Dalston Superstore regulars Borja Peña and Tom Stephan have been working on their joint project The Cucarachas for some time now, and with remixes for The Pet Shop Boys and tracks featuring none other than Kevin Aviance already under the belt, we know these up-and-coming superstars are set for big things! We caught up with the duo to find out more about releasing records on Tribal and Nurvous and working with their heroes...
How, when and where were The Cucarachas formed?
Borja: Well we started a club night together called DISH about two years ago, and from that we decided to get together and do some music that would sound like our night. At every party we would try a new track and see how people received it, and after a few we created the band.
We both love John Waters movies so we thought of "roaches", and as we wanted to sound even dirtier... "the Cucarachas" came along. Like mexican cockroaches, you can't get filthier than that!!
You both live in London but both work as international DJs... if you could live anywhere else (for its music or LGBT scene or whatever), where would it be and why?
Borja: I really cannot imagine living anywhere else. I think London is the most amazing place on earth as it's so easy to fly anywhere from here, we have a great scene and there is so much happening all the time, but if I had to choose, it would be Berlin or New York... I have great friends in both cities. Maybe I would choose New York actually, I think Berlin would kill me! It's too much fun, I like to keep it as a holiday destination… I need time to replenish my braincells after a visit. Actually, braincells don't get replenished do they? Oh shit!
Tom: I can't imagine living anywhere else either! I came here 22 years ago and never left. I do love NYC, but fortunately I get there fairly often to DJ and see my friends.
What was it like working with the legendary Kevin Aviance for your track Sushi Darling?
Borja: That was all Tom's magic, people don't seem to know he is talking about Tokyo in the track, it's genius.
Tom: I've had the pleasure of working with Kevin several times in the past and he's amazing. He's an incredible performer. Some people just have that 'something' - when they walk into the room, you know it. Kevin is one of those people. However, Kevin's vocal on this track came from an interview he did in Japan. I have no idea how I ended up with a copy of it, but I've been playing this recording of him for years in my DJ sets. Borja and I had this great groove going in the studio and I suddenly thought of this acapella and it fit perfectly.
Quite an array of producers have remixed you so far. Sushi Darling alone features Mike Q, Honey Dijon and The Carry Nation among others. Are there any producers that have been an influence that you'd like to remix your work?
Borja: Well as we are closer to Xmas I will start asking Santa now... Dear Santa Claus, this year I've been a very good boy, can I please have Tapesh, Kim Ann Foxman, Tank Edwards, Ejeca, Hard Ton, Danny Tennaglia, Waze & Oddisey, Green Velvet, Agoria, Dixon, Daniel Maloso, MK and Mathias Aguayo to remix Cucarachas? I would add Snuff Crew but they did remix our last track!!
Tom: They did a great mix too. I was just playing it last night!
What were your first thoughts about releasing on Nurvous, the future music off-shoot of seminal NYC label Nervous Records?
Borja: We did this track called "U" and right after the first listen we where dancing around the studio and thought, we should send this to a really good one. So we sent it and they came back to us within hours saying they wanted it. To this date I'm still pinching myself.
Tom: Yeah, it just fell into place really quickly. Borja mentioned Nurvous as his first choice for U, and I've worked with their other side, Nervous, for years. A few emails later and we were set.
Let's talk about your remix of The Pet Shop Boys. How did that come to be? Talk us through it..
Borja: Tom you should explain this one…
Tom: This follows on well from the last question because it was "U" that got us the PSB remix. Neil and Chris are close friends of mine, and Neil and I always play each other what we're working on.
I was playing Neil a few of the Cucarachas tracks and he loved U. Later that week we were contacted by their management asking if we'd remix Vocal. I hate the expression 'no-brainer', especially when Kevin Bacon says it, but this was one of those.
Borja: In terms of the remix, we loved the vocals of the track and we built the beats around it like a little journey. The moment the hair on the back of my neck went all stiff and I had goosebumps I knew we were on to a winner.
What's the support been like from them and from other artists?
Borja: Well it turns out the remix package was sold out and Number One in the American Billboard Dance Tracks, so that was another magic moment for me, lots of my friends were sending me voice messages twatted at crazy hours (thanks boys) telling me they heard it in Ibiza or In Berlin or in Miami… even if they woke me up I was so proud when I got those messages.
