Pablo Betas plugs back in to the Infinite Machine with his first full-length as Bungalovv, Donde Hubo Fuego. It marks his second outing on the Mexico City label, which in 2017 played host to his debut EP, Luz Mala. It is his first activity since contributing two tracks to Desarme, a December 2019 compilation from Buenos Aires’ multidisciplinary collective TRRUENO, of which he is a founding and active member.
The album shares a significant portion of its character with its Infinitely-Machined companion, from the sonic palette to the artwork. The cover depicts a burnt-out, dendritic, scalp-like dystopia – the setting for a generated display of bones, wood and ropes. It clearly resonates with the album title (‘Where There Was Fire’), and resembles the tree-in-flashlight cover for Luz Mala (‘Bad Light’) like a perturbed, animated older cousin.
This atmosphere is teased out meticulously in the music, creating a unique sonic environment that is maintained across the album’s ten tracks. Its protagonist is a syncopated, heavily percussive beat, which finds itself constantly vying for space against a wide range of synthetic and organic textures. This drama between rhythmic consistency and careful, expansive sound-design constitutes the album’s main toolkit. The result is an erratic and unpredictable production style, where the listener is rarely afforded the opportunity to feel truly locked into a groove. Instead, the environment is constantly shifting, doubling back, self-interjecting and peeling away. In most cases, it is consistent and precise enough not to be disorientating, making for a gratifying and immersive listening experience.
Most of these aspects are made clear from the outset – the opener, ‘Bandera Robada’, introducing a characteristic beat early on, surrounded and interrupted by numerous screeches and field-recorded sounds. It climaxes as a first-rate dancehall groove, stretched ever-so-slightly beyond its natural time signature. This playfulness typifies the attitude over the course of the forty-or-so minutes, with many of the tracks culminating in a short-lived, steady groove, often alongside a dissonant melodic motif, which functions as his version of a chorus hook.
Its stylistic consistency is kept fresh through tempo variations across tracks, ‘Desatanudos’ offering itself at half-tempo, while ‘Fixing a Crossbow’ edges towards a trappier rhythm, albeit pulling from the same sonic library. The last track, ‘You Don’t Need a Soul to be Human’, sets itself slightly apart by granting its chord progression legitimate breathing space – the percussive elements providing only disjointed moral support for the main sample, which carries the internalised emotional state from a distance.
Despite its characteristic unpredictability, most of Donde Hubo Fuego is very danceable and clearly club-ready. It is packed with injections of energy, and moments of emotional focus. The cautious playfulness on which the album subsists, therefore, gives it a dual purpose – as an excitable and refreshing home listen, and as a collection of eccentric dance tracks.