First off were Now You Must Climb Alone, a trio made up of Alex Hentze, Andres Arzú and Alfonso Parutz. Their set progressed from lo-fi electronica to acid-tinged house, which had me yearning for a dance floor in the all-seated auditorium. The music played against a backdrop of oil-based visuals produced live and beamed using an overhead projector that'd be familiar to schoolchildren of the '80s and '90s. Later on, Christopher Willitts of Ghostly International performed his ambient video album "Opening," whose sky, sea and mountain-heavy visuals married perfectly with his contemplative, but at times triumphant, downtempo beats.
The next day offered a full program of events, including a workshop hosted by Willitts in which he discussed his creative process before getting his geek on during an in-depth discussion of his production methods. Euphoria Records founder Adam Collins then took the floor to lead a discussion entitled "House Is The New Jazz," during which the tech house veteran encouraged local artists to overcome their fear of upsetting tradition when introducing elements of Latin American music into their productions.
The educational theme was constant throughout the conference, with artistic figures from across Central America participating in talks designed to foster cooperation across the artistic spectrum, as well as bringing the nascent electronic music communities of the continent together. After the intellectual pursuits were over, it was time to head to ONE Club for the Kompakt showcase. The venue is a cavernous space, all decked out in white, and is known for being the only club in Central America with a Funktion One sound system. The stacks certainly did not disappoint. Local boy Casta got the show underway, before Cologne-based duo COMA regaled the crowd with their playful, distinctive live show that had even the most resolute wallflower tapping a foot.
Next up was Robag Wruhme, whose melodic opening tracks lulled those same wallflowers into a false sense of security, before a good old-fashioned blast of driving techno dislodged them and drew them to the energetic dance floor. Wruhme put the soundsystem through its paces with a considered selection of darker techno that still managed to capture the joyful vibe of COMA's earlier performance. His tight mixing and varied selections (DJ Koze's remix of Moderat's "Bad Kingdom" sounded particularly good) sent everyone home with a smile on their face. If there is one criticism to be made of ONE Club it's that the DJs are too far away from the crowd, robbing the venue of any intimacy and drawing too much attention to the stark white walls.
Full marks to Castaño and his partners for organizing an inspirational conference which does a lot to galvanize the fragile electronic music scenes of Guatemala and beyond. Here's to the continued growth of SMS, an event that exercises your brain as much as your feet.
Photo credit: Jose Rodriguez Palomo