A short word to those who only know the duo from their mysterious masked image: “I do love Daft Punk, but I don’t think we have a lot in common!” Felipe is clearly addressing the fact of the matter. He is indeed more aligned with the exploration of rhythm than producing postmodern house music. However; Beating Heart, Enchufada and On the Corner: some of the current hottest labels around are fighting over signing up the Peruvians who now celebrate a lengthy 15-year friendship and 10-year career. “We went to Argentina to play in 2009, Rafael remembers, and there were these guys experimenting with cumbia. That was the first time we heard that kind of music in a club. After that, when we came back to Lima, we started experimenting with cumbia and a few months later we became Dengue Dengue Dengue.”
It was in the living room of the apartment they shared in the middle of the Barranco district that this triple-barrelled band name was invented. It was where the young duo stumbled upon a record from Felipe’s grandfather’s own collection, Enrique Lynch’s 1964 album Dengue!!! Dengue!!! Dengue!!! Dengue!!!. “He was very popular at the time and was making his own interpretation of dengue rhythms, Felipe explains, it became this little joke between us!” Rafael concludes: “In Lima, ‘dengue’ is a slang term used for when you’re really excited to do something – like going to a party. ‘I am really dengue’ [“Estoy dengue”] or ‘I’m really dengue inside’. Many people think we chose the name because of the actual Dengue fever, but it doesn’t have anything to do with that.” Now that we’ve cleared up any daft confusion and the excitable dengue fever begins to take hold, let’s talk about music without such preconceptions.
An Afro-Peruvian heritage, but not entirely
Their latest album Zenit & Nadir bears the fruits of an exploration in rhythm that is not an entirely new one, carried out as closely aligned as possible to the vast musical heritage of the descendants of African slaves in Peru. “This is the same as with cumbia, Felipe says, it just comes naturally to us. We were experimenting with a lot of sounds from Peru, not just cumbia and afro. There are old tracks, only released later on, but we’ve always been experimenting with this sound from the beginning.” Be careful, however, not to pigeon-hole them into a little Afro-cumbia category box, as their style feeds from so many more influences. “What interests us a lot about Afro-Peruvian music, Rafael continues, is that it is one of our culture’s biggest and best examples of polyrhythmic music. It holds a huge influence, but it’s not the only one.”
Determined to make their project a tangible experience, “DDD” worked with members of the Ballumbrosio family, a lineage of fifteen children – all dancers and musicians – whose father is regarded as a national treasure in Peru. On tracks such as “Ágni”, the live percussion played by two of the Ballumbrosio brothers heightens the electro-organic sound that has made the duo so popular. Equally capable in exploring landó, festejo and criollo music, Rafael claims their interest lies in keeping this vast heritage alive. “There is a city in the south of Lima called Chincha, he explains. It’s one of the main cities in Peru where most of the population is Black. The music there is really different. The big Ballumbrosio family is attempting to preserve all those rhythms and keep the culture alive, and we are now collaborating with this second generation.”
Adding further richness to their experiments, DDD do not hesitate to throw traditional instruments into the mix – as heard on the Son of Los Diablos EP – or to transfigure obscure audio samples – until a not too distant future. As is the case on “Habu Raminibu”, taken from their Semillero EP: a song built around the spiritual music of the Huni Kuin tribe. “This is a tribe from the Amazon, explains Felipe. It’s a project by a Brazilian guy called Joutro Mundo, who has traveled in the Huni Kuin land. I kind of produced the track on top of what he recorded there: the percussion and the voices of these people.”
A hybrid of beats for the discerning listener
“Our project is really open, Rafael assures. It’s difficult to express this to people because they always want to label you. Even when we released music with afro or any other kind of music, they still call it cumbia!” Make no mistake, DDD are tearing up the rulebooks. It’s the reason why their polymorphous music ends up being released on so many different labels, so much so that they sometimes have to change aliases: “On the Continentes Perdidos EP, we changed our alias to ‘DNGDNGDNG’ because the vibe was so weird and particular. This was something different. We are putting a lot of music out right now, and there were a lot of sounds that we were saving for the right moment. Had we released it at the time it was made, it wouldn’t have worked so well.” As long as it is revealed at the right time, the music becomes timeless, no doubt. Made up of songs that they hold very dearly, their recent EP trilogy Humos came along at just the right time. “It’s about stuff that has never been released properly, Rafael explains. There are some really cool things there that didn’t fit on our other records for some reason. We use them mostly in our DJ sets, and really wanted to release them on wax!”
Unassumingly, it is by drawing inspiration from the knowledge of their ancestors that the duo invents their unique contemporary version of electronic music. On the Humos series, you can hear Justo Betancourt and Zambo Cavero reworked with the flavors of DDD. A risky experiment but inevitably fruitful, which serves both as a challenge and a source of learning for the duo: “Doing a remix of the music of this kind of artist makes you learn even more and understand the rhythm better, Rafael affirms, and then you are able to produce something original later on.” This essential trilogy was also a precursor to launching their own label, Kebrada, forming a true creative hub for emerging South American artists. “In Latin America, there are few labels releasing any kind of downtempo things, Rafael notes. I think there is room there to focus more on polyrhythmic music and the newer afro experiments.”
To complete the loop, by the end of the discussion we decided to come back to ask about the visual aspect of their work which, as they tell us, is as important as the music. Rafael says: “we try to see the project as a whole. We take care of each aspect in the same way. The music comes first and dictates what is going on with the visuals and the whole aesthetic of the project. We try to do everything ourselves, but we also collaborate with other people for the visuals and the masks: Peruvian Tania Brun and Italian Davide Manccini, for the black and white stuff, and Victoria Topping for the more colourful stuff.”
In addition to blowing out ten birthday candles, Dengue Dengue Dengue have already announced the release of a new EP, a compilation, and an album by QOQEQA on their label Kebrada. A good start on the journey of continuing to reinvent themselves for at least another decade…
Fiebre, Dengue Dengue Dengue’s next album, will be out on october 16 under the Mexican label N.A.A.F.I. Pre-order it here.
The mixtape Discos en 3/Cuartos is out now.