Paurro's pumping DJ sets take dancers through the spectrum of house music - Music - Mixmag

Paurro's pumping DJ sets take dancers through the spectrum of house music

Paurro shares an adrenaline-charged mix and speaks to Annabel Ross about her musical journey, debut EP and the wealth of dance music talent in Mexico

  • Words: Annabel Ross | Photos: Brandon Muñoz, Leila Afghan
  • 31 March 2023

It’s 3:AM late December in Mexico City, and Paurro is bringing the party to a steady boil upstairs. The Mexican DJ is playing at Departamento, the same chic club where she scored her first residency around six years ago, and the dancers filling the floor know who they’ve come to see. Her tight, pumping set is filled with different permutations of house — from breaks-heavy chunkers through to bumping Chicago house, campy dance-pop and a cheeky Kylie Minogue edit. It’s all upbeat and fast-paced, providing zero incentives to leave the dancefloor, while Paurro is attentive but relaxed behind the decks, occasionally sipping on mezcal and dragging on a cigarette.

Over the past five years she’s become one the city’s key players as the programmer and booker of the beloved, now defunct radio station Aire Libre, where she also presented her own show and invited international guests. But tonight it feels like she's the homecoming queen. It’s one of Paurro’s first gigs in CDMX since she released her debut EP, 'Galavisión', on Matias Aguayo’s Cómeme label last November, and tonight she plays its biggest track, the seductively swampy 'Rave Soup' to a heaving room. It’s not hyperbole to call her the city’s most exciting export currently — a sizable feat off the back of just one EP and a couple of remixes — but her breakthrough is the culmination of years of hard work. Paurro is a community builder, consummate hostess, vinyl native and a quiet hustler. Her first European tour last year included sets at HÖR, Tresor, and Lisbon’s Music Box, and she’s already shared stages and bills with Lakuti and Tama Sumo, Midland, Orbital, and Marcel Dettmann.

When she submits her excellent, characteristically high-energy Mixmag mix, I notice it’s the fourth version she’s attempted. “It’s very hard for me to make decisions and stick to them,” she says. “I’m very indecisive.” Indecision is a symptom of perfectionism, but Paurro’s exacting high standards are taking her places, and it feels special to catch her at the tipping point of her journey. We spoke over a carajillo (a superior Mexican version of an espresso martini) in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, a few days after her Departamento gig.

How did you first come across club music?

I was 22 and visiting my older half-sister in London in 2008. I was into indie music and nu-rave/nu-disco stuff at the time — LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, things like that. She took me to a couple of clubs, including fabric. We were only there for a few minutes because her boyfriend wanted to leave, but I was like, what the fuck is this? After that, I got super curious about it. I didn't know that that really existed in Mexico because I lived in the south of Mexico City where the clubs are more like bottle service and playing commercial music. People weren’t really dancing, they were more singing along to top 40 commercial music. A few months after I got back from London, I saw DJ Mehdi play in a club called Pasaje America. It was the first club I saw in Mexico that had a dancefloor. It was so great to me because my Mum is a ‘70s girl, and the first memory that I have of music is like ABBA and young Michael Jackson, and my Dad went to Studio 54, so I was like, wow, this kind of thing still exists. And I loved it and I saw another guy I knew who was also DJing that night and I was like, ah, maybe I can also do it. I asked him to teach me how to DJ. He said, “Yes, of course I'll teach you,” but he never did. So I became a little bit stubborn about it. If you say no to me, I have to do it.

So how did you learn then?