Tom: PSB and their management really liked the mix, so we were happy. And I've had the experience of playing it as the last track of the night- everyone with their hands in the air- just as I had imagined, so it's been a success in my book.
Would you say The Pet Shop Boys were an early influence on either of you? Who are your personal musical icons (of any genre or era)?
Borja: Erm... Yeah!! I've got all their music, they are electronic music pioneers exploring it in any way imaginable and still killing it and being very innovative. There are not many people like them around.
For me there are so many to mention and I keep adding to the list constantly, from David Byrne to Grace Jones, Janet Jackson to Pete Herbert , Giorgio Moroder to Missy Elliott .... those just came to my mind.
Tom: Absolutely. I've been a fan since I was a kid. Other musical influences- DEVO, Nitzer Ebb, Depeche Mode, Ministry.
So, not only have you released on Nurvous, but also the extremely influential Tribal Records. Are there any other seminal labels left on the wishlist for you guys?
Borja: Again so many, there are really amazing young ones like Batty Bass or Local Talk, Love Not Money, The Jackathon... and really established ones like BPitch Control, Kompakt, Trax… again, there are too many to mention!! Bringing back Tribal to life after so many years with The Carry Nation is definitely one of the highlights of this music project for me... who would have thought.
There obviously a strong '90s house influence going on here... what are you personal gems of the genre?
Borja: Mmm…. Celeda - Be Yourself, Funky Green Dogs - Fired Up, Hollis P. Monroe - I'm Lonely, Liberty City Murk - Some Lovin, Armando - Single Minded
Tom: Definitely early MK, like Chez Damier- Can You Feel It (MK Dub), Farley & Heller tracks like their remix of DSK- What Would We Do? and even back to acid house like Bam Bam- Give it to Me.
I think house music and electronic music in general has been technology driven. The appeal of the old school house sound is that it's analogue, warm and dynamic, whereas so much music made on people's laptops sounds quite cold, digital and squashed . We're trying to bring some of that warmth back.
Are there any clubs you're keen to test The Cucarachas sound in (apart from Dalston Superstore of course) or that you wish you'd had the opportunity to have?
Borja: Well we aren't really playing as "The Cucarachas" that much because Tom and I have crazy flying schedules. We find it really difficult to be in the same place at the same time, so we cannot do that many tracks together. We are keeping this very special. Our first outing was at a warehouse party in Brooklyn with The Carry Nation, and now Dalston Superstore. Dream places to play… although if I ever play in any of these places I will probably have to take an antianxiety to calm down because of the pressure…. would be: The Warehouse Project in Manchester, Berghain, Lovebox, Sonar, and I've heard great things about Dance Tunnel too...
Tom: There's a very cool new club in Brooklyn called Output that I'd love to play. But ultimately I'm happy to play wherever there's people dancing!
What drives you both to DJ and make music?
Borja: We live in a world where so much negativity is bombarding us on a daily basis, from the news, to bullshit in the workplace. Music has always been therapy for me, a way to change a grey day or a bad mood into a smile and good vibes. I try to channel that when I DJ or make music and think of what I would like to listen to on the dancefloor, what sounds will give me goosebumps make me shake my ass like crazy or put my hands up in the air. Being a DJ is so amazing and so rewarding, you get to play your favourite music very loud and make people smile… dance... you touch them and take them on a mental vacation for a few hours. There's nothing better than when someone comes to the DJ booth to ask you, "What is the name of this track??" with a big smile, or when you wake up and check Facebook and have all this messages from people telling you how much fun they had thanks to you... not many jobs give you that motivation! Or maybe porn does?
Tom: I agree, it's about escape. I always thought the story of Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever was a good example of how I see clubbing. You're in a dead end job during the week, but on Saturday night you can totally reinvent yourself. I had that experience of stepping into another world when I first went to the Sound Factory in NYC and heard Junior Vasquez. It was such a moving experience. I was hooked and I haven't been able to stop since. If there's a cure for this I don't want it!
Listen to The Cucarachas via their Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/the-cucarachas
And you can buy their tracks via Beatport: beatport.com/artist/the-cucarachas/316411