Only someone from Miami could find a way to mix rave culture with Latin rhythms as Phaxas (AKA Denise Faxas) does on her new EP, Hallucination Sister. The four-track EP, due out on February 18, manages to pay tribute to both intelligent dance music (IDM) and indigenous Mexican beats.
"I come from a long line of musicians," Phaxas tells New Times. "My dad played the piano. His cousin arranged the music for the Cuban band Cuarteto Faxas. Every Saturday and Sunday, my dad would hang out and play us records and cassettes of Spanish pop like Julio Iglesias and Rocio Jurado."
The introduction to electronic styles of music came from her brother.
"He had a compilation CD with the Orbital song 'Are We Here,'" she explains. "It was an epic ten-minute song that left me completely enamored."
From there she dove deep into IDM like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin, but she hadn't really started to think about being a music producer herself.
"I went to school for audio recording," she says. "My intention was to be a Grammy-winning mixing engineer, but it was too solitary working those long nights in a dungeon-like setting. It wasn't a path I wanted to take."
Instead, she started producing scratch tracks with Organic Karma, a band she was working with at the time. That creative partnership also gave her the opportunity to perform in front of a crowd after the band asked her to join them for a live show.
"The first show I was terrified — my knees buckled," she recounts. "The fear went away, and I realized this was an unmatched experience. I was born for this."
In fact, the songs from Hallucination Sister were originally intended for live setting.
"I wanted more lyrical content for my songs," Phaxas explains. "Some people find it interesting to watch me on stage twisting my knobs, but most people want to see a singer."
With concerts still kneecapped by the pandemic, Phaxas didn't want to shelve her work. Instead, she worked releasing the project herself.
The EP's title track began as a lyrical concept warning people about the dangers of addiction.
"Not just narcotics, any kind of addiction like social media or another person or working too much, an obsession that makes you avoid your true reality," Phaxas says. "I wanted the song 'Hallucination Sister' to have that alluring feeling and then it gets bigger and bigger."
"Hot & Low" came together from random field recordings she made on a trip to Mexico. The result is a sinister track that's as threatening as it is alluring.
"I saw a man wearing traditional Mexican clothing playing cool rhythms on drums. I never heard that sound before. I recorded it on the spot," she says. "When I got back and listened to it again I thought this could be the start of something amazing. It had a very tribal, driving groove. I wanted the lyrics to be simple but sexy. That's unusual for me. I usually try to make my lyrics intellectual."
Last summer's Black Lives Matter protests were the source of inspiration for "If You're Nasty." The track pairs a rallying call of "It's our time/Let's get nasty" with a warm buzzing beat that feels both energizing and hopeful.
"I meant 'nasty' is the sense of your basketball skills are nasty," she elaborates. "It has an electro-bass feel I never made before. I could have left it instrumental, but it was when the protests were taking place, and I wanted something from the protests that felt positive."
And closing things out is "We Are Pure Ecstasy," a love letter to the '90's rave scene. It's a stomping cut designed to played inside a cavernous warehouse.
"I thought if I was producing back then what is the track I would have made?" Phaxas says. "I wanted that euphoric feeling. It doesn't have to do with the drugs. A lot of people were sober. I was sober at raves, but there was a collective feeling of we're all connected. The party led people to feel together."
And with Hallucination Sister, Phaxas hopes to keep the party going.
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