Brooklyn Electronic Act Interrupts Busy Schedule for Intimate Performance

Mohit Dubey

The Latin American rhythms and ethereal electronics of Helado Negro will fill the Cat in the Cream this Saturday. Armed with a laptop, a keyboard and smooth vocals in both Spanish and English, Helado Negro, the stage name of Brooklyn-based musician Roberto Carlos Lange, will perform songs from his catalog and his most recent record, Double Youth. College sophomore Josh Goodman described the entrancing, bass-heavy act as “Beach House meets Flying Lotus.” Helado Negro’s set is sure to be one of the more laid-back concerts to take place at Oberlin this semester.

Helado Negro’s music is defined by a melding of cultures. Born in Florida to Ecuadorian parents, Lange began experimenting with a fusion of tropical beats, acoustic guitars and evocative lyrics at 18. He mastered the pioneering technologies of Ableton and MAX-MSP in the early 2000s, developing ways to present his music in intimate, live settings.

Inspired by famed composer and producer Brian Eno’s notion that the studio itself could be an instrument, Lange also began exploring the ways in which music could act as a forum for broader concepts. His ongoing album series, titled The Island Universe Story, comes from an idea set forth by Aldous Huxley in The Doors of Perception, which states that all human experience is incommunicable and that “every human group is a society of island universes.” Lange has elaborated on this concept throughout three albums and has tried to convey his own multicultural experience with what he describes as “the vehicle of music.”

Double Youth, released this year on the Sufjan Stevens-led Asthmatic Kitty Records, focuses on the embodiment of personal experience. Some concepts for the album came from a photograph that also functions as its cover art, a black-and-white photo of two amused children with painted faces at a county fair. One of these children is a 10-year-old Lange, and the other is his cousin. The album is organized around the memories that this image evokes for Lange. To Lange, music is an extension of the thoughts he experiences when recalling memories. He describes this as “the process of finding out what is real and what is interpreted.” On Double Youth, Lange explores not only his personal memories but also the issue of how the mind elects to remember certain things and not others. This “choice memory” has a strong impact on his artistry, as so many of his lyrics are also sourced from his past personal experiences.

One feature of Helado Negro’s sound is a constant interplay between Spanish and English lyrics. When asked about this in a recent interview with the Review, Lange chuckled and responded, “Bilingual stuff is nothing new; people have been doing it for centuries,” citing Brazilian music and Tex-Mex all-star Freddy Fender. Lange uses his bilingual background as an access point to allow himself to explore his own voice and what is important to him. “For example, the word ‘the’ is so awful to sing,” he said. “Once you get past the two consonants, you’ve lost all the emotional quality of the vowel.” Instead, Lange often employs the Spanish analogues “el” and “la,” which roll off the tongue more smoothly and specify meaning differently than the English “the.”

It’s a surprise that Lange will be in Oberlin this semester, as he’s busy working on many upcoming projects and collaborations. From performing The Island Universe Story with professional symphony orchestras to costumed performances in Miami, Helado Negro is emerging as an act that defies genre. Lange revealed that a new album is fully completed, but he is currently deciding when he wants to release it. Perhaps we’ll hear some new material on Saturday.