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In Session: Valesuchi

Rio-based, Santiago de Chile-born DJ and producer Valesuchi delves into the groove for her In Session mix — and talks participation-led ethos, the role of DJs and supporting women in dance music

  • Words: Megan Townsend | Photos: Ivan Nishitani, Paola Vasquez, Camilo Tapia
  • 30 May 2023

Despite nearly two decades behind the decks, Valesuchi still approaches DJing with the same bright-eyed devotion of a fresh starter just learning their craft. The Chilean-born, Brazil-based DJ and producer has earned a reputation for soulful, encompassing sets that put groove at the centre — viewing the art of DJing as a form of coalesce, putting the shared experience between herself and her audience at the centre of what she does. "It’s like, I’m a hummingbird," she says. "I'm hopping around pollinating parties around the world. It's a crazy privilege."

Born in Santiago de Chile, Valesuchi (aka Valentina Montalvo) believes a lifetime surrounded by art has given her this, somewhat , deviating ethos to your typical DJ. Her parents, a Palestinian/Lebanese clothes designer and an Ecuadorian architect, created a uniquely artistic environment for Montalvo to grow up — putting focus on their daughter doing "whatever she wanted" to do. "I went to an all-girls arty school that was quite prestigious," she says. "I was very nerdy until I started going out to parties, or music gatherings, with friends." However it was the death of her older brother, when she was just 15-years-old, that brought Valesuchi into the world of electronic music. An already accomplished producer/DJ/creative, Montalvo's older brother had introduced her to punk music, Aphex Twin and the concept of DIY nightlife — leaving her a treasure trove of records and equipment to get started. "For me, it was a very strong influence and his passing provided me with a lot of life lessons at a young age that gave me this approach towards everything," she says. "Not just music: spirituality, art, friendships, myself in the world."

From there Valesuchi cut her teeth in Santiago's burgeoning, but temporal, DIY art scene — learning to play at off-the-cuff events instead of established parties, an experience that taught her to respect every element that goes in to cultivating a dancefloor; from the promoters, to the bar staff, to the sound engineers, to the security — Valesuchi can be regularly found at doors open, at any party she's booked at, checking in on everyone who will be present at the night. In 2014 she was selected to take part in the Red Bull Academy in Tokyo, alongside Mumdance, Fred again.., Kadhja Bonet and Zopelar, releasing a collaborative track 'Dumplings' alongside Mark Maxwell as part of the project. A slew of releases on labels such as Discos Pegaos, Domina, Rhythm Section followed, before she upped sticks and moved to her current home and "place of inspiration" — Rio de Janeiro in 2017.

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The move to Rio, she says, was inspired by her immigrant parents — whom encouraged her to see past the city she called home. "My dad always said to us "You should find the best place in the world for you", he's an immigrant so that is one of his core beliefs - so I moved to Rio, and that's where I've been for the past five years and where I’ll probably live all my life." Once in Brazil, she began working with Cashu and Carneosso's femme-focused label and party outfit MAMBA Rec, on which she would release a handful of EPs and her album 'Tragicomic' in 2019. Combining her "participation-led" party ethos with Brazil's extravagant club scene, Valesuchi quickly became a regular face at venues around the country — and as her profile grew, her soulful approach to the decks took her further afield, making appearances at some of the world's most sought after venues: Panorama Bar, Garage Noord, DC10 and Nowadays.

Valesuchi has put together a magnetic hour-long mix, compiled of music from "friends and strangers" - recorded on a sunny afternoon in Rio de Janiero. Listen to it below, and read our Q&A where she talks about the "romantic side" of broadcasting her Noods show 'Basic Needs', reluctance to call DJing her "career" and how the scene should be less personality-focused.

What do you think is the primary role of a DJ at a party? How do you see yourself when you're up on the decks?

Music happens to me. I just know, in-the-moment, how to manage a flow that is directly linked to how much attention I pay to what is in front of me — to what is already there. We as DJs provide a service, and that is channelling musical energy and we should be open to blend with other people’s spirits and to offer that back to the crowd - together - in sometimes very unexplainable ways. I think it's like being some kind of chef, the administrator of the vibe. But lately so many things about the role of a DJ have changed, it's become too much about us - and I think it's important to realise that it's not about us. It's not about the DJs. It's not about looking at the DJs. It's very weird to see the personality cult, and the intense vanity that has grown around a craft that in nature, has to do with something else entirely.

So it's more about providing for people rather than performing?

Yes. And somehow I've been feeling quite lonely lately, wondering about things like this, relating to some of my colleagues in this industry. For me, it's a co-created experience, that’s the fun and magic of it. I want to feel the room entirely, from the dancers to even knowing how the bartenders are feeling and how the security guards are doing at the event - I want us all to participate and maybe wonder what we are celebrating? Why are we still gathering to make this work together? In the end I always find excellent reasons and try to honour them.

