San Antonio family man Ernest Gonzalez gets ready for work in ho-hum fashion, donning dark slacks, white dress shirt, and charcoal-gray vest to match his trousers. His polished shoes complement his straight necktie. Lastly, the performer in Gonzalez rears his head and tugs on a red luchador mask to emerge as the ghetto tech DJ and alter ego Mexicans with Guns (MwG).
His remixes, released on his own Exponential Records, have garnered national media attention and taken him on tours of the U.S., playing venues from New York City to Los Angeles. The Wednesday night event he played in Austin at Mohawk lacked a large crowd of fidget lovers, but we’ll chalk it up to the stiff competition for Red River party people (The Donnas did a pre-party DJ set at the Beauty Bar, and Bat for Lashes played a sold out show at the Parish). We’ll give him props for making the kids who did show up dance.
Ernest Gonzalez, the man behind the MwG mask, sat down with us before his set to talk about everything from how being a San Antonio native effects the music he creates, to his wife and two kids. Look out for upcoming original material from MwG on the Friends of Friends record label, and of course keep an eye out for upcoming releases on his own label, Exponential Records.
How did you come up with the name Mexicans with Guns? What’s behind that name?
MwG: I make music as Ernest Gonzalez and I’ve been doing that for a while, and I’ve been having the urge for a long time to branch out from that because that’s more guitar oriented and I’ve really been wanting to make dance music, and I wanted to be kinda hard core sounding. So I just wanted a hard core name. Something that would just get people’s attention, and kinda match the sound in some way. In thinking through names, one of the names that came up was NWA. I thought that’s such a dope name. It’s really shocking. So I started thinking of something that would be parallel to that, and Mexicans with Guns popped into my head and I thought “It’s gotta be that. Definitely that.” I really like people’s reactions to it also.
MwG: Mostly people that I meet at shows, they all say the really like the name. But I feel like a lot of people are also maybe intimidated by it. But I don’t get to meet those people. Maybe they’re to scared to come up and ask me about it. But there is some kind of shock value to it. Maybe there are people that are scared by the name but that’s kinda weird. Mexicans with Guns could be anything. It doesn’t really have to be negative. I think a lot of people do see it as a negative thing first, but it could be whatever. I don’t have any guns though.
What got you into dance music?
MwG: I think the urge to start making more dance music came from DJing, because I’ve been DJing for five years, maybe longer than that. And a lot of the stuff that I’ve been playing within the past two to three years has all been more electro stuff or even dubstep, Miami bass, booty music. All those different things that are really old school, really fun, booty bass stuff. That combination, really loving to dj and seeing peoples reactions to it and everybody dancing and having a good time really made me want to make that type of music.
Who have been major influences on you?
MwG: With the Mexicans with Guns stuff, I think probably the one biggest influence I would say is Daedelus. His stuff isn’t really hardcore or straight up booty dance. His newest stuff is more danceable for sure but I think a lot of the image is inspired from him. Almost the way I perform the music is inspired from him. Musically though, I would say drum and bass. I don’t really follow drum and bass music but I’ve always appreciated the bass sounds and I feel like a lot of my bass sounds come from that influence. Also, just being in Texas, a lot of down south type of rap. I try to mix in some of that slow element, and then I’ll try to double time it fast at the same time. Timbaland, a lot of his stuff is really cool, especially his older stuff. It’s a combination of a lot of different things.
Since you’re from San Antonio, I know there were a lot of big parties that lot of people went to like the Electric Daisy Carnival and Airport, did you go to any of those parties?
MwG: I remember going to Airport one time. I was never really big into the rave scene at all. At the time my friend introduced me to turntablist type of music and then, more UK sounding music, like the Ninja Tune label. I felt like I was drawn more towards that sound versus drum and bass or trance or anything like that. Honestly, I’ve always felt like trance music and that type of genre, even house, has always been to repetitive for me, and I’ve never felt drawn to make that kind of music, or even just listen to it really.
Tell me about Exponential, your label. Tell me about how you decided to start the label, the kind of music you put out, and your vision.
