by Juan Jose Olivares

Zombies in Miami: “Every track is an adventure and a fresh start”

We talk gear, inspiration, and humble beginnings with one half of the Mexican techno/rock crossover phenomenon.

“People ask us, ‘Is Aguascalientes a ranch or something?’,” says Canibal. “Sometimes they don’t know that it even exists.” And yet, he and production partner Jenouise have taken their electronic double act Zombies In Miami to Madrid, Berlin, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Lyon, Munich, Moscow and beyond. And the duo’s atmospheric productions have landed them releases on labels including Kompakt, Correspondant, Cómeme and Bedrock, from 2011’s Cyborg EP to last year’s long-player, 2712.

We hooked up with Canibal (aka Cani) as he completed a set of remixes for labels in Mexico, Poland and Korea, and one for French duo Telepopmusik. Cani doesn’t remember their debut remix, but it must have been “something local that was done without so much pressure and between friends”. The first one that he recalls was a vinyl-format piece for German duo Coma in 2013.

“It was a rough start, because it was with a major label: Kompakt,” he explains. “You had to catch the eye of Kompakt co-founder Michael Mayer, who was the patron, and wait for him to tell you that it was valid to be published on the label. And what’s better than being released on plastic, and on one of the most respected electronic record labels in Germany?”

How did you get started in the world of electronic music?

Jenouise was a DJ and producer, and I’d been dedicated to music since high school. I played in rock, ska, reggae and fusion bands. Groups like Mano Negra, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Negu Gorriak and Kortatu filled me with curiosity. And around 2001, I started to fool around and see what I could do with a computer, creating mixes and sound experimentation. From 2004, I took it more seriously until I debuted as a producer and live act in 2005. I performed as a DJ until 2012.


When did you began collaborating with Jenouise?

In 2009. Our connection came naturally. We have similar tastes. She first got involved as a VJ and then joined the music as she is today.


Your studio setup is comparatively minimal. Is that a conscious decision on your part, or just the way it’s ended up?

Somebody once told me that talent can’t be bought at the grocery store. There are those who have the biggest and most impressive studios, but you never hear their music on a label; you don’t see their music captured. I prefer to have only the necessary gear, which we can take advantage of in the studio as well as in our live performances.


Tell us more about that – what gear do you use live?

At the beginning, it was very archaic. Back in 2004, I was using a low-RAM desktop computer with Propellerhead Rebirth. That was basically two drum machines – one 808, one 909 – and two 303s. Then I got involved with Reason 2.5. And a cousin traded me a stereo and an electric guitar for a Roland MC-307 drum machine, which I still own.

It was a precarious start, but it was all that I had in those days, and it delivered well. Later, I got a laptop and started working with Ableton Live and an M-Audio Oxygen controller, as well as a Native Instruments audio interface. That’s what I used from the time of my first live acts through to 2006.


Today, your setup centers on KOMPLETE KONTROL. How does that fit into your workflow?

It makes everything easier for me. It’s like having a piano on which you can capture all your ideas. NI software makes it easy for me. You just shoot the Scenes in Ableton Live with KOMPLETE and off you go.

How do you approach a remix? Talk us through the creative process.

Sometimes it’s hard to make a remix, because you have to adapt the track that you’ve been sent to your style, your musical signature. Most of the time they send you the stems, the musical or vocal parts with bad digitization, or not in the best way, and that takes time, because you have to make corrections. In fact, you have to listen to the clips without the full track first. You can detect that there are elements that can be functional for you. Sometimes you use your voice, a synthesizer, or something else that might go with your style. That’s what we do first.

Sometimes, the inspiration comes from the bass part, or from a melody. It’s never the same. Every track is an adventure and a fresh start. It’s not about repeating the same pattern of, ‘I’m going to put on a drum set and start with the bass.’ Instead, you adapt to the elements they give you, and that’s where the magic comes from.


What inspires you creatively beyond the music itself?

There are factors that we like, like going out to relax in the field. We really like to see plants – but I don’t mean that we see the sky and get inspired to write a song. It’s like a chip that’s there. We only let ourselves get carried away by the mood we bring or the situation we’re in, or if we’re happy about something or if something resonates a lot with us. When we’ve finished a complete album, we’ve based it on specific things, like our cat!

The COVID pandemic has proved disastrous for the live music industry in general. As a live electronic act, how heavily have Zombies In Miami been affected by it?

The current situation affects the community, the dance floor, which in essence is the gathering of our people. It’s harsh. Acts arise, but they’re defying the danger to some point. Although you also have to put yourself in the promoters’ shoes, who have to work in a certain way. Clubs and festivals are a major source of income, and without them, it’s difficult. Fortunately, we’ve had the opportunity to continue playing in various acts – with face masks and sanitization.

For now, we must learn to live with what we have, with the situation, with the things that can help us. Better days are coming, and someday we’ll enjoy the dance floor like we did before. One might think that an artist doesn’t have to work, but there are socio-economic challenges at every level, and DJs need to provide for their families just like an architect or an engineer does.


Finally, we have to ask: where does the name Zombies In Miami come from?

The name wasn’t intended to be inspired by Halloween in any way. I had another project with which I made a kind of electrofunk track called “Zombies in Miami”. It was very catchy, and the people of Aguascalientes asked for it every time we performed at parties. They didn’t know our names, but they knew the song, so we jokingly decided to name ourselves after it, because the name is way cool. That’s the story. It’s neither a tribute to Miami nor fanaticism for zombies!

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