Two Colombians walk into a bar wearing bike helmets with wheel propellers attached… No, this is not a joke. This is Monareta, the dynamic duo from Bogota with a knack for bringing everyone around the world to dance uncontrollably and experience the sublime. Some have credited their music with taking the audience to Mars and beyond while others, Colombian traditionalists, have thrown coins at them during their performances. It’s a good thing bike helmets form part of their on-stage uniform. In the midst of all the South by Southwest (SXSW )craziness, I had the chance to speak with Andres Martinez and Camilo Sanabria about the aforementioned experiences and learn more about how their music has developed and how they continue to create new sounds.
How old were you when you started to do BMX competitions and what was it that peaked your interest?
Andres: That was way back, I was like 12 years old…
Camilo: I was around 11 years old…
Andres: It was 1985-1986 around that time when Electric Boogaloo started to get to Bogota. Do you remember the film, Electric Boogaloo the breakdance film? At the same time BMX was really, you know, warming up in Colombia. You know it was interesting because from my perspective, what I’ve seen here in the States is that it is very extreme, you know like, go to the extreme. And for example in Colombia, BMX was more like to find an interesting thing to do after school maybe. People just got into their houses and did their homework, but we found different things to do and maybe BMX was a little bit of a way to escape out of our homes… avoid all the homework.
Did the BMX scene introduce you to the music or was it the music that brought you to BMX?
Camilo: Well it was kind of like the two at the same time.
Andres: For example, BMX was related to hip-hop in Bogota it was related to hip-hop with breakdance and maybe here it is more related with punk, really interesting stuff, trash music or hard core and all of this stuff, which is very interesting. But we found other ways to link it to music; it was through hip-hop and Beastie Boys and Public Enemy.
Andres: Monareta is the name of a bike and we wanted to transmit that in our outfits. So the wheels represent the turntables, the bike, and Marcel Duchamp. We used it also to try to connect it to filter sound like try to use it as a performance instrument but at the end it became a costume. And also in concerts it has helped us to protect ourselves from people who throw coins.
Camilo: Yeah, people who don’t like us have thrown coins at us!
Andres: They throw a coin and we feel protected with our helmets.
Camilo: It is a true story! It has happened in some bars that we must never go back to (in Colombia).
Bogota seems to be the epicenter of music where you can find a variety of different sounds. Can you explain to me what kind of influence growing up in Bogota had in your musical development?
Camilo: Yeah, yeah, that’s very true. Bogota is very cosmopolitan now and it’s very diverse. Colombia is very diverse. It has a lot of music in many regions. But Bogota, is in the interior part of the country and the music is a mesh…
Andres: …a medley…it’s very eclectic.
Camilo: Very, very eclectic, and then we also grew up with American music also but we hear also rhythms from the Caribbean coast as well as rhythms from the llanos bogotales. I mean many things happen there. So that’s very important for our music.
Andres: From the eclectic point of view you know there are people from the Caribbean coast, indigenous people, tribes, lots of different people live in Bogota it’s a very varied city and we think that all of that with our lifestyle helped us develop some part of our music. The really binary rhythm we have in our sound is very urban but the circular side of our rhythm its very Caribbean, very folksy stuff.
What other places have given you musical inspiration?
Camilo: It also has to do with the trips around Colombia and influence from friends or the family. Our families had a lot of old vinyl records.
Andres: But it’s very common, you know, for a Colombian family to go at the end of the year to the coast or to the Amazon or to the Pacific coast by car so it was kind of a natural selection you know? We went to Cartagena where we heard Colombian music and we went to Barranquilla to the Carnaval where we heard cumbia and porro, this kind of cumbia with brass music. So we always heard that on the radio in the bus. A regular bus in Colombia you would hear vallenato, you would hear, you would hear everything. It’s kind of natural.
Andres: It’s an experience. We don’t decide that we are going to make an album made of cumbia and something or electronic or something. We don’t decide that in the beginning, we just start jamming when we play in concerts; we get ideas you know through the experience of that time. For example, Fried Speakers took around two years. We had some concerts on the coast of Colombia and in Mexico, also in the U.S. Every time you get an idea, you build that idea with your audience. That gets you to new musical results. And everything came up into a collection of rock steady and cumbia, merengue, punk in that way. That’s what created Fried Speakers.
How would you say you have grown as artists and performers since Picotero?
Andres: It has more lyrics than Picotero, our past album.
Camilo: Many things happen in your life. You aren’t just partying all the time. You have also many states and Fried Speakers has many different states of being.
Andres: Also there are some ideas of past experiences and love experiences. For example in Picotero we didn’t sing as much about our personal experiences. We did have a ballad but Fried Speakers has a more nostalgic ballad that was inspired by when I was living in Valencia, Spain. I had a Spanish girlfriend. It was very cruel when I had to come back to Colombia. The song is called “Las Rutas del Mar” so we have a friend, Fiona Horsey, and she sings with us on that song.
How has your reception been from audiences across the world?
Andres: It has been really positive. People in the coast and Bogota love it. We have been receiving a really warm crowd in Mexico. We went to some festivals in Europe last year and it was really interesting. We started playing here in the U.S. in Brooklyn when we lived there from 2004 to 2008 we had the chance to play in bars in Williamsburg and the Lower East Side and the crowds were really nice. So part of our musical career has taken place in the U.S. and Bogota.
Camilo: And it is a mixed crowd. There is the Latin community of course but there are also, other groups that come because we are not like a salsa group.
What is one of the best complements you have received regarding your music?
Camilo: In Canada, this guy loved us and he said our music helped a lot of people at once achieve a subliminal experience, kind of like meditation. He said people have gone nuts with your music and its like we have gone to Mars and traveled time!
Andres: Another interesting experience was with the helmets. We received an email from Chicago and it was because they saw us in some venue and wanted to include us in their movement in Chicago that is something like the helmet makes you safer. And when we saw the website, we saw a really neat crowd of people, our videos, music, and we were included on their blog as safety ambassadors.
Have you thought of any concepts for your next album?
Andres: We have a couple of ideas for next year.
What are your plans for the rest of 2011?
Camilo: We got an invitation to play in Guadalajara for the Feria Internacional de la Música.
Andres: We have some plans to play in Chicago for the Chicago World Music Festival so we will try to build some small tour. Starting here in Austin!