Andrew Ryce profiles one of club music's most daring and inventive labels, inspired by hardcore and the hustle and bustle of Mexico City.
With a founder who lives in Mexico and staff based in New York and Bucharest, Infinite Machine, which started in Montréal, is a global label with a global sound. It was one of the first outfits to embrace an internet-based scene rather than the relatively local focus of other prominent club labels like Night Slugs or Fade To Mind. It was also one of the first to tap into a groundswell of youthful political energy and anger. In 2015 Infinite Machine traced a path through the colourful post-dubstep world into the fiery realm of experimental club music, and it's never looked back.
The label, run jointly by Charlie Juárez, Nicholas James Concklin and Alin Ceauselu, AKA Liar, has become a mainstay in the loose, increasingly experimental club music scene. And it's not just a sound they're pushing. Infinite Machine plucks young artists out of obscurity and gives them a springboard. Producers as diverse as Bwana, WWWINGS and Ziúr all got their start on the label, which has always been happy to go out on a limb.
"I used to play in hardcore bands, and screamo bands, for like ten years," Charlie Juárez told me over Skype from his place in Mexico City. "To be punk means there are no rules, no rules for how you're supposed to compose a track or to do a DJ set or live act."
Take Abyss X's Nüshu, the label's final release of 2016 and one of its most powerful yet. It's an example of the label's punk ethos, coated in distortion and thrashing wildly with seemingly no regard for DJs.
But Infinite Machine wasn't always about the loud and the abrasive. The label's first great release came from a Torontonian called Bwana, whose heartsick 2012 track "Baby Let Me Finish" set the bass music world on fire and put Infinite Machine on the map. It established the label as a new player in the post-dubstep scene, albeit one that didn't really know what it stood for aside from being "punk."
Part of that confusion came from naïveté. In 2009, Juárez began Infinite Machine after he followed a girlfriend to Montréal, where he first developed an interest in electronic music. He already had experience as a label manager, running a hardcore label called Escucha! Records out of Mexico for a few years. With a relatively small scene in Montréal for the kind of music he was interested in, Juárez turned to SoundCloud for new stuff. Falling in love with the splintering world of dubstep, he decided to release as much music as he could, as quickly as possible—hence the name Infinite Machine. It was a carpet-bombing approach that showed Juárez had little interest in the cool, underground approach of releasing limited vinyl at a slower, considered pace. He released tons of music online, available to everyone, an attitude that might be another holdover from his punk days.
"I wanted to release one record after one record—say, two EPs a month," he explained. "That was my main idea. I didn't want to spend much time working on the music, I just wanted to release a lot of it. That's pretty much what I used to do when I ran the hardcore record label. I didn't have a plan, it was just like, as soon as I had the music ready, I would release it."
The label's pace was bewildering (there isn't a complete listing on Discogs, as if a few releases simply went over everyone's heads). The music was ephemeral—admittedly not all of the label's early releases are essential, with strong early efforts from Troy Gunner and Bwana mixed in with less memorable offerings. But then Juárez moved back to Mexico City, and things started to change.
"Mexico City makes me feel a bit more aggressive, because it's very, very chaotic," he said. "I wanted to drag that sound again into my life and make Infinite Machine more aggressive."
Liar, AKA Alin-Mihai Ceauselu, was just as important to this shift. The Romanian producer first appeared on the label in 2012 with the Strange Love EP, a record that chopped influences from across the dance music spectrum into something frenetic and exciting. Strange Love was a bridge between Infinite Machine's early lovelorn sound and the hard-hitting music that would come later. Ceauselu's musical outlook helped shape Juárez's new sound. He opened Juárez's ears to techno and other more abrasive electronic music, helping Juárez pinpoint what he calls an inherent "hardcoreness."
Though the records could sound jarring at first, Strange Love and Liar's 2014 follow-up, Scorpio, were ahead of their time. The second EP predicted the sound that would sweep up young fans across the world: a feisty jumble of breaks, Jersey club, grime, house and techno, sometimes switching genres three or four times in one track. Strange Love was Infinite Machine's biggest success to date, surpassing the strong performance of Bwana's "Baby Let Me Finish."
"I liked Charlie's philosophy and approach at the time," Ceauselu told me late on a Friday night from Bucharest, "and in the wake of Strange Love our artistic interests became so aligned that I started doing a lot of the work that goes into a label—I started writing most of the release notes, doing the mastering, and just helping Charlie with A&R. I became the silent partner in Infinite Machine."
"It's very hard to put Charlie's philosophy into words," he continued. "He's very eclectic and frequently jumps ship, if you will, in terms of sounds and styles. I just love how much he loves music—it never was, and never will be, a product to him. The business aspect of Infinite Machine, while clearly there, because ultimately the man needs to eat and the label needs to survive, has always and will always take a back-seat role to Charlie being happy with the artists he works with."
Ceauselu's records see dance music through a kaleidoscope, everything fragmented, colourful and dizzying. It became faster and harder. Where much of the post-dubstep scene had settled on house and techno, Infinite Machine moved into choppier waters through artists like Korma, Wallwork & RZR and Roller Truck, whose genre hybridism felt volatile.
