Bringing the electro cumbia dance party to San Jose’s dance floors.
What Andy Warhol was to revolutionary art culture and good times from his Factory in New York, the visionary members of Sonido Clash are to the contemporary concert and dance scene from their warehouse headquarters in San Jose. Their ecstatic parties and avant garde concerts are celebrated long after the last beat has dropped and the last guest has left. Their Inaugural Selena Tribute Party, for example, with its Caribbean room, Selena room, and Selena drag queen has become legend.
Warhol may have given the world The Velvet Underground, but the music collective that is Sonido Clash—Roman Zepeda, Angel Luna, Thomas Ramon Aguilar, Fernando J. “Tlacoyo” Pérez, Melinda Chacón, and Elvis Mendoza—is a whole new breed of intellectual party masters with a vision. Collectively, they have brought the alternative Latin underground dance scene to San Jose and the South Bay. “We were all young Latinos interested in the sounds we heard growing up,” says Roman. And it’s an eclectic scene. “You can be from Mars, but if you seem like you need a beer and you need a dance, or an intellectual conversation, you can find it,” Angel says.
A party put on by Sonido Clash is Studio 54 plus Woodstock. It’s the dancing and counterculture of the one, with the goodwill and inclusivity of the other. Sonido Clash parties are not marked by seedy, Warhol-esque hedonism: this scene is inclusive, multiracial, and absolutely female- and family-friendly. “This is where friends meet. You can bring your parents,” Melinda explains. “No negative vibes, no fights, and women feel safe,” Angel adds.
In the last decade, the electro cumbia phenomenon swept across Latin America and into the States, where cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco began packing clubs weekly. Until the formation of Sonido Clash in 2000, however, there was no alternative Latin scene in the Bay Area, and innovative bands would pass by San Jose on their tours. What is electro cumbia? “It’s your parents’ music, but combined with the music you [choose to] listen to,” Melinda explains. “You can sometimes feel out of place in a traditional Latin club,” Roman says. “We grew up with electronic, hip hop, and rap.”
Although they throw an amazing party, Sonido Clash sees the dance floor as much more than dance. It’s a cultural experience. The collective curates DJs and musicians that might otherwise never be heard in San Jose. A Sonido Clash event is culturally progressive—a vision brought to life. “We want to be a cultural force,” Angel says. Sonido Clash pushes the boundaries of Latin music, exposes San Jose to new possibilities, and builds an expansive and creative nightlife.
The collective has hosted bands who fuse cumbia with Afro rhythms, bands who layer electro beats over pre-Columbian Aztec rhythms, international DJs who combine moombahton with Dutch house or reggaeton with hip hop house. A Sonido Clash party is an Amazonian rainforest of tribal rhythms, a Caribbean dance hall, a Mexican cumbia sonidera party, a hyphy hip hop house party, or an underground DJ boiler room. Electro cumbia is laced with sultry tropical bass. Latin rhythms are layered on pulsing, trippy, electronic and synthesized trap beats. And couples can dance to it all. A Sonido Clash party is an eclectic, multilayered, emotional high.
Sonido Clash is a laboratory of sorts. “The genius of Sonido Clash is that we are not all thinking alike. We are doing as our name translates: sound clashing,” Thomas explains. “I’ve brought performers from all over the world. I am always looking for what’s next, what’s emerging, what revolves around youth culture.”
Nor is the collective about sticking to the rules. They are about educating and encouraging musical diversity. “We are like alchemists,” Angel observes. “We are trying to find the formula to make gold.” And Tlacoyo adds, “We pride ourselves in being the platform for the cutting edge Latin music. People are blown away. They ask us, ‘How did you get this DJ to do a set here? How do you have this caliber of talent?’”
Melinda sums it up simply: “It does not feel like work. It all comes from the heart.”
Written by Anna Bagirov
Photography by Stan Olszewski
Article originally appeared in Issue 7.3 Style.