Music in Chile 
Chilean Music’s International Reach

Chile's music is an export found in major cities across the globe

If you’re a Chilean musician, then you should probably think about moving to Germany or New York. Claudio Arrau – one of the most celebrated pianists of the 20th century – was born in Chile, receiving a 10-year grant from the government to hone his skills before resettling in New York. Fast forward almost a century later and not much has changed. Chile’s current crop of world-renown musicians is not found in Santiago, but rather plying their trade throughout Europe and America.

Ricardo Villalobos is perhaps the most renowned Chilean artist. He moved from Santiago to Germany, aged 3, in order to escape the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. His music is therefore very much influenced by Europe, with Depeche Mode as a cited inspiration. Within Europe he has established himself as one of the top DJs in the world, coming 6th in Mixmag’s top ‘DJs of All Time’ competition in January of this year while topping Resident Advisor’s ‘DJ of the Year Competition’ in 2008 and 2010. His minimal techno music does contain some Chilean style though – his mixes have ‘characteristic South American warmth’, according to Mixmag, and his rhythms are often said to be influenced by his Latin heritage.

Ricardo Villalobos Flyer

Ricardo Villalobos Flyer. Photo by Marius Roman via Flickr.

Although Villalobos is amongst a wave of Chilean producers to have gained international acclaim abroad, he, like those contemporaries, has also helped to build the electronic music scene back home. With Luciano Nicolet (another techno producer), Villalobos helped in promoting Sense Club and Encuentros con la Technocultura in Santiago. Dandy Jack also set up the Microman Club and is the organiser of Mutek Chile, the Latin version of Canada’s famous electronic music festival. Since the mid 1990s, Villalobos – with contemporaries like Nicolet and Dandy Jack – has been leading the way for Chilean producers who are creating a stimulating style of music that blends electronic music with Latin beats.

Chilean creativity has been widely recognised, and Villalobos, Dandy Jack and Nicolet are highly regarded both in Europe and back home. Alejandra Iglesias, known as ‘Dinky’, like Villalobos, was influenced by European artists such as Depeche Mode, Prince and even Aphex Twin, but ultimately found her acclaim in New York. She has gained much popularity in the New York clubbing scene with her sets that can range from house to deep minimal techno, experimental, old school and even funk and soul. Her albums ‘Black Cabaret’ and ‘Maybe Later’ also include this diversity of influence – they contain a 1980s allure mixed with 1990s techno that makes for a very interesting listen.

There is another Chilean producer who is gaining much acclaim in New York, and his brand of music has already reached both the UK and wider European audiences. Nicolas Jaar this month, March 2011, released his first album, ‘Space is only noise’, on the heels of the momentum garnered by successful EP (extended play) releases over the last couple of the years. The Santiago raised, New York based, comparative literature student deals in mysterious and unsettling, but always engaging music that incorporates elements of house, downtempo and jazz. It does also contain South American beats amid the surrealism that flows through the depths of his music. He is creating great excitement amongst music journalists and lovers and is set for an illustrious, if macabre fuelled, career.

Felipe Venegas, another Chilean DJ who emerged from the 1990s wave, also has his music being played in Europe and New York. Of all the producers to come out of Chile, he is the one whose sound is perhaps most Latin. His ‘Espiritu’ EP, in particular, at times sounds as though it has come straight out of the Andes, with its pan flutes and Aymara and Mapuche sounding percussion feeding into his jazzy techno.

While the electronic scene is where Chile has gained particular renown, it is not the only genre that it has excelled in. Chilean metal is not to be overlooked, with bands such as Mar de Grises and Asunto leading the way in South America. Fans of American tech metal bands like Cynic and Atheist can find much enjoyment in listening to Coprofago, whose releases in Europe, Genesis and Unorthodox Creative Criteria, are excellent productions. Meanwhile, Poema Arcanus have supported grindcore stars Napalm Death and doom metalists Candlemass on tour.

Popular within Chile itself is a brand of the folk-inspired genre Nueva Cancion. This was prominent in the 1960s when Victor Jarra, in particular, was getting under the skin of the Chilean government with his politically assertive message. The contrast between the themes of his songs, like love, peace and social justice, and the brutal way in which he was murdered, transformed Jara into a symbol of struggle for human rights and justice all across Latin America. In modern Chile, the artist Gepe is a fine example of the direction that Chilean folk is currently taking; he has been described as the “new ‘guru’ of Chilean folk” for combining the sensibilities of 1960s and 1970s Chilean folk, especially the music of Victor Jara, with a minimalist, electropop sound.

Los Prisioneros are often credited as being the first band to really overthrow the primacy of the nueva cancion of the 1960s, as their 1980s brand of power rock gained them great success. The lead singer, Jorge Gonzales, has become a pop icon for the country and continues to succeed with his new band ‘Los Updates’, which has played at clubs around the world. Influenced by Los Prisioneros were the likes of Lucybell and la Ley (‘The Law’). La Ley were particularly successful and they have won two Latin American Grammies as well as a worldwide Grammy. The last two La Ley albums, Uno (2000) and Libertad (2003), have established the band as one of the most important in Latin America. La Ley also performed on MTV Unplugged in 2001, and released an album of the performance, which went on to win that Grammy award. Los Tres are also to be noted for their immense successes in the 1990s.

Although Chile has produced various successful rock and metal bands, it is in the electronic scene that it has gained the most international prominence. It is a completely contemporary sound, but at the same time incorporates beautiful Latin rhythms and sounds. Following up on the successes of Villalobos with the likes of Jaar, Dinky and Venegas, Chile appears set to continue producing a healthy stream of musicians with the ability and creativity to entertain listeners from around the world.