Lucrecia Dalt’s latest album is a sumptuous and radiant sci-fi meditation in which the bolero, salsa, mambo and merengue influences she absorbed throughout her childhood are refracted through “machinic distortions”. But an alien presence is lurking…

Aliens. Deep philosophical musings. Machine-processed tropical rhythms. Spanish spoken-word lyrics stretched into unimaginable shapes. If there’s anyone who can weave these colourful, diverse elements into a cohesive whole, it’s Lucrecia Dalt. The electronic musician from Colombia has made her name with conceptual, often cryptic work that’s both beautiful and strange. From the opaque soundscapes of 2013’s ‘Syzygy’ and the gothic, folkloric experimental pop of 2018’s ‘Anticlines’, to the score for ‘The Seed’ – a film about an extraterrestrial invasion, released earlier this year – Dalt’s work is characterised by a singular vision.

She has called Berlin home for the past eight years, and is speaking from her apartment/music studio in the city’s leafy Alt-Treptow suburb. But Latin sounds and syncopations have always underpinned her music, no matter how deconstructed or minimal it might be. Her latest album, ‘¡Ay!’, is part future-facing sci-fi adventure and part nostalgic invocation of the music that soundtracked her childhood.

“My mother’s side of the family was extremely interested in music and collecting records,” she explains. “There was always someone coming to the house to sell records to my mom. Buying records in Colombia was very difficult because there were so few shops, especially in my hometown, which is not a big city.

“When I was a teenager, to get a record, you asked someone who was going to the States to buy it for you, or you had a bootleg cassette. But there was a big distribution related to Latin American or folk music. So that was what I was listening to – bolero, merengue, salsa, cumbia…”

Of course, in Dalt’s hands, these traditional genres – which grew out of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and were themselves informed by African cultures – are given a curious, contemporary slant.

Together with collaborator Alex Lázaro, she has arranged rich, live percussion and woodwind instruments, processed – as described in the press notes – by “memory and modular synths”.

“For this album, it was actually bolero that I wanted to explore,” she says. “When I started to work with Alex, I began to go further into the possibilities – like slowed-down salsa or influences from merengue, but not specifically the rhythm. I was pretty much just romanticising my memories of being with my family, listening to boleros and dancing a lot.”

When I ask if she misses her birth country, her response is vigorous and emphatic.

“I miss my parents, of course. I miss the spontaneity of life there and I miss the food very much. But I’ve been away for 13 years. Colombia is obviously complex, and it’s always been that way. Having had the chance to develop what I do in such a way here has been so important.”

Before she took up music full-time, Dalt was a geotechnical engineer, which she enjoyed but knew would never be enough.

“I was having a happy life,” she says. “But it was always going to be the same, you know. I would have been someone’s boss. If you’re a musician, life is not gonna be boring.”

Photo: Aina Climent

There was a definitive point – the fabled lightbulb moment – when she realised she wanted to pursue a creative path. It was prompted, she explains, by a conversation with her father.

“It was a very peculiar call that I got from my dad. I was working as an engineer but making tracks for compilations, and I was DJing quite a lot. I had my first show in 2003 in Bogota. My father called me once and asked, ‘What’s happening with the music?’, and I was like, ‘It’s starting to make sense’. We had a long chat and I somehow interpreted it as ‘Maybe you should quit engineering and try it’. Which is totally bizarre, because I didn’t think my dad would suggest I lose the security of my job, and he doesn’t remember that conversation now.

“My partner at the time really encouraged me as well. I was trying to figure out a way to have some income for myself. I’ve been sewing clothes all my life, so I was like, ‘OK, maybe I can give sewing classes half the day and then the rest of the time I can make music. And that’s what I did for quite a while.”

It wasn’t only Dalt’s family who had faith in her musical ability. Early in her career, she was championed by two influential figures in electronic music, and she firmly believes this had a lasting impact on her subsequent sonic trajectory.

“Gudrun Gut’s appearance in my life totally shifted things,” she affirms. “She’s so amazing. It was in the time of Myspace. I received a message from her and I honestly thought it was spam. I was like, ‘No, this is not possible’.”

The German innovator – an early member of Einstürzende Neubauten and founding member of Mania D, Malaria! and Matador – asked Dalt to contribute some tracks to an instalment of her ‘4 Women No Cry’ series of compilations that promote unknown female musicians. It was 2008, a time when Dalt was releasing music under the mononym Lucrecia.

“It was this sort of miracle of Myspace,” she says. “We did the compilation, and actually the very first tour I did in Europe was because Gudrun organised it. Since then, she’s been hugely supportive throughout the years. She is so interested in opening space and opportunities for musicians. I owe her a lot.”

Six years later, in 2014, she released an eponymous EP on Other People, the label run by Chilean-American electronic musician Nicolás Jaar.

“With Nicolás, it was a similar situation,” she laughs. “I received an email from him and also thought it was spam. He’s extremely minimal in his communication. Everything was super-abstract, and everything was done via email. One day, I said, ‘Hey, do you exist? And why do you speak English to me when we can speak in Spanish?’. We only actually met in person for the first time last year. He was lovely, and we did speak Spanish, which was nice.

“Nowadays, I feel more fluid in English, but back in the day I was trying to accommodate the way an English speaker would interact, which is a bit more distant. And then there’s me, being totally Latin and sending kisses and hugs to everybody. So being able to switch to Spanish and feeling the commonality was just great.”

Dalt’s mother tongue is a focal point on ‘¡Ay!’. Her luminous vocals sit forward in the mix, and it’s the first time she has sung entirely in Spanish since ‘Syzygy’. Non-Spanish speakers shouldn’t despair, though – the lyrics are often difficult to interpret, even for native speakers.

