Photo courtesy of Sweet Electra
By Jordan Reisman
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be a celebrity in a place besides America? How about a celebrity in Mexico? Sweet Electra, now of New York City, lived such a marginalized yet aristocratic existence but, curiously, only at the beginning of their career.
The electronica duo featuring Giovanni Escalera and Nardiz Cooke started their musical career in Guadalajara and eventually made their way to Mexico City where they were signed to the Mexican division of EMI. BTR was able to speak with Escalera, the minor Mexican celebrity.
Escalera says of his former status, “Mexico has something that I think is changing because of the global aspect of the world now that everybody is on the internet and everyone knows what’s going on. But at that time, I’m talking about 2002, so it was like, internet was not a big deal still in Mexico. Obviously we didn’t have mp3’s or iTunes or things like that so pretty much everybody could be a big rock star in Mexico.”
He is saying that since there was a much smaller pool of musicians to choose from, their status as “celebrities” was more or less fueled by other people. Potential managers would offer their services regularly to Sweet Electra, hustling to take advantage of young musicians in Mexico, he said.
Luckily, he was able to sign honest representation, even at the age of 22 22. Escalera has fond memories of this type of treatment, as everything at that age seemed euphoric at the time.
“Everything you do seems amazing like doing television shows, getting in the van and going to play to whatever place, autographs and interviews, stuff like that. That was pretty amazing.”
While all of this was happening, Escalera only had the goal of playing his music for people and the rest was merely dessert. At the time though he barely had any songs to his catalog before being signed to a major label, a fortuitous arrangment indicative of how easy it was to play music in Mexico.
“ I had a couple of demos, like one-minute demos and I just told these guys, ‘I want to record an album’ and that was something like the beginning of the year and I showed them these songs saying they were the complete songs but they were only just a minute,” says Escalera. “So, I stopped the music and I said, ‘If you want to hear more, you have to tell me that I’m recording an album’ so the guys said yes but I didn’t have anything.”
All of that came to an end when Escalera moved to NYC, but by choice really. Now that Sweet Electra is essentially label-less, he has complete control of approach over the business of his music, which he says has its pros and cons.
“I can check everything, that everything is working well and there’s nothing sneaky,” Escalera tells BTR. “I can have control over everything but the other part is that it’s very hard. Instead of composing music sometimes you have to be doing social media, sending e-mails, building a website and by the end of the day you don’t wanna compose music.”
The question that is probably on your mind is: if Escalera had all of this going for him in Mexico, why the hell did he come to New York?
Well, he admitted that making the decision was tough, but also a bit misguided. When a lot of people move here they have big dreams and aspirations and Escalera and Cooke were no different. They were invited to play at the Mexico Now festival in 2004 at Joe’s Pub and fell in love with the city. They were also under the impression that their rock star lifestyle would carry over across the border.
“We thought pretty much it was like the life we were having at the time, like a continuation of the rock star life we were having in Mexico but obviously that wasn’t true. That was just like an illusion because we were new in the neighborhood pretty much,” he laments. “Once we got here it was tough because we had to start at the beginning; there’s a lot of amazing bands everywhere, a lot of competition over venues and a million concerts at the same time. It’s a challenge.”
For those who enjoy a roller coaster origin story, Sweet Electra’s “struggling days” started in New York City circa 2006.
As a Mexican living in New York City, Escalera did not consciously try to wear his chicano pride on his sleeve too much. He says that Mexicans grow up with a lot of American and British influences but do not represent their own music enough.
He grew up with dreams of being the next Depeche Mode or the Clash and felt that New York was the place to be – never from the vantage point of, as Escalera describes it, “I’m a Mexican looking for my Mexican community.”
With Sweet Electra’s newest self-titled release under their belts it seems that their Latin influences are beginning to peek through the proto-American tapestry. Tracks like “Creias” and older songs like “Firefly” feature Latin rhythms and conga-based percussive arrangements.
Escalera says of these influences, “At the very beginning from the Nopal Beat Collective was that to mix music from the ’50s like Elddis Danzon, cha-cha-cha, mambo, and all that stuff with electronic music and that was pretty much what made the collective big.”
While Escalera and Cooke work together and happen to be of opposite sexes, he says that they are not a “couple band.” This is most definitely not the first time he has been asked this though, as with so many cross-gender duos who beg the question of men and women who make music together.
In a way, the fact that Escalera and Cooke’s relationship remains platonic sets them apart the same way their back story does. They achieved a “reverse success” by moving to New York from their comfy life in Mexico and they defy preconceived notions about how men and women work together creatively. Maybe they’ll start singing backwards on their next record too.
Listen to Sweet Electra on the latest edition of Discovery Corner on BTR!