Last April, Alexandra Buschman and Danishta Rivero arranged fruits, candles, and charms alongside a thicket of patch cables and hardware on a folding table inside San Francisco arts space The Lab. And then the duo, known as Las Sucias, let loose skittering rhythms and incisive vocals in a performance-cum-incantation that they liken to brujería.
This set is now available to hear on a live record, Chúpate Estas. The second release on the venue’s label arm, The Label, it features attractive cover art by Chaveli Sifre and serves as a stirring complement to Las Sucias’ debut, ¡Salte Del Medio! — a potent collision of reggaetón and noise that the Express dubbed the finest local release of 2016.
Chúpate Estas, substantial even at four tracks, captures the feverish intensity of their live show, and differs significantly from their debut. Percussionist and frequent collaborator Robert Lopez adds texture, especially during improvisational passages. And it’s a fuller-bodied recording, revealing the dynamic breadth of the duo’s electronics skills; Salte del Medio now sounds tinny in contrast.
Buschman and Rivero, respectively from Puerto Rico and Venezuela, met as students at Mills College and bonded over their affinity for reggaetón and resentment of its attendant chauvinism. Their clever and cutting lyrics, delivered in spitfire Spanish, often reverse the genre’s usual gender roles. A new song on Chúpate Estas charges the phrase I have come to clean your house not with fealty but with venom, like a threat.
Shortly after recording Chúpate Estas, Buschman moved back to Puerto Rico, where she runs a bar and venue for experimental music, and Rivero continued performing locally in various configurations, notably Voicehandler. But Las Sucias recently reconvened for several shows in the Bay Area, including a release event for Chúpate Estas at The Lab.
Longstanding Mission District space The Lab has in recent years foregrounded talk of labor in the arts. Details about its sources of funding and compensation for artists are publicly available, and it adheres to pay standards set by New York organization Working Artists & the Greater Economy. So it’s heartening to see the venue assume the role of the record label, an often opaque and exploitative type of business.
Plus, The Label brings a gallerist’s attention to detail to the look of its releases. Its first title, Acoustic Deconstruction, an extension of sound artists Zachery Belanger and Jacqueline Gordon’s work with a decommissioned brutalist structure in Berkeley, came in fittingly stark black-and-white. The colorful cover of Chúpate Estas, by Puerto Rican artist Chaveli Sifre, elegantly and subtly spells “Las Sucias” with crudely illustrated objects of spiritual significance to the group: snake, fin, breast, wave, palm tree.
Expanded poetry? Living installation? Graphic improvisation?
It’s difficult to neatly sum up Drought Spa, the performance vehicle of Oakland artists alex cruse and Kevin CK Lo. cruse reads from prepared text, her voice warped and doubled and otherwise manipulated by Lo, and those sounds shape the abstract imagery projected behind them. As the artists describe it, the computer is a sort of autonomous collaborator.
“As computers and other technologies become more and more ‘humanized,’ Drought Spa explores the reverse Turing test,” they wrote in an email. “How do computers assess whether or not we are human?”
If that sounds confusing, know that the live experience is absorbing. cruse’s words, often incorporated into the visuals, link curious turns of phrases to political concepts, while Lo’s processing lends poetic inflection. Their interplay with the computer, meanwhile, generates pictures that seem to surprise the artists themselves. And Drought Spa’s performance on Friday, Aug. 25, at CounterPulse (80 Turk St.) in San Francisco promises another element: three dancers, choreographed by Lo.
Also on the bill is Xuxa Santamaria, another electronic duo composed of artists fluent in various media, as well as Rebecca Heikkila. And it marks the release of Contraverse, a new book by cruse on Oakland publishing imprint Timeless, Infinite Light. Drought Spa’s set will draw from poems in the book, which consider technology and the body and seizing power as the two draw toward each other.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story mistakenly credited the cover art of Las Sucias’ Chúpate Estas to Colpa Press. The printmaking outfit did the layout; Puerto Rican artist Chaveli Sifre is responsible for the art. This version has been updated.