Alexandra Buschman and Danishta Rivero writhe behind a candlelit table of busted electronics as a dembow beat skitters and woozy waves of coarse noise ebb and flow. Then Buschman pours the Puerto Rican pre-mixed cocktail Gasolina into her cervical cup and ceremoniously offers it to onlookers, all of whom imbibe with nearly religious fervor.
This Las Sucias performance last August at Second Act Theater, beyond illustrating the feverish intimacy of the group’s gigs, was freighted with meaning: Gasolina shares its name with a Daddy Yankee song that in 2004 popularized the genre that Buschman and Rivero revere but wish to subvert: reggaetón. And with the cervical cup, they put unedited femininity at the center of a genre that often treats women as decoration.
“You’d always been dreaming it and I’d always been dreaming it — we had to deconstruct reggaetón,” says Buschman, 36, over chilled banana tart in her Mission District apartment. Rivero, 38, clarifies, “Well, maybe not even deconstruct… but destroy.”
Buschman is from Puerto Rico; Rivero, from Venezuela. In 2008, they began collaborating as students of composition and electronic music, respectively, at Mills College, and immersed themselves in the subterranean music scene. Before long, Buschman moved into a now-defunct West Oakland warehouse venue called the Zoo, where she cofounded the ongoing experimental series Labial Majority, and she’s booked gigs at other underground spaces ever since.
But Las Sucias, which started performing about a year ago, felt like a uniquely urgent project for the two, not least because the local experimental scene skews white. As Rivero says, “The most important thing that brought us together was that we’re Latina.”
Las Sucias stems from their zeal for reggaetón (along with related styles such as dancehall and bomba), plus resentment of the style’s patriarchal hegemony and recent trend towards homogeneous production. Buschman, in particular, prizes her memories of reggaetón’s 1990s ascendance in Puerto Rico, when underground artists trafficked in cassette tapes, sonic crudities reigned, and mainstream society acted scandalized.
All of which informs ¡Salte del Medio!, the group’s debut, which appeared last week on Oakland label Ratskin Records. The four-song cassette tape, which runs over half an hour, teems with grating electronic textures and garbled samples atop permutations of reggaetón’s foundational rhythms. “Reggaetón has become very sleek and overproduced,” says Rivero, citing the prevalence of auto-tuned vocals. By contrast, Buschman adds, “When we use vocal effects, it’s to f-ck things up.”
On the tape, the duo’s melodic and incantatory hooks skate along blackened textures, while their verses surge with the rapid cadence and incisive enunciation of hip-hop dis tracks. Everything converges with such charisma and grace that it belies Las Sucias’ strangeness, the fact that there’s so little precedent for the cohabitation of reggaetón traditions and experimental electronic music.
And some of the songs are dis tracks. ¡Salte del Medio! (translation: “Get Out of the Way”) opens with “¡Chiquito, Bendito!,” which is written from the perspective of a tough woman, Buschman explains, belittling a catcaller with descriptions of extreme sex acts in which she plays the dominant role. “¡Lavate’se Culo!” features volleys of invective directed at stupid men, and the title of “No Contaban Mi Astucia” hijacks a boast from Latino icon Chespirito: “They did not have my cunning.”
The tape is also the sort of release that excels in part because it captures the uninhibited quality of Las Sucias’ performances, as evidenced last month at The Lab in a show recorded for a forthcoming live album (which the Mission District arts space intends to release on its new platform, The Label). No two performances are alike, since intuition determines the length and contours of the songs. Their stage setup, an altar-like table of gear, fruit, and charms, heightens the ritualistic atmosphere.
“Oh, the Santeria,” Buschma says. “We’re very spiritual. We try to get fresh candles for each show. There are the magical objects, like stones and a turtle shell that I sometimes sing through.” As Rivero puts it, “We’re connecting these sounds to the body by making it ritual, by improvising — by grounding it in the gut.”
Las Sucias perform on Sunday, May 8 at the Alan Blueford Center for Justice (2434 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) with Kitten Forever, Born Yesterday, and Ugly. 5pm. $5-$10. Details here.