A dedicated audiophile with more than 45,000 vinyl records, Camilo Lara never really planned to become a musician himself. But that changed six years ago, after he'd begun making remixes for friends using Pro Tools on an old Apple computer. The results — colorful, loose-limbed electronic collages of Latin rhythms, hip-hop, jazzy swing and rock samples — caught people's attention and gave birth to his Mexican Institute of Sound project.
Lara's love of music is all-consuming. He got a job working at EMI Mexico at 17, handling local radio promotion of EMI's international acts like Radiohead and Blur. He would rise to become the label wing's president before quitting last year. "I started working at the record company basically to have free records and to get money to buy records," says the Mexico City native.
One Mexican band he handled, Plastilina Mosh, sold him their old Apple, and by the time he was doing remixes for Placebo, Gecko Turner and Babasónicos, it had turned into a career.
"I started doing remixes and after a while I was like, 'OK, I'm going to buy a synth and start doing music on my own,'" says Lara. "Then I bought a guitar and a bass, and now I'm obsessed with playing. I'm still sampling, but at least I have other options. But I'm still terrible with technology. I basically use [the computer] as a 4-track — I push play and record and that's it."
Lara's musical pastiches are peculiarly entrancing. The beats are dancey, often driven by the indigenous sound of cumbia, with a dreamy indietronic shimmer. It sounds like a party, which isn't surprising since Lara began DJing in his early teens.
And last year Lara provided music for the ultimate party, Mexico's bicentennial. Recruited to compose a piece for the celebration, he created a 26-minute composition featuring lyrics from the Mexican constitution. He also captured the experience on his Suave Patria EP, although he admits that, to fully appreciate the experience, you had to be there. "You have to see 5,000 people in the streets dancing and singing," says Lara.
As for his own listening habits, Lara lists Esquivel, Animal Collective, the Ramones and De La Soul among his favorites. But failed attempts to re-create the music of the bands he loved convinced him of the need to embrace his roots.
"I got tired of trying to do what Kraftwerk does because they're from Germany and are cold people and very cerebral," Lara says. "I ended up doing something more related to cumbia and the rhythms we have here."
Over the past six years, MIS has become a phenomenon, criss-crossing the globe, releasing three LPs and a pair of EPs. Lara's worked with Morrissey and the Beastie Boys' Ad-Rock. He's close to finishing an album made with Money Mark, is working with Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh on a different project, and has another disc due early next year. That's also when he hopes to release his first novel.
A certified music obsessive, Lara loves the way music bridges boundaries. "There are small tribes in every city doing things that are really interesting," he says. "They're the small tribes that you meet when you're touring and are on the social media. What I love about this time is that you can create a majority of minorities, and that's beautiful."