I started going to this club more and getting to know more of the DJs and getting to know the music and then about six months after I saw Mehdi I went to a DJ school in a really sketchy part of town. The building was horrible, but these guys are very, very pro, they go to worldwide scratch competitions and they win. They're older. They play commercial stuff, they don't play electronic music, but they’re very good with technique. I wanted to start playing with CDJs because I saw my friends playing with CDJs. And they were like, “No, you're learning with vinyl, you’re learning for real.” At the time I didn't appreciate it and then I was like, thank god. So I was very lucky that I found this school. I always knew I wanted to do something with music. I used to sing when I was younger. I sang in the choir at school and I even auditioned for Mexican Idol [laughs]. I did ballet for 10 years too. I wanted to study in a conservatory of music after high school but my parents didn’t really see a future in that so I studied hospitality instead. And then around the same time that I started DJing I started working in PR for music events and I thought I’d end up doing that more than DJing but I enjoyed DJing way more. I went to DJ school for four hours twice a week for two months. When I got my first mix right, I was obsessed. Then I started going to my friend’s place every Friday to practice on his CDJs. I DJed with CDJs for four years, then when I started working at Aire Libre, they had turntables and I already had a little record collection and would practice on their turntables.

Were you playing lots of gigs in those four years you were learning?

Not really. It was hard for me to get opportunities. I was overweight and I got a lot of hate from a lot of promoters. I was just starting to party at that time too and I didn’t really know the “codes”, or how to act appropriately. I thought everyone was my friend and that wasn’t true. They made fun of me because I was always high and trying to make friends and they didn’t take me seriously. Also at that time there were a couple of female DJs who were also models and they would just tell them what to play and they’d get the gigs. I was of no use to them. I do take responsibility for it, I got myself into situations I shouldn’t have but I was just so excited. I kept going and I kept playing but I would DJ in bars and restaurants, just shitty gigs, a couple of mid-week club gigs but nothing special. Except then my friend Julian opened Departamento. Everyone was really shitty to me but he was always really nice to me. I told him I wanted to play Departamento. I’d been put down so much that I was scared to put myself out there because I was scared of rejection. But I asked Julian, and he said ok, you have to play all night though, and I said ok and it was so good. He said, we have to do this once a month and that gave me a lot of confidence to put myself out there more. And I started going to Record Store Days and meeting record store owners and just became more involved in the local community.

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How did you start working at Aire Libre?

I was working in music PR and I had my residency at Departamento and I was starting to feel more confident in what I was playing and developing my own style. Then around 2017 my friend told me about the job and said he thought I’d be perfect for it. I started working as their programmer and booker before they launched. They told me they needed someone to bring together all of the city’s talent and do special shows, do takeovers, live sessions. DJ sets, and also attract international guests. This was around the same time I started DJing in New York. My first gig in New York was when my friend Cat convinced her friend Steven to give me a gig at House of Yes. I got the call last minute when I was on holidays on the Riviera Maya. So I jumped on a plane to New York and started crying on the plane, I was so excited to play there. And it went really well, they loved it. After six months of working at Aire Libre I decided to go for one month to New York to meet people and to play and I just emailed a bunch of people I’d met through the radio station. I played again at House of Yes and on this trip I met Toribio and I met Bryce from Black Flamingo and I ended up getting four gigs, which was more than I expected. I loved that I didn’t have to sell myself, people knew me from Aire Libre and it helped connect me with lots of people. It all came together perfectly. Every month a different record store did a takeover on Aire Libre, it opened my mind to a lot of genres, and a lot of artists and scenes I didn’t know were there, and a lot of amazing, super talented people. I was there every day. My friend Febe helped me a lot too, and so did the other people who worked there, they’d all recommend people to check out and to come and play. And I had my own monthly music show called Femme Soul, mainly just playing music with femme vibes. I don’t love talking on the radio. I’m not that geeky about labels and stuff, I don’t want to pretend that I know more than I do. If I had a guest I’d ask them questions and play their playlist, but for me it was more about the music than what I had to say.

Were you touring much at that time?

I was starting to get booked more in New York and in different places around Mexico too. I would go to New York every four months. Then a friend got me a residency in Ludlow House, so I was going every month, but that only lasted five months because the pandemic started. But I started playing a lot at Black Flamingo, Milagrosa, Le Bain, more house-y type clubs. House is my thing, 100%, for me it just pulls it all together. But right before the pandemic I started playing at Mood Ring and expanding a little and playing more techno and stuff. I was going to be playing Europe for the first time that summer. Then the pandemic hit, so I got into production instead.