Do you think this belief has changed over the course of your career?

There's a tricky aspect around the word “career”. I understand that, yes this ended up being my career, for a long time now. When you're good at something, and all of a sudden people tell you are, it starts to define you. People tell you what you are and what you should be doing. But I have always flowed with this job, I always realised that there was nothing I vibed with as much as I vibed with music, but I never asked music to pay my bills nor I saw it as entertainment. There's a mysterious, elemental quality to this craft – but I don’t know why we are currently operating in such an intense visually selling environment, what you appear to be. Most images, especially in social media language, take away the mystery for me. I was a film post producer for years and I couldn’t stand it in the end. I’m way more interested in sound symbolically, it is so hallucinatory, it's removed from that readiness in meaning. But we need to tune ourselves first to be available to affect and to be affected by sound. The more you open yourself to it the more it shows and gives back.

How does this lend to curating your Noods show? With the crowd and image removed?

Doing radio or online mixes in general, implies a very specific listening setting, it’s not like when I'm playing in the same room with people. Some people might just be listening in the background - cleaning or working. It allows me to slow down and to actually listen better, even during a conversation you are constantly getting ready for the next thing you are wanting to say. And there's also a romantic side to broadcast, I like to show fresh new things but maybe in an introspective way – that's why it's called Basic Needs. I prepare one hour of music to dive into your inward basic needs and cross the possible bridges between them. And I do wisely choose the images that inspire me to promote the shows, mostly analog photographs by Ivan Nishitani, an amazing photographer from Rio de Janeiro.

You tend to play the music that teeters more towards the lower BPM. Is it hard to relate to that current trend in the scene of faster, harder music?

I never understood the BPM self-attachment. It's not about the fast BPM (which I can love) I just don’t vibe with violent, grooveless music for the dancefloor. This obviously isn't related to this sort of ironic and sexy expression in which anger or pain can be shown, I really like that. But I’m not willing to go to the overwhelming, almost sinister end of it. I like deep layers, bass sounds, and I need groove. I respect how the body operates when it dances. I just know what my gut likes, if I wanted violence I'd just open the news. Why are we so attracted to that these days? It's obviously not new, that's the sort of emotion punk was built upon, but I just think we should be kinder to ourselves and each other, considering the state of the world. I want to be patient, to relate to my mum too [laughs], why do we have to be so tyrannic, even musically?

You've mentioned before that it was your late brother that instigated your interest in DJing, has this been a factor in your philosophy towards your craft?

Definitely, he was a producer/DJ and I was 15 years old when he died. I inherited his vinyl, his turntables, and 2 electribes- so for me, it was this very crazy, beautiful life alarm. The most beautiful but difficult process of trying to understand what life was about and then I had all these musical tools for myself, which I was always very curious about.

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Did you talk a lot about music with your brother? Is he one of your biggest inspirations?

Totally, he was a visionary, he had a very fresh way of approaching music and always showed me what to listen to, all sorts of music. There was nothing random in what he did, nothing passive. He had this kind and sort of elevated consciousness. He was a very atemporal person, in terms of how eclectic he was - he was a filmmaker too, and he had friends of all ages when he was just 20-years-old. For me, it was a very strong influence and his passing provided me with a lot of life lessons at a young age that gave me this approach towards everything, not just music: spirituality, art, friendships, myself in the world. We have a similar way of looking at things. But he's also been a neverending ghost in my life, I realised during the pandemic that I needed to do my own thing, without him being a reference all the time - I needed to open space for something new that was just mine in a way. I’m finishing that process with the music I’ve been making and very looking forward to releasing soon.

How was it to start your musical journey in Santiago?

In Santiago, I think a lot of influence from my brother was there - he was surrounded by this blossoming yet very small scene in the city, and he was frequenting from techno parties, to punk gigs with experimental electronic music. It was very eclectic. We were really exposed to new things that you would never find out about anywhere else, people you wouldn't see all the time. Parties would end and you met people, then you'd never get to experience it ever again. There was a participatory consciousness, you knew if you went, things happened. People were more available in some ways, I think.

Did those early parties in Santiago shape your more "participation-led" ethos?

Exactly, there were more live sets too. Electronic, experimental pop, it's crazy because nowadays there seems to be so many more people interested in DJing than in making music. What does that say about the craft? I'm not saying DJing isn't amazing, it's great. But there's a commodification of it, even when there's so much risk still in building a Latin American “club” culture (there aren’t many clubs really).

Have you noticed a marked difference between the Brazilian scene and the one you grew up with in Santiago?

