Spirited #4 [Plastic City]
Interview with Sarah Skolnick and Ernesto Morales (Pajaritos)
by Amanda Maciel Antunes
Like all super heroes, they are mild mannered by day with a career in Graphic Design and Community Organizer. When the sun goes down and the freaks come out, the Dj duo Ernesto Morales and Sara Skolnick aka Pajaritos, are what I call “the best dance generators this town has to offer”. Acutely intelligent, playful and fantastically energetic, the duo throw a monthly world bass – tropical – cumbia digital – moombahton party called PICÓ PICANTE. The boundaries, once pushed, have become barriers and everyone’s going for that quick fix. Pajaritos are about to change all that by taking Latin music to a place that it’s never been in this city. All you need to do is listen to one of their mixtapes and you’ll know why. We caught up over a cup of coffee and hummus snacks to discuss technology, learning from our experiences, whisky jackets and why Boston is poised to make a bigger impact than ever before…
AA. So, tell me, how did you get started?
SS. My first time performing was for Autumn Ahn’s art opening “Shrine On” at the Lily Pad (Cambridge Art Gallery). It’s something I have always wanted to do, it was in the back of my mind and when the opportunity showed up I just dived in.
EM. I rode on Sara’s fame a little bit. [laughs] She got invited back to do something else and at that point we were like “ok let’s make it happen”! But it was also something in the back of my mind. Although, in the beginning, the crowd made us look better than we were.
AA. Could you talk about how you pick music together and most importantly how you challenge each other?
I think that we both have very specific cultural influences. From our upbringings, I mean, I am half-American half-Ecuadorian and it wasn’t until I started working with music that I found an outlet for that. We don’t really talk about what we are going to play we just show up with what we have in mind.
EM. We never really free planned anything musically. We kind of chose the name “Pajaritos” before we had aligned musically at all and end up discovering the South American / Latin / Spanish language culture. That’s how the name became true.
AA. It’s funny because I grew up in Brazil listening to Portuguese speaking music but not really Spanish speaking music, and when I met you I had this whole new world of latin music that I wanted to explore. From Porto Rican to Colombian and Cuban…to the beats of Spain.
EM. Yeah, the way we push each other is more so the audience pushing us..by responding to particular tracks and rhythms. I picture them enjoying the track and it works like a dialogue happening between their response and I responding to their response.
AA. As a performer you want the audience to respond and the constant feedback is definitely essential. It’s what makes it beautiful.
EM. Yes, this is also a new kind of communication for me, because we are trying to curate an experience and it can only be done with the audience’s input.
SS. I would agree…so much of it is improvisation and I try to catch myself not doing it too much but I try and see if people are dancing or enjoying themselves. Because I generally have a very specific music taste that I think is fun but when we perform It only gets fun if other people are enjoying it too. We do challenge each other. We may not say it out loud. It’s really exciting, because this is more than music, it’s about traditions.
SS. We challenge each other by both being so devoted to it.
AA. If you don’t connect with the sounds you have no business playing it, right?
SS. Yeah, people can tell.
AA. Yes they can. There’s also that misunderstanding: calling DJs musicians and vice versa. What do you think about that?
SS. I think until we start producing music I will hesitate to call myself a musician. but we both care a lot about creating an experience and that in itself is an art form.
EM. I think the difference between the two is the difference between the curatorship and authorship. We are developing the skills of being curators and designers of an experience. And picking up the influences that at least for me builds up the itch to create our own sounds. We haven’t really talked about that … [laughs]
SS. Now we are.
EM. Now is the time [laughs].
AA. You have just started too, how long has it been?
EM. Since October ’10.
SS. Yeah, I think? But It’s only been a couple of months for us when we defined ourselves and within developed an identity.
EM. Before, we were playing for our friends and just had this automatic support. It was hard to go wrong with them, we’ve been lucky enough to have those people in our lives to watch…and then we started playing and getting invited to some bigger events and all of a sudden we were playing for the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the CyberArts Festival, and I was like..we have to shape up in like 3 days!
EM. We would have a lot of phone conversations like “do you realize how important these things are”?
AA. It was all really fast… but again, eventually you want to take it a step further.
SS. I takes a few drinks…
Im not editing this out.
EM. There were a lot of times that I’d put my whisky jacket…and go dancing.
AA. Now, where do you find all this music that is new and cool and make you (and me) dance, because in Boston not a lot of people know about it.
SS. We try to find a beat or vocals that are universal.
EM. I actually remember we took a salsa dance class together in college.
That’s five years ago Ernesto!
EM. I will not bring anything embarrassing. [laughs] We always shared this kind of root before we even knew it.
AA. Well you’re off to a great start and you are both great dancers.
EM. Well, thank you. There are a handful of artists that I keep coming across and I look up everything they have ever done and anyone they have ever worked with, any mixtapes they have created and just expand from there. And do this over and over again. Just the internet, the way people use blogs to share, have always been sources of infinite material.
SS. I have a google reader account of 30 blogs that I follow and I look up as soon as they post new music. It’s such an specific genre of music.
AA. Where are these blogs from?
SS. All over the world. Mexico, Argentina, Spain … Brazil.
EM. There’s usually an immediate reaction, I can just hear this one piece and say I can work with that. We played enough that we know how we’ll use this music.
AA. Let’s say someone were to come to you who wanted to do a project like “Pajaritos”, what type of advice you’d give them?
SS. To take criticism, to take it seriously and have the ability to say “yeah, maybe I’m not the best” and build a thicker skin overtime. It’s knowing what your tastes are and being prepared to present that to the fullest. You are constantly evolving as any creative process.
AA. We learn from our experiences…
EM. Yes. I think people, myself included, start off playing with music that they think is dance music and then quickly realize that is either so overplayed and only pleases your friends or just not danceable. But to start off with some support is essential. It takes an initial investment of just deciding that you’ll commit to it. Even if you don’t have an specific direction, if you have passion you’ll find out what you are drawn towards.
AA. What about when you are relaxing…what do you listen to?
EM. I used to listen to Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen…a lot of Brazilian music. Very personal, really emotional music. I’d look for music that brought up a feeling of nostalgia for home or the idea of home. And now I’m so much happier when I’m bringing an ever present life to just my day to day, like cleaning the kitchen or whatever, as supposed to listening to music that makes me think of the past. It’s hard to listen to music and not try to work now.
AA. The beauty of the emotional language.
SS. I think I really like to pull music from when I travel, so wherever I go I try to buy a CD from off the street. From when I was in Peru, India, Barcelona…it brings up these memories when you are surrounded by unfamiliar, inexplicable things. It’s always good to feel a little bit outside of your normal sense of perspective.
AA. So, I want to know a little bit about Picó Picante. I know you just had your fourth event at Good Life (Boston nightclub) in September collaborating with different Djs that share the same aesthetic as you both do, and now you’re moving on to a monthly residency at the space which is a great deal since you have just recently set your wings there, creating this wonderful dance party to elevate the grounds of kinship. What are your plans next?
SS. It started by chance, we invited our friends who had similar music, similar ideology and tried to make a participatory event. Its all experimental, from our first trial at the Lily Pad to Good life, it’s been great to interact with the space and people.
EM. I think we are holding on to it being a cultural experience, what makes you involved with a culture in a beautiful way or through music, not at all isolating but welcoming. I don’t know, that and other endeavors of ours are going a lot faster than we ever planned. It’s growing in a really organic way though, we don’t have time to plan beyond the next one. But outside of that we are looking to broad our horizons, we just got a monthly gig in Providence (RI) as well. We’ll both be living in Boston for a while so we’ll keep digging further. We are committed to make this more fun than it already is.
AA. Yep. Absolutely. I’m committed to you too. [laughs] Now, for my last question: what do you hear and think of Plastic City?
SS. I think using technology to your advantage, like social media, you are obviously physically not with people but at the same time you are communicating, although it’s a different kind of communication. But I feel that the way we are using technology is to try and create a very organic interaction with people, very…well, I don’t want to say primitive, [laughs] just something that we can all universally connect.
EM. I always think of using technology to take you outside of technology. Being a DJ is a technological experience and also a current experience. The idea of buying mp3s from artists all over the world and sharing via the internet and the dance floor to create an experience that feels natural. I just love living in that rum.
AA. Alright, thank you both. See you at the dance floor.
SS/EM. [laughs] You will.