Uwe Schmidt (one of Germany's quirkiest electronic musicians, with over two dozen alter egos to his name, including Atom Heart, Lassigue Bendhaus and Lisa Carbon) masquerades as South American composer /dancer Señor Coconut on this release -- the remastered precursor to 1999's El Baile Alemán. For that album, Schmidt reconfigured the sterile, repetitive sound of Kraftwerk in an attempt to locate technology's spicier side, if there is such a thing. While Düsseldorf's once-reigning, lipstick-wearing robots plied a purely mental confrontation with music (raising machinery over machismo, not to mention mankind), Señor Coconut injected hot-blooded humor into the whole synthetic shebang: What could be more ridiculous than a Third World "band" covering First World avant-garde music?
On El Gran Baile, El Señor lays the groundwork for his Latin excursions into Teutonic tom-tomfoolery. And though it's a less fluid recording than the re-'werked Alemán, it still finds the Santiago transplant tinkering endlessly with exciting Latin polyrhythms and an overactive digital libido.
As seeds of a full-blown virtual combo first sprouted in his head (credit a fever-induced illness in 1997), Coco tried to crack the eugenic code between chocolate and sauerkraut: guaguanco libre, he later called it. Blurring the border between fake and hyper-real, the dance-happy cha-cha of "Supertropical" penetrates the emotional part of the brain while indulging the endless loop fixations of a mad chemist: It's "neo-traditional," Señor specifies. (If you add "neo" to anything, it instantly becomes a new art form -- just ask Os Mutantes or Beck.) "Upper Mambo/Lower Funk" realigns chakras like nobody's business, mein amigos. Note the bowel-shaking hip-hop boom of "Diario's Clave" (a 'hood-horny rumba) and ask yourself why the ghost of Gene Krupa bullies Tito Puente so on "El Coco Baile." There's an oscillating dose of sci-fi jive ("Pisco Control"), plus a few entrancing Eno-derived palette cleansers ("La Noche Cool," "4-D Cha Cha"). It's tight. It's precise. ¡Es frenético!
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It's also completely computerized simulation. Playful and adventurous, Chile's most notorious Autobahn outlaw offers a blueprint of technical possibilities (retro-futuro, anyone?) in what otherwise might serve only to remind dull-witted gringos that it's time -- once again -- to raise that little flag at Casa Bonita.