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The One-Man Mexican Institute of Sound



    It wasn’t planned that way, but something happened to Camilo Lara (aka, the Mexican Institute of Sound) while he was working as the president of EMI Records Mexico.
    He became an artist.
    It wasn’t the vast amount of bad music that came across his desk that made him think he could do better, nor was it the vast amount of great music that came across his desk that inspired him to jump into the fold. Instead, it happened because of his obligation -- er, tradition -- of self one-upmanship while making mixed CDs for family and friends over a prolonged series of Christmases. The popularity of the mixes grew exponentially, as did the demand for them, so at some point, the decision was made to just give it a go professionally.

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    Lara’s massive vinyl collection (estimated at around 45,000 albums) and his insider knowledge of the music industry gave him an advantage, but it was his schizophrenic mixing of cumbia, mariachi, Norteno, rock, pop, mambo, hip-hop, electronic and anything else he could get his hands on that really made people take notice of what he was doing.

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    Starting off as a DJ, Lara has settled nicely into the double-duty of mad music professor in the studio and bandleader of a small unit on the road. He left his post at EMI nearly a year ago and has turned his attention to his own music, as well as helping others make theirs. Lara’s newest record, Politico, will be out this summer. I recently spoke with him from Mexico City where he was prepping for an upcoming tour that will find him at UCSD’s Loft on Friday night.
    Scott McDonald: How are things?
    Camilo Lara: Good. I took a little break in December, and now I’m finishing my new record. Getting ready to do these dates. Things are very good.
    SM: I got that single “El Jefe” off of iTunes when it was the Single of the Week, but the new record’s not out yet?
    CL: I’m still working on it. It should be out by summer or so. But that song really has the vibe of the new record. There is a lot of trumpet, more mariachi, and it’s a little more punk rock.
    SM: More punk rock?
    CL: When I go out alone, it’s usually a DJ set. And it’s always cumbia-driven. The live show is still cumbia-driven, but it’s a live band with a drummer and a bass player, so it’s much more punk rock and has a whole different vibe. I like going out and playing with the band.
    SM: Strange to shift from executive to artist?
    CL: It’s been almost a year since I left EMI. And I’m very happy. They were bought by Universal, so I don’t know what would have happened anyway. But I started there when I was so young, and one way or another, I ended up running the company. It was great, and I spent 14 years there, but it was time.
    SM: A lot is made of your collection. Do you remember the first things you ever bought?
    CL: Yeah, yeah, of course. [Laughs] It’s funny: The same day I bought three records, and I bought them at the supermarket. I bought the Billy Squier record with the big single, Quiet Riot Cum on Feel the Noize, and the third one was the soundtrack for a child’s program. The first CDs I ever bought were the Smiths Strangeways, Here We Come and Prefab Sprout's Steve McQueen.
    SM: Quiet Riot. I had that as a 45.
    CL: That was a great cover.
    SM: Still making those Christmas mixes?
    CL: I haven’t done it for a couple of years. It became, like, a big thing. I was doing about 100 for friends and people I like. But then it became like an industry. I think three years ago I was doing probably 1,000. Wow. That was too much. But eventually, I’ll probably do it again. A couple of times, I’ve been in other cities, and I’ll run into people and go to their houses, and they have my compilation CD. It’s funny. I don’t even know these guys and they have a copy of it.
    SM: Seems like a logical transition into making music professionally.
    CL: When I started doing it, I bought an old computer from a friend in a band called Plastilina Mosh. They did a record on that old computer, so I just bought it to check out Pro Tools and to see if I’d be interested. Then I started doing remixes. And I never thought about doing a record. Then when the record came out, it was stuff that I had already been doing for some time. But I wasn’t being asked to do live shows, so I put together a band and started playing. I did some laptop shows, but they were pretty boring and not the ideal. I guess I kept the process open. I like Kraftwerk’s first album and I like Never Mind the Bollocks and the Stone Roses, so I put it together, and every time I did it, it ended up sounding Mexican. So I had to face that I had all of these Mexican sounds and decided to make it more proper and formal.
    SM: Ironically, it seems like you’re busier now than you were before.
    CL: I’ve been doing a lot of music. I’m working with some bands here to help and produce. With my own thing, I’m doing a lot of projects. My novel is ready to be published, but I’m waiting to have a final edit.
    SM: I know you worked with Money Mark recently. How was that?
    CL: It’s was fun. [Laughs] He’s a genius. In the beginning, he was a repair guy, so he knows everything about how to fix things with nothing. It was super fun to get together and do some art. We got invited to do a piece, and we did a massive thing with boomboxes, and we wired everything together so it would make actual sound. And we went into the studio and did an album that hasn’t been released yet, but eventually it will be. We got together with a bunch of musicians from Mexico -- Julieta Venegas, the guys from Café Tacuba -- and basically did a psychedelic record. It’s crazy.
    SM: The new record is called Politico. Will it actually be political, or are you being funny?
    CL: No, this time I was actually being serious. But I really hate when artists get political. I just want to speak about what I think, but I’m trying to be less hard-core.
    Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of