“There are tracks where you can’t understand the lyrics because of the way I’m elongating the words,” she explains. “Reconnecting with the possibilities of the language was a beautiful exercise. Maybe I was fooling myself in the past, thinking English might be a little more elastic… but, no [laughs].”

This leads us to Preta, the alien character who is the album’s protagonist. In this metaphysical odyssey, Dalt acts as a third-person narrator, articulating the monologues of a being who has fashioned a material body from evaporated dead skin gathered in the Earth’s hydrosphere.

“It was great to be speaking from another type of subjectivity, so that I felt less exposed with my own feelings,” she says.

Dalt often creates music “in character”. On ‘Anticlines’, she embodied El Boraro, a mythological creature from Colombian folklore that kills its victims and then inflates their skins like balloons. I have to ask her what the obsession is with…

“Skins and bodies?” she interjects, anticipating the question. “Yeah, I don’t know [laughs]. But I love building a whole world around an album. And also for performing, it helps me a lot to be in character. When we perform the new album live, I’ll play synths and be singing – there’s quite a lot of performance on my side. It’s something between a concert and a play, without being either. I’ll be in character as Preta, even in my interactions with the audience. I’m playing bass with a shoe on one track… I like to make it fun and enjoyable!”

With Preta, Dalt explains she was inspired by conversations with her friend, the philosopher Miguel Prado. At one point, she became fascinated by the Triángulo Del Silencio (Silent Triangle), an area in Spain’s Balearic Islands which has been compared to the Bermuda Triangle.

“I was thinking about something simple like, ‘Where do our skin particles go?’,” she muses. “Where is consciousness located and is it related to anything material? Scientists are still trying to figure it out. Could intelligence exist without being embodied?

“On ‘Anticlines’, I was thinking about atmospheres and borders, about the edge of the solar system – and about the difference when passing from one layer to another. So when I found the Triángulo Del Silencio myth, it was fascinating. A body without organs just walking like a balloon. It’s an extreme way to possess another.”

Photo: Aina Climent

‘¡Ay!’ is an alien romance, then – the story of an entity navigating our earthly realm, trying to make sense of the human concepts of love and time. The mood is certainly sensual. On the dramatic ‘Atemporal’, Dalt sings of timelessness and tears that are like crystals over a complex percussive arrangement. ‘Gena’ slinks along like a black cat crossing your path. With an abundance of languid rhythms and Dalt’s silky, intimate vocals, the album conjures the quintessential romance of bolero music.

“There was this idea of negotiating all the things that have been important in my life, musically and artistically,” she explains. “Up to ‘No Era Sólida’ [2020], I was either in denial or taming this other part of me that is definitely related to where I grew up and the kind of life, the lightness and the spirits of that part of the world.

“Until then, this kind of music had only been part of my personal life, except for certain rhythm patterns I was applying to some machines. It’s a delicate thing to work with other genres, even if they were part of your upbringing. But I always wanted to make a bolero album. They’re such romantic ballads.”

The most straightforward bolero sequences on the album emerge in the opening and closing tracks, ‘No Tiempo’ and ‘Epílogo’. There’s also a lovely, woozy organ noise on both songs – a sentimental tone that inspires images of faded fairground rides.

“I have this very strong memory of going to a restaurant once in Colombia,” recalls Dalt. “There was a man – and this was very common – playing one of those old organs with a drum machine, and he’d put on a bossa nova or samba rhythm. You find this kind of atmosphere in lots of Latin tracks.”

Dalt says she particularly loves the work of Mexican musician Ernesto Hill Olvera, who was known for making his organ sound like it was talking. She describes him as “the Pete Drake of Latin America”, referencing the American musician who was famed for making his steel guitar “talk”.

“Do you use Spotify?” she asks. “I can share the playlist with you that I made of all the things that inspired the album. There’s a song called ‘Oración Caribe’ by Olvera – it’s beautiful.”

Titled ‘¡Ay! Inspiration’, Dalt’s playlist is a treasure trove, packed with over three hours of music that ranges from crooners and 1950s R&B groups to songs by Grace Jones, Tom Waits, Serge Gainsbourg and Alice Coltrane. I’m struck immediately by the likeness between the Olvera track and the dreamy sounds of her own compositions on ‘¡Ay!’.

“I was focused on reducing the bolero to the minimal expression, but while still having all these romantic feelings,” she explains. “So I was mixing that tradition with a feeling of something similar to what Alice Coltrane would be doing, with a lightness and organic style. That was the idea for ‘No Tiempo’.”

This lightness and playfulness – another key component of Dalt’s work – is summed up cheekily by the album title. ‘Ay’ is a Spanish exclamation used to express emotion.

“I use it all the time,” Dalt explains. “It’s almost like my way to say, ‘I know’ or ‘I see’. It can be positive or negative. It can indicate excitement. It can be a cry for help. And it’s definitely an expression you hear a lot in this type of music, like at the beginning of sentences.

“So I feel it’s something extremely simple that connects the Spanish-speaking countries. But also, because I stylise it with both exclamation marks, I thought it might be a way to suggest that there’s something inside that is not so usual. It’s really saying, ‘Don’t take me too seriously’, especially not with this album – because I’m exploring and going in so many directions, and in so many different moods.”

Those multiplicities of mood, musical direction and philosophical inspiration are what we’ve come to expect from Lucrecia Dalt’s creative practice. On ‘¡Ay!’, she reaches new heights in both her storytelling and her soundscapes. And she’s right – what’s inside is far from usual, but it’s a wonderful world to lose yourself in for a while..

‘¡Ay!’ is out on RVNG Intl

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