Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
A few months back, when Mutant Dance Moves polled some of their favorite dance music makers about their “Song of the Summer,” more than a few DJs tipped a single that was the inaugural release on a brand-new label. It was the work of Detroit producer Andrés, and “New For U” quickly became my favorite song of the summer as well: a propulsive, string-laced house track that feels like an instant classic. It was deep and soulful with a powerful punch to the hook, yet it was also light on its feet. It marked Andrés’s first release on his own label, La Vida, but Andrés is an old vet on Detroit’s music scene, DJing for hip-hop collective Slum Village through the ’90s, or releasing singles on Moodymann’s label, while also releasing tracks as Dez Andrés, DJ Dez, and A Drummer From Detroit, the latter of which is what Andrés is at heart.
“Drums were my first instrument and I learned all Latin percussion: timbales, congas, bongos, as a kid,” Andrés told me via email (he’s currently on a bustling DJ schedule). “I loved anything I heard that was good: Cuban music, soul, hip-hop, R&B, Latin music, you name it, I liked it all.” He was born into a Cuban-Jamaican background and lived in Detroit until the age of five, wherein he and his family moved to California until he was a teenager.
When he returned back to Detroit as a teen, Andrés soon fell in with a group of fellow music obsessives. One day back in 1992, while hanging out at former Parliament-Funkadelic member Joseph “Amp” Fiddler’s house, he bonded and became fast friends with James Yancey, soon to be known to beatheads around the world as J Dilla, or Jay Dee. “Dilla and me just liked anything good,” he recalled. “We went record shopping a few times and we would borrow each other’s records. We loved Brazilian records. He would put me up on records with big drums and lots of different things.” He also credits the legendary producer for expanding his ears with how to listen to records for sonic nuggets beyond merely drums to sample. When he’d borrow certain records from Dilla, he’d ask about breaks, “… but Jay would always tell me: ‘Listen to it, don’t just listen to the beginning.’ You gotta let it play, there’s some shit in there.”
And while his friend passed away in 2006, his spirit remains close to Andrés’s own music-making. “Jay was the illest I ever met and heard, period! His influence does stay with me,” he said. “It really doesn’t trip me out that he influenced so many people; it just makes me proud to have known him and to have worked with someone so great.” It might also inform how Andrés creates beats without concern for genre, crafting beats for hip-hop like Slum Village while also making house tracks that establish him as in the same lineage as fellow Detroit producers like Theo Parrish and Kenny Dixon Jr. (a/k/a Moodymann). In fact, Andrés’s earliest efforts, released on Moodymann’s own KDJ and Mahogani labels, were at first mistaken as yet another alias for the man.
Starting the La Vida imprint for his own productions should go a long way towards distinguishing one of Detroit’s leading dance music voices, and the label has recently put out “Second Time Around,” wherein Andrés revisits some tracks from earlier in his career, this time featuring some new keys courtesy of Amp Fiddler. Able to blend jazz, Latin percussion, funk, soul, strings and house’s incessant four-to-the-floor, Andrés has a deceptively simple touch, careful to not put too much into the mix. “Sometimes you can add too much to a track,” he said. “You might hear so many things that can be incorporated, but sometimes less is more.”
And even when he uses something wholly familiar, it still stands out. Almost anyone can recognize the voice saying “Feel that” on Andrés’s “As We Rock On” (hint: it’s an international pop star), but it takes a sense of craft to utilize it in such a way as to make it sound new again. Same goes for the string section that weaves in and out of “New For U.” A few heads might recognize this plush Dexter Wansel sample when Rick Ross deployed it on his “Maybach Music 2” track, but for his own take on the Philly Soul song, Andrés speeds it up, giving the entire track a giddy feel. “I think the rhythm section and drums came first, then came the melodic strings and the bassline and then all the sprinkles on top came last,” Andrés recalls of putting “New For U” together. “I know a track is finished when I feel it’s got just enough ingredients to make the perfect full course meal, so to speak.”
Andrés plays in New York City this Friday as part of the Beats in Space 13th Anniversary Party at Cameo Gallery.