You stand in a crowd and you begin to feel the bass bumping. It’s a feeling that slowly creeps up from your feet and into your heart, syncing every part of your body with the rhythm of the song that’s playing. The beat begins to take over your surroundings; everything and everyone you see seems to pulsate to the same acoustic ripples. You’re taken out of your head and into your body. Suddenly, you are the party. And, at the center of it all, there’s a DJ who’s happily pulling everyone’s strings. Dancing, after all, is really good for you.
“In Guatemala, house music began in the late 1990’s,” explains DJ and producer Gonzo Gonzo, whose name is now inherently tied to the scene in the country. “I’ve heard rumours that there were people who threw house music parties in Atitlán before that, but it officially began with Musica 502 and DJ and producer Rafael Tres.” The scene stayed mostly underground until about a decade later.
In 2010, there was an EDM boom in Guatemala. The younger crowd that was into electronic music had a thing for feeling the beat drop. Back then, there was only one venue that exclusively played electronic music in the country and Gonzo Gonzo was part of their DJ line-up. “I played on Fridays and Saturdays,” he recalls. “But there was this crowd that didn’t really know what House music was. They wanted to listen to EDM, but I didn’t play that at all.” Naturally, people stopped showing up on the days in which Gonzo Gonzo played. He became increasingly frustrated by that, and the fact that the venue wouldn’t do very well whenever he was behind the turntable. “So, I talked to the owner and told him that I wanted to play every week on the worst day possible, which was Wednesday,” he says. “That way, I wouldn’t have to compromise with anyone.”
He called his night “Danzón Pérez” and, in a case of “If you build it, they will come”, actual fans of House music started showing up. However, this wasn’t a thing that happened overnight. “It took about three or four months of me playing every single week, but people slowly caught up.” Eventually, Danzón Pérez became a production company with several DJs under its brand, a couple of radio shows, podcasts, a magazine, and a very busy event calendar. House music became a thing in Guatemala.
“It’s a scene that’s still growing,” points out Andrea Henry, a 27-year old local radio personality. “At first, I’d only see people my age at these events. Later, at larger, parties I started feeling like one of the older people in the room. Now, there’s a bit of everything for everyone. You’ll see everything from old men to even high-schoolers who manage to sneak into these events. People who like House music are people who like to feel the music.”
The appeal of the scene, according to Dj Wicho Coto, lies in unity through music. “It’s a music genre that, throughout its history, has brought together different types of people,” he explains. “African Americans and whites, homosexuals and heterosexuals… this music is like a religion. It’s something that moves you regardless of who you are.” According to Gonzo Gonzo, it’s something that manifests itself well within the crowd: as he proudly points out, there’s never been a fight or an altercation of any kind at any of his events.
For DJ and producer Lujo Prado, the crowd that shows up at his events are people who want to feel and share lots of love while dancing. “It’s a bit more refined as a music genre,” he comments. “So, DJs take more time in conceptualising and mixing the song. They put more love and more heart into it and House music transmits it.”
The energy that the crowd gives off, according to all DJs we talked to, also fuels the DJs emotions and it’s something that’s really hard to describe for them. “If you want to see it from our point of view, you have to play in front of a crowd,” say Wicho Coto. “You have to put a certain song to control the crowd. You can slow it down to slow down their rhythm, or bring up the bass so they start jumping. It’s like controlling people; it’s inexplicable. You have to live it and go through it to understand what it’s like.”