Senor Coconut: Coconut FM

Tim O'Neil

This is not just an indigenous reaction to previously established flavors of house and techno -- this is what happens when native musicians use electronic means of production to influence their own native idioms.

Senor Coconut

Coconut FM

Label: Essay Recordings
US Release Date: 2005-09-27
UK Release Date: 2005-10-17
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Over the past few years Senor Coconut has carved himself one of the most unique niches in all of modern music. On the one hand, his music -- primarily salsa covers of popular rock and pop songs, not to mention a large chunk of the Kraftwerk catalog -- has all the appearances of a gimmick, a "Weird" Al put-on for the edification of ironists across the world. But on the other hand, he's not just a Richard Cheese-esque provocateur: the man known as Senor Coconut is in actuality a German techno producer named Uwe Schmidt who releases comparatively straight-forward electronic music under the name Atom Heart, among others. His forays into salsa music carry the affectionate air of sincere homage, the respect with which he translates the brio of traditional Latin music overriding any possible negative interpretation. Which is not to say that his tongue is not planted firmly in cheek, merely that his humor is aimed squarely at the pretensions of European pop.

Schmidt's affection for the music of Latin America finds a new outlet on Coconut FM. Just as Shantel's Bucovina Club series (also produced by Essay Recordings) has shone a light on previously obscure sounds of Eastern European Slavic/Gypsy-influenced electronic music, Coconut FM provides a glimpse of a strange new world of Latin American electronic music. This is not just an indigenous reaction to previously established flavors of house and techno -- this is what happens when native musicians use electronic means of production to influence their own native idioms. There's a lot of genetic engineering here. At its best it sounds plain odd, providing the shock of the genuinely new to recognizable forms.

Anyone who listens to hip-hop radio these days will undoubtedly recognize the reggaeton sound, even if the artists present on Coconut FM aren't familiar. Certainly, the likes of Tego Calderon are working in a similar idiom, if on a more authentic wavelength, than those artists who operate with the imprimatur of big-time American record companies. Peter Rap's "Punta" sounds like something Timbaland would have devised on a Chilean vacation. But if Schmidt is behind the curve on the reggaeton invasion, he is absolutely on the vanguard with Brazil's carioca (baile funk), a bass-heavy mixture of Miami-bass electro and Portugese rapping. Mahla Funk's "Nova Danca (Melo Do James Brown)" sounds like Two Live Crew with an extra dose of testosterone. This is a sound that has not yet made so much as a ripple in the domestic scene, although I wouldn't be surprised if that changed during the next few years.

Os Carrascos' "Labirinto Dos Carrasco" is downright weird with the kind of minimal, shadowy beat that almost reminds me of a Ying Ying Twins production, with an odd Twilight Zone breakdown that probably sounds immensely disturbing in the context of a massive block party. Don Atom (another of Schmidt's aliases) shows up with Chilean rapper Tea Time for a live version of "Mueve La Cintura", a bass-heavy reggaeton track that seems to have been filtered through a pile of Kompakt compilations.

The contribution from Brazil's carioca scene are most impressive, surpassing any neat descriptions in favor of a truly unique paradigm, informed as much by acid house and old-school rave as hip-hop or reggaeton. Tracks like DJ Alexandre's "Toma Toma" are fun in direct proportion to their weirdness. Bonde Neurose's "Feia Pra Cascalho" brings to mind early Prodigy, with ominous noises and violent attitudes.

Globalization is far more than mere economics, and Coconut FM is evidence that the concept of "world" music is changing at a faster rate than we can reasonably follow. Indigenous forms exposed to alien strains are mutating before our very eyes into something frighteningly new. I don't imagine these shifting forms will stay put for very long, and by the time the domestic music industry becomes aware of them they will have already changed again. This disc provides a tantalizing snapshot of a very interesting time and place in the history of music.


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