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Among the high temperatures, resulting from global warming and dancing bodies (perreando), the artist Santiago Gómez speculates about reggaeton as a contradiction that, despite its negotiations with an industry that has capitalized on it, keeps in its forms the decoloniality that will allow us to dance through the end of the world.
Play the following mix to enter the dimension to which the author is going to lead you. Let your hips vibrate.
It’s hot in here. It’s hot outside. It’s hot everywhere.
[[21:00]] As I’m finally leaving the room I’ve lived in for the last few weeks, a vague memory from my youth—the non-existent name DJ Global Warming—suddenly comes to me, and with it a sudden rush of memories: dark, viscous figures, fragile and precarious forms flowing into a sea of bodies. A shapeless region over which the greatest heatwave humans have ever known hangs.
[[21:15]] These are hot days. In such heat, it’s easy to see how a genre of music as feverish as reggaeton could be linked to an environmental phenomenon. Lately, I have been suffering from anxiety attacks. I suspect it’s the heat. The sweat of my body sticks to things. And it’s no wonder that when I look at the sky, I see billows of thick vapor clouding the atmosphere, transforming my surroundings into a sort of greenhouse.
[[21:30]] I stopped going to clubs a while ago. I think about them now that whatever it is that music generated in bodies has become as ubiquitous and thick as the humidity that surrounds us. When was it that the question of when we would return to the party—that glorious moment when you and I would meet again on the dance floor—became the question of if we would ever be able to leave the party? We are slaves of an endless cosmic hangueo.
[[21:45]] You reap what you sow, Krippy or kush. Drugs are a device for time travel that you can use to return to the exact moment when beaches were still zones of escape.
[[22:00]] The world changes. Today, there exist as many continents as varieties of sativa, as many subgenres as tears that have evaporated in the sun. The earth has always been a giant archipelago. Does the world change?
[[22:15]] Cities are like great seashells. I hear the sea on every corner. In the distance, sirens expand, synthesize, and send out delicate African rhythms that once were caught in the Caribbean, where time, administered by the sand, corporate monotheism, and solar capitalism, refined them until they were transformed into the libidinal expression of petroleum.
Today, the world is the Caribbean, and the Caribbean is a dream that resembles a nightmare.
[[22:30]] I think in circles, in reverberations, to the rhythm of my conscience being punctured by the DJ’s needle. So as not to lose myself in my insides, I cling to what I have brought with me: a foldable chair and some binoculars. I am hoping to find a clearing where I can watch the take0ff from.
[[22:45]] I don’t know where I am. If I’m walking or if I’m dancing. Streets and buildings appear out of nowhere. The city has grown so much that it bleeds into space. It’s not for nothing that urban music has reached stratospheric heights. The white man gentrified the void with asphalt. Then we arrived, bursting into it with our color.
It is the first time that I have gone out in a long time. The custom of confinement. The night is my mind and my mind is a club without people.
[[23:15]] I break into a field and throw a bottle. A dozen rats go running in all directions. Before they disappear from sight, I see one swishing its tail to the rhythm of the new world order. I’m hallucinating.
[[23:30]] In 2014, J. Balvin arrived in Athens to perform with Eleni Fourerira, the Greek mezzosoprano who attained stardom in 2011 with her hit Reggaetón. It was neither the first nor the last collaboration between a Latin American singer and a non-English-speaking musician. Nor the last collaboration with a non-musical figure. In 2018, Balvin worked with FriendsWithYou, an artist collective represented by Paris’s most prestigious gallery. In 2020, he collaborated with Takashi Murakami and his conglomerate Superflat. Both collaborations offered Balvin’s abrasive cultural capital unprecedented platforms. Prior to these projects, Balvin had already worked with mainstream musicians and producers like Pharrel Williams, Iggy Azaliea, Mayor Lazzer, and DJ Snake; there remained little to do before he could “revolutionize” the genre by working hand-in-hand with avant-garde musicians like Laurie Anderson and Philip Glass. His work with the Japanese musician Ryuchi Sakamoto producing an album that helped to erase the prejudice against reggaeton in Japan, where it was seen as an uncultured genre, would consolidate his career and open the door to the Asian market; this, in turn, would soon transform the Eastern sonic landscape and change the image of the world forever.
