ZZK: How to Make it in South America

Our guide to the nightlife of Buenos Aires – by BlackBook editor and Dengue Dancing DJ Whitney Weiss – reveals one of South America’s most unique record labels, ZZK. Read on to find out how to make it as an indy label in South America and grab the free download of the Frikstailers Remix of Fauna’s classic track Para Mi.

ZZK Records has had a very busy past few years. As a club night, the Buenos Aires mainstay recently celebrated its fifth birthday. As a label, this legit-DIY enterprise has netted a stunning amount of achievements in even less time. They’ve imported Diplo to Argentina (and sent him home him raving about their sounds). They’ve assembled a roster of more than a dozen artists, and seen those artists play shows everywhere from Europe to South and North America. These days, touring the world is now as regular an occurrence for ZZK as spotting international magazines, radio stations, and TV channels abuzz over the label’s distinctive new-school cumbia.

One thing discerning music fans should know: the hype is deserved. After all, not many small labels, let alone ones based out of South America, can boast sets at Roskilde Festival, South by Southwest, and Coachella in just three years, without major label muscle. And with each new full-length and mixtape, the buzz just keeps growing.

El Remolon’s Cumbia Bichera, which should be your starting point if you’re new to this whole new-school cumbia thing.

Looking at the trajectory of Zizek: the night and ZZK: the label, one thing becomes clear: building a DIY enterprise with international attention is some serious hard work. It’s about putting in a lot of hours, making moves when moves are possible, and not throwing in the towel when the cosmic forces that govern things like plane schedules, government papers, and day-to-day logistics get out of hand.

Episode 1 of ZZK TV: Life on the road in NYC and beyond.

What originally started out as a club night in a kinda-shady San Telmo locale has grown slowly but surely, trading up to the side room and then the big room at BA’s biggest club, Niceto, and watching its roster of talent expand just as quick. The addition to ZZK comes in the form of Super Gauchin, a Nintendo-loving duo of brothers whose 8-bit take on new-school cumbia has been long overdue.

The pair just finished up their first European tour, where they wowed audiences with their homemade video game consoles-turned-musical instruments from Edinburgh to Berlin. Look for their just-released ZZK debut, and expect to hear much from them in the future.

Super Gauchin, the latest addition to the ZZK roster.

Of course, mischievous and talented duos are nothing new at Zizek. Though the Frikstaliers may have up and moved to Mexico, they are still a major force at the label and are probably best known for the video for their remix of Major Lazer’s Hold the Line, produced by Argentine creative powerhouse Flamboyant Paradise, who are also the brains behind Fauna’s Para Mi video.

Flamboyant Paradise’s distinctive visual style, very much a part of the trendsetting ZZK landscape, was recently tapped by Bonde do Role and Diplo for a video of their own.

The official video for the Frikstailers remix of Hold the Line

The Frikstailers may be one of the best-known artists on ZZK, but the label’s major success story is Pedro Canale (a.k.a.)Chancha Via Circuito, who started his ZZK career behind the merch table. At this point, Chancha’s toured three continents and released a record that NPR and The Fader both love. Not bad for someone whose first record was made with Fruity Loops on a shared family PC.

Chancha has forged a path from his town outside the urban sprawl of Buenos Aires in the east of Argentina up across the border with Bolivia and into the Northern hemisphere where he’s bringing new fans to native drum traditions. In his first release, Rodante, Chancha took cumbia into uncharted territory retrofitting the Latin rhythm for a worldly audience. With Rio Arriba, South American folklore takes the reins and, under Chancha’s steady hand, obscure backwoods rhythms take on a top shelf lifestyle as folklore