"I think it was a logical progression," says Nicholas Concklin, a New York-based associate of the label who helps with promotion and communications, and who first met Juárez while running dubstep parties in his native Vermont. "The internet allows us to have unparalleled access to different cultures and communities, when most of the predecessor sounds were isolated to geographical communities. I've known Charlie for four years and I've still never met him in person."
"You had this harder club sound—like Club Constructions—through to all the Yolo Bear stuff in 2013-2014. Jersey Club was finally getting its natural recognition. Juke was blowing up as this hot new sound even though it was technically a decade-and-a-half old... there was just this whole new realm of 'Let's explore every single form of dance music we can find, and make all these amazing hybrids.' The fundamental line was just hybridity."
As the label was changing, Juárez focussed on the label's direction and, if not exactly slowing down, he at least made plans instead of flying by the seat of his pants.
"It took me some time to realize that in the electronic music scene, things work differently than in the hardcore punk scene," he said. "It was in 2013 when I started to approach blogs, magazines, and it was really hard—'cause even though I already had three years in the game, no one was really giving me attention or support."
"I started to spend more time, effort and passion on my releases," he continued. "And it totally makes a difference, and I can tell now spending two months pushing for a record and reaching out to blogs and magazines supporting us, it makes a difference. Since day one, even though I wasn't putting so much time into my artists, my idea was always to help them to develop. And that's what Infinite Machine is about. Helping artists to develop as an artist."
Though Infinite Machine grew stronger and more reliable with every passing year, in 2016 it turned into an unstoppable club music juggernaut, in part thanks to Juárez's more careful planning. And, as usual, they did it by supporting new, sometimes unheard of artists. Infinite Machine gave WWWINGS—a mysterious group of Russian producers who pretty much only existed on SoundCloud—their most prominent release with the punishing Meta EP, which preceded an LP for Planet Mu and made experimental club sound like an earthquake. Ziúr produced Taiga, the label's best release to date, while Galtier introduced a seductive Caribbean swing and Tomás Urquieta dialed down the madness in favour of Latin funk. The label wasn't paying attention to trends as much as burning holes in them.
"We can get guys like WWWINGS and we can get Aphix and all these other abrasive and really experimental acts now that we probably couldn't have gotten three or four years ago," says Concklin. "Those producers, A, weren't around, and B, there just wasn't a community that allowed that sound to come out yet. So by Juárez slowly signing acts that got harder and harder, and by bringing his hardcore background into the fold, we kind of established a safe haven for people to experiment with those sounds, and even inspire people to experiment with sounds that they hadn't considered beforehand."
The label's roster forms its own kind of local community. If experimental club is a phenomenon rooted in the geography of the internet, then Infinite Machine is one of its close-knit small towns. Disparate artists are linked together by similarities in approach or attitude, or simply by ass-kicking intensity. Artists all over the world are united under Juárez's vision. The label had a stellar 2016, and at the time of writing it's released three records in 2017, with some of its most musically ambitious efforts yet (including the killer W3C EP, State Of Absolute Alienation).
As Juárez's ear wanders, it's moving away from a dance floor-inspired sound towards something that takes experimental club's emotion and physicality and packages it into an expansive, cinematic form.
"I've been really in this science fiction world lately," he said, "so I feel like our releases this year are gonna sound more like soundtracks, rather than music that you can play at the club. They're gonna be more for home listening, probably, but they're still gonna be raw. My idea for 2017, is, like... the first year I'm really gonna incorporate this hardcore aesthetic that I've been dragging around since 15 years ago."
Wolf, AKA Charlie Juárez, and Liar deliver the sound of Infinite Machine in two "phases."
Phase 1 - Wolf:
Keru Not Ever - Pink Chrome And The Smile Of Karenine (IM052)
Born In Flamez & Modeselektor - TBF (IMFS2)
Beaka - Killjoy (IM022)
Aphix - Trick Or Truth (IM036)
W3C - Bot-o'-War (IM049 Forthcoming)
G-23 - War Drums (IMSL16)
Lokane - Eastway Project (IM034)
Tomas Urquieta - Anatomia (M.E.S.H. Remix) (IM047)
Wallwork & RZR - Tonatiuh Dance (IMSL20)
------ - ---- (Forthcoming)
B.YHZZ - HOL (IM045)
Hound Scales - Suction Clip (IMSL4)
Tsunga - Masstext (IM035)
Ziur - Fever (IM044)
Tomas Urquieta - La Muerte De Todo Lo Nuevo (IM047)
Abyss X - AMADEUS (IM050)
123Mrk - Invisible Colors (Deft Remix) (IM018)
Phase 2 - Liar:
Liar - Black Christmas (IM0XM)
Liar - Assamaite (IM020)
Effy - Move (Troy Gunner Remix) (IM026)
Ill Life - GO (Liar Resex)(IM019)
Wolf & Liar - The Truth
Liar - Ha-REM (IM025)
Liar - Nymph Hunter (IM013)