“It’s music for and by immigrants, as well as all other people who identify with its hybrid flavour; it is also music that explores what it means to be human in the 21st century… Bristol has a lot of heart for this kind of project.”

Now with a full year under their belts, we celebrate Midnight Ritual‘s milestone by way of a chat with Pablo Villierezz, touching on melding culture, Brexit and this Saturday’s birthday bash at the Old Market Assembly.

You’re about to have your first birthday, what are some of your favourite acts you’ve had at Midnight Ritual so far?

It’s been an incredible year with Midnight Ritual, we’ve had producers that I’d been listening to for several years getting in touch and asking if they could play. For example, Rafael Aragon, who is one of the most renowned names in the scene, was very excited about the event and made it over from Belgium with no fuss. Similarly Sidirum from Buenos Aires played our third event and people were dancing ’til we had to chuck them out, in a friendly way of course… But recently, I absolutely loved the live set by Oscilador Bass who came all the way from Aguascalientes in Mexico. His set was happy and vibrant, and I clearly remember seeing how equally happy the faces in the crowd were, smiling and dancing… It was a very satisfying moment!

“the music is more about grinding and moving your hips, which I think has been challenging to the British…”

It’s interesting how certain music can be huge in certain areas of the world, but take a while to reach the UK (see: reggaeton), what’s it’s been like celebrating Latin American electronica / tropical bass in the UK? How have you seen it develop?

It’s certainly been a slow journey. I started playing this kind of stuff with my band Poppy Perezz between 2007 and 2013. During the first four years I think we mainly confused audiences. Cumbia is a much slower tempo to what the UK is used to, specially for dancing. So it took a long time for people to get the rhythms and vibes we were playing. Digital cumbia and tropical bass have a lot of humour in them, a lot of tongue-in-cheek silliness that can sometimes be lost in translation, the brightness and unabashed joy… It is very physical too, it’s all about the hips and connecting to that part of your body, not necessarily in a sexual way, although there are certainly plenty of songs with lyrics about that in the genre. But the music is more about grinding and moving your hips, which I think has been challenging to the British…

It’s really been in the past four years that the scene has begun to grow, although it’s still relatively niche. I’ve been playing out a lot as Panther Panther! and have been invited to play at different events and festivals in the UK over the past three years, particularly since I’ve been involved with Barrio Afrika and Shambala Festival. There’re many more promoters and DJs in the UK putting on this kind of music so now audiences know what to expect. But at Midnight Ritual you still get a lot of people who stumbled into the night and you can see their surprised faces of “what the hell is this?! I like it!” There’s a growing healthy community of promoters in Bristol that are pushing the scene forward, people like Ru Robinson, Worm Disco Club, Lengoma, Area Boys, Tropical Tea Party, Mango Park, etc… Whilst there’s some crossover in what we like and what we play, there’s definitely a lot of space still for each of us to play music that feels fresh and new and different from each other. Midnight Ritual is all about the contemporary South American links, the new blood if you like, and not necessarily playing the classics.

Xenophobia seems to be on the rise with Brexit, Tories and so on, do you think it’s more important than ever to show off the amazing cultural melting pot that Bristol can be?

“Midnight Ritual is a safe space for all those in-betweeners who have found love, life and work elsewhere and are now straddling two or more places they call home.”

This whole Brexit thing has certainly been a sad episode for me. I’m an immigrant here and have been since I was ten. The current atmosphere and attitude towards immigrants on the press and mass media is pretty worrying to someone like myself who has children that belong to more than one culture. Who are they meant to identify with when all you hear is disdain for people like us? Midnight Ritual is meant to be a safe space for all those in-betweeners, all of those people who have found love, life and work elsewhere and are now straddling two or more places they call home. It is also a bridge, for those who are navigating the whole us-them paradigm and just need a little help crossing over to the other side. For me tropical bass is all about this. It’s music for and by immigrants as well as all other people who identify with its hybrid flavour; it is also music that explores what it means to be human in the 21st century, where traditional and digital cultures meet, where global and local interact, young and new, familiar and unknown: a leveller where we all get to meet and dance. Bristol has a lot of heart for this kind of project and our audiences are the loveliest around!

The one year anniversary show is on the 27th, what can we expect from the night?

The year has gone by fast. We don’t run events during the summer because everyone is away at festivals so in a year we only do five events! This first anniversary certainly feels special, there’ve been great vibes, great music and lots of opportunities. For our anniversary we are having as main guest The Silly Tang who runs La Selva Radio in Madrid, an online show that hosts all of the main DJs and producers in the scene. This guy is actually from Bristol, so it will be a good thing to have him back home. We’ll also have the outstanding selector powers of Pete Not Bombs who always plays the legendary final set on a Sunday at Barrio Afrika in Shambala Festival. People are hardly conscious when he plays but they never stop dancing. And finally we’ll have the debut of our very own Midnight Ritual house band called Xaman X. In mayan the X is pronounced ‘sh’, so it reads ‘shaman x’. We can’t yet book the big new cumbia bands that are touring Europe and, apart from Camo Clave, there aren’t other acts playing this kind of music in Bristol. So, to keep the live element as an introduction to our international guests I’ll be joining forces with Jose Barco (who plays marimba, gaitas, charango and guitar) and Mike Vynce on percussion. I’ll be playing all the electronic stuff. It should be fun and very trippy, plus we’ll have a new sculpture design for our octagon screen. I’m very excited about our first event of 2018, for sure!

What does 2018 hold for Midnight Ritual and Panther Panther!?

We’ll be running Midnight Ritual at the Old Market Assembly on 27th January, 24th March and 19th May. Plus a couple of other events in October and December or thereabouts. There’s already an exciting lineup brewing for each of these events but I’ll have to keep it secret until its all 100% confirmed. As for Panther Panther!, I’ll be playing the Remix Festival in London in February, plus I’m in the process of organising a European tour. I’ve got three EPs coming out in 2018, so there’s plenty of work there and of course, I’m still sharing and promoting my most recent EP which came out in December, on the Barcelona-based label Folcore. The EP is called Memorias de un Viaje, which translates to Memories from a Journey, and includes the talented contributions from the awesome Rebecca Tantony and Megs Emrys, both local Bristol artists of extraordinary amazingness… Aand there’s a track the with Uruguay producer Selctorchico which continues the global links. Hopefully a year of good things!

Thanks Pablo! Don’t miss the birthday show this Saturday 27th, Old Market Assembly. Check out Memorias de un Viaje here and listen to some Silly Tang below: