It's Not About Hype: music from Ecuador's electronic underground
Updated: Oct 28
From robotic crickets to murky underground, Arielle Domb reviews the album Place: Ecuador, a direct response to the Ecuadorian Waorani People’s legal battles to protect their land against oil extraction.
It’s not about hype. We are all just here, making music, for its own sake, and ours
Quixosis, Quito 2020
Place: Ecuador is a charity compilation, showcasing a diverse range of sounds from Ecuador’s electronic underground. It’s the fourth release from New York label Air Texture’s place-specific series, where all proceeds are donated to local groups working on social causes in that area. The proceeds of this album go to Amazon Frontlines, a charity defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples to land, life and cultural survival in the Amazon rainforest.
Ecuador’s diverse geography is a source of inspiration for the album and is embodied in the album’s textural soundscape. Kicking off with NTFL’s cinematic Te Vas – a frenzied collision of soaring, sizzling and crackling sounds – the track evokes a landscape fringed with beaches and rainforests and scattered with volcanoes. ‘Our music gets to the future by going to the roots,’ says producer Quixoisis, ‘We make psychoactive sounds, from a country covered in psychedelic plants, and horizons which enliven the imagination.’
Compiling tracks from a variety of artists, the album juxtaposes the darker, militant sounds of modern electronic music with traditional rhythms and percussive instruments. Tracks like Fantonche’s Antòn play on a mish-mash of the two: lively drums descend into a pounding bassline; orgasmic panting metamorphoses into local chant. Riobamba’s Sácalo and Lascive Dopamine’s Día Cero occupy a more familiar murky underground: frantic kickdrums, lurching basslines, ominous synth mysts.
The contrast in industrial and organic sounds plays out in the sound design of specific tracks, ranging from the aggressive gun-like firing in Fillspectrum’s P1K to the blare of robotic crickets in Neive’s Invo. There’s also the multilayered Llakta del Kokoro, a collaboration between Japanese music producer Ground and producer Ataw Allpa, featuring the Columbian clarinet player Ju-Pa. The chaotic medley of electric and acoustic sound means that timeframes, as well as geographies, are played off each other and recombined.
Place: Ecuador is a direct response to the Ecuadorian Waorani People’s legal battles to protect their land against oil extraction
The conflict between heritage and modernity is key to the issues faced by
Indigenious Peoples. Without legal recognition, local communities are frequently exploited in pursuit of their commodities. Place: Ecuador is a direct response to the Ecuadorian Waorani People’s legal battles to protect their land against oil extraction. The crux of their case was that they had not been properly consulted about the oil auction; short visits and language barriers making communication difficult.
Chanting about their traditional role as protectors of the forest, they drowned out the judge and lawyers, singing until the judge suspended the hearing
During the court case, the Waorani women broke into song to protest against their unfair treatment. Chanting about their traditional role as protectors of the forest, they drowned out the judge and lawyers, singing until the judge suspended the hearing, rescheduling it for April. They won the case, granting them protection of half a million acres of territory and indefinitely suspending auctioning of lands to oil companies.
The integrality of local language and song is tentatively explored throughout the album. Chanting frequently recurs throughout tracks, a midway between sonic and linguistic communication, heightening the contrast in dialects and mediums. From the frantic murmurs that create Paramo Cumbie’s densely textured Tropel de Animas to the merging of Spanish and Kichwa language in LaMafiAndina’s Amarumi, the album is a fascinating exploration of the way multiple voices impact one another.
Whilst at some points the eclecticness of the tracks causes a slight wavering in momentum, its diversity gives way to a unique exploration of Ecuadorian sound. Its music is both entrenched in a connection to the land and local tradition, but at the same time, embraces the thrilling thuds of the urban underground.