A lot of ink has been spilled on Lisbon, Portugal’s Principe imprint over the past several months, but few commentators have focused on the breadth and quality control that the label has achieved in just five original releases. DJ Marfox and DJ Nigga Fox have (somewhat fairly) garnered much of the plaudits from the press, largely because of their wildly creative synthesis of Lusophone-derived production methods, but each of Principe’s releases has shone a different light on Lisbon’s prismatic dance scene. As far as redefinition goes, Principe’s star act is Niagara, the trio made up of brothers António and Alberto Arruda, and Sara Eckerson. Working almost exclusively in the range of house and techno, the trio might lack the polyrhythmic capabilities of some of their label-mates, but they more than make up for it with melodic innovation and a keen sense of the grittier ends of texture. The most obvious contemporary comparison is Actress, but Niagara’s dubby, wind-drag take on house has a sunnier disposition than the London don’s brightest productions. 2013’s Ouro Oeste, the trio’s hardware-driven debut EP, is a six track rough hewn expose on chintzy snares, thick acid basslines and gritty, punchy kick drums. It’s easy to get lost in the fine-tuned analogue basis of the EP, but the sparkling, deceptively complex melodies are what really drive Ouro Oeste.
It’s not that Niagara are re-defining house music as a whole, but like their contemporaries MGUN and Actress, they strive to re-orient the form should be consumed. It can be both glamourous and uncompromising, dusty and sonorous. The following mix features 12 original Niagara compositions that make up 45 minutes of infectious, distractedly lo-fi fun. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t completely obsessed with it and Niagara’s focus on the minutiae of mixing cannot be ignored. I was also lucky enough to share a short email interaction with the group so stream/grab the mix below and hit the jump for the full interview and track list.
How did Niagara come together?
About 5 years ago, we were all at Alberto’s house for a birthday party. Alberto and Antonio are brothers; Alberto is Sara’s boyfriend. There was some equipment at Alberto’s house that hadn’t been used for a while. We just figured we could start doing some music together.
What was the first piece of hardware that you acquired? How did it change/alter (if at all) the way you make music?
From the beginning, we have been using hardware to make our music. Alberto’s first hardware equipment was an Electribe drum machine. Antonio got that same drum machine a couple of years after. Sara’s first piece of hardware was a Yamaha keyboard. Of course we think it’s really different to make music on hardware vs. a computer, but you can obviously make good music either way; we usually choose to make music with hardware because that way we can all play together at the same time, rather than on a computer, which is more solitary. We are also used to a faster response time in using hardware: it’s easier for us to get from ideas to results that way.
Do you approach using hardware with a specific philosophy?
Like we were saying, hardware is just what we’re more used to. And we do believe it’s easier to get a more unique sound from hardware than from software. We really think it’s a matter of preference, but we think we wouldn’t come up with the melodies we have if we had to program them in.
What was your first experience with house music?
As a band, we went through this period where we re-discovered some of Alberto’s old records. We were really into this record Le Knight Club, Hysteria. It was the most significant experience for us as a band, though we had all listened to dance music previously, house music and other kinds. But that record really stands out because it has a very open sound despite being really loopy. The feel of that record left a strong impression on all of us.
How did you become involved with Principe Records?
Pedro and Nelson of Principe Records have been our friends for a while now. We had shown them some of our music when we had just a few tracks put together. After that we played a gig in Lisbon (4 years ago) organized by them (Filho Único). A couple weeks later followed the first conversation with Nelson and Pedro about the formation of the project called “Principe”.
How does your house-oriented music fit within the wider scope of the Principe family?
Strictly speaking, Principe was all about dance music in general and not necessarily genres. And of course there is a common basis that consists in everybody being able to express ideas they have in spite of fitting into a genre or not. In spite of the obvious differences between the artists in the label, we really think those differences are important and interesting and we have a genuine appreciation for all of the music that comes out on Principe.
What role does Lisbon, as a physical environment, play in your music?
We live and work around here and so that has an unavoidable impact. But to be honest, we don’t think too much about geographical locations as much as we do about finding time to dedicate to making our music.
With DJ Marfox, DJ Nigga Fox and other members of Principe getting some global acclaim, how do you see the Lisbon scene progressing in the future?
We are really excited to see what the future holds for Principe and its artists. We know there is still a lot of really great music to be released and we also know there is a lot of potential that will generate some really great music that still has to be made. We all will have to wait for that, but in general, nothing but good things!
10) Abacaxi Limão