From conga drums and shakers, to synthesizers and saxophones, a multitude of sound combinations create funky, lounge electronica heard in the underground world of DJs. Unlike common electronic dance music (EDM) or club music, underground electronica combines idiosyncratic noises away from the mainstream and rears it head at Sunday School DJ Electrolounge every Sunday at Juggling Gypsy.
“Underground electronic music isn’t played much,” according to Yoel Del Río, a seasoned DJ known simply as “Río,” who helped found the event. “You typically only hear mainstream music because people tend to like only certain groups and they build scenes around that. So we’re trying to build our own scene.”
With about 16 years in the business, Río, 37, wants to create a comfortable platform for “bedroom DJs” (new DJs) to get out and perform. Río hopes to bring together seasoned and new DJs to work and learn from each other and continue a passion for Dirtybird-style music—the California label known for representing underground sounds. “I heard about other people doing similar concepts like Sunday School in larger cities,” Río tells, “so I wanted to initiate a similar event here that would give seasoned and new DJs an opportunity to play what we like to play.”
Though Río has hosted Sunday School Techno in the past at Gypsy, he revamped the event to focus on underground electronica and experimentation since they never actually played techno music.
Though often used incorrectly as interchangeable terms, techno and electronica are very different—the first full of reverb, sonic, mechanical patterns while the latter is upbeat with syncopation everywhere.
DJs interested in getting involved with the Electrolounge can simply attend and approach Río with a request, and he tries his best to fit everyone into a slot. “All you have to do is show up and say you want to learn,” Río says. “I’ve had quite a few good friends who came to me and I gave them the opportunity to play for the first time in public and today they are doing great things in the business.
DJs who have played end up building confidence to take on larger venues. Río recalls one DJ who felt inspired to form his own group and move to Raleigh where they frequent all the local venues on a regular basis. “When I first started deejaying, I wished I had these kinds of opportunities,” Río says.
Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Río immigrated to the United States in his late teens along with family. He first discovered deejaying in a friend’s garage as a young boy and maintained a strong interest in music since. Diverse exposure to cultural sounds influence his style. His tastes vary, as he has a real passion for house music, such as deep, tech and electro, but what he plays varies from venue to venue (for instance, if he works a wedding versus a club like the Gypsy).
“Knowing Latin music from merengue and bachata to reggaeton and other extreme urban styles has helped me identify different beats,” Río explains. “Not everything mixes together well, but exposure to Latin and American music has taught me what works together and the power of selection.”
For instance, he may blend Spanish vocals and elements of salsa alongside nature sounds. As he has matured in his profession, Río has learned to value a calmer sound. He tends to play lounge or chill-out music, which is slower paced, in his spare time.
At Electrolounge, DJs hover nearby to help support new DJs who may have questions about operating the various kinds of equipment provided for the night. Though Río typically stays close to industry standards like the Technics SL-1200 and the Pioneer DJM Nexus 2 mixer, they also may spin vinyl at Electrolounge.
“Every week there is a different format,” says 38-year-old Kyle Crabtree, a DJ who has participated in the past. “You may be playing on turntables with 12-inch records or use digital controllers. Even for seasoned DJs, it’s challenging and interesting to learn to master any platform out there.”
Simply known as “Krabtree,” he has worked as a professional since his early twenties. Electrolounge offers Krabtree total freedom from normal gigs, where often mainstream dance clubs require them to play certain songs.
“There are a lot of times that you’ll hear something you recognize but it’s presented in a new format and sound,” Krabtree explains. “I call the music I play deep, progressive tech. It spans several different feels including house and broken beat.”
Krabtree credits his introduction to Río with his current success in Wilmington. Without the network underground, he may not have gotten immersed into the business as quickly. “I’ve only lived here a little over three years now and sometimes breaking into the business in a new town can be difficult and rocky,” Krabtree says.
The next event takes place Sunday, June 3 at 9 p.m. Other DJs to perform include Minimal, Krabtree, Spinning House and Tropical House. No cover charge is required—only a love and respect for the strange.
“As a DJ, having the power over music can give you a euphoric feeling for days after an event,” Río says. “Just put me in front of two turntables and some nice speakers and that’s all I need—it will flow.”