Your Weekend Playlist, Courtesy of Pacoima Techno
Aarum Alatorre and Pedro Alejandro Verdin are the duo behind the performance art project that is Pacoima Techno. The pair is pioneering the music genre CASA/TECA and creating spaces in Los Angeles that are actually conducive to dancing with their party Got 2 B Real. Both drawing from their respective art school backgrounds, the work is steeped in layers of theory, influence, and intentionality. Over grilled cheese and fries at Myke’s Cafe in Pacoima, we talked about video art, drag, and the politics of dancing.
Feel like dancing this weekend? Here ya go:
So I want to first touch on the fact that you consider Pacoima Techno to be a performance art project, first and foremost. Why does the title of performance artist precede that of musician and why is that distinction important to you?
Pedro Alejandro Verdin: Well we’re both graduates of different art schools. Aarum went to CalArts and I went to the San Francisco Art Institute and within our time at both of those schools, we focused a lot on performance art, like specifically California 70s conceptual performance art. And it always kind of felt like it made more sense. Being a musician, I feel like, is to build a character, and to build a character is to perform. So it all feeds into one another.
Aarum Alatorre: And for me, I never felt like a musician but I’ve always been in bands. I never really learned to play an instrument, I never came up with lyrics. It’s a lot of improvisation and a lot of the performance art that I enjoy is improvised. So I guess slowly I’ve been becoming a musician over time, but it’s that in-between. And I think with performance art there’s more leeway for that.
PAV: There’s less constraint on what you’re doing if you consider it performance art. We could shift the project in different ways as opposed to being a musician where it would be like, “well, we’re a band.” Which feels restrictive.
AA: I feel like every performance we do, we think about the space, we think about the audience, we think about who we’re performing with. And our outfits will change according to the location. The songs that we curate in between the set are curated towards the audience. I think that’s one aspect too.
How do you define the genre CASA/TECA?
PAV: CASA/TECA is a sound that originated in the Valley. I don’t know, it’s hot house music!
AA: Well, CASA stands for house, TECA is techno. I spell it with a C, Pedro spells it with a K.
PAV: I think K, we’ll let the audience decide! You know, there was a scene in the early 2000s coming out of Tijuana and the whole music scene was called Nortec, which I felt was super important. We listened to a lot of that music, but it’s really specific. It’s like Norteño music and techno music as opposed to CASA/TECA which is definitely like the music we’re inspired by, you know – Detroit, Chicago – but then to have this San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles feel to it.
AA: We’re definitely inspired by Detroit techno. Our name, you know, is repping where we’re from: Pacoima Techno. Detroit techno is their genre and CASA/TECA is our genre, which is like the outsider type techno. Not really central to Los Angeles. We have friends in Fresno that are making CASA/TECA, we have homies in San Gabriel Valley making CASA/TECA.
And when do you think this genre started? Here, with you guys?
AA: I don’t think anyone else would be considering the sound CASA/TECA. I think we’re trying to coin it.
You’re at the forefront! You’re the pioneers.
PAV: We’re at the forefront! If people like the CASA/TECA thing, they can take it, you know.
So we’re here in Pacoima today. It obviously has an influence on your work. I want to know what it was like growing up in this area of the San Fernando Valley and what exactly it did to influence your work today.
AA: For me, personally, I think I have a different experience than Pedro. I grew up in a really small family. It was my mom, my dad, my brother, and my sister. I didn’t really leave the house much, I was stuck indoors. Which then creates a bit of a nerd on movies and music, a lot of trash television.
PAV: I went to Pacoima Middle School which had a performing arts magnet, which was really awesome and it kind of opened my mind a little bit more to what you could do as far as performance in the arts. It was cool growing up here. It was a little rough honestly.
I want to talk about your performances. Aarum, you wear a wig. There are costumes, there’s dancing. We talked about drag shows, and specifically a show you recently saw in Tijuana. I want to talk about how drag influences your performances.
AA: Yeah, so we went to Tijuana recently to perform and we had a really wonderful time. Afterward, Pedro went to one drag show that was next door and I went to one at a spot called Las Juanas. I’m into the glamor, I’m into the hair, I’m into the makeup, I’m into the outfits, I’m into the passion. I’m into not having to be the best singer but still being able to shine. I’m into the fun of it, the ability to rock a room.
