Hyperaktivist — lots to do and even more to play for the aspiring Venezuelan
When it comes to all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth — that the moment you commit yourself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to assist you that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events, unforeseen incidents and meetings come your way.
Ana Laura Rincon, a Venezuelan-born electronic music artist known as Hyperaktivist, visited Amsterdam to play a set at the Red Light Radio. We tuned into the live stream and felt the pull of her music and character. We took the initiative and invited Ana Laura to meet for an interview.
As we walk through Amsterdam, she tells us about Venezuela and the electronic music scene there under the regime of Hugo Chavez. We get to the subtleties in perception a female artist faces in the male-dominated industry. We speak about touring with SHAPE through cultural festivals of Europe. And as we retrospect the actions, we place what’s small and insignificant into the grand scheme of things.
Anna Bogomolova: How was it to play behind the window in the red-light district? Any reactions from the people passing by?
Ana Laura Rincon aka Hyperaktivist: There was a guy passing by with a record bag and he started offering me records while I was playing. I signalled him to come in, but I think he did not understand.
If you think, already from the next window, your signal would mean something else.
Yeah, and I guess people don’t expect to see a girl DJing in the red-light window.
Do people still get surprised to see a girl DJing at a techno event?
Maybe not surprised, but the fact that you are a girl is always there. A club technician will come up to me at the end of the party and compliment on my set saying 'It was great, I didn’t expect it!' Why is he surprised it was great? Did he expect me to fail? Or there will be this old-school square-minded promoter who will think that the main reason I got booked is because they need a woman on their line-up.
Also, it’s tough because in Berlin, where I live for the last 5 years, you have to prove yourself over and over, whether you are a boy or a girl. Maybe when you are a girl or a minority in between, then you need to prove yourself even more.
The gender gap is apparent across the scene of electronic music and digital arts. What could bring a positive change?
I am actually working on my own event in Berlin to promote and celebrate diversity. It’s called MESS for Mindful Electronic Sonic Selections. I had 2 parties in 2016 and the line-ups were strictly female. But then I realised it should not be about making a statement supporting only women in the electronic music. Because people who suffer from this imbalanced situation are not only women, but also gay, transgender, other minorities like people of colour and queer personalities. I don’t want to be this grumpy girl who says no to a guy if he has a great proposal that suggests femininity and artistic diversity of any kind, working in pro of the scene. It is not who I am. I believe in working together and I want to make a point of creating a balance. Because doing the opposite, closing doors for the reasons based on gender identity, would mean doing exactly what we are criticising. That is why MESS is about celebrating diversity on the line-ups and the dance-floor.
It’s amazing what they do. And there are more and more all-female DJ collectives around the world gaining momentum, for instance, the Apeiron Crew from Copenhagen. And you need to look up Discwoman, a collective formed by 3 girls from New York — they are doing serious electronic music and their platform grows, now they have a booking agency and a label.
You are serious about this positive change, a true activist.
It’s all in the name. Back in 2008 in Venezuela I was studying journalism at a uni, but also working on a radio doing shows and making events with my DJ collective. Friends were joking 'you are too hyper, doing too many things'. Obviously electronic music was not the main scene in Venezuela, the main scene was merengue and salsa. And we were making illegal parties in the city, so people would come because it’s free. We made electronic music culture available to the public, because before it was only a more privileged group that had access to it. Then friends were saying 'now you are an activist, bringing music to the streets'. That’s how I came up with my name, Hyperaktivist. And I stick to it, I like it.
Which city in Venezuela are you from?
Maracaibo. It is a second biggest city at the Caribbean coast, known for its oil industry and ravishing nature. It is also the warmest city in the country with + 30 °C year round.
What was your first contact with music?
