Embracing the Weirdness

With Helado Negro, Roberto Carlos Lange uniquely explores art, Electronic music and his Latin heritage

Oct 7, 2015 at 9:24 am
click to enlarge Helado Negro (Roberto Carlos Lange) presents a special multi-media show at the CAC this week.
Helado Negro (Roberto Carlos Lange) presents a special multi-media show at the CAC this week.


oberto Carlos Lange’s music, performed under the moniker Helado Negro, celebrates his Latin heritage in ways both obvious — he often sings in Spanish and there’s a breezily funky vibe to his textured electronic soundscapes — and subverting — his lyrics tend toward personal ambiguities and his song structures frequently jump off in unexpected directions.

The child of Ecuadorian immigrants, Lange grew up immersed in the culture clash that was South Florida in the 1980s. He’s been writing and producing music

under various guises since the late ’90s, but it wasn’t until he began recording as Helado

Negro that Lange became more widely

known, releasing four increasingly nuanced

full-length albums since 2009. His most recent record, 2014’s Double Youth, was

another satisfying refinement in his ability to create computer-generated music that is simultaneously intimate and otherworldly.

CityBeat recently connected with Lange

by phone to discuss his evolution as an artist, the unexpected relevance of his recent

single “Young, Proud & Latin” and his

celebration of all things weird.

CityBeat: The last time I saw you live

was at (local artist) Paul Coors’ space,

The Ice Cream Factory, which is obviously much different than more formal spaces.

How do you approach presenting your music in different types of spaces?

Roberto Carlos Lange: Do you know Paul? 

CB: Yeah. We actually grew up in the same neighborhood in Cincinnati.

RCL: Awesome. Paul does all the artwork for my records. But, yeah, the live approach evolves. For the (Contemporary Arts Center show this week), I’m going to be rehearsing with these dancers (from Cincinnati-based Exhale Dance Tribe) to

create a more choreographed movement. It’s called No Love Can Cut Our Knife in Two, and it involves a lot of what I’ve been working on with these costumes that I developed

last year to evolve that aspect of trying to represent the visual side of what I do. 

Audiences are very different, and people come with different expectations at live shows, and there’s no way I can ever meet all the expectations that people have. It’s not my job to do that, but I can present the oddness and the weirdness that I am in a visual sense as much as I can in a musical sense. I use these hyper-visual elements to accentuate all of this.

CB: I’ve heard you mention the weirdness aspect of what you do in other interviews. Where does that weirdness come from?

RCL: I grew up in South Florida in a

household where everybody spoke Spanish. The culture there, with my Ecuadorian back

ground, it was a very specific type of thing happening. I felt like that was one version of who I was growing up. And then I went to school and met people who didn’t grow up with that same household, so I had a different perspective. I didn’t really share both things; there wasn’t much crossover at that time, and I think the weirdness gets pulled out of you because sometimes you just get alienated because you’re different. 

I started to gravitate toward anything that felt different. At that time in Miami there was a lot of weirder Electronic music

in the late 1990s. Really experimental shit. It was the first time I heard Autechre or Aphex

Twin. I remember my brother came back from Germany in like 1995, and he brought back these Jungle CDs. I remember hearing them and being like, “What the fuck is this? This stuff is crazy.” All this music made sense to me. I was attracted to it because it wasn’t a part of anyone else’s normal life.

But then I was also hearing what was on the

radio, and that’s a huge influence, too. 

CB: “Young, Latin & Proud” seems a little more overt in its intent than most of your stuff. The title alone is pretty specific.

RCL: I wrote that song in late December of last year and recorded it in early January. My culture has been a central theme of my music since one of my first releases under an alias in 2003. At the time I was working with a heavily underground DIY label from Miami called Beta Bodega, and a lot of the themes were social Latin issues, but it was more psychological. I couldn’t really deal with the political side of it. So that’s where this undercurrent began for me. I’ve always worked within my own culture — singing in Spanish and working with my own identity without trying to be literal. I never felt comfortable working within these clichés. I would never want something as pure and beautiful as Latin culture to be typecast as a certain sound, and so that’s what “Young, Latin & Proud” is for me.

CB: So it’s much more intimate for you rather than a grand, overarching statement. But it’s also kind of ironic that it came out amid the Republican presidential debates…

RCL: I think the right word is unfortunate. I never want to give anyone like Donald Trump any kind of credit for being an inspiration. He’s not an inspiration for any kind of Latino culture. But I think it’s fine for people who heard the music and related to it to take it and turn it into something for themselves to create a sense of pride. That’s what music and art does. It gets put into the world and people take it and make it theirs, which is great as long as it’s not (misrepresentative) about why I made it. That’s the only thing I care about.

CB: How do you think your approach has evolved over the years?

RCL: I wrote a lot of music earlier this

year, and I think as much as the coincidence

or timeliness of “Young, Latin & Proud” has been for this year, there are other things that affect every human living in the United States — something like Ferguson — that

have been very intense and bring a lot of sad

ness. There has been a lot of influence from the world that you just can’t help. Traveling around as a musician, you’re seeing and hearing and talking to people about these things. These struggles can’t help but make their way into your music. 

HELADO NEGRO performs Friday at the Contemporary Arts Center. Tickets/more info: contemporaryartscenter.org.