When I Skype Nicolas Guerrero at his home in Mexico City, he's still reeling from the "best concert of his life." The Friday before, while all his friends were out partying in the city centre, the 25-year-old took himself to El Bosque de Chapultepec—Mexico City's equivalent of Central Park—to see the avant-garde noise artist Kevin Drumm play in the open-air. Standing there, in the freezing cold, Guerrero said he'd never felt sound that way. He'd been obsessed with Drumm's 2008 album on Hospital Productions, Imperial Distortion, one of several records and artists he mentions during our chat. DJ Shadow, Tim Sweeney, Rhythm & Sound, Theo Parrish, Developer, Kevin Drumm—all of these artists feed into the singular, mesmeric techno he makes as White Visitation.
I catch Guerrero at a particularly exciting time in his production career. A week or so earlier he'd put out LIES-XMAS-03 as WV, the third installment in Ron Morelli's ongoing series and easily his most high-profile record to date. It was the icing on the cake of a strong 2014, which included a track on Blank Slate and an EP on Dog In The Night. The L.I.E.S. release picked up where the latter left off, dousing rough-hewn, off-kilter percussion in dank melodies. It's the darkest music of Guerrero's career, and the latest step in his trajectory towards, broadly speaking, a more club-ready techno sound.
But Guerrero hasn't always made music like this. Some of his earliest and best records would fall flat in a club setting—their dense textures, beatless interludes and slow-burning sequences are better suited to long train journeys or post-rave get-togethers. What binds his work, then and now, is a measured sense of pace and the power of repetition.
Guerrero arrived at this sound in a roundabout kind of way. He moved around a lot growing up, and at age 13 he switched to a school where it was required to learn an instrument. He chose the bass guitar, and for the next four or five years it was all he did, playing rock covers in various bands. The last band he was in, which never had a name and never played live, was nevertheless a tight and serious operation, fuelled by a nerdy love for Nine Inch Nails and punk. But then school ended, people moved away and rehearsals became few and far between. As the other band members started making music on their own, swapping their mics and drumsticks for laptops, Guerrero set down his guitar.
A year or so after that, when he was 18, an old school friend asked Guerrero to play bass on a dance track he was making. This friend, known simply as Diego, was a popular local DJ, playing mostly DFA and Beats In Space-inspired house and disco. In return for his services, Diego taught Guerrero how to mix on a pair of CDJ-200s. He was instantly hooked—that obsessive feeling that he'd had when he first tried the bass had been reignited. Soon he got his hands on a copy of Ableton Live and started making beats, a move that would play a part in his dropping out of an economics program at ITAM, one of Latin America's top business schools. Music, once again, took priority.
Throughout our interview, Guerrero speaks matter-of-factly and in considered sentences, demonstrating a near-perfect command of English. But when the conversation shifts to music, which it does regularly, passion floods his speech. DJ Shadow's Endtroducing, an LP he describes as his "favourite record in history," was a major influence during these formative years, as was The Avalanches's Since I Left You. Searching for "a dance music equivalent to Endtroducing," he discovered Theo Parrish's Parallel Dimensions. This inspired him to have a go himself. "I remember trying to make a somewhat 4/4, playable equivalent of it… like translating that vibe into a sort of dancey, if not strictly dancey, format."
Guerrero's other main influence, and perhaps the one most central to his style, are Rhythm & Sound, AKA Basic Channel pair Mark Ernestus and Moritz Von Oswald. With the self-titled label they ran together, and across more than 30 EPs, the duo recalibrated techno for the more meditative listener. The simple power of their aesthetic, championing space above speed, had a profound impact on Guerrero. "I've always liked echo, on principle, and finding a whole style where echo is the complete base is just amazing. When you think about it, those tracks are really incredibly minimal. It's just like a chord and everything rhythmic is actually made by the echo, which is an amazing idea. The space is made by the echo, the reverb is also just echo. Everything is made by repeating. And the degradation of every repeat, which is also a beautiful idea."
Rhythm & Sound's influence is clearest on Guerrero's earliest work. His first official release was a track called "Fucking Magic," which came out on an Opal Tapes compilation, Cold Holiday, in 2012, just before the label took off. If that sounds like a stroke of good fortune, it was. After hearing Huerco S's "Elma (Ruff Rub)" ("the only thing on Opal Tapes I'd listened to," Guerrero admits), he emailed label boss Steve Bishop out of the blue to let him know he was a fan and an aspiring producer. Bishop, who happened to have some space free on a forthcoming compilation, asked him to send through some music. Like "a Lawrence track after three days of not sleeping" was how Bishop described "Fucking Magic," and you can see what he meant—the track's snail pace and eerie hum give it a bleary-eyed feel. And then there's the throb of the bass, pulling you in with its hypnotic drone.