It was through my mum. She was a journalist too and doing radio shows for as long as I can remember. She and my dad had a big record collection from the 80s and 90s, also very mixed, including rock, disco and house. I was always the one to play records in the house. And then I was collecting CDs. School friends would ask me to play music at birthday parties and outside and I would negotiate 'OK, I will play music I know you guys like, if you let me play the music that I like one or two hours.' And everyone was like 'no, Ana, music you like is so weird' and I would say 'no, it’s the only way'. So I had 2 books — one with merengue and salsa CDs and the other with bands like Garbage and Radiohead.
And then a revelation came… One morning I was getting ready to school, putting my uniform on, and suddenly Hey Boy, Hey Girl from Chemical Brothers came on MTV. I think I was 12 or 13 back then.. and both the music and the video made a big impression. I remember sitting down on my bed and staring at the screen. It was also the dawn of the Internet, we had a modem at home and I had to check what that music was. A couple of years later I saw a DJ spinning records for the first time.. I was like 'that is what I want to do!' It was then that I knew I am not a weirdo, I just don’t like salsa, I like electronic music.
After finishing high school I went to France for a language course. I also travelled in Europe and went out a lot to parties and festivals. When I came back to Venezuela to study journalism at a uni, I discovered a small underground electronic music scene, formed a DJ collective and started organising events together with VJs and street artists.
One of my friends owned a two-storeys building in a city centre, and we decided to make it a club. It started as an experiment — we didn’t do much to the interior, just built a bar and bought sound equipment. And people were happy to finally have a place to explore new kinds of music.
We ran SOLO for 4 years, from 2008 till 2012, it became an important place for electronic musicians and DJs throughout Venezuela. But then the political situation in the country got really bad — the corrupt regime of the late president, Hugo Chavez, led to the worst economic crisis.
We all heard about it in the news… Hugo Chavez, the five times "democratically” elected president, right?
Yes, he was a socialist president from 1999 until his death in 2013. At some point he imposed a bizarre system of exchange controls, so we couldn’t get foreign currencies freely. And of course all the electronic music stuff was from the outside. Suddenly we couldn’t order equipment or buy records via online stores.There are no record stores in Venezuela; if you want to buy records, you have to order them online. We couldn’t bring artists as we couldn’t pay them in dollars or euros. Also the government made the internet connection very slow, so it was harder for people to stay informed. Everything started to disappear little by little, people involved with the scene started to leave. I saw no future for myself.. to keep on learning and evolving as a musician, I had to leave Venezuela, so in 2012 I moved to Berlin.
That explains why I know just a few electronic artists from Venezuela…
What happened in the country hurt the scene so much. A lot of people that could have had artistic careers went another direction. And those who went to other countries had to start from zero and would you start from zero as a DJ? I know a few Venezuelans in Spain and France doing music and doing good stuff, but yeah, not so many…
I am both Russian and Ukrainian, living 10 years in The Netherlands, and I can relate to the situation you describe. Ukraine went through a tough period of civil unrest, people had to come together, and the underground scene was one of the ways for people to connect.
Being a DJ I get to see dynamics of different countries, in Stockholm it is one way, in Barcelona it is another way. A few weeks ago I visited Paris where we went to illegal parties. I was so happy, finally Paris is doing something anew. We went to a party called Champ Libre and it’s going on for a year, sort of established — their big basement starts to look more like a club now, with a bar, lights and good sound system. And the other one is completely new — in a squatted industrial place, which reminded me Berlin the first time I went there 7 years ago. I met the organiser and asked her if they had permits and she said 'Oh no, we have no permits, nothing, so if the cops are coming now, we are fucked.' A really cool place, but we had to leave because it was very cold.
I’ve been living in Berlin for 5 years now, I feel like I don’t want to be part of this mega infrastructure which is built around more established clubs. I’m getting a bit tired of it. I don’t find it interesting anymore. I go to places and some are just too manufactured for me — they don’t feel real anymore. There is a DJ playing a set which everyone expects him to play. I want something a little more intimate and also more real.
