By Dave Quam
While the unmistakable sounds of Rio De Janeiro’s favela raves have been neatly packaged and remarketed abroad for almost a decade now, most of the outside world remains clueless as to what the streets of Caracas sound like. Maybe Hugo Chávez is to blame for this, or maybe certain superstar tastemakers just weren’t invited to the right parties, but Venezuelans have been making their own brand of bass music since House and Techno invaded the urban centers of the country over twenty years ago. From 2001 to 2008 Raptor House was getting exposure on local television, and became the party staple for every sound system in the city. Shunned by the upper-class and thought of as “thug” music for the city’s slums, it’s now rarely featured in the local media, leaving many who pioneered the scene turning to Reggaeton, Electro House, and other more popular forms of music out of economic necessity. However, there’s no doubt that kids from Petare and other barrios on the outskirts of the downtown area are still hungry for the homegrown 4×4 dance music that only a Caraqueño could love.
It all started in the early 90s, when house music, or “Changa” in local slang, became popular in Caracas. Sound systems known as “minitecas” would battle each other in the streets and on a weekly program on TV network RCTV, called Estudio 92. Records by Lee Marrow, Interactive, and Afrikaa Bambataa were the soundtrack for the waperos, a name given to the people that partied to this music. Pronounced “wap-ay-ross”, the name came from the misunderstanding of the lyrics to Technotronic’s Pump Up The Jam (“Pump up the jam, wape-ross, wape-ross, wap wape…) and the fashion of the dancers was mocked by late-night sketch comedy show Radio Rochela, not unlike Saturday Night Live’s Roxbury Guys skit. It was exposure on open-air television networks such as this that got many of the residents of the city’s barrios into electronic dance music, where the miniteca culture spread like wildfire.
“Since 2000 the music changed, the themes were darker and more devoted to parties’ after-hours, and so we began to experiment with loops and samples, and created this thing called Raptor House, clearly influenced by the 90s, with a BPM from 137 to 140 as a sort of techno” says pioneering DJ and self-proclaimed godfather of the genre, DJ Baba. Software had become more accessible, and local producers started fusing their own aggressive drum loops with Hardcore Techno synths borrowed from artists such as Da Hool, Tiesto, and Gala, re-interpreting European rave music for Venezuelan dancefloors. Its grimy sound scared away much of the local media aimed towards the city’s middle and upper classes, but Raptor House remained immensely popular in the underground throughout the 2000s. The music was tailor-made for the barrios, sometimes shouting them out by name, and anthems were even made for local dishes, such as Pan Con Mortadela, a type of bologna sandwich often eaten for lunch.
This craze lasted until around 2008, when lack of media attention and copyright issues (due to the fact that most tracks were constructed from “borrowed” European Techno records) made it difficult for the DJs to make enough money playing and producing Raptor House alone. Reggaeton and foreign Electro House became standard party fare, and Raptor House veterans like DJ Yirvin began pioneering offshoots of the genre such as Hard Fusion. Changa is now the most popular word used to describe general electronic dance music, and “Changa Tuki” is reserved for the homegrown brand.
“The way these CD-R mixtapes would be called in the barrios was ‘Changa’ or ‘Changa Tuki’, it’s a name that people in the barrios use to embrace all these genres together,” explains Pacheko, a Caracas-based DJ and producer who has been compiling a compilation of the music for his label Abstractor. This younger DJ is now aiming to collaborate with some of the key players of Raptor House’s old guard. “If someone from the barrios wants to find electronic music from a pirate CD-R salesman, they would ask him for ‘Changa’ music.” “Tuki” is a word that the middle and upper-classes use to describe the people of the barrios in a pejorative manner, and according to Pacheko, was a word born from the local electronic music culture. “The word Tuki, or Tuky, or Tukky is very polemic these days, because people use it as a joke. But at the same time, few really know what it means, or the scene that gave birth to it.”
So American and European electronic dance music re-appropriated to fit the needs of lower class societies in 3rd world countries—it’s not exactly a new story to be told. Yet Raptor House has gone over a decade without so much of a peep from DJs who covet the foreign flavors of Baile Funk, Kuduro, and other forms of regional dance music from abroad. What could be more “tropical bass” than a South American tribal house version of German rave music? I almost suspect its 4×4 pattern might not be “exotic enough” for many people outside Venezuela to really care. However, the fairly recent flood of Youtube videos showing kids dancing to the music in their barrios tells us that the culture is still alive and kicking. As more young local DJs such as Pacheko and Pocz are starting to put the pieces together and spread awareness of the music from their city, we might see the words CHANGA TUKI on a flyer somewhere in the states soon enough.