Chris Alfaro, aka Free the Robots, a 36-year-old beatmaker and DJ, has been one of the pioneers of the Los Angeles underground beat movement since the early 2000s, when he produced tracks for MCs using samples, controllers and live instruments. Today, Alfaro travels the world, weaving jazz, hip-hop, psychedelic, blues and electronic music into a sensory mix that defies labels. Excerpts from an email interview with Alfaro, who performed in Delhi on Thursday and plays in Mumbai today:
How did the name come about?
It came out of nowhere. I was on shrooms, zoning out in my old studio, sci-fi flicks on in the background and that combination of words just came to me. It just sounded dope and it stuck with me.
What was the scene like in LA in the early 2000s? You’ve said that you did music at a DIY level, and the way it was received and travelled, at the time, was very organic.
The ‘beat scene’ was forming, but no one knew what was happening. For some people, it was just a left turn for hip-hop. Producers were starting to focus less on making beats for MCs and more about just making beats that bang as is. It pretty much created a whole new approach and genre. People were under the influence of all sorts of past musical phases. Hip-hop shows, DJ battles, raves, weird art concept events, house parties and local punk houses were frequented constantly. Everything was super DIY, so certain things only hit the radar of certain interested people, and acted as a filter. These were sanctuaries for those who wanted to stay away from social norms. When MySpace music came around, the community began to include everyone. Introvert bedroom geniuses entered the playing field; they moved the scene without having to leave the house. With DJs having the ability to instantly play anyone’s music without having to press vinyl, it was inevitable. People hate the digital age, but it’s really what gave us all a massive push for new sounds.
Your music is very visual. Is it because of the seamless mix of genres and sounds from all over?
I’m constantly stimulated by environments, people and energies. Living in Los Angeles alone is like living around the world with so many different vibes and cultures. You can hide out, be in the mix, and take a vacation — all in your own city. My life feels like a big movie, so if the music feels cinematic, it’s natural.
How would you describe your own sound?
Technically, it’s electronic music, but that is just how it’s made. As a genre, it flips from one to another — sometimes in the same release. I have always been influenced by jazz, psychedelic music, hip-hop, and so on. My main focus is the texture of the music — a blend of lo-fi, hi-fi, and sci-fi.
Is there any genre that you’ve heard recently that excites you?
I’m really into more upbeat rhythms from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, among others. The way the music is recorded, the off-time signatures, the instruments and the vocal styles are foreign to what I grew up on in the West.
Is this your first time in India?
It is. The culture, colour palette, food, history, architecture and records, which came out of the ’70s — everything that has to do with India — has always piqued my interest. It’s interesting to see what’s happening outside LA because I feel like most of us coming from the underground have the same mission and story.
Free the Robots plays at Disrupt 2018 on Nov 16 at Famous Studios, Mahalaxmi.