In the summer of 2010, friends and music aficionados Tomas Davo and Alberto Bustamante launched a laid-back afterhours house party in Mexico City. The idea was a simple one for the then-restless club kids: Host parties on a bimonthly basis where like-minded electronic music lovers could get together and dance the night away to their own beats, as opposed to the American and European club music that dominated the sound systems in Mexico City.
Nearly six years to the day, Davo and Bustamante will bring N.A.A.F.I, the name of their former club-night-turned-globally-recognized-label, to Los Angeles for its first major public event in the city. The duo, along with special guests, will take over a room this Saturday at “La Transición,” an old-school warehouse-style party (location TBA) hosted by Red Bull Music Academy Radio's Live From Los Angeles pop-up event series.
“You can say we're a label,” says Davo, who also produces and performs under the moniker Fausto Bahia, doing our interview in a mix of Spanish and English from his Mexico City apartment-turned-office via Skype. “It is a label but it doesn't stop there. We try to use it as widely as we can because there's a lot of things that we're interested in.”
N.A.A.F.I, which stands for “No Ambition and Fuck-all Interest,” steadily evolved throughout its existence from those late night/early morning house parties into a cultural tour-de-force. Davo and Bustamante (who produces and performs under the name Mexican Jihad), along with Lauro Robles (aka Lao) and Paul Marmota (who will also perform at La Transición), spent the first two years of N.A.A.F.I promoting late-night parties before they grew bored of their own scene and demanded more of themselves and N.A.A.F.I.
The solution was to turn N.A.A.F.I into a label to release their music and the music of other like-minded artists working in various genres. The label eventually became the home of experimental producers of the Flying Lotus variety such as Mock the Zuma, Imaabs and Siete Catorce, who mix dark waves of beats and synths with samples of pre-Colombian instrumentation, the tribal guarachero antics of DJ T3tris, the otherworldly tropical/Latin sounds of Zut Zut, and Jamez Manuel, who raps over tropical beats.
Describing N.A.A.F.I as nothing more than a label, however, distorts the highly ambitious nature of the collective and everyone involved. It is less a label than it is an extension of the restless and creative personalities found within the group. Despite what the acronym stands for, N.A.A.F.I is the exact opposite of no ambition and no interest.
Besides parties and music, the artists involved with N.A.A.F.I have their fingers dipped in various jars. They've spoken at forums and lectures across the world, including one in L.A. on July 14 hosted by Native Instruments, where they'll appear alongside The Gaslamp Killer. Imaabs, who will also be at La Transición, performed at the Museum of Modern Art's summer music series last year while other cats from N.A.A.F.I held down a residency at Museo Jumex, a contemporary art space in Mexico City. A few of them host a radio show, N.A.A.F.I Customs, on Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) Radio online. They recently released a clothing line and are looking into producing a documentary on to-be-determined subject. They also hope to work on film scores in the near future.
“N.A.A.F.I has given us an appropriate outlet that allows us to express these anxieties we have within our own personal projects, whether it's music, fashion, research or whatever,” explains Davo. “The platform lets us deal with our interests. It's to avoid getting bored because we get bored pretty quickly.”
“Everyone that is part of N.A.A.F.I isn't necessarily just a producer or DJ. A lot of the artists have a very diverse background and have been in philosophy, architecture, all these disciplines,” adds Bustamante. “Some of these projects do want to explore only music and they pin themselves to that, but there's also producers that have other kinds of interests.”
Their partnership with RBMA over the past two years has also helped their evolution into a larger, diverse platform as the company has funded and supported many of their endeavors. Red Bull itself, in a way, provides an example for N.A.A.F.I to follow, as they have grown from an energy drink company to a promotional force for education, culture, event production and artist development.
“As we grow up, we develop different tastes and interests and we don't want the platform to remain childish,” says Davo. “I started this when I was 23, but now I'm 29 and I have so many different interests … so N.A.A.F.I has to grow as well.”
“We try to be as promiscuous and as diverse as we can be because, in a way, we have to create our own economy around it,” explains Bustamante. “If you see a diversity of stuff from us happening, it's because, as Tomas was saying, we're trying to operate and keep moving forward, not necessarily because we're hungry for new stuff, but really, most of the personalities can't really sit still in what they want to do. We're no longer the club-hungry kids that were going out every night. Right now, we're like 30 years old and our lives are different, so everything has to keep evolving with us.”
La Transición, a celebration of Latin American electronic beats, featuring N.A.A.F.I, Silent Servant, Santiago Salazar, DJ Dex (aka Nomadico) and Raiz, with take place Saturday, July 16 at a venue near downtown Los Angeles. Tickets and more info.