Texas native Grant Dull is not the guy one would expect to see at the forefront of a revolution in Latin American music. A former resident of San Antonio with no connection to Latin America (other than his hometown's proximity to the Mexican border), he is one of the co-founders of Buenos Aires, Argentina-based record ZZK Records. The label is home to the latest crop of artists from various cumbia-hyphenated genres — like electro-cumbia and digital-cumbia — that have come out of South America over the past decade.
Dull (pronounced “dool”) DJs under the name El G. He's currently touring the U.S. to promote ZZK's latest compilation, Future Sounds of Buenos Aires, a collection of songs from genre-mashing artists such as Frikstailers, El Remolon, and La Yegros. He plays on the East side tomorrow night. (Details below.)
“We call it the ZZK sound,” says Dull via phone from his parents' home in Texas. The label's crop of Latin alternative artists — the umbrella term for Latin American music that doesn't fit the traditional mold — have a sound much different than anyone on the roster of L.A.'s Nacional Records or from anyone in the tribal guarachero scene out of Monterrey, Mexico, such as 3Ball MTY or DJ Vampiro .
The ZZK backbone is traditional cumbia, but the results are as varied as the Spanish colloquialisms and accents found throughout Latin America. No one will confuse the Game Boy-esque, chiptune-cumbia of Super Guachin with the digital, kuduro-cumbia of Fauna or the sampled, indigenous instrumentation that makes up most of Chancha Via Circuito's work.
“If you had to generalize it or genre-fy it,” explains Dull, “it would be 'digital South America' or 'digital Latin America.' It's not particular to one region. We've mixed with and experimented with Colombian cumbia and Peruvian cumbia and obscure rhythms from the interior of Argentina and the north of Argentina.”
Dull first arrived in Argentina at the turn of the century after years of wanderlust finally got the better of him. “When I was 22, I wanted to get the heck out of America, figuratively speaking,” he says.
First, though, he studied at University of San Diego as a humanities major with an emphasis in philosophy. His professor in a course about Buddhism introduced him to the writer who ignited his love affair with all things Argentina: Jorge Luis Borges.
“That was my first introduction to the magical world of Argentina,” says Dull. “Right at the time when I was deciding about leaving the States and exploring the world, Argentina came into my life culturally and did some interesting things in my head.”
Later, he completed a teaching credential program in San Francisco and then hopped on a plane to Buenos Aires in 1999 and spent the next few years living in and teaching English in Argentina, Spain, Africa, Brazil, China, and New York City before returning to Buenos Aires to live in 2004.
“I just got really sucked in to the energy of the big city and I really started to enjoy the Argentines and…the lifestyle and all the arts and culture there,” he says.
Dull launched 'What's Up Buenos Aires' that same year, a bilingual website that promotes Buenos Aires' arts and culture scene. As he explained, the country had just recovered from an economic crisis and there was renewed interest from foreigners in tourism, study abroad programs, and the arts. The site introduced foreigners and locals to the new scene in Buenos Aires, including the DJs, producers and musicians creating the new sound of digital cumbia.
He eventually began curating his own events and parties, which led to the creation of ZZK Club in 2006, with the assistance of DJ Nim and Villa Diamante, the latter of whom who came up with the idea of naming the club after philosopher Slavoj Zizek.
“We had no idea we were going to start a record label,” says Dull. “We had some lofty ideals. We wanted to put Buenos Aires on blast because it was all about the local producers, the local sound, and the local talent.”
The club's success led to the creation of ZZK Records, and before long ZZK artists were performing before thousands of fans in festivals across the globe.
Grant Dull (aka El G) DJs tomorrow night at Espacio 1839 at 6 p.m., followed by a set two doors down at Eastside Luv for Subsuelo ($5 cover) starting at 9 p.m. He'll also be at Afro Funke at Zanzibar ($10) on Thursday 1/17