Camilo Lara, the guiding force behind the infectious dance-music project Mexican Institute of Sound, is a big fan of music made and played in Tucson. He's also a fan of Club Congress, around which so much music orbits.
"Tucson is one of those places that attract a lot of interesting people, especially musicians, ones who live there or who just come to town to play," says Lara, by phone from his home in Mexico City.
"I can really see a kind of a movement developing and growing there, and see it attracting bigger interests from around the world. It has an amazing vibration, and is really exciting that I have met artists and musicians and poets all around that small area of town."
This famed producer, DJ, music executive and impresario ought to know. For the third year in a row, Lara will be among the top acts playing at the HoCo Fest, a celebration of music at Tucson's historic Hotel Congress, which houses Club Congress.
Lara will act as the unofficial host for HoCo Fest's Latin Night, on Friday, Sept. 2. The evening will occupy three stages and feature performances by, among others, the Mexican rock and hip-hop band Molotov, and Tucson bands The Jons, and Gabriel Sullivan and Taraf de Tucson. Lara will close out the evening with a live DJ set that should prove—if the past two years are an indication—nothing short of exciting.
One of those stages on Friday will be at the Rialto Theatre, across Congress Street. The Rialto is adding to the Latin flavor of the evening by presenting Paris-based and Basque-born dance-music master Sergent Garcia, who will play his unique blend of salsa, reggae, hip-hop and jazz. Admission to HoCo Fest gets you into this gig as well.
The seventh-annual HoCo Fest is actually four nights long this year. It all begins Thursday, Sept. 1, with a special edition of the weekly dance-music party known as the Opti Club. The Brooklyn DJ and producer Le Castle Vania (aka Dylan Eiland) will play, with doors opening at 9 p.m.
The Saturday, Sept. 3, events at HoCo Fest are free, with an early-evening barbecue and performances by Tim Lee (formerly of the Windbreakers and Gone Fishin'), Al Perry, Dan Stuart (a founding member of legendary Tucson-cum-Los Angeles band Green on Red), Adrian Daniel, and Kiss and the Tells. The live-music performances start at 5 p.m. and will be followed by the weekly Bang! Bang! dance party, featuring DJ Matt McCoy and guests Them Jeans.
HoCo Fest Night Four will start at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 4, and feature an all-star lineup of DeVotchKa, Calexico, Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta, Tom Russell, Richard Buckner, Jon Rauhouse, Luca, Dylan Charles and Matt Ellis.
Proceeds from Sunday night's show will help with the medical expenses of longtime local musician and producer Craig Schumacher of Wavelab Studio. (See this week's feature, on Page 14, for more about Schumacher.) This evening's festivities will be co-sponsored by the Tucson Artists and Musicians Healthcare Alliance and Save our State.
Lara expects that, in addition to his Friday-night set, he'll sit in with Mendoza and maybe Calexico on Sunday.
He also expresses high regard for Club Congress entertainment director David Slutes, whose vision in large part has given birth to HoCo Fest. (Full disclosure: Slutes is a longtime friend of mine.)
"David is a character who has been super-important to the development of the scene there in Tucson—thanks to him, it has heart and diversity and soul and its own character. I wish more cities all over the world had people like David. What he has helped create is the crossing over of projects and cultural ideas that seems unique in its way in Tucson."
Lara says HoCo Fest has exposed him to music with which he was previously unfamiliar.
"I discovered Sergio at a previous HoCo Fest, and really admire what he is doing. Two years ago, I heard Amparo Sánchez, with Amparanoia, and that really opened my mind. That sound definitely made me search out ways of incorporating different sounds into my music."
The music of Mexican Institute of Sound is the ultimate mashup, combining electronic dance music with live musicians, cumbia with techno, bass-heavy loops with Esquivel samples, banda with indie rock. Lara's modus operandi is an "anything goes" sensibility.
"In my music, I try to question everything," Lara says. "And I try to include whatever comes to mind, even things that aren't necessarily politically correct, or considered hip or cool. Sometime, beauty can come in the oddest places.
"Like here, in Mexico City, there is beauty in the most horrible neighborhood, the most dangerous places. You can find a gem of beauty in a trash heap sometimes."
Lara, 35, was born in Mexico City, although his family originally comes from the state of Chihuahua in the north. An avid record collector, he started working for the Mexican arm of EMI Records while still a teenager. Concurrent with his career as a DJ and remix artist, he rose to the position of chairman for the label's Mexican arm, while overseeing A&R for the region. In February of this year, Billboard magazine reported that he had left EMI.
"I bought an old computer from a friend of a friend," he says of the beginnings of MIS. "It had a music program on it, so I started doing remixes, remixing songs by bands from around Mexico and elsewhere. Soon, I got bored with just remixing the songs of others, and I wanted to start creating my own music.
"After a while, when I had an album's worth of material together, I submitted my songs to a label from Spain, which asked to hear what I was doing. They didn't like it; they said it needed work. Then I went back to my computer, and the hard drive was full, so I didn't make any new music. I just rearranged the order of the songs and sent them another CD in different order, and they said it was amazing."
That became the first MIS album, Méjico Máxico, released in 2006. He followed with Piñata in 2007, and the amazing Soy Sauce in 2009. He's working on his fourth record, which he says will be released next year.
"This is one of the last shows I am doing this year. Then I will spend a lot of time in the studio getting this album finished."