Brooklyn-based electronic indie band Balún self-identify as transnational. The quartet that broke out of the San Juan indie scene a decade ago has since undergone a formational odyssey through the industry, academia, and the stateside Puerto Rican experience. Named one of Pandora's Latin Artists to watch for 2017, Balún's single La Nueva Ciudad recently broke into Spotify's Viral Top 50 globally and in eight countries across Latin America, setting the stage for their long awaited sophomore album Prisma Tropical (2017, Good Child Music). The forthcoming record focuses an incredibly wide field of genres and influences into a revelatory sound that evokes both of the band’s homes and the distance between them.
Since their early days as part of the DIY music scene in San Juan, Balún has built a reputation for genre-fluidity. As film school and conservatory students playing every available bill and selling home-burned CDRs to electronic, hardcore, and punk crowds, Balún amassed an eclectic following on the island. A debut record on Chicago’s Brilliante label and national touring followed, but for core members Angélica Negrón, Noraliz Ruiz and José Olivares, the pull of New York and new musical directions proved too strong.
Relocating to Brooklyn, the band’s pursuits outside of Balún began reshaping the context of their music. As evident on Prisma Tropical, Balún has blossomed from college students making music on freeware and toy instruments to include a NY Philharmonic commissioned composer, a PhD ethno-musicologist and Puerto Rican folk music expert, and a pioneering underground beat maker. Perpetually expanding its vision, the band released a series of singles, EPs and official remixes exploring shoegaze, folk, and bedroom electronic pop, tied together by the introspective magical-realism of Negrón’s lyrics. With the more recent addition of old friend and seasoned punk guitarist Raul Reymundi, and under the guidance of percussionist and producer Lawson White (Jamie XX / Gil Scott-Heron, Chromeo, Ben Folds, David Lang), Balún’s component pieces now touch nearly every corner of music.
Those familiar with the rich legacy of Caribbean music will immediately peg the first single La Nueva Ciudad as unmistakably Puerto Rican. Heavy doses of tiple, bomba barrel drum, and dembow work alongside loops and layers of shimmering synths to accomplish something explicitly of the island, yet fluent in the language of global pop. Those familiar with Balún’s earlier work might be surprised by the pervasiveness of those two particular elements given the band’s early lo-fi, electronic ethos. Yet while Prisma Tropical moves into new sonic territory, the end result is unmistakably Balún. Incorporating new elements with the same dexterity as they always have, the band’s deep understanding of reggaeton's Jamaican dancehall roots has transformed their shoegaze pop into “dreambow.” Viewing Puerto Rico from New York, through the prism of the wider musical world, Balún’s passage from one to the other has led to an inextricable embrace of both.
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