In composition as well as curation, Nick León considers all of the angles. Although the Miami-based producer has always demonstrated a keen ear for involved and immersive soundscapes, his latest EP, Friday’s Totem, sees the artist boil down his preexisting techniques to a previously unheard degree.
Whereas León’s earlier releases, such as debut LP Profecía, might have made for a more relaxed listening experience, Totem is punchy and to the point. From the outset, the title track alternates between silence and sputtering tribal percussion before firmly settling on the latter, bursting forth in a cacophony of drums begging to be heard on a high-end stereo system. Until the record’s final track — the piano-led and emotionally charged “Hesitate” — not a single song stretches beyond 3 minutes 30 seconds, and there’s nary a vocal sample to be heard; it’s minimalism in service of inflicting maximum effect upon the listener.
“There’s much more percussion [on Totem],” León says, contrasting the new EP with his earlier records. “It's louder, more in-your-face, and I feel like that's a side that hasn't really been expressed too much [by me].
“I considered my last album, Profecía, as abrasive, but it's not really listening back to it, and it didn't really capture the sense of urgency that I wanted to portray with our relationship with the planet at the moment and our relationship with ourselves at the same time.”
These are concerns that pervade León’s work onstage, on record, and in his role as the head of the local label Space Tapes. Heady questions concerning environment — whether it be the natural world, the framework we build for ourselves, or the people we choose to include in our lives — dominate his thought process, likely explaining the dense textures and adventurous productions that have come to define his music. This constant probing has led León into new realms of sound in both his input and output. Besides citing film scores such as those of Italian horror maestro Fabio Frizzi as an influence, León also attributes Totem’s more aggressive sound to his ever-increasing time spent in Miami clubland.
“At least on this project, I do consider it more dance music, but it is highly textural,” León says. “It's just kind of like seeing how far you can push something while still being somewhat accessible in a club setting, or with a rhythm.”
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Totem is being released courtesy of TAR, the Los Angeles-based label headed by Flying Lotus associate PBDY. According to León, his distinctive spin on dance music made Totem a good fit for the label, although he’s sure to add a playful groan when referring to it as “deconstructed club music,” a term used mostly online to describe similar genre-defying sounds.
“It's not electro, it's not house, it's in the in-between, which is where I think I exist,” León says. Because much of Totem was fashioned from edited and rearranged field recordings of him banging on objects — the title track is built from various recordings of a washing machine taken at different angles — with such an idiosyncratic approach to recording, it makes sense León would bristle at reductive categorization.
“It's finding the influences, finding the textures, finding the palette, but then filtering it through my work. So [my inspirations] get recontextualized because of the person I am. I don’t really question during the process of working; I like to make music and then categorize it later.”
Nick León EP-Release Party. With Nicholas G. Padilla and special guests. 9 p.m. Thursday, June 7, at Floyd Miami, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; 305-456-5613; floydmiami.com. Admission is free.