Was that the first time you’d tried to produce?

I took a production course when I was like 24 but I didn’t really get it. They taught Ableton, Logic, all of it. But I had so many questions that I didn’t even know what to do when I opened it [Ableton] and then I took another course with my friend Juan Soto around 2019. I don’t really understand when people show me things on a screen, I need to do it myself to learn it. So Juan was like, ok, you have this question, let’s go through it. It was a six week course but it was six hours, three times a week, which was exactly what I needed. I would have homework to make tracks and stuff. I felt very self conscious about putting music out because it had already taken so long it felt like it was too late, and I wanted to do everything on my own. I thought if I wasn’t doing everything myself, then I was a fake. I was very fearful of being judged. Throughout all my DJ career I have felt very judged. I think now I have I shut everyone’s mouth, to be honest. The girls were always super nice and supportive but the men, not so much. But producing saved my life in 2020. Before that, I’d make excuses like I was too busy with DJing and doing PR but I didn’t have those excuses during the pandemic. I had good advice from a friend, Jitwam, too, and it changed everything. The first piece of advice was to always finish what you start. Even if you don’t like the tracks you’re working on, finish them. The second thing he said was don’t be afraid to ask for help, which was a really important thing to learn, like if I need a particular piano part and someone knows how to do it, why not ask them?

How did you meet Matias Aguayo?

I actually met him for the first time in 2014 at a festival when I was still working PR and he gave me a Cómeme tote bag and I used it as my bag for DJing for six years. Then we had this proper intro a couple of years ago and clicked instantly and became super good friends. My friend wanted to book us together for a party. Then my friend said, you should actually throw a party with him. So we approached him and had a conference call. Then we started talking about music and he was playing in Mexico City and we agreed to meet in person and just hit it off. We did a couple of parties together and then he told me he was looking for someone to help out with the label and I said I’d love to do it. I still help manage the label now. We played for the first time together around December 2021 when I had a goodbye party in Zipolite, where I was living [on the Oaxacan coast] and it was so good. He wanted to play a warmup set and it was the best warmup I’ve ever heard in my life.

How did 'Galavisión' come together?

It represents all the sounds I discovered during the pandemic and in the short period of time I was DJing again before it came out. I loved the process so much. It was really motivating to have someone like Matias as a mentor. I’d send him seven tracks and he’d say, I need more. We sat down together to do a couple of arrangements. He would suggest some little tweaks. But Matias can also take forever. Of course he’s not in a rush because he’s put out a bunch of music. But I’d only done one remix the previous year and I wanted to get something out there so I was putting the pressure on him to choose which tracks he liked. Out of maybe 15 tracks that I had made, he helped me decide what to put on the EP. 'Relax the Rax' is actually dedicated to Matias. He was impatient while I was making the track and was texting and leaving voice messages and I was like “Relax the rax”, and then I realised that was going to be the name of the track. It basically translates to relax your sphincter in Spanish. [“Galavisión” is named after Paurro’s sister’s beloved dog, Gala. 'Cholita Runtz', an unreleased track on Paurro’s Impact mix is named after her dog Chola, while 'Mi Viejita', coming out soon on the Carry Nation’s compilation for Nervous Records, is named after Nina, the dog Paurro shares with her sister Shanti.]

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Being in this country makes me aware of how much great Mexican talent there is, but you only hear about a small handful of artists. Why do you think that is?

