Sol Del Rio at MUTEK: Mystic Multitalent Mounts MonsterShine

Sol Del Rio at MUTEK

It’s the afternoon of June 4, a few hours before Sol Del Rio’s performance. She’s been booked for Designer_Mix, MUTEK’s evening dedicated to the first three cities to join UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network under its “design” banner: Buenos Aires, Berlin, and Montreal. Del Rio, who is from Buenos Aires, and her labelmate, Chancha Vía Circuito, will be bookending the night with their electrified interpretations of traditional and popular South American music.

She’s running late due to some technical issues encountered during soundcheck, but as with many MUTEK artists, it’s understandable. Technology can be a fickle collaborator, and while most MUTEK artists push the state of their art, Del Rio’s evening is still particularly ambitious: first, she’ll be delivering a solo audiovisual performance from Ableton Live and VDMX, then she’ll be back at the end of the event to handle visuals for Chancha Vía Circuito.

Despite the shy persona suggested by the promo photos that show her only hooded or in silhouette, Del Rio isn’t too shy to lay vocals down in her music. A microphone stands at the ready next to her laptop. Alongside “musician,” “VJ,” and “designer,” It looks like “vocalist” could also be added to Del Rio’s calling card.

It is fitting that Del Rio is included in Designer_Mix. Trained as a graphic designer, she entered her current musical incarnation via the visual work she had created for Buenos Aires’ “Digital Cumbía” label, ZZK.

The ZZK family

Though most recognized as a record label, ZZK also functions as a meeting point for artists of various disciplines and styles. “[Graphic design] was a first introduction, but our relationship has become one of friends, of artists, of distinct points of music, audiovisuals, painting… it’s like a family of artists.”

ZZK traces its beginnings to a party started by DJ Nim, Villa Diamante, and El G. They named the night Zizek Club in homage to leftist philosopher Slavoj Žižek, and opened the doors to collaboration with artists looking to fuse electronic music with a range of Latin American music styles. Cumbía, as one of the most popular Latin American musical styles today, is of great importance to ZZK, but other styles find a home here as well, including reggaeton, dancehall, folklore, and dubstep.

Del Rio works mainly with ZZK-affiliated artists, but she works with other artists as well. “If I’m aligned with them, if I like the music, and it makes me interested in working with them, yes, definitely. The set I’m doing for Chancha Vía Circuito is a set I’ve made especially for him.”

With Chancha, she finds a unique sound that speaks to their shared origins. “He has a very unique sound that’s a fusion, a mix of electronic music and sounds that are very folkloric, and cumbía. It references something that’s ours, more of the place that we’re from.”

MonsterShine, Sol Del Rio’s audiovisual show, as premiered at MUTEK.

Mixed media

“I started creating my first visuals for Zizek Club – site-specific installations, designing for the club night, the artists, for album art. I designed masks and various pieces. After that I began jumping into all the audiovisual material.”

Album cover for Tremor.

It seems insufficient to describe Del Rio as a multitalent. In addition to music and visuals, she has exhibited visual work in traditional media, such as sculpture and painting in both watercolour and acrylic. “I really enjoy mixing different expressive media. Right now, what I’m exploring and working in is the audiovisual.”

Electronic music is a new medium for her. “I’ve been composing [electronic music] for two or three years. I’ve always made music, but in different styles, more analog styles, with instruments, with guitars, or in bands. Then I left analog music and came around to making digital music. I think what happened was I started making visuals as a VJ, and I wanted to see it more and more as an instrument, but for images.”

“It’s curious, when you’re live, working with images and modifying them with the beat, it’s like an instrument. So, I think that’s what happened, it was the step of VJing, and then I began to make my own music and combine them.”

Performing MonsterShine at MUTEK.

When it comes to her work, including MonsterShine (the show she’s premiering at MUTEK), the audio and visual come to her together. “It’s of the same hand. For MonsterShine, I composed music at the same time that I was filming. It all went mixing in my head and at the time that I made the edits, it came as if it was happening as one. It was like it was the same thought but in two distinct media – one auditory and the other visual – but it’s the same thing that I’m seeking, that I’m saying.”

“I like the moment where you see the result of the mixing of a track where, for example, you have to see it with some rocks, or volcanoes, or something like that, and what’s happening with the music at that moment – how they live together. Maybe they don’t say the same thing, or you see the result of exactly the two things, the sum of them.”

Women at MUTEK

Several MUTEK attendees I spoke to noted and lamented the absence of women from both the crowds and stages of MUTEK. “It’s strange,” she says, “I’d like there to be more women in the scene. I suppose it might have something to do with technology, or you have to be more masculine, there’s a lot of programming. But I don’t know why it is, really.”

It’s Del Rio’s first visit to Montreal, so she evades making any comparison between Canada and Argentina. She offers, though, a glimpse into the status of women in the scene she knows. “In Argentina there are several women who are VJs. More in clubs, not like visual artists who perform, like in a museum or gallery – that’s almost non-existent. But real-time work, like VJing, with music, yes. There are lots of women who make real-time visuals in clubs.”

Regardless of how well technology and the electronic music scene accommodate women, Del Rio has clearly eked out her place in their midst. Standing in front of the pulsating LED cube displaying her visuals, she takes the microphone towards the end of her set and begins to sing. There are lyrics, but the syllables are long, digitally cut and delayed to evade recognition.

They fade, as do the lights. The beat slows to a halt. Del Rio dedicates her set to the late Federico Rodríguez, a member of the ZZK family who passed away last year. Surrounded by the pulse of technology, Sol Del Rio reminds us there remains a real, beating heart at the centre of it all.

More of Sol Del Rio’s work can be seen on her site,

Aylwin Lo is a Technical Coordinator at CFC Media Lab, providing technical and design support to many of the Media Lab’s activities. He is a graduate of Seneca College and the University of Waterloo.

The author would like to thank Margaret E. Edwards for assistance with the Spanish-language transcription of this interview.