Destino Mondragon used a healthy amount of AutoTune on his just-released EP, When the World Was Ending. The pitch-correction technique can be an object of scorn for those who see it as a way to cover up a lack of genuine vocal prowess. But Mondragon, who performs as DESTINO, uses it to interesting effect, even if he catches static for it. It's a tool he uses to explore his inner life.
“That was like expressing my internal idea of what it means to be my gender-fluid self,” Mondragon says. “I was able to cross some boundaries with that gender idea in music through the voice with the AutoTune.”
The use of "spacey" effects and other unusual sounds is also a way for Mondragon to express "the weird that is my queer self.” He feels it’s important to impart as much of himself into his songs as possible.
“I definitely love to incorporate my sexuality,” he says. “It’s a big piece of who I am, and I feel like it’s a big part of my art, as well. I like to showcase that and express that through the music I’m making — just some odd, unique sounds.”
In addition to accentuating his voice, Mondragon uses effects to impart a sense of otherworldliness to his songs.
“I’m just a big fan of avant-garde art,” he says. “It’s one of my favorite forms of art and fashion. I just wanted to translate some of that love for that kind of art into my music, some avant-garde pop, some hyperpop.”
Although the songs on When the World Was Ending wouldn't seem out of place on the jukebox of a Martian bordello in some lost Philip K. Dick novel, that’s not to say that they're too avant-garde to be enjoyable here on Earth.
The lead single, “Break My Heart," came out last summer, and is a two-and-a-half-minute piece of radio-friendly pop that could easily grace the dance floor of a club. The short duration of the EP's songs nods to a punk spirit; Mondragon has also been listening to a lot of hyperpop lately — a microgenre that he says was made for people with ADHD.
The five tracks tell a "self-love" story about growth and Mondragon's learning to accept that he is a good human being. An admitted sufferer of the dreaded imposter syndrome, he says loving himself has proved a challenging prospect at times. But while he likes to write from a personal perspective, the songs don't tell overtly personal stories, either. He describes the whole affair as existing in the "middle of conceptual reality."
Since the EP dropped, Mondragon's newer work has taken an upbeat tone, a move away from World's more somber, introspective themes. He says he's been busy writing, and listeners should expect new music soon.
Like many artists making their way through the past eleven months of plague and civil unrest, Mondragon describes 2020 as a roller coaster of a year personally and professionally. He lost a job, but he was also accepted back into the music-education nonprofit Youth on Record for a fifth-year fellowship, so it wasn't all bad.
“I was struggling with the mental aspect of everything,” he says. “Like, where am I supposed to be in life right now? ... Throughout all that, I was still creating and writing and producing and letting myself shut out that energy.”
Mondragon is eagerly awaiting the end of the pandemic so he can take his music to a stage somewhere. He's about to turn 24, and he can’t help but think of Lady Gaga, who was that age when she embarked on 2009's Monster Ball tour.
“That was a really amazing theatrical piece of performance art that she put on,” he says. “I’m about to be 24. I need to put on a theatrical show. I want to put together something that is fun and interactive, entertaining, with dances, colors, expression — just lots of expression.”
He sees this as-yet-unrealized show as involving not just sights and sounds, but smells, too. In the perfect DESTINO show, drag queens would share the stage with contortionists. There would be backup dancers — but not “Katy Perry backup dancers,” he clarifies. He goes back to "avant-garde" as the best way to describe such a concert.
“It would just look really weird,” he says. “Very sassy, very queer — just given that energy. I want to make people dance. I want people to feel hyped.”
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