About a year and a half ago, Manchester-based DJ and producer Florentino was staying on his grandad’s farm in the jungle of Colombia.
At the time he’d been producing UK-rooted club music, and he played some of his tracks to his cousins. They weren’t feeling it. “They told me to make reggaeton,” Florentino explains. “So I did.”
This relatively simple exchange laid the groundwork for Florentino’s debut EP, Tu y Yo, released on the increasingly vital label wing of Manchester clubnight Swing Ting. The five tracks on Tu y Yo were conceived while Florentino was discovering the nightlife of Colombia, and they demonstrate his distinctive take on the music he was hearing, combining the energy and swing of Latin American dance sounds with the robust low-end that’s central to British sound systems. ‘Perdido’ features a pitch-shifted vocal sample from a bachata record weaved around a reggaeton-influected club rhythm, while ‘Domina’ is defined by its grime-like flute melody. But it’s not all designed for club damage: there’s a romantic aspect to the EP too, manifesting in the subtle melodic flourishes, pucker-lipped samples and flirtatious whistles.
“While what came out wasn’t quite straight reggaeton, it was obvious it was really heavily influenced by it,” Florentino says. “It felt refreshing, and the fam were very into it too, encouraging it loads. This music wouldn’t exist without my family – I sometimes even get them to record themselves and then flip it or chop it up in some way or another.”
The EP arrives as more and more DJs and producers from across the club music diaspora are opening themselves up to slower tempos and different global rhythms. While Florentino’s music differs stylistically from, for example, some of the artists coalescing around the Endless collective, it’s easy to see his music as part of a wider shift rather than an anomaly: just listen to Bok Bok’s recent mix for Fader, which features Florentino’s edit of Jeremih alongside tracks by Lexxi, Nguzunguzu’s NA, and HITMAKERCHINX.
What were the parties you were going to in Colombia like?
They’re much more dance-orientated than in the UK. The energy is an entirely different beast to what you experience here. But I love it. I wouldn’t say it’s the polar opposite of UK club culture, but there are huge contrasts in so many ways. There’s more of a feelgood factor there – when the music is good, everyone moves.
How does dancing figure into it?
If you can’t dance, you’re on your back foot. Here, a lot of men feel dancing somehow threatens their masculinity, which is sad to me, because it’s one of the most enjoyable things about going out. In contrast, if you can dance in Colombia it’s actually deemed a very good quality for a man to have. To put it another way, you’ll have a hard time finding yourself a partner if you can’t dance.
A lot of discussion about international dance music styles tends to focus on the different regional rhythms, but how do the melodies differ over there?
I’m not trained in music, so I can’t explain this in technical terms. But when you look at salsa classics, they tend to be quite complex in terms of melody. Melody doesn’t take priority over rhythm though, nor vice versa; they work to aid each other, despite the rhythm section being a lot more complex than stuff that a lot of people are used to. Some reggaeton in contrast isn’t all that different from grime, melodically. There are countless songs that sound like a Latin Dot Rotten to me.
Over here a lot of people’s impressions of music from South America often comes from this Mad Decent, Students’ Union-ified version of it that doesn’t really portray the reality on the ground. What do you make of that?
Yeah, it’s sad really. The ‘EDM-ization’ of Latin music hasn’t been very helpful long-term. It just eclipses any other strands, and for a long time a lot of people were scared to touch anything with a dembow pattern at slower BPMs. The misrepresentation of Latin American culture is rife in the UK, and that includes in the music scene. It probably has something to with the UK only having a relatively small Latino population. You just have to go a bit deeper, below the surface of the music and culture to find other things.
“The ‘EDM-ization’ of Latin music hasn’t been very helpful longterm. It just eclipses any other strands.”
Yeah, I’ve heard you play a Pitbull song out before when you’ve DJed. He seems like exactly the sort of figure that gets misunderstood over here – people in the UK treat him like a joke and don’t really get why he’s popular internationally.
I can understand why people think he’s a bit of a gimmick – he seems to have done a lot of records purely to make money. But look at his back catalogue and you start to get an idea of why he is where he is. He’s worked really hard and made so many bangers – these were the foundation of what he built for himself. Again, you just have to dig properly.
Do you see your music fitting in contextually to a lot of the club sounds coming out now, with producers like Kamixlo and Dinamarca slowing things down and working with influences from genres like reggaeton?
I guess you can play it alongside a lot of other, different things at that speed, and the influx of slower produced club music is something I’ve welcomed to a degree. But when for instance you look at Kamixlo’s music, it’s great, but it’s hugely different to mine. We share similar influences, naturally, as we are both Latino to different degrees – he’s fully Chilean I believe – but we’ve translated that in very distinct ways. Everything I play alongside my own stuff will loosely fit into the same context but still sound distinct, that’s what excites me the most about it.
I know that some club producers based in the UK feel a little uncomfortable being hailed as innovative and forward-thinking when the original creators of a sound aren’t credited. How do you feel about that?
I’m not really in a position to credit the original creators in a way that I feel appropriate. I include my influences in almost every set I play because I want to put people onto these producers and vocalists. So it’s not something that really bothers me. My intention is to credit these people when I have a better platform to do so.
There are deprived areas in Colombia where there are people who are really musically talented, but they can’t get their music heard on a larger scale. One thing I want to do when I’m in a more established position is use Kickstarter to try to fund projects where I can go out to schools like the one that my grandad used to volunteer at and supply them with music production equipment and build a relationship with the people I’m teaching to try and get their music to people they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. There’s too much talent that’s unheard and hopefully I can make a small change on that side of things.
It’s pretty easy to hear how South America has influenced your music, but how has the UK influenced it?
The vast majority of my clubbing experiences have been in the UK and Europe. Rather than musically, I’d say I mix in a way that’s heavily informed by UK club culture rather than South American club culture. But having grown up listening to a lot of bass-heavy music coming out of the UK, I tend to focus on low-end stuff. It’s not a conscious thing, it’s just a reflection of what I am as a person, down to the fact that I’m half-British and half-Colombian.