Intrigued by the tape format, Guerrero decided to try it himself. His next three releases—Tape 1, Dubs and 3—were all made by hand at home, one-by-one in real time, resulting in a total of 80 cassettes. Rather than sell them himself, he offered them to Matt Werth, owner of New York label RVNG Intl. Werth loved them, snapped them up and watched as they flew off the shelves in days. Guerrero also uploaded the tracks to Bandcamp, keen for his music not to be restricted to a select few.
Guerrero's body of work is excellent throughout, but there's something magical about the tape series. For most people, myself included, they were the entry point into Guerrero's music. What's so striking about them is how immediately immersive they are. The first track on Tape 1, "Make Your Maker," sucks you in with its freakish, twanging intro, before dropping into a sludgy half-step that keeps you locked for the full nine minutes. As a general rule his tracks are long, but never needlessly so—they hold your attention with subtle shifts in tone, a wonderful ear for melody and fine layers of warm, hazy sound. The variety, too, is remarkable. Afterhours downtempo ("Infinite Aftertime"), slamming techno ("Maintain") and misty deep house ("Actually") coalesce to present a bold and particular mood. The Slowdive-y vocals on "A1," the seductive synths on "Hossoslossohoss," the rippling guitar of "B1"—it all plays into a sombre aesthetic that is undeniably Guerrero's. But there's hope in there, too. Its long, meditative passages invite deep thought and self-reflection in the listener, one of the rarest and powerful qualities of great music.
Before these tapes surfaced, Guerrero wasn't part of any musical community in Mexico City. In fact, he didn't know a single person that shared his tastes. These days, though, White Visitation is a name in a scene, albeit a small one. At most, Mexico City's underground clubbing community—the kind of people who went to see Legowelt, Conforce and Pinch when they visited in 2014—is made up of three or four hundred people. House and techno in its deeper shades have no place in the city's club scene, which is awash with flashy nightclubs on the one hand, and a strong but uninspiring "deep house" movement on the other. For those seeking something rougher round the edges, nights out are spent in dingy shop basements and at house parties with proper sound systems, lineups and a paying bar. Guerrero loves the house parties for their loud, sweaty atmospheres, and he'd like to play more of them.
At the moment, he DJs roughly every two weeks or so, playing whatever gigs get thrown his way. Sometimes he'll get booked to play a party where disco or house is clearly required, and he'll do it, just for the love of getting behind the decks. "I mean I've been doing it for years and it still feels sort of… new. And it feels sort of unending, like it seems inagotable"—Spanish for "bottomless"—"you know? There's just so much room to do stuff. It's also a lot more immediately enjoyable, like producing can definitely get… there can definitely be some suffering." For someone who spent long periods alone in front of a computer, you can see why the call-and-response of DJing to a crowd would seem attractive.
But DJing in Mexico City isn't what it is elsewhere. With nothing like the deep-rooted vinyl culture of North America or Europe, public perception of the DJ is based on lazy CD and laptop jocks. The ubiquity and easy-access of the craft has watered it down to the point where the audience, and even some promoters, will only take you seriously if you're playing live.
"It's really frustrating and it's something I see frequently. I tell people that I just DJ, and they're sort of disappointed, like it's a let-down. Automatically. The DJ set as a format has become devalued, I guess, because everyone has a friend or a cousin that DJs. Or, quote-unquote 'DJs.' If you work a lot on your DJing, it seems sort of frustrating to be told that you can't play wherever because DJing's not legitimate enough."
In part as a reaction to this stigma, Guerrero started NO Sleep, a techno party he runs with his friend Frankie Francisco, the first of which took place in September with Shifted. Guerrero warmed up that night, one of many recent occasions on which he's found himself able to indulge his love for harder, harsher sounds. In turn, his production approach has changed, as seen on recent EPs for Dog In The Night and L.I.E.S. "Whenever I get the chance to make a record, I feel I'd like to be able to play the record out, you know. I mean it's fun to play your record out." Though there's likely to be more of the gritty stuff to come, his next release, a full EP on Blank Slate, is "probably the oldest thing I've ever put out," he says, and as a result, "very slow and more chilled than recent music."
The way Guerrero talks about Mexico City's club scene, about how frustrating and limiting it can be, makes me wonder if he wouldn't like to move abroad. We also touch on the recent political unrest in Mexico, where, in September 2014, 43 students from the city of Iguala in Mexico's south-west went missing while on a protest. Exactly what happened to them remains unknown, but it's widely believed that the police rounded them up and handed them over to Guerreros Unidos, a local crime syndicate, who killed them. According to Guerrero, it "struck a massive collective nerve," personally landing him with a heavy, helpless feeling, part sadness, part despair. Wouldn't he, then, rather live somewhere with liberal politics, world-class clubs and a thoughtful take on dance culture? He pauses. "It's sort of a love/hate thing. I don't feel committed or anything. I would definitely move if I had to, but it seems like a fun project, you know. More like a fun thing to look on and grow, and see, you know, if it works."