Making Worlds With Free the Robots
The SoCal beat scene has been crackin' for a few years now, with its distinctive glitch and dirty psychedelic groove garnering international renown, thanks to a gang of LA artists and a handful of indie labels with a penchant for experimentation and exploration. These are thinking people's beats for the progressive set, a movement that started when Skrillex was still futzing around in punk bands. And it's now blowing up worldwide.
Representing OC is Santa Ana's Chris Alfaro, better known to the music world as Free the Robots. He checked in from La Paz, Bolivia, after making his way across several cities in South America as one of the headliners at the Latin America Digital Arts Festival. Ever since signing on with Alpha Pup Records following his 2010 LP, Ctrl Alt Delete, Alfaro has filled his Tumblr page with pics from exotic locales—Wuppertal, Germany; Singapore; Copenhagen, Denmark—even snapping photos with Flying Lotus and Thom Yorke.
Back home, Free the Robots keeps busy as a regular on the popular Low End Theory bill in Los Angeles, an event that's breaking some of the biggest names in SoCal electro: Daddy Kev, Glitch Mob, Nosaj Thing and the Gaslamp Killer, to name a few. Down this way, you can often find him throwing down in Santa Ana at the Crosby, of which he is a co-owner.
Taking his name from the mother-bird-like regurgitation of major-label shlock entrancing the masses into a robot state, Alfaro got his start around 2003, producing and performing while still in his teens. He began as a sideman, adding weird sounds and textures to live bands.
"I was just paying dues, making beats for MCs," Alfaro says of his early days. "I also played in a couple of garage-punk bands, just because. It was fun, a great experience that taught me a lot."
The artist really cut his teeth at Koo's Cafe in Santa Ana. The DJ scene there was highly influential for his sound and approach. "I guess the main thing was discovering that there were more people like me," he says.
Alfaro is a bona fide crate digger, splicing old jazz records live on the fly with an MPC sampler, as well as mixing in weirdly affected vocals, digital-fart bass lines, delay loops, feedback and anything else he can deploy on the spot.
When asked about how he goes about picking the sounds for his tunes, he replies, "I can't really explain why I make the music I make. I rarely even listen to this type of music, but when I'm in my zone, it just comes out this way."
The result has a definite found-object appeal, its groove stemming from the looped vinyl samples, but very much spun out in a trip-hop aesthetic and, at times, with a wobble-bass thrown in to give it an aggressive bite. The best is when he gets all prog-rock with the time and feel, acting as though he's Bill Bruford button-mashing on a sampler. "The formation of a song pretty much always comes as surprise, then I just take it somewhere," Alfaro says.
For his next steps as an artist, Alfaro plans to release a follow-up to Ctrl Alt Delete sometime early in 2013. He's also working on a pair of EPs, volumes two and three of his original, self-titled release from years back.
"[It's] just some lost tracks from 2006 to 2008 that I never got to release," he says. "I finally wanted to part with them before the coming of the new album."
This column appeared in print as "R2-DJ."
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