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Mas Better Party

Photo by Elon Schoenholz

Being the old-school raccoon-eye-makeup-wearing chola that I am, I can’t help but get off on Slowrider, whose good-time party music is an eclectic mix of cumbia, salsa, hip-hop, funk and what the band mischievously calls space-rock. Their EP, Mas Alla on ¡de volada! Records, was produced by Wildog Abers and Ulises Bella of Ozomatli. Slowrider began as a studio side project of dgomez (organ/keyboards) while he was still the bass player for Beck on the Mellow Gold tour. He and drummer Moises Ruiz dropped by my studio in between torrential down-pours, offering me some cold and slightly stale pizza, and I warmed up to the portly Chicano pepperpots.

Are you seriously trying to bring back the glory days of the East L.A. party crews and that “Hey, DJ, play that song, keep me dancing all night long” ethic?

Mo: I grew up in Boyle Heights, and there was this club called Don Quixote’s, and all the crews would cruise up and down Olympic Boulevard pumping the Gap Band, Zapp, B.T. Express, War . . . and I was only 12 or 13, but I remember the Gentlemen of Equest, Electra, Pegasus and all the other crews.

dgomez: In spirit, Slowrider incorporates that East L.A. party vibe. Mo and I are pretty much the same age, and when I was growing up we never got out of Gardena, so we had our own dances, house parties, or someone would rent a community center — you had your gangbangers and you had your party crews. A lot of this music reflects my low-rider upbringing of cruising the boulevard.

M: On Whittier Boulevard you had all the homeboys cruising to the Huggy Boy sounds and Art Laboe every Sunday night.

d: Or “Gypsy Woman” by Curtis Mayfield when he was with the Impressions — the melody from that song lingers in my head. When I first connected with Mo in early ’95, our influences switched to groups like Willie Bobo, Sun Ra, or the Meters, who are the New Orleans–style Booker T. and the MG’s.

There’s a tradition of groups from East L.A. doing those kinds of sounds.

M: Yeah, you have Thee Midniters, El Chicano, Ruben and the Jets — Ruben Guevara has been very supportive of us. He was one of the few Chicanos to work with Frank Zappa.

d: We’re trying to put future and past together, show the connection. So many of these hipster groups who might be working similar terrain as us put too much focus on being retro.

I hear a commitment to craft on this EP. â There are elements of jazz, ambient, electronica, and it’s not calculated. And your MC Rafa’s vocalizing is like a layer added to the mix as texture, not just rapping for rapping’s sake.

M: Well, on some tracks he was brought in after the songs were ready.

d: Now the songs are written with him in mind.

Does the song “Tezcatlipoca” refer to an Aztec deity?

d: In the Aztec calendar there are four directions and four gods. He’s the god of the North, in the sense that the North was the dark region. He’s not really the god of death. He’s more the other side of another god, like the yin and the yang.

I love pre-Columbian mythology. It’s bleak but sexy.

d: We’re using the name for our ominous song, dealing with darkness and despair. Rafa took the titles and sort of made something up from there. Also with “Don Ramon.”

That song reminded me of the Jungle Brothers.

d: It’s funny how we were on the same wavelength as the Jungle Brothers. Even their new stuff I listened to, and I was amazed that their ideas are so similar to ours. Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest — these groups could be bigger if they stuck to the same formula and did the same things they were doing in the early ’90s, but they didn’t fall in the trap of repeating themselves. People are just now catching up to them.

How many players are in the core group?

d: Six, but we can go up to nine or 10: Pat Hoed on bass, Carlos Zepeda on guitar, John Jimenez on percussion, and Olmeca comes in and out of the group as a vocalist — he’s a young kid around 20 with the musical knowledge of someone who’s 40.

I hear you both really like Big John Patton.

d: His recordings on Blue Note are some of my favorite. He’s very understated. Jimmy Smith and other organists are flashy. Patton stays back and holds the songs together, and gives room for the other musicians.

And that sounds just like Slowrider.

 

Slowrider plays at the Temple Bar, 1026 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, on Saturday, March 25.


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