MwG: Originally, it was just a way for me to get my music out, and a friend of mine, DJ Jester, to get his mix out that he had just recorded. We had those two projects and we were just kinda “What are we gonna do with this? I don’t know. Let’s start a label. I’ll start a label and I’ll help you get that CD out and I’ll put my CD out.” And even the first few years it was kinda just “I like making music. I’m gonna make a hundred copies of this, handmade, and give it to my friends.” But I would say within the past few years it’s definitely become more serious. In 2006 we put out a compilation called Collapsing Culture, and we did it all ourselves. We made it ourselves. Artwork. Music. Everything. We even tried to spread it out into the world ourselves, just by sending it out. And it was really cool to see a lot of people started listening to it and started to know what was up and think “Oh shit. There’s electronic music coming out of Texas. This is interesting.” So from there that was kind of the big one that inspired me to try to go further with the label. So within the past couple years I’ve been trying to put out at least three to four CD’s per year. And the stuff that we put out is pretty down tempo electronic, really cerebral, headphone type music. We just put out something this past week on the 11th. It’s by a guy named Pollination. So it’s still going. It’s becoming less and less physical CDs and more just getting stuff out there digitally, like iTunes and what not. So it’s going well.
There are a lot of dance music artists who are from Texas. How do you feel being from SA hinders or advances you? How do you think that effects your music?
MwG: I don’t feel like it hinders. Well, it’s definitely a little but of both. It hinders in the sense that word of mouth won’t spread as quickly. If I were in L.A. doing shows, I feel like there’s a bigger community of people that are into that kind of sound and word of mouth would spread quicker. Being in San Antonio, we’re kind of like the only people doing it, and I feel like people in San Antonio don’t fully, completely support it. I feel like we get more love from other places than San Antonio. Even in Austin we don’t do to many shows. But in a way I do feel like it helps out that we’re from Texas, because it takes people off guard when we do send it out. To be able to say “we’re not really known here in Texas for putting out all kinds of electronic music, but we are doing it, and here it is.” I think it holds up to music that’s being put out elsewhere. I don’t think it really matters where you’re coming from though. I think it goes to prove that it really doesn’t matter where you’re at. It’s what you’re doing. And if you can get it out there to the right people. We’re sending it out ourselves, building a list of press. Also, one thing that’s kind of helped out is working with this company called Terrorbird. We’ve worked with them on a couple of releases and when your albums finished you give it to them. There’s different things you can do with them where they can either promote it to college radio, or they can promote it to new media. One album they did recently for us was for this artist named Aether. They worked that campaign for us. It helped big time because they helped us get his album on the front page of iTunes for a few weeks. Just getting it into the right hands of those people at iTunes to listen to, and they liked it. That definitely helped out. Even just getting reviews helps. I feel like a lot of it is just who you know, and networking, and talking to the right people.
You said San Antonio doesn’t respond very well. I’m not in San Antonio often but I know of the Limelight and a lot of electro focused events. What is your opinion of that and other electro scenes in Texas?
MwG: I feel like the people that are into the music, more of the electro sound, are there, but it’s a smaller community. Limelight has definitely helped pick up the whole DJ scene. That place started up as a live venue, but the most successful nights I’ve seen are the Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those are both dj nights where they play a lot of electro. Outside of that I don’t see to many other bars or clubs in San Antonio really supporting underground music. San Antonio, I love it, but the majority of everybody is into mainstream. Either rap or country music. The kids are into emo or hardcore. It’s that kind of place. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll place. At Hogwild records, the big underground record selling place in San Antonio, I think their number one selling genre at the independent record store is metal. San Antonio is straight up an old metal town.
Do you consider yourself a DJ first or a producer first?
MwG: Definitely producer first. If I had to give up producing or DJing, I would give up DJing in an instant. I only DJ once a month, and it’s just that first Friday of the month at Get Busy.
Has it been that way for five years?
MwG: No. Last year I was probably DJing at least two weeklies plus the monthly. Its definitely not where my hearts at. Because I’ve been making music way longer than I’ve been DJing and I would never give up making music. Easy. Hands down.
That said, who are some of your favorite producers right now?
MwG: Without a doubt, I would say Daedelus. He’s been making a lot of dance music but a lot of it is smart. That’s kind of how I see the Mexicans with Guns sound. I want it to be low brow, obviously. Just fun dance music. But I also want it to be a little bit of thought going into how the beats are made. I really like MGMT. I can listen to that and it’s just the shit. All of the songs are really good. I almost feel like I know my kids’ favorite music more than I know mine. A lot of the stuff that they like is stuff that we like to.