[[23:45]] None of this is new. Since reggaeton’s origins, the “crossover” has been the genre’s bargaining chip with the exterior—the oblation that would open the door toward xeno-expansion. Even in 1997 when Boricua Guerrero—the album that paved the way for the spreading of the gospel of trap and Latin reggaeton—was being made in New York, it was through the remix that the genre was able to infiltrate markets and mass media without sacrificing its language or its rhythms.
Despite class conflict, racism, and cultural white-washing, reggaeton’s domination of the North American Top 100 Billboard charts at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century following its success on the world’s most important stages would represent the culmination of a curved ascension that began in the poorest neighborhoods of Latin America, where salsa had long lost its popularity and where neither rap nor punk were able to sufficiently capture the imaginary of sex, violence, and “bling” that fed the spirits of the Third World…
Neo-perreo would become the spirit animal of the struggle of the oppressed peoples. The party was an excuse to excite the masses, and its music consumed everything. Its sound represented a new globalization.
[[00:00]] It is harder and harder to access the deepest part of the night. I look to the sky and imagine a rave in an abandoned spaceship a billion lightyears away from Earth. Inside are hundreds of aliens taking refuge in abject conditions; they cling to life while a runaway Disc Jockey plays forgotten songs by Sir Speedy, Trebol, Clan, Ivy Queen, Loney Tonz, and Noriega, as if they were old venereal diseases returning from the past to terrorize the strange species. The lights that illuminate this scene of extraterrestrial terror just barely reveal the abominations these aliens perform on one another to the rhythm of dembow. Some of them will be condemned to space. Somehow or other, they will find comfort in reggaeton.
[[00:15]] There were warning signs that reggaeton was reaching critical mass. This was before the closing of the airports. Before the whole situation of the public health cataclysm: the rebound effect, the collective hysteria, and all the rest. I remember my uncle, returning from London an emissary of the First World, showing us the Number 1 hit on the British charts. Hearing the guitar solo that normally introduces Luis Fonsi’s voice and then suddenly hearing Justin Bieber—that child of Youtube—seemed to us a killer joke.
At the time, I thought it was a harmless laugh. But now that I recall the moment in greater detail, I realize it was a nervous laugh, terrorized by the feeling that reggaeton would plunge humanity into a new Iron Age. A new darkness. In a couple years, the video for Despacito would be the most-viewed video in the world. A little later, it would become the Spanish song with the most weeks on the billboard.
Little by little the world would be plunged into darkness.
[[00:30]] Far from my computer, I wonder if the video of the takeoff will have as many views as the transmission of Voyager 1 did, or that intense period of livestreaming saturating the Internet during the early days of the quarantine. I feel like we are all walking blindly through an abandoned swamp alongside the immortal bodies of Ricky Martin, Jon Secada, and J. Lo…
[[00:45]] Before passing out from the fever, I arrive at a hill. I make an effort to remember where I am…
[[1:15]] There isn’t one “time” in the age of perreo. Only false memories. I remember my teenage dreams being displaced by the unconscious call of the orgy of arms, legs, and hips that awaited me at the club. I was barely getting to know the night. Now the night is all I have left.
[[1:30]] In retrospect, I think the standardization of the genre was a necessary price to pay in exchange for overthrowing pop’s hegemony. Reggaeton’s hypersexualized media universe channeled the aggression of the peripheral world and the stores of anger so long harbored in the earth’s core: youth, Third World minorities, the proletariat, and Islam. As it grew, wars ceased; guerillas, corruption, and inequality disappeared. Libidinal totalitarianism was the price we paid for peace.
[[1:45]] Of course, its progression was not linear. There was an iceberg that threatened to melt its heat. Or at least that’s what we thought. Now we know that sickness and music are not very different. One precipitates the propagation of the other. In the end, they are the same virulent agent. Dance and die. There is no end. No law.
It was when we returned to the streets that it happened. There was no sequence to its ascent. It happened out of a mix of organic growth, excitement for the new, and reggaeton’s physical tendency to bring bodies together.
Before perreo it was called enthusiasm, but it’s basically the same thing: the furor of the masses.
[[2:00]] I imagine the great politicians of the world coming together around this hill, holding hands and going around in circles to the rhythm of Ozuna, Bad Bunny, Maluca, Arca, Miss Nina, and Rosalía until they become sick.
