Anwandter is a enigmatic being. He reminds me of a character from Cry Baby á la Chileno… greased in would-be pomade. His nostalgic persona however blends in everything from 80’s pop, 70’s disco, all the way to 50’s dance hall ballads with wildly controlled finesse. He’s tall. He’s gangly and awkwardly freckled, a stone cold fox in my book. And his voice, far from Michael Jackson and a little closer to Neil Tennant in its limited range, is convincingly emotive. I’d say he sounds a little more like that hottie from Kinky, what’s his face? Gil Cerezco or our favorite oldtimere Rivers Cuomo. His skweeks aside, Anwandter has more than just heart, lungs, dance moves that could put Elvis’s appropriating-ass to shame and the politics of a Queer Theory academic. His intellectualism is put to use quite well as a music video producer, lyricist, composer, and passionate hedonist.
His recently, U.S.-released Rebeldes is sure to be the album of the summer. If you haven’t caught wind of Anwandter’s sick Chilean house and dance pop oriented rhythms, I suggest you catch up quick. “Cabros” is one of the most poetic videos I’ve seen from Latin America in quite some time. His first album Odisea was an absolute knock out. He’s clearly playing with freestyle, house aesthetics and audience, homosocial concepts and urban banalites in a mature, referential and reverent way. He creates music not only from a scholarly, classically trained vantage point, but on principles of absolute pleasure.
I had the honor of pulling Anwandter aside after a performance at SXSW 2012. Tucked away amid the dishes in the back room of the bar for the Caradura showcase, I had to keep from swooning as our bodies pulled towards each other, huddled closely for our intimate little conversation.
Tell us how you started out with these artistic leanings and as a musician…
Well, I studied music as a child. I’ve played the violin since I was 6 years old. I played for about 12 years, more or less. When I moved into adolescence I started to fancy myself a rocker, and picked up the guitar and piano and those things. Things a little cooler than violin. After some years I started to compose and record and autodidactically I transformed into a producer and singer, all that good stuff…
What was that process like, that’s not something easy to come to…
The truth is, since I learned music, it’s the only thing that completely occupies me. Writing songs, recording demos… I started with a horrible program called Cool Edit, which was truly terrible and a lapel microphone for a 1995 Dell PC. Stuff like that. That’s how slowly I started to make better songs. The technology advanced. I still love it as much as when I started.
What does this project mean to you?
For me songs, making songs, the job of making songs fascinates me. It’s something really beautiful. I find it’s hard to make a solid song that flows, emotes and effects people. On top of that [Anwandter says, “que más encima” and corrects himself chuckling lightly, from Chilean colloquialism to universal Spanish, opting instead for “aun mas” ] that’s entertaining. I really like pop music, which focuses equally on pleasure. I enjoy that a lot. The last album I did has extremely personal lyrics and it was really pretty to see people’s reaction to those lyrics. The lyrics give me the opportunity to reflect over feelings under a distinctly tinted light. So, for me, it’s an incredible job. And on the other hand, I’m fascinated by the sounds. I love the production. I love doing new things. Doing things in Castellano…
You mentioned pleasure… What gives you pleasure, outside of making art and music?
Umm… I enjoy corporal pleasures. [Anwandter laughs shyly] And really, intellectual pleasure as well. I think I take pleasure from an incredible film just as much as from drugs or sex.. or drugs… [he laughs again, suggestively]
Or the mix…
Or the mix… I enjoy kissing, I don’t know. [We’re giggling and grinning from ear to ear, standing closely in a tight corner of the kitchen at the bar, sharing the mic]. I take pleasure from things that in certain theoretical circles are known as non-normative. That’s what interests me… And I enjoy reflecting on those experiences in my job, in what I do.
Examples of that?
I like to subvert the cliches of love songs that are default, man and woman. I don’t feel like a revolutionary for doing songs that deal with a man and another man, or to sing to a man, but I think it’s healthy to not have normative ideas.
Of course, of course. Actually, I was gonna ask about your inspirations. Your aesthetic clearly takes from vogue culture, diva tendencies, gay culture… I don’t mean to presume but, you’re gay? Who are your influences gay or otherwise?
The truth is I don’t feel gay. I don’t identify with that.
You’re bisexual? Heterosexual? Labels don’t matter to you?
No. [with noted boredom] That’s my style. That’s why I don’t do something more political. It’s important to me that no one discriminates anyone. That’s what interests me more. Musically speaking, I enjoy so many things, but above all danceable pop music. I like specific people like Michael Jackson. I think the person whose career I most admire is David Bowie for his…
No… for his artistic renovation. That’s what I admire of him most. I like artists who evolve and innovate themselves. That’s what I took as an ideal. To each time try and make something different…
You have a very theoretical approach to music. What did you study [in college]?
You started making music then just to make it?
I studied composition briefly. But, I came to the conclusion, very quickly, that you can’t really teach composition. You can teach many things attached to composition, but not how to compose.
The image you’ve promoted for the last album is very specific… [Anwandter, surprisingly offers me a sip of his beer. I giggle awkwardly as a I accept the swig, gather my thoughts and continue my question] I’ve only seen one video of yours. You know the one with the guys dancing…
The one with the old guys?
Yeah, the video has a very strong vision, a very solid image. Could you talk a little about it? Where did the inspiration come from?
For me that video has a lot of explanations. On the one hand I wanted to make a very entertaining video. That album Odisea, which comes before the one I’m releasing, is a little experimental. But, that song, specifically, is the poppier side of the album. I wanted to make something very light, fun, versatile to accompany the song. The funniest idea was that ‘los cabros…’ Cabros means ‘dudes’ in Chile… it occurred to me as an entertaining contrast within that concept. That they be old dudes instead of young, cool hip-hop dancers wandering through the street. It seemed more cohesive, and more entertaining to do that instead of the latter, having a dance duel.
How did you change from the first album to the second?
Well, Odisea has a very pop side, but it also crosses an electronic music territory with long trajectories. It has songs that last 7-10 minutes, which made it difficult for certain people to listen to. But, very entertaining… In that era I was only listening to House. I couldn’t do anything more than that, but I loved it and I enjoyed it. The second album, called Rebeldes which released in Chile already but hasn’t released in the U.S. yet, has more short pop ballads ranging from 3-4 minutes. Not as experimental in terms of production, but as far as lyrics go, very personal very emotional. People have told me it feels very Pet Shop Boys, emotional.
Lollapalooza in Chile.
To what do you attribute the recent explosion of exported Chilean music? There’s so much incredible work coming out, how do you explain it?
That’s something I get asked a lot so I’ve had the chance to think it over well. I think it’s something quote unquote ‘historic’ in Chile, musically speaking. When we started to make music… All of the Chileans you might know making music.. We’re all friends. The scene is super small. And we’ve known each other for years before leaving Chile and certain albums started getting notoriety– all of us started to make music when the industry was completely dead in Chile. That translated to two things, I feel. On the one hand it was an absolute autogestion and on the other an artistic search that didn’t correspond to any industry criteria. It didn’t have to comply with any standard. And for some reason, it has resonated with people and succeeded.