How many kids do you have?
MwG: Two kids. They’re four and three. One girl one boy. And they’re all about Boy 8-Bit and my son really likes Hold the Line from Major Lazer. I think it’s because my wife will take out CDs from my DJ notebook and she’ll play them in the car and for whatever reason those are just the tracks that they really like.
What is your ultimate goal with Mexicans with Guns?
MwG: I have to make some music. I’ve built a name off of doing remixes, and I don’t really have original tracks. That’s the immediate goal. I’m gonna be releasing some stuff with a record label called Friends of Friends with Mexicans with Guns. What they do is pick the first person to be on the album. I get to make three tracks for the album and then I get to invite someone else to make three tracks to be on there with me. And then we all pick a bunch of other people to remix those six songs. And then we also pick an artist to design the cover for it. That’s gonna happen in early 2010. I need to start making music. Get on the ball with it. That’s the immediate goal. The next goal would be to do more shows. I had a little taste of it this summer, getting to go on tour for a couple weeks with Mux Mool, who’s gonna be on Ghostly, and Elliott Lipp. We did a lot of shows together. So more of that. I feel like everybody keeps telling me that if I want to make music my main career that I’m going to have to make more music and go on shows, so definitely that. I guess the long term goal, I don’t really have too much of a long term goal because I started up the Mexicans with Guns project as a fun little way for me to try to make some dance music. I’ve only been doing it since January, the beginning of this year. It’s really quickly that people have picked up on it.
What has been you favorite gig that you’ve played as MwG?
MwG: I really liked playing in Savannah. The sound was incredible. The guy who ran the sound went to school for sound design at Savannah College of Art and Design so it was just crazy good sound and everybody at the show got down. It was broadcast over the internet so friends were able to go online and watch the show. It was all around cool. Also playing in … oh my God, it’s been a lot of shows now that I think about it. L.A. was really cool. I went there this summer to play the Friends of Friends CD release party. That guy Daedelus, that’s his home town. I played with him. I played with Peanut Butter Wolf. The day that I played, Michael Jackson had died in L.A., so Peanut Butter Wolf called my friend up and said “hey I’m putting together an all Michael Jackson set.” So that was super bad ass. Peanut Butter Wolf is like this dude that I have his records at home. He put together a turntable set where the records were displaying videos of all this Michael Jackson stuff. And it was the perfect set. He started out with young Michael Jackson stuff and built it up all the way through his career and even went back before that. The very last track he played was some other stuff I’d never even seen from way back in the day. So it felt very historic being there. There were probably 500 people at the Ecoplex. It was a super awesome show. Those have been the two raddest ones so far. This summer I got to go play in New York for the first time. That was really fun. I hadn’t even been there in 6 years. I just played in Chicago recently, but I played as my Ernest Gonzalez stuff. I played with Daedelus and that’s been my most favorite show but it wasn’t a Mexicans with Guns show.
As a dj who is not spinning vinyl, how do you feel about the vinyl versus digital music discourse and the way people talk about how DJs and producers perform their music?
MwG: Hip hop and electronic music culture is supposed to be this experimental culture but suddenly people get hypocritical about stuff like that. All the sudden they’ll be very traditional and “you have to use vinyl.” Hip hop is supposed to be pretty raw and experimental so there shouldn’t really be any rules to it. I know that when I first started DJing with CDJs, I definitely experienced that from people. They’d say “oh, it’s CDs. It’s not real vinyl.” But I think also by now man, people are really used to anything. I was just talking to my friend about this. He said big name bands will go to Beauty Bar and just DJ on one iPod. Like, if you can do that you can do anything. They’re just playing a song, and then that’s done, let me play another song. So it’s all good.
In my opinion, the more creative you can get, that’s what it’s all about.
MwG: And with electronic music I really feel like there’s not to many rules as far as how you perform, and I feel like it’s still trying to be developed. There’s no rules at all. I’ve seen a lot of different set ups, but I feel like the set up I have now is as close as I can get to really performing the music. I want the live show to get bigger. I want to incorporate back up dancers and visuals.