Nicolá Cruz at Elsewhere on October 19, 2018. Visuals by Fidel Eljuri.
(Photo: Luis Nieto-Dickens)
Like his 2015 debut album title suggests, Prender el Alma (Ignite The Soul) is exactly what Nicolá Cruz does with his music—a hybrid of sounds too special to pigeonhole into a specific genre. Born in France and raised primarily in Ecuador, the 30-year-old producer and DJ is known for drawing inspiration from traditional South American music, blending that with modern electronic production, and sprinkling in an assortment of field recordings that add warmth, depth, and a wave of nostalgia with each listen. Nostalgic for what exactly, one can’t be sure, but the transcendental feeling his music evokes has taken him far and wide to share intimate moments with listeners across the globe. Currently on a world tour spanning North America, Asia and Australia, Nicolá recently stopped by Elsewhere for the third time in 2018—the only artist in the venue’s short history to play (and sell out) all three rooms—and his second live performance ever in New York City. Equipped with mesmerizing kaleidoscopic visuals by Fidel Eljuri as his backdrop, Nicolá treated devoted fans to another hypnotic set. Following the show, he took time to share his thoughts on inspiration, nostalgia, and what lies ahead in 2019.
Thanks to technology, artists don’t necessarily have to move to music industry-centric cities like NYC, LA, Berlin, etc to get noticed. You’re still based in Quito and released your 2015 debut with ZZK Records based in Argentina. How has staying close to your South American roots helped inform or inspire your creative process?
I’ve never thought of it that much, it just feels right. No doubt this country is of big inspiration to me, but so are other places. In the case of Prender el Alma, it helped with all the investigation happening at that moment. I also have my studio and composition tools in Quito.
While one person can’t speak for an entire culture, your work has undoubtedly helped draw more global attention to modern electronic artists from South America. What’s something you wish more people knew about Ecuador or South America in general? Any common misconceptions you wish to put to rest?
Well, to be specific, one misconception would be that one of “cumbia.” Not all music that comes out of South America is cumbia. It is a big aspect and movement in the music field of the continent, but there are a bunch of different flavors to try.
You’ve stated before that the act of composing in the studio can feel ritualistic. Do you have any rituals outside of music that you practice in your daily life?
Maybe, not sure which they are though. Going out to the mountains to clear my head?
Music has consistently been a part of your life since you received your first drum kit at 11. Do you remember the first album that made an impression during your childhood?
Maybe this one: Illya Kuryaki & The Valderramas – “Chaco”
What artists are you listening to that excite you these days?
Auntie Flo, Cybe, Howlin’ Wolf.
Where else do you draw inspiration from?
This can be very abstract, and varies every time. A rich talk with my grandfather on history, or a great electro set.
Almost by default, electronic music leans toward the future, but your productions are also deeply rooted in exploring and honoring South America’s rich traditional folklore history. The end result feels intimate and organic while remaining forward-thinking. Are you a nostalgic person by nature? How do you balance being curious about the past with creating something modern?
It could be retro-futurism, is what some cities like Tokyo experiment [with]. It’s a future which is stuck in the past, and it has a certain aesthetic to it. Like you mention, electronic music always tends towards modernity. It might be a mindset as well.
Field recordings are a regular presence in your music. Have you always been drawn to nature? Of the five elements—fire, earth, air, water, aether—is there one you identify with or are inspired by the most?
Not really. I always try all of them, see which feels more useful for the occasion.
Nicolá Cruz at Elsewhere’s Rooftop on July 12, 2018 (Photo: Luis Nieto-Dickens)
This is your third time at Elsewhere in 2018. We’re excited to have you back! What do you enjoy most about visiting and playing in New York?
Definitely the open-mindness about music. Let’s me experiment freely. I don’t feel tied to anything and that allows me to tell a new story every time.
What has changed for you since the start of the year and what are you looking forward to most in 2019?
I’ll release my new album in 2019, so that’s a thing I’m pretty much looking forward to. It’s been an interesting year, composition-wise.
The first single “Siete” from his upcoming album, Siku, is out now. Pre-order the album here.
Interview by Renée Rodriguez