Five years ago the local nightlife scene was broadening its scope in a multitude of awe-inspiring musical directions, from contemporary Afrobeat and baile funk to experimental global indie. In that atmosphere of diverse ferment, a couple of super-talented kids, recently returned from Argentina, started Tormenta Tropical (along with label Bersa Discos), a monthly at the Elbo Room dedicated to the electronic spin many Latin American artists were putting on the traditional cumbia sound.
The sound centered around club Zizek in Buenos Aires and its ZZK label -- but it also found a home, strangely enough, in the tropical-hungry underground clubs of Montreal. Tormenta Tropical provided a third leg of the nu-cumbia triangle, and has been known ever since as a go-to for cutting edge global bass and electro-Latin tracks. There were also a lot of glowing Virgin Marys on the DJ booth and a taco truck parked outside.
Even though the party has become known for its insane roster of guest performers -- including Buraka Som Sistema, El Guincho, Toy Selectah, DJ Rupture, Maluca, L-Vis 1990 and Bok Bok, Matias Aguayo, Kingdom, Uproot Andy, South Rakkas Crew, Chancha Via Circuito, Sinden, Schlachthofbronx, Roska, Los Rakas, Very Be Careful, and my secret byfirend Ghislain Poirier -- this party will feature Shawn and oro tag-teaming on the decks, giving us a full five years' (and four hours') worth of pure TT gold. I emailed oro11 and Shawn (who's also one of the Bay's best dance music writers) to give us a little update about it all.
SFBG In the past five years, and in the wake of moombahton, Diplo, and everything else Latin- and tropical-electronic obsessed -- how has the nu-cumbia scene changed, are you finding new directions for the music? Will there be a trap hybrid soon? (I AM KIND OF KIDDING.)
TORMENTA TROPICAL When we started the party, there was definitely a sort of bloggy buzz around cumbia and the idea of tropical bass. Between Diplo, Mad Decent, and the attention our friends from ZZK in Buenos Aires were getting, it did feel like some of the crowd was coming out to check out this "new" sound, just because it was fashionable. Over time, that has totally changed. Five years later, it doesn't feel like Tormenta Tropical is a party for the "cool" kids at all. At this point, it's just for people who love the music and the vibe, and most importantly, want to dance. Also, it's totally mixed, which is great, especially when so much of San Francisco nightlife is hopelessly segregated.
As for the music, we've seen so many trends and sounds come and go over the past five years, and the SoundCloud generation of producers is totally prone to hopping on whatever new sound they come across, only to abandon it just as quickly. It's led to a lot of dodgy music, along with artists who fleetingly pass through the scene, but that's why it's our job to find the good stuff. Thankfully, even though cumbia and other sounds may not be as trendy as they once were, we still come across great music all the time. If anything, the most interesting producers are the ones operating out of their bedrooms in a virtual vacuum, just creating weird hybrids of Latin music or dancehall or African rhythms or whatever else because they have a passion for it, not because they're trying to get posted on a blog.
And it's funny that you mention trap. As cringe-inducing as that world has become, this kid DJ Quality in Chicago has been sending us some amazing cumbia and bachata tunes with trap beats. You never know...
SFBG How many people have you had to kick out due to over-cumbiaing?
TT Thankfully, the crowd at Tormenta Tropical has always been well-behaved. We've both been DJing and throwing parties for a long time, and it's honestly hard to imagine another party where so many people are just dancing and having fun. There's nothing pretentious about Tormenta Tropical, even when we're playing totally obscure music or someone from South America is performing live on stage. That's maybe the most amazing thing about Tormenta Tropical -- the vast majority of the people don't know the vast majority of the songs, but people still show up every month, pack the dancefloor, and get wild.
SFBG How's the label doing? Any news?
TT Bersa Discos is still happening, although it's admittedly been a little while since we've had a release. At this point, we're just trying to promote quality over quantity, and it's not like there's any profit in putting out limited-run vinyl releases, so we're just waiting for the right tunes to come in. It also doesn't help that some of our favorite artists have a tendency to never finish their tracks. [There will be cool Bersa Discos t-shirts for sale at the party.]
SFBG Should I wear booty shorts to the anniversary and shower myself with cheap champagne?
TT Marke, that sounds fine to us. There has never been dress code at Tormenta Tropical, and we're not going to start one now. Back in 2008, Buraka Som Sistema played their very first San Francisco show at our party. In the middle of the set, this girl hopped on stage, took her shirt off, and kept right on dancing with her boobs out and her sunglasses on. No one seemed to mind.
TOP 11 TORMENTA TROPICAL TRACKS OF ALL TIME
Casa de Leones "No Te Veo"
Chancha Via Circuito "Cumbia Malembe"
DJ Dus "Cuando Lo Negro Sea Bello"
DJ Negro "Sabor a Gaita Remix"
DJ Panik "Pintura de Nieve"
El Hijo de la Cumbia "La Mara Tomaza"
Erick Rincon "Cumbia de Nuevo Leon"
Los Rakas "Abrazame (Uproot Andy Remix)"
Mr. Vegas "Certain Law (Murlo Remix)"
Omega "Si Tú Queres, Tú No Queres (DJ K-Ber Extended Reggaeton Mix)"
Sabo and Cassady "La Curura"
TORMENTA TROPICAL 5-YEAR ANNIVERSARY
Sat/8, 10pm, $5 before 10pm, $10 after.
647 Valencia, SF.