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Producer Rey Rubio says of the imminent release of his electro-inflected group Alpha-606's debut, Computer Controlled,"One thing is, we've never been pressured to force it out." Rubio is not exaggerating. Over the course of a relaxed two-hour interview at his house in Little Havana, the seven-man team behind his newly formed label Dopamine Records pours out numerous stories, from the Mariel boatlift on which percussionist Marino Hernandez arrived in 1980 ("I'm a Marielito," he laughs) to the Dopamine release party on March 19 for Alpha-606 -- Rubio, Armando Martinez, and percussionists Hernandez and Luis Chirino.
Computer Controlledis the group's first release, but they already know everybody in the international electro scene, which is why acclaimed U.K. producer Andrea Parker headlined their party. She also contributed a remix track for the next Dopamine release, Alain "Nomadic" Hernandez's twelve-inch single "Alpha Phix"; a Phoenecia remix is included on Computer Controlled. When Rubio discusses putting together a Dopamine compilation, he casually weighs the option of using a Scape One track, despite that British producer's considerable fan base. "Well, I don't know about Scape One," muses Rubio. "We're still working that out."
So who are these guys? Most of the Dopamine crew, particularly Alpha-606's Rubio and Armando Martinez, have been electro fans for years, ever since the days of Planet Patrol's "Play at Your Own Risk," Newcleus's "Jam on It," and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message."
Despite being ardent fans as well as artists, all of the Dopamine crew have regular jobs. Rubio says he originally went to college to study music engineering, but when he realized that positions in that field were few and far between, he switched to electrical engineering.
The name Alpha-606 is a hybrid of Alpha 66, the anti-Castro freedom fighting group, and the Roland TR-606 synthesizer machine. "I'm just anti-Castro by myself. But I don't put much effort into it," says Martinez, distancing himself from his three partners. The music itself, though, is a futuristic homage to Cuban culture, fusing warm machine tones and crisp bass notes with Afro-Cuban drums.
Why use real drums instead of a drum machine? On paper, the two styles seem incongruous; in practice, it's a logical extension of bass producers' obsession with melodic rhythm. Hernandez and Chirino play congas and clave, nimbly following the beat machinations. Meanwhile Rubio and Martinez ensure that the drums don't "sit on top" of the track, instead processing the rhythms so that they're subsumed into the rest of it, forming an elastic foundation. "It's not random 'drum circle' drumming," promises Martinez, who studied percussion for several years. "They're our human version of the 808 drum."
In 1998 Rubio formed Dopamine with Julio Hernandez and Marco Merino. "That was our idea ... Dopamine would be engineering, production, label, everything all together," says Rubio. But at first, all they had time for -- aside from their regular jobs -- was to throw occasional parties around the city, often in tandem with other local crews such as Beta Bodega Coalition. In the meantime, Nomadic and Alpha-606 burned CD-R copies of their music and passed them out to their friends. Some of those tracks were later pressed up into acetate vinyl.
As time progressed, the crew was finally able to set aside enough profits from its parties, as well as personal savings, to produce and manufacture 1000 vinyl copies of Computer Controlled. "It's all been really hard work, just a matter of us saving our money," says Rubio. "Right now, Marco and I have reached the point in our own professional lives where we don't find it to be a big issue ... we're willing to risk that money for the sake of this music."
But even that triumph has been fraught with difficulties. Due to a printing error, none of the vinyl records were ready for the March 19 release party. So Dopamine pressed up a batch of CDs to give out to friends and others in the music industry. Unfortunately it forgot to put the track listing on them. "Everything was supposed to work fine, but it didn't," says Merino.
With luck, Computer Controlledwill soon be ready for consumer consumption. Alpha-606 describes it as an excursion into minimal electro, full of IDM (think Warp stars Autechre and Aphex Twin) influences and nonlinear sequences, but more accessible and percussive. "IDM is more a listening kind of thing," explains Rubio. "For me, it's more about making it danceable -- not necessarily, like, club danceable, but rhythmic."