Camilo Lara in front of an awesome painting
Camilo Lara in front of an awesome painting
Napoleon Habeica

[Coachella 2009] Mexican Institute of Sound's Camilo Lara Finds Plenty to Celebrate Down South

‘Gordito Slim’ Is Saucy
Mexican Institute of Sound’s Camilo Lara finds plenty of cause for sonic celebration down south

In the midst of Mexico’s worst economy since the mid-1990s, rising unemployment and drug-cartel violence dubbed “out of hand” by President Barack Obama, DJ/record-industry suit/one-man digital band Camilo Lara has dropped a whimsical, tongue-wagging celebration of south-of-the-border life. What’s not to like?

“There is a lot of really exciting people doing conceptual art,” says Lara, the 32-year-old better known as Mexican Institute of Sound. “What they do is amazing. I feel part of a group of people doing interesting things with their own voices and ideas, and they don’t care so much about what’s happening out there.”

Lara’s third LP, this month’s Soy Sauce, has him back to his prankish but always-proud remix of the grand cultural mash-up called Mexico. Look no further than “Sinfonia Agridulce”—yeah, “Bittersweet Symphony”—covered by Mariachi guitarists and horn players and belted out in a purposefully irreverent, raspy and tequila-strained voice (“I can’t change my mole. . . . I can’t, I can’t”). On the bass-fueled “Cumbia,” Lara doubles down at the shady end of the bar, recalling the moody, cinematic journey of his last album, Piñata. But for the most part, Soy Sauce has the Institute back to its old, happy-feet ways.

The son of attorneys has been called the James Murphy of Latin America, but Lara’s more like the country’s Gordito Slim: all beer-bucket anthems, Akai-style samples and a ska-like sense of sway. (“Yo Digo Baila” would fit just fine in a Fatboy Slim DJ set.) At Coachella on Sunday, he plans to showcase two turntablists, a bassist and a drummer, with himself on keys.

Of course, like any good chef, Lara sources his fresh ingredients locally—in his case, he soaks up the 20 million-person smog bowl known to its citizens as the “D.F,” Distrito Federal.

“At the end of the day, I go back to cumbia and the sounds of Mexico City you are exposed to,” says Lara, whose day job is heading up EMI Mexico. “I love the Ramones, and I love Ramon Ayala, the accordion player. Both are at the same level of importance to me. I also pushed a little harder into rock and into dance music [on Soy Sauce].”

Accordions, whistles and cowbells accent his digital beats on tracks such as “White Stripes.” At face value, the formula can seem discordant, like cactus fruit in your taco. But somehow it works, like Kogi Korean barbecue in your taco. On “Hiedra Venenosa,” Lara goes big-hair rockabilly with guitars and a chorus of male voices.

“I did an album that goes from rockabilly to a little punk rock and mariachi and some new wave,” he says. “I wanted it to be a little bit of a crazy mixture. I had fun doing it.”

Lara, an avid vinyl collector, says it’s hard to be an original, even when he’s based 1,500 miles from the pop broadcast center that is Southern California. He dismisses the poseur mentality of Mexico’s emo-styled neon punks while admitting his own style reflects them.

“I have a bunch of friends who are like that,” he says. “It’s just a matter of how expensive your tennis shoes are. It’s so funny that it’s about if you are cool or not judging from your shoes and the neon colors you wear.”

Maybe things aren’t so bad down south after all. Good music. Good food. And a blazing footwear industry.

“I wear these shoes, too,” Lara says of designer kicks. “It’s a whole scene in Mexico, and I’m part of that generation.”

Mexican Institute of Sound perform Sunday. Check for set times.


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