PAV: I had this really great experience when I moved to San Francisco where people were telling me, “You should go to Aunt Charlie’s, you need to go to Aunt Charlie’s.” The first time I walked in, this drag queen, I think it was Mandy Coco, was doing a performance to “Lemonade” by CocoRosie, and my mouth just dropped. It was so campy and the space itself was really DIY. Tuesday nights were High Fantasy which was started by Myles Cooper and Alexis Penney. It was a strong community of really interesting performers. Especially in San Francisco, I felt like it was such a great culture to learn from.
So I know that video art has a big influence on your work as well. You mentioned the work of Mike Kelley and Mike Kuchar. What exactly about that medium is powerful to you and how do you think it translates into your performances, your work and your ideology?
PAV: Well growing up here, when you spend so much time indoors because it’s not the easiest to navigate outside, you start geeking out and you start watching trash tv. So our kind of mentality is already so geared towards video that when you start watching something like Mike Kelley, or like Mike Kuchar, you’re understanding references that are coming from TV.
AA: It’s the same with our parents, growing up with El Chavo del Ocho and how campy that is.
PAV: It was also so natural for us to get into video and performance art because the language was already there presented through Latin American television.
AA: Watching Day is Done by Mike Kelley, his only feature-length film – I felt like I totally got it. It felt like watching Chavo del Ocho. And it was trippy to see it, like “Wait, this is art?” And it was clicking in my brain.
Tell us about the party you throw in LA, GOT 2B REAL. Tell me where it’s heading, tell me why you think it’s important to dance.
PAV: It’s important to dance because there’s not a lot of places that you can dance. There’s a lot of places that say you can dance. You go to a party and you see a sea of little lights and it’s everyone’s phones and they’re in this kind of position where they feel too self-conscious actually to let go. So part of it was we wanted to have a space where you can get in there and just sweat.
AA: Dark. Fog.
PAV: Dark! Fog!
AA: You can’t really see each other. And if you see each other, you don’t look cute because the black light is not flattering. So you’re just like, they don’t look cute, I don’t look cute, whatever. We’re all cute in our own way.
Tell us about what’s on this playlist. It’s very dancey, I definitely have already tossed it on during a night out.
AA: What do you think about the non-techno songs in between?
It’s like a nice interlude, between dancing.
PAV: We’ve got a lot of people we really admire, some that we know some we don’t know. Some people that have left lasting influences on us.
AA: We start off the set with one of our friends, Santiago [Salazar] who we’ve met through the process of making music and throwing parties. There’s a lot of songs we wish we could put on there, particularly SOLTERA’s tracks but she’s not on Spotify.
PAV: We have Pelada, who we’re playing a show with that we’re really excited about. They’re really amazing and we have just been obsessed with them. And Beat Detectives, they’re part of this really good Minneapolis scene that I’m really really into.
What’s next for Pacoima Techno? I know you have music coming out, when can we expect that and where are you headed?
AA: I would say middle of 2020, we’ll be putting out an album. Right now we’re in the process of recording it. We’ve been sitting on this music for a long time and we just haven’t released anything.
PAV: Music videos. Speaking of video, we’re going to start making videos. We’re going to try to throw more performances out in public spaces, kind of like our Los Angeles River performance. We’re going to start embarking on making more of those pieces.
AA: Our caretaker and lover, Ricky (Barocio).
PAV: And our manager, Natalie James.
AA: Yeah shouts out Natalie James, holding it down right now.
PAV: We want to show the message of Pacoima, which is: you don’t have to be from the center of a city, you can be from the outskirts and you still matter and your voice is important.
AA: And we really want to go on tour.
Any final words?
PAV: Sorry you met me.
AA: Yeah, sorry you met me. laughs
PHOTOGRAPHER: Gabriella Talassazan
STYLIST: Tania Ordoñez
PRODUCER: Braden Wells
Stay tuned to Milk for more Weekend Playlists.
Images Courtesy of Gabriella Talassazan.