When Chris Vargas and Tobias Rochman first met as coworkers in a Montreal clothing shop, they clashed—“like oil and water,” Rochman says. But after Rochman’s solo project shared a bill with Vargas’ industrial band Pelvic Floor, something clicked. “We’re both strong-willed individuals,” says Rochman. “It’s better if we’re on the same side.” Together, as the duo Pelada, they fuse Rochman’s lithe house and techno productions with Vargas’ defiant Spanish-language vocals, sung-shouted in a thin yet forceful voice that cuts through the mix like broken glass. On Movimiento Para Cambio, their debut album, the duo’s opposing influences prove surprisingly complementary.
Though punk and dance music make strange bedfellows, it’s not an unheard-of combination: The two styles commingled at the Mudd Club in the late 1970s, engendering a funk-punk fusion that, decades later, would bequeath DFA its founding aesthetic. And in the 1990s, Atari Teenage Riot grafted hardcore punk onto breakbeat hardcore, echoing the Prodigy’s snarling aggression. But the two traditions have rarely yielded a merger quite like this one. Rather than seeking overlap, Pelada exploit the disconnect between their respective backgrounds.
On record, they still sound like oil and water. Vargas’ monotone shout is reedy and insistent, recalling hardcore punk’s classic declamatory style. Instead of responding with a correspondingly harsh sound, Rochman veers in the opposite direction, opting for velvety deep house descended from the lineage of Larry Heard. It’s an interesting proposition: Seduce listeners with reassuring sounds like the Korg M1 organ bass, a staple of ’90s dance pop, then shout them down like the singer at an all-ages hardcore matinee.
The contrast is apparent on the opening song, “A Mí Me Juzgan Por Ser Mujer,” in which Vargas, who uses they/them pronouns, directs their fire at patriarchal instincts and male privilege—the “machitos” demanding more than they deserve. Stuttering chord stabs and breakbeats build to a surging, acid-fueled climax, but the quantized grid keeps the energy in check; Vargas’ chorus, on the other hand, drips with barely contained rage. “They judge me for being a woman/But I was born in this body,” they chant in Spanish, voice rising to a pointed shout; “I didn’t choose it and I don’t know what to do/This is out of my control.”
Many of the album’s best songs are animated by this tension. In “Habla Tu Verdad” (“Speak Your Truth”), Vargas might just as well be standing at the front of a protest march, megaphone in hand, each chanted proclamation fit for a hand-lettered sign, while Rochman channels the brightly colored synth of Midwestern techno from the late 1990s. Sometimes, the two egg each other on. In “Desatado,” Vargas lies back, their voice flat and cool, while Rochmann builds the kind of bleepy, quick-stepping beat you might have heard from Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label in the 1990s. Then, as Vargas breaks into a shout, the music crescendos too, and the beat seems on the verge of pulling apart altogether.
They have other modes: “Granadilla” is a kind of ambient spoken-word R&B, while “Caderona” fuses ’80s electro with reggaeton. Best of all might be the closing “Aquí,” an environmentalist anthem set to the lush chords of Balearic house. The mood is idyllic yet streaked with turbulence: As the steady beats cruise on, they snag and stumble; Vargas’ speaking voice, uncharacteristically placid, is periodically run through shuddering glitch effects. Throughout the album, questions of control are paramount: Who has it, and whom they wield it against. Here, Vargas declares in a matter-of-fact tone, “Nature controls us/Not vice versa,” and the song’s subtly fraught quality—lovely as a sunset, yet disturbed by a hidden undercurrent—feels like the duo’s way of acknowledging our fundamental vulnerability.