You posted on Facebook about your performance in Riga, Latvia, at an Anglican Church. You said: 'Not my regular location for a gig, so not my regular set.' What is regular for you? And what kind of set did you play there?
As a DJ I mostly play at clubs and parties. And this time it was not a club and I wasn’t expecting a party. It ended up being a rave, but I wasn’t expecting it. I had freedom of not playing dance oriented music, but going into all kinds of music I love and enjoy so much, which I know I can not play at 6 am at a dance floor, cause it’s not the vibe. I was closing the party, but I came early and people were sitting on the chairs, and I was like 'What am I going to do? A DJ set and people are sitting on the chairs.' But when I started playing, everyone came to the front and started dancing. We had a rave in a church.
I’m curious about the line-up of that event…
It was a Nuit Blanche edition of the Skaņu Mežs festival, there were free-entry concerts and parties all-night-long in different venues in Riga.
When I arrived, I saw a Swedish artist KABLAM who’s playing this new kind of electronic music which I understand as a melange of techno, hard core, the 90's music with latin influences. This style is growing and I do appreciate how they build own scene from London to Stockholm and now they have a strong presence in Berlin too.
Programmed before me was an Austrian artist who's playing a bass clarinet, Susanna Gartmayer. She made the clarinet sound more electronic and she used the acoustic of the church by standing in different spots to bounce audio waves.
I prepared a lot of music for this gig. I spent 2 weeks doing new recordings, building ambient scenes and transitions. So I started with an ambient intro, but people were receptive and about to take anything I was going to give. They got off the chairs, came closer, I added more beat and we ended up having a rave in the church.
How would you describe your sound or genre?
What I do has a big house and techno influence, mixed with acid and bass, because I don’t like playing linear sets. And you can hear references to both South America and Europe. I love strong percussion. The tracks I am composing myself or choosing for DJ sets have this strong house percussion, very rhythmical — I love when you can make melodies with rhythms, but with all the elements of techno. Percussion adds sexiness, it’s like tambores in Venezuela, it makes the body more expressive.
This Latvian festival you were playing at is a member of SHAPE, a platform for popularising innovative music and audio-visual art. It consists of 16 European festivals and art centres and supported by the European Union. And you were on their artist list in 2016.
When I got selected by SHAPE, I didn’t understand my luck because it still was a new thing, in its second year. Apparently Berlin’s CTM festival, a co-founding member of SHAPE, suggested me as their artist entry. It’s like each association suggests own artists and then collectively they choose 48 strong acts to be part of the platform for a year and to be further selected for the line-ups to perform throughout Europe.
I got an email from my friend working at the CTM festival, he said: 'We suggested you as one of our artists and I didn’t want to tell you about it, because I wasn't sure if you gonna be selected.' I was invited to 6 festivals and went to Riga, Budapest, Prague, Tromso, Berlin and my set at the Red Light Radio was the final call.
It is always like this, one opportunity leads to another.
Take me as an example. I was playing at a small bar in Berlin 4 years ago and a guy came up to me inviting to play at his club, at a garden outside. I said sure. It was a summer night, everyone was inside the main room and I was playing outside. Same story, a guy came up to me inviting to play at his radio show. I played there too. And a few months later he emailed asking if I’d like to play at the opening night of the CTM festival. I was like 'What?! Of course!' From CTM to SHAPE… I could never imagine my DJing would take me to places beyond the arctic circle, like Tramso in Norway… I’ve never been at a place like this in my life. It’s the best place in the world to see Aurora Borealis, the northern lights. I arrived there in the afternoon, played my gig at night and still managed to see auroras from the city! That green tail in the sky, it was magic. And imagine, I am coming back there to play a closing program of a film festival. And now I will stay there the whole weekend.
I have a friend who travelled 3 times to Norway especially for auroras and he couldn’t see it. You are lucky.
I am one of the luckiest people I know! Especially coming where I am from, thinking of all the people in Venezuela, I am fucking lucky.
Cover photography by Yonathan Baraki: