in all its forms.
There is no denying that Guadalajara is one of the main music influences Mexico has. A certain aura of creativity roams around every corner of the city, whether it's downtown or in the hippest, most posh areas. The quality will always be a constant there, and our duo from this interview is a great representation of this crossover from the city to the beach life. They have just begun, but already there are talks with a world-class label. They were kind enough to answer some questions for Kinofilia, with an exclusive look at what it is they do, their musical background and their process. Enjoy!
Hey dude, tell me first, how did Moonlight Shapes as a name come to exist? Who is part of this project?
Negro: Hey man, great to be here. Well this project started in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and consists in Pablo Candelaria also known as “Vaktun” by the electronic music scene. He is in charge of sound engineering, producing and the live percussive elements. And myself Luis Mijangos also known as “Negro” or “The Darkest Boy Alive”, I’m also in charge of production and live instrument performance and recording.
The name actually came after we had already recorded about three tracks and we got to really trip out listening to the music. We were trying to find something that would reflect the mood and groove of what we were doing. So Moonlight Shapes for me hit right in the spot since our music, in my opinion, is really dark and ethereal. It always takes me to really abstract places in my mind when I’m listening and feeling it, kind of when you go to a really far away place at night and you start noticing all those shapes painted by light in the trees, the water or simply just in the ground. Those sounds can be really different for everybody, so I think of our music as something really similar to this, in which there’s not just one sole interpretation of what we are expressing, but on the contrary.
Listening to these down tempo-ish kind of beats, what is the style you would give yourselves in the Electronic Music genres?
That has actually been a question that we have been trying to figure out ourselves for a long time hahaha, since our tracks are very different from one another. Some can sound very deep and techno oriented and some others are slower and more nostalgic, so I wouldn´t really like to categorize what we do into a specific genre. I think that sort of limits oneself to go only in that direction and sometimes inspiration for us takes very different roads, we try to keep that style that defines us without putting a label on it. Our approach since the beginning was not trying to use the formulas that a lot of electronic music producers are basing their tracks on. We have always aimed to go the old school way and tell stories with our music, not necessarily with vocals but more with the instruments, sounds and sequences we use for it. But I guess you could say it has a lot of influence from deep house, techno and alternative music.
It’s worth mentioning that our foundations are majorly electronic but using as much live instrument resources as we can for our shows, as well as for when we go in the studio to give it a band-like feeling such as guitar, bass, live vocals, synths and lots of various effects.
Who are your main influences in music and other arts?
Negro: My main influences which always inspired me to want to become a musician were classic American and British rock & blues, mainly because I listened to a lot of that with my parents in the house or in road trips. Good examples are The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Pink Floyd, Queen, Eric Clapton and B.B King. I’ve always loved Mick Jagger though; I think I still have one of those super embarrassing videos that moms love to keep, from when I was like 3 years old where I was “dressed as Mick Jagger” with a toothbrush in my hand and I was trying to sing (mumbling/screaming) “Ruby Tuesday”.
I think the bands that have had more influence on my music style are actually Queens of the Stone Age and Pink Floyd, since I´ve always liked all the weird stuff that they recorded while experimenting and creating atmospheres as well as saturations or dissonances and all sorts of sounds which really make you wonder how the hell they pulled it off.
In the electronic field I like Bob Moses a lot, I think they have something really interesting going on. Seeing them live once made me want to also create something with a live music feel, more human in a way.
How is the Electronic lifestyle in Playa del Carmen? Which styles are the most dominant?
It has always been my opinion that the music scene in Playa del Carmen has two main elements: electronic music and cover bands. This can be frustrating sometimes because I lived in Guadalajara most of my life. I mean, I love electronic music but I was used to have a lot of options to choose as far as “going to any music show in the city” was concerned. There is a huge amount of different bands and projects performing either local or international over there. From a techno live act to a really acid alternative band, and all in between.
But the scene has grown a lot in the last few years, I could even say that instead of Playa having an electronic lifestyle, the Playa lifestyle IS electronic music. You have the BPM Festival happening every year and other parties from big labels and promotion agencies. It has become a paradise for party people, DJs and producers worldwide. And it’s bringing more and more people every year to see what the fuzz is all about. Although my favorite parties have been mostly in Tulum and other locations along the Riviera Maya.
I would say the most dominant genres are House, Deep House and Techno, with their endless variations. If you walk downtown through the different establishments, you’ll hear a mix of these and the overly commercial music that’s on the radio all the time (which is shit mostly in my opinion).
Tell us a little bit about your musical background, your roots.
Pablo: My roots came mostly from psychedelic trance, electro and techno. That’s how I got interested in electronic music in the first place and what motivated me to study sound engineering at G Martell in Mexico City.
Negro: I always wanted to learn to play something and when I was about 11 years old, my older brother gave me an acoustic guitar as a gift. I was absolutely thrilled, so I used to lock myself up in my room for hours trying to play the song that I liked at the moment. By the time I was doing that, internet was already around so I looked up for theory there to understand how music worked.
Then me and some other friends put on a rock band and I started to get really hooked with the bass, so I decided to learn how to play it and I haven’t left it ever since.
With electronic music I was really interested in psychedelic trance, but then I decided to move to London for a while. There I discovered so much music everywhere, going to places like Fabric, Sosho, The Egg, etc. That made me get a much wider perspective in regards of electronic music, I started looking for more minimal, minimal tech, house and deep house. After that I had the opportunity to work with the Katerholzig crew from Berlin in Tulum, for a project they had going on at Papaya Playa Project. I also met a lot of people from the local and international scene there.
How is your process of creating this music? Walk us through from the beginning.
Negro: Well… to be honest it always starts with a beer (he giggled). With the heat in playa it’s impossible to do it any other way.
Pablo: What we usually do is start creating a rhythmic base depending on the mood we want to create, after that we try to look for dark harmonies for the atmospheric melodies, since that has become our line of sound right from the beginning.
Negro: And after that I usually plug my guitar and I microphone and I start trying different ideas to start shaping the music, we choose what we like and we record every part properly.
After that well, it’s basically structuring the ideas and getting arrangements done, which we do together to get exactly what we’re aiming for. We have a pretty good musical chemistry and I think that’s reflected in the constant flow of ideas that we have in the studio.
Who are your favorite electronic artists right now?
Pablo: I’m listening to a lot of Kraftwerk, Teenage Mutants, Balcazar and Audictive, who is a good friend of mine and amazing producer. We actually have a track with him that will come to light eventually.
Negro: Right now I’m digging Kettenkarussell, Traumprinz, I’m liking a lot a live act that TheMidnight Perverts have been performing with Andy Martin, with a lot of live hardware and such. I also listen to Smash TV, V I V I D Savvas, Marc Poppcke, Konstantin, and a new live act that some friends of mine are putting together named “Calling Scientists”, from who I’m expecting to release something soon. I’m also really liking the latest MOTEK and Delay Records releases as well.
Tell us an anecdote about your life as a music producer that people will like, maybe life in Playa while making your music and meeting new people...
I guess a funny one could be from when we started working in the beginning, we used to go to the studio at a friend’s house and we used to record from 12 to 15 hours straight every time while drinking “caguamas” (40 oz beers). A lot of times it happened that the next day, when we listened to the material, on the first hours of the session everything sounded really neat on the recordings. But in the last takes my singing was not too sharp and easily could have emulated a wild coyote’s wailing with some sense of intonation. So we would have to record those parts again the next day. Some takes were hilariously terrible.
How did you get to where you are music wise?
I have played many different things throughout the years, such as Blues, Funk, Classic Rock, Reggae and experimental projects.
The most recent bands I was in were “Pigs On The Wing” with which we performed the full “Dark Side Of The Moon” album live. Also when I moved to Berlin for a while I was playing with “Dear/Us”, an electronic live band that still performs over there by the way, which was an awesome experience since I had the privilege of playing in the now closed “Katerholzig” club, as well as other great places such as “Prince Charles.”
As a DJ I started playing constantly in Tulum, since I lived for quite a while in Playa del Carmen and I’ve had the opportunity to play in spots such as “Papaya Playa Project”, “Casa Jaguar”, “Todos Santos”, “Dragon Turquesa”, “Cannibal Royal” among others.
What I think has helped me the most in developing as a musician is that I have always loved playing with other people, no matter what their style or their sound is. I have played with alternative rock bands, metal bands, reggae bands, experimental electronic bands, etc. And I always learn something from every person that I have ever played with. I love jamming with different people so that I’m able to try different things and get ideas for my personal projects.