[[2:15]] I never imagined that reggaeton would be the continuation of the spirit of history. But neither did the network of parties and the underground that connected the hearts and smartphones of the free people of the great metropolises, a people educated in the same school of avant-garde sophistication conveyed by synthetic drugs as were the attendees of the great, long-forgotten festivals that took place in the midst of whatever desert of arid post-nuclear earth had been entrusted to us. But of course, I never supposed that, as they listened to reggaeton, its flow would penetrate the depths of their intestines, into their homes, that it wouldn’t get between their families and friends. Between their past and present.
[[2:30]] In the post-Despacito world, clubs will cease to be spaces of liberation or zones for the release of stress, but will come to operate like giant environmental bio-reactors. Hyper-Latin machines that generate propane gas, capital, and pheromones. Tons of meat covered in brown, black, and white skin, oozing fuel for the whole world. An immaterial cumulus of humors that extends beyond the horizon and every border, beyond class, race, and sex; beyond mountains and oceans; a cloud so hot that it vaporized each and every person, transforming them into a huge gas storm spreading the message of sandungueo to the four corners of the earth.
[[2:45]] It is so hot that my body becomes soaked with the sweat of bodies that aren’t even here. Smoke machines, neons, gallons and gallons of alcohol, a percussion base programmed to reach into the darkest regions of the limbic system, a sound more liquid than gasoline, and meat, pounds and pounds of meat. Reggaeton remodeled the geography of the earth: it melted the poles and the Amazon went up in flames in the heat of its friction
[[3:00]] Today is an important day. It is the day that reggaeton will burst free of Earth’s atmosphere. Tonight, the party shoots out as an autonomous force—a lightning bolt born from the words of the street, which breaks the stone tablets inscribed with the laws of god. Its trajectory will be that of a cosmic ejaculation that reaches far beyond the planets to flow freely in the abyss of space, engendering new realities.
[[3:15]] Tonight, I feel that humanity is united, launching those sounds that came to us from that hostile neighborhood called Latin America up to the stars. Bellaqueo, rumba, and all the other reasons we have thrown ourselves into the clubs are now inscribed on Voyager 3.
[[3:30]] I wonder if, when Carl Sagan said that we are the means through which the cosmos will learn about itself, he also imagined that this self-knowledge would be arrived at through perreo. Perreando with the cosmos. That is the image to remember.
[[3:59]] This night is infinite… 10…9…8… The darkness never ends… 6… Do not go forth into this good night quietly… 4… For at the end of the day, old age should burn and rave… 1…0…
[[4:05]] Barely a few minutes have passed and there is no trace that a spaceship has just been shot up into the firmament. Even so, the earth continues turning to the rhythms it has been spoiled on thanks to the music of the streets. In space, the street seems faraway. The super-productions of the new reggaeton obscure the asphalt with exotic images and transcendent fantasies. This is not to say that the street will disappear.
[[5:30]] We all remember the day that reggaeton brought down the governor of Puerto Rico. The time when Appl* Mus*c and Spot*fy caved to the phrasing of such polarizing figures as Talisto and Bad Bunny, Demphra and Rosalía.
[[5:45]] Few people remember that Winchesta was the name on the street before Daddy Yankee. It was a time before Los 12 discípulos [The 12 Disciples]. When many were called, but few were chosen.
Of this, little remains.
A loop that gets ever slower, like a forgotten song from the prehistory of reggaeton.
[[6:00AM]] Here comes the sun.
The prefix xeno has its originis in the Ancient Greek griega ξένος, meaning that which relates to the foreigner or the foreign. In Ancient Greece, xenia was a contract of hospitality that was offered to foreigners. It was only at the end of the twentieth century and at the beginning of the twenty-first century that the expression “xenomorph” appeared in quotidian speech in order to refer to the alien—that is to say, that foreign entity that infiltrates into territories and environments of extreme ‘ethnic-sanitation.’ A techno-political counter-discourse would soon arise to articulate a reserve of possibilities for bodies and genders that have been deemed Other. Follwoing this, the concpet of xeno-expansion appeared as a conceptual resource to invert the flow of colonialism in a counter-conquest/soft-power/culturally latent way.