Suck My Finger: An Interview With Chúpame El Dedo

As they prepare to take their surreal blend of Colombian music, metal and grindcore to Milhões De Festa, we catch up with the barmy, brilliant Chúpame El Dedo

It’s hard to take Eblis Álvarez entirely seriously when he describes Chúpame El Dedo’s live show as ‘nothing out of the ordinary’. "We just use red and yellow capes while we play the set," he says. He fails to mention that said set comprises of songs that on record are chaotic in the extreme, a brilliant, baffling clash of traditional Colombian music, tropicalia, heavy metal and grindcore.

The project is a duo consisting of Álvarez, best known through his work with The Meridian Brothers, and Pedro Ojeda of Ondatrópica and Romperayo. The two have worked together in the past as part of Colombian stalwarts such as Los Pirañas and Frente Cumbiero – it is something of a tradition in Álvarez’ native Bogotá to have a number of projects on the go at once, he tells tQ – but never has any of their many musical guises borne such an unabashed edge of the totally surreal. Meridian Brothers’ psychotropic approach to genre has always been thrillingly strange, sure, but rarely, if ever before has either of the two taken it to such dreamlike extremes as with Chúpame El Dedo.

Chúpame El Dedo translates as ‘Suck My Finger’. There’s little in the way of much backstory there, the name was Odeja’s choice – "It’s pretty much his own aesthetic," is all a deadpan Álvarez offers by way of explanation. Lyrically, too, they approach them from an angle that’s ‘banal and superficial’. I ask Álvarez for an example and he provides the following, about a zebra crossing: "’Me meé en la zebra, no me dijo nada.’ It means ‘I pissed on the zebra, He didn’t tell me anything.’"

The wild, freeform instrumentals of Chúpame El Dedo are where the real focus lies, semi-improvised on stage. The self-evident power of the pair’s music is what pushes it beyond the superficially surreal – bonkers it may be, but it’s still brilliantly powerful.

It was the German musician, journalist and director at the German House Of World Cultures Detlef Diederichsen who sowed the seeds of Chúpame El Dedo. Knowing of Álvarez’ past as a metalhead, he commissioned the Colombian for a festival called Böse Musik, or ‘Evil Music’. "After throwing around some ideas, I decided to make a synth-based project combining metal and tropical music in the boldest way possible," he remembers, "After the idea was set, I called my colleague Pedro Ojeda, and we started out working from some old compositions. Then we sat at the studio and develop it, through improvisation, construction of the structures and discussion. He’s going more towards the tropical and I am the one who likes to include all the metal clichés."

What made you want to continue the Chúpame El Dedo project after the initial live commision?

After the concert in Berlin, the record label Discrepant was interested in releasing Chúpame El Dedo, first in cassete and then in vinyl. After the record was put out, several concert offers kept coming both in Colombia and internationally.

Can you describe what your live show is like?

Nothing out of the ordinary. We just use red and yellow capes, playing the set we have. Improvisation also takes place, we add some extra material added to the tunes we already have.

How long have you and Pedro been working together? What is your relationship like?

We’ve been friends for a long time, we’ve known each other for 25 years. Our friendship began when we played together in a school band. We’ve made tons of jams, compositions, collaborations in several genres such as rock, jazz music and tropical, so I knew he was the one who could learn, play and help with the composition concept I had, and within the idea of Chúpame El Dedo.

How is your approach to songwriting different with Chúpame El Dedo compared to your other bands, such as Meridian Brothers?

The difference with the Meridian Brothers, is that that is a studio project, involving a lot of preparation and studio work. When we play live, we work like it’s a replica of the studio stuff. Chúpame El Dedo is a prefabricated theatrical play concept put together with Pedro, it involves both of our input.

Why do you choose to work across so many different projects?

It has been more or less a tradition in the underground Bogotan/Colombian scene since the 2000s to work with several individual projects for different reasons. The scene has a lot of its roots in the university jazz scene, and as everyone knows, in the jazz scene everyone jams with everyone, and mostly individual artist-egos drive the energy and the way formats are displayed.

After a while, standard American jazz music fell out of fashion and was replaced with the new traditional Colombian-oriented music. But the habits remained, so the bands changed their aesthetics but the musicians still wanted to play with everyone, as well as having their own project. I think it doesn’t make sense for a musician of the Bogotan underground scene to play in just one project, it’s weird.

How much of a history does Colombia have with genres like grindcore and metal?

Metal music is a much loved genre in the country. It has a story beginning in Medellin in the 80’s and then it spread out towards the whole country. That’s a well-known tale here, but there’s other aspects that makes metal so loved in Colombia.

As it’s been stated by historians and sociologists, the Colombian population has a very violent heritage coming from indigenous tribes being split and at war with each other. Then the Spanish colonized the land with violent methods and a Catholic doctrine that remains deep today. The African diaspora added another conflicting element. The social and Catholic system set up by the Spanish became very unstable and that feeling endures today. Is also well known that Colombia has been at war since it became a republic.

I think metal music was the perfect match for this scenario , due to all its aesthetic aspects such as the ‘macho’ attitude, the high speeds and violent energy (which is replaced sometimes by the African traditional beat) and the call of its lyrics towards any kind of spiritual appealing, such satanism, despair and other dystopic and apocalyptic images. It just fits, and one can see that metal music is massive all through Latin America, much more than in other ex-colonial territories.

Can you tell me more about your personal relationship with the genre?

I am an ex-metal head. So I heard all kinds of bands of metal and punk from the 80’s. My favorites were black metal classics such as Venom or Emperor. Also I was follower of the Colombian metal movement in Medellin and Bogota. Neurosis and Masacre were my favourites.

What do you want to do with Chúpame El Dedo going forward?

Nothing in certain, we just want to show the music and the record in different festivals and concerts. Since the style doesn’t fit in any urban tribe or commercial style. It’s difficult to predict if we’ll get any more fans. We hope to make a mark on the cultural background of rock and electronic music fans, as well as party people.

Chúpame El Dedo play Milhões De Festa along with Sly & The Family Drone, Moor Mother, Sex Swing, Heiroglyphic Being and more. The festival takes place from July 20-23, for the full line-up, tickets and more information, click here

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