I think Mexican DJs and producers are starting to get more attention which is great. But I feel like a lot of people don’t turn around and look at Latin America in general. Zombies in Miami had to go overseas to get big, Rebolledo did too, he went to Europe and that's how he started making a name for himself. Even Mystery Affair, she went out there as well. If you don’t do that, it’s hard to get attention as a Mexican DJ or producer. I saw all these line-ups of festivals in Europe last summer and the only Latin American artists were from Brazil. But not from Mexico, Colombia, Chile…but I think it's getting better. Regal86 is travelling a bit, a lot more Mexicans are playing in New York and in the States more broadly. But it’s hard for us to travel and to afford to do that. And it’s hard to break through in Mexico City so you can get booked elsewhere. I don’t know of any good agencies in Latin America. It’s hard to get paid well as a DJ in Mexico City too. It doesn’t matter how many good reviews I get, it’s sad, we’re so insecure in a way, like we can’t appreciate our own. I love it in Mexico and I want to be a part of my scene. So what I’m doing is using my residencies, I have one in Fünk and one in Yu Yu and I use those residencies to invite people that I like and to give space to other DJs that I like, mostly women. But it’s not easy being a woman DJ in Mexico. You encounter a lot of stupid comments — oh, you really DJ? Shit like that. And you get paid less than the guys — I know how much they pay my male friends. There’s been a bunch of parties where I’m the opener and it’s all guys on the lineup, there’s been harassment. Machismo is a Mexican word after all and it’s in the culture to look down on women. I’m not sure how things are going to change.

I spoke to Paurro just last week to bring the interview up to date and ask if anything had changed since we’d last spoken. In December, she’d been recovering from an unpleasant experience touring in South America, where she was not treated well by a particular promoter. The past few months, things have been looking up, she says.

I think I’m looking at things with better eyes. Like, my New Year's Eve gig at Public Records, I had such a good time and it was the first gig where they gave me a hotel and I got treated really well and I came and saw all my friends and I thought, you know, there are lots of good things happening too. I found myself trying to check things off a list of what it means to be successful and I've been surprised by all these other things that were not on the list that are so fucking amazing, too. For example, New Orleans is no like, HÖR or Panorama Bar or whatever but it’s something that was very fulfilling for me, it’s somewhere that I've been wanting to go since I was a child and I just went and played there which is amazing. So yeah, I'm more open to all the surprises and letting them come to me and enjoying them. And I've been talking to other DJs and people from my scene, which was something that really concerned me when we spoke. I found out — it sounds weird — but it gives me peace that we all feel the same way. We're all like, this sucks. We’re all a bit disappointed and frustrated but also like, how can we make this better? How do we handle this gentrification? Things are getting more expensive and we’re still getting paid really small fees. Everyone is thinking about it. I feel like we all have to figure out a plan or a strategy. We still don't have it, but we're on the way to figuring it out. Even just getting together and talking about it helps a lot.

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I know fees can be rough for Mexican artists. Do they get even worse when there’s an international headliner on the bill?

After my residencies I have a bit more of an understanding of how much internationals get paid in the clubs in Mexico. And I mean, the locals don’t even get 20% of what the headliner does. But what I'm doing for my residencies is, I get a budget and then, of course the headliner gets more but I usually tried to pay the locals a more fair fee. And that is something that I have applied to myself too. Ciel gave me some good advice for negotiating fees in Mexico City, she was like, think of a baseline fee that you want and ask for it, like when a supermodel refuses to get out of bed for less than $10,000 or whatever. And that has helped. I used to be scared of saying what my minimum fee was when promoters would ask but it has actually worked out better for me.

What else is coming up for you?

I’ll be going back to Europe this summer. I have gigs in Berlin and London and I think I’m going to have a home base in Barcelona and just tour from there. It was a nightmare trying to drag everything around Europe last time. I’m working on a new EP for Sisters of Sound, I’m really excited about it. They asked me and Jennifer Loveless to do one each, that should be out over the summer. And I want to do another EP before the end of the year. I think two EPs a year is a good goal. I feel like my music production journey has just started. And it started when my DJ journey was in a good place. Eventually, when I get to a good place with the production, I’ll hopefully be doing more of that and less of the DJing. I want to do this music thing forever. And that’s why I also have to be careful with my words and look at the good things that are happening in my life and not the bad stuff. I'm being carried by this group of amazing people that have supported me since I started. And instead of talking about the assholes, it's good to turn around to the people that have supported me and be like, hey, thank you.

'Galavision' by Paurro is out now, get it here

Annabel Ross is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter

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