Coming from Chile gave me the essence of what it meant for me to build up a lifelong relationship with music, there wasn't anything else. The curiosity and the passion, the excitement of sharing things you would find with your peers. I think that's what happens when things are smaller, when you're the last person in the room you are taking in more, it's a different flow of energy. It's what you get when you go to parties that aren't guaranteed to happen every month, you don't know when the next one will be. If people don't have the money, the party doesn't happen.

Chile is almost at the end of the world, it's behind the mountains and it's so small compared to Brazil, way darker. Chileans have a way darker vibe, for many socio-political reasons. Whereas Brazilians, it’s hard to explain, it's another vibe entirely, mainly because of the place, the body and partying have in life and how many “Brazils” exist within Brazil. And now living in Rio, well… Rio is the centre of the universe for me.

You've travelled a lot in the past few years, how has this impacted your process?

I think Santiago still has a huge impact on me unconsciously. I've played in all sorts of places in the past few years. Travelling gives you perspective. It's crazy. To travel and have this trust from someone you don't know, who books you and you arrive and there's a crowd that you are being tasked with giving the best time you can. It's very humbling. When I go to play in Europe I tend to have deep philosophical conversations with myself to prepare for that. Or when I go to Colombia, I'm trying to work out how to communicate with the crowd when we might be from totally different backgrounds, and yet so related in so many ways. This trust that DJs are being given in bringing music to people who are living their everyday lives, sometimes coming from a very open place of vulnerability to that party, it’s so interesting. I'm not sure I felt that kind of responsibility until I started to play to more mainstream audiences, because it's easier to play to your arty/underground friends. The people who teach you the most are those who might not be as familiar with what you do.

Is that why you want to be so engaged with the events you take part in?

I’ve learnt to create and respect my own creative protocols as a DJ and as a producer. When I DJ, I like to arrive as early as I can to feel the night as a whole. I want to say hi to the staff, the promoter — I want to know who these people are. What is the crowd like? Is it a more femme crowd? Is it a queer party? What has everyone taken? Is everyone on cocaine? Is everyone high on mushrooms? I want to see if the sound is good, I want to befriend the sound guy - it is mostly a guy -. I want to meet the other artists and listen to them. I love relating to the promoters when I can and that’s why I don’t have an agent in Latin America, it doesn’t make sense to me. I love asking questions, understanding how things happen. You can get a request from some kids in Paraguay and they'll book you a five star hotel which can be totally unnecessary for their event costs. If there's someone who has a clean room and a bathroom and I'll be able to sleep, I can sleep at someone's place. If they ask me how much I charge, I'll ask first who they've booked, how much they are charging for tickets, and all of those things an agent does, but it’s me so it feels different for everyone involved. Even with big bookings like foreign festivals and stuff, you’re forced to stand up for yourself and read the room. It grounds me and I learn a lot, all the time.

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Do you want to get a full grasp of what the room is like before you play to it?

Yeah, I want to get in tune with it. Also with my mind, with my attention. I am not trying to school the crowd with what I like. I think if you as a DJ, aren't too fucked up, if you sleep better, if you related to your work during the week — you will arrive at the party more available and present, you won't be as anxious. That is something I've learned from my interest in Zen Buddhism and Sufi teachings. I’ve felt that sometimes a sense of joyfulness in Europe is attached to naiveness. But you can be very professional, and it doesn't have to be through a deeply serious attitude.

You've done a lot of work uplifting femme musicians in the Latin underground. Is this an important part of your ethos? How do you think the rest of the industry should work to support female/female-identifying artists?

Every time I see a woman in a high position in music, it's like "Woah, I know she has done a major job to get there." Things are getting better, of course, but honestly I think it's not enough yet - it is still a boys club in so many ways. When you look at your stats on SoundCloud or Instagram you’ll see it's mostly male/male-identifying people between 18-35 listening to you, so I think there's still more to be done to reach out to women. It's good to have a lot of women/female-identifying people/non-binary people who are creative and doing their thing because then you get better at communicating with each other too. It brings more people into it and the quality of the craft changes and grows.

Can you tell us a little about this mix?

You tell me ;) I just chose some special and magnetic tracks from friends and strangers and blended them together on a sunny afternoon in Rio de Janeiro.

Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter

Davis Galvin '1125ambient_demo1' (unreleased)
t-woc 'Rooftop Chant'
Simisea 'Simi See, Simi Do'
Fauna Extinta 'IER'
Capetini 'Trancehall'
NA DJ 'Mikel Loop Island'
Fortunato 'Bloco Paralelo'
Significant Other 'Cellar One'
Enayet 'Phiriya' (rrao Remix)
borderlandstate 'Red Lines Have An End'
Katerina 'July 6 - LBBB' (Left Bundle Branch Block) 2022
Kstcn 'Bad Habit'
NT89 'Brother'
DJ Vinicius Variações 'Baile do Ricardo'
Sávio de Queiroz 'Respiração da mata'

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