After finishing Zebra, a deeply-cathartic work bore out of the pits of depression and discontentment, NY-Based producer/DJ Juan Alvarez, AKA Wamoo, was taking it easy. He was collaborating with artists from his Nu Zulu Collective such as Rev Rose and Marco Millions, DJing parties, and even directed a music video for A. Sarr’s “Praying Hands.”
Zebra was a figurative portal of his conscience that he had explored out of necessity, and once he resolved the qualms raised on the project, he had closed it. The endlessly curious Wamoo didn’t want to merely retread on the downtrodden, murky soundscape of Zebra though, no matter how well-received it had been. He didn’t know who or what would inspire the jolt to begin his next project — until a dream about being an Astronaut in February of 2016. “Stars bloomed into tulips, Jupiter had beaches, and there were people just chillin’ on the sun,” he recalls over e-mail.
He describes it as the “trippiest” dream he’s ever had–which is noteworthy for a guy who dumped the muck of his anxieties into a dystopic, borderline-psychedelic visual installation with 2015’s Zebra. Roughly a month after the dream, the sound collagist began exploring musical textures that eventually turned into an experimental soundscape which fused elements of electronic and trap with soul and funk records of yore, most typified by the project’s “All 별 Game.”
While producing the album, he paired the music with a visual narrative inspired by the dream and Korean pop. Wamoo says that he aimed to mirror the genre’s ability to synthesize diametrically opposed objects to convey a singular idea. The end result of his craftsmanship is GOLD, an enigmatic visual work which winds through a mythic galaxy with its own seasons and regions — each representing a different emotion under the umbrellas of anxiety and incertitude.
The Dominican-American artist admits feeling a sense of existential displacement — increasingly so in America’s current political and social climate. Though he doesn’t feel the gloom that he once did during the post-Grad Zebra era, his introspection is once again on display within a 30-minute montage of misgivings and breakthroughs conveyed through visual metaphors.
We recently spoke about GOLD, his perceived responsibilities as an artist, and how wrong the Trump administration is about people of color.
After the dream did you wake up with an immediate desire to create music and a visual?
It was definitely not immediate!
The first track I made for GOLD, “Givenchy Spacesuit”, was about a month after I had the dream. It was essentially a chopped-n-skrewed version of a 70s R&B song. I then knew what kind of vibe I wanted — a sort of retrofuturist adventure into the unknown, with lots of ambience and funk. I chased that vibe until it ran out and completed all the tracks that wound up on the album around August.
Not too long after I finished the tracks, I was approached by Amelia Holt, co-founder and creative director of Tech Afrique, an electronic music label/collective of which I’m now a part of, about doing a video installation for a monthly event her group holds called The Communion. I thought this was a cool opportunity to see what I can do visually with these tracks and decided to give it a go and see where it took me.
It was immediately apparent that the inspiration the dream had given me had not died, but was still a pervasive presence in my art. I was drawing clips from NASA, ESA, nature videos, KPOP music vids, what have you. The process of creating the visuals for this took about two months, but those two months went by so quickly.
In what ways is the approach to this project different from Zebra? In what ways is it similar?
The frames of mind in which I worked on each project were certainly different.
With Zebra, I was breaking out of a shell built by a prolonged period of deep depression. My thoughts and ideas were synthesized into material much less efficiently because I was far less sure of myself. I had doubts about my own judgment when it came to little and big things, such as snare selection, track listing the overarching idea of the project, etc. A primary reason why it took 3 years to make Zebra was because I had serious doubts if I had what it takes to be the kind of artist I wanted to be.
GOLD on the other hand is the product of a far more confident artist. Until I die, I will always be Wamoo and whatever I do will be the product of my own ideas and emotional disposition. 2016 was the first year I was comfortable in my own skin as an artist and as a person. I made decisions much quicker and second guessed myself less frequently.
What is similar is that I started on the music first and the visuals second on both projects. To me, sound can make or break a film. The moment there is some incongruity between what I’m seeing and what I’m hearing is the moment a film starts losing credibility.
What informed the decision to move from a playful, K-Pop inspired musical approach to a more serious, introspective tone through the GOLD creative process?
Don’t get me wrong, I will always have time to dick around with my craft. Like in the sciences, the best ideas are discovered using methods that have no immediate practical purposes. I still hold weekly sessions with my NuZulu crew, and have jam sessions with my fellow Tech Afriquer The Space Wanderer, in which fucking around for science is a regular occurrence..
But as I approach my late 20s, I have been thinking about what matters to me and what I hope to accomplish with my time in this world. I have always been someone to question norms and to try to deviate from them (in healthy ways) as much as possible. I want people to do the same when they see my art. What I’ve discovered about my art is that I’m really good at confusing people, so I’ve decided that eliciting confusion might be the best way to accomplish my goal.
Confusion has a tendency to snatch away the foundation of what we perceive as real and forces us to ask hard questions about things that are important to us.
What kind of narrative are you looking to tell with GOLD’s visual?
I wanted to set a journey in which the protagonist is thrust into the unknown, both in physical world and in their mind. In that journey, they learn about themselves and about their place in the universe. There are times they are struck with fear and anxiety, there are times where they are full of joy and excitement, and others where they are flat out confused. In the end, the protagonist ends up trusting himself despite the chaos as he had gotten far still intact.
I feel like outer space serves as an excellent allegory for our naturally human fear of the unknown. The primary takeaway from GOLD for me is If we were all more risk friendly, I couldn’t guarantee we would be happier, but we would at least be more free.
Are you a believer in a divine or spiritual meaning of your dreams? Do you think it was moreso a consequence of having an inquisitive mind that wanders even as you sleep?
I genuinely don’t know. I don’t think there was anything spiritually significant I felt after having that dream. It did not fundamentally change who I was as a person.I do like to have thought experiments from time to time. At the end of the day, dreams have a way of communicating unearthed thoughts and feelings; their meaning must have slipped away from me this time.
How does it feel ascending as an artist, but having you and your family in the crosshairs as a latino male? How much responsibility do you feel to convey the strife of this administration in your art?
It’s really weird to have your personal life go so well and have a presidential administration attack your very identity and the identity of those close to you so aggressively on a daily basis. In one end, I’m very happy to have an ever-expanding platform to express myself and on another, I have doubts how long I will have that, or if I should be thinking about it at all.
We have an attorney general, the top law enforcement officer in the country, who at one time stated that Dominicans have no use in the American workforce. I have guidance counselors, school teachers, oral historians, doctors, musicians and politicians in my family, all of whom fit firmly outside of Jeff Sessions’ characterization of us Dominicans. In 2017, America should know better, but sadly, that has not been demonstrated.
I sometimes feel it is my duty as someone who can express themselves in a multitude of ways to fight back. I don’t know if I did that with GOLD, but it regardless, it sometimes doesn’t feel like it’s enough! We’ll see what the future holds.