Updates from Chicago’s Puerto Rican Pride Festival

As a follow up to my previous post, I thought I’d check out Chicago’s annual Puerto Rican Pride Parade and accompanying festival in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Rumors of reggaeton’s death are be greatly exaggerated — there were certainly dem bows to be heard, but lots of other sounds as well.

The parade goes through the South Loop, featuring lots of tricked out rides, floats, and contributions from Chicago civic groups, politicians, and businesses.

PR Pride 1

PR Pride 3 PR Pride 2

Music was heavily featured in the parade, almost exclusively salsa. Practically every float had its own DJ or band. Even a few cyclists got in on the act.

PR Pride 4.1

One float was blasting reggaeton: B96, a station that recently altered their format slightly away from Top 40 to popular club dance. I haven’t heard any reggaeton on their station lately, but they lent their support to the parade.

PR Pride b96

The Parade is the big mainstream showing for Chicago’s Puerto Rican community. The Humboldt Park neighborhood is where they throw the party for themselves. The floats and politicians don’t show up, but the cars and bikers reconvene on Division Street to continue the parade.

Chicago architecture + Puerto Rican culture

Chicago architecture + Puerto Rican culture

The park itself turns into a carnival, with rides, food, vendors, and music. A local promotions company had a “reggaeton contest” where contestants (teenaged or younger) danced for Wisin Y Yandel tickets. There were a couple of young boys who danced as well, to my surprise. Unfortunately I missed winning performance, but the park was so crowded in the areas that weren’t mudpits that rushing around wasn’t an option. The crowd mostly took on the role of dutiful spectators, waving their flags when prompted, but I did notice a few guys grinding on each other in front of me. There was a sizable amount of gay pride to go along with Puerto Rican pride at the festival, which was great addition; I would love for gay activists to increase their visibility in Chicago neighborhoods that aren’t always on their radar.

Of course in any type of street market setting, I make a beeline to the mixtapes. In Chicago, that means that house will be in abundance. The Violator DJ Squad booth had dozens of house and freestyle mixes; I picked up a couple juke-centric CDs. I snagged another mix from bountiful Mother Earth, where it had been dropped.


DJ Cholo, who hails from Pilsen (where I hang my headphones), had a quite nice offering on his mix — he didn’t lean too heavily on the classic booty tracks and paid attention to sequencing and flow. I’m providing a sample germane to the reggaeton topic: a juked out remix of Jowell y Randy’s “No Te Veo,” one of the more recent reggaeton popular hits. Cholo substitutes the original soca-influenced backing track for a traditional Chicago-style drum machine workout. The smoothed-out autotune-vox (the Caribbean had been autotuning years before it took over American hip hop) is left intact.

DJ Cholo – Track 08 – Juke & Club Mix

Juke is a genre that stays visible by constantly offering remixes of the latest popular hits, so I wouldn’t call juketon a trend or anything like that (the next track gives a similar treatment to “Ayo Technology”).

Here’s a video (there are many versions of this song) of the original, apparently shot at a European harbor. Looks chilly.

DJ Phantom’s Latin Takeover is chock full of contemporary Latin club hits. The Dem Bow is definitely muted or completely absent in a lot of these tracks, instead there’s a kind of digital-dancehall feel, with lots of effervesynths and autotune. The way reggaeton (if you can call it that) is looking in 2009 is a hybrid of T-Pain R&B, Caribbean pop, and hints of trance. In spite of its futurism, the music draws the line at withdrawing completely from the human like techno does, grounding the songs in the traditional pop realms of sex and sentimentality. And it has a polished commercial sheen; earlier techno-reggaeton outings, like this for example, mined a vein similar to UK Hardcore — chopping, decontextualizing, ironizing, and dehumanizing the human voice. A few examples of the new stuff:

Ok, so on one hand these guys are trying out some Timbaland/lake styles which are big in big-tent clubland. But check out the videos and the lyrics: instead of the poststructuralist de-centering of the subject you see in hardcore and earlier reggaeton-trance, there’s a re-centering of the whole giddy confusing mediated world around individual sexual desire. Don Omar brings some heavy technology metaphors to seduce robots; Alexis and Fido praise technology for keeping (mediated) booty calls on the DL. These artists (along with counterparts in other genres) suggest a sexual pleasure obtained by interfacing with the machine, not leaps and bounds away from beating off to online porn in front of the computer (a recent cultural practice in sore need of examination); however, they cushion this radical notion (if we can call it that, it’s practically a commonplace by now) by underlining their humanity and individuality created means of their desire. And really, what could be more in tune with the dictates of late capitalism than a highly mediated desiring subject?

The night is a carnivalesque atmosphere of car stereo bass, inebriation, smoked meat, fistfights (and tales of them), and the occasional police helicopter. But I’ve already gone off on several tangents, and put in more work than one should have to on a lazy Sunday after a long night in Humboldt Park. I’ll end things here for now and tend to the grill.

4 Responses to Updates from Chicago’s Puerto Rican Pride Festival

  1. dave quam says:

    I went on saturday, shit i missed the Violators tent! Had heard Slugo was supposed to dj there at some point

  2. w&w says:

    Great post! More grist for the mill. (Gonna throw some darts back today, promise!) And I’m obv glad to see you withdraw, if with some qualification, your assertion that the dembow no longer booms across Chicago (or at least Humboldt Park).

    Really love your analysis of the newer reggaeton(?) stuff. I’d argue that despite the receded dembow it still fits nicely into reggaeton’s (which is, of course, only the in-medias-res name for the genre) historical-aesthetic arc. Even if, sheesh, writing that sentence there started making me feel like I was positing a Spanish ‘nuum. (Aydiosmio!)

    And you’re dead-on in your contrast between Blass’s (et al’s) largely sample-based early techno-trance adventures and the softsynth-driven trancehall of the last couple years. I’m not quite sure how decentered the desiring subject was in the Reggaeton Sexxx stuff, however. Perhaps there was less room for women to imagine themselves at the center at that earlier juncture (unless they fantasized themselves to be pushovers or phone-sex operators)? I dunno.

  3. […] indeed, I was heartened to read this morning that Gavin himself has recanted somewhat. After attending Chicago’s Puerto Rican Pride festival this weekend (in my former hood, […]

  4. anodynelite says:

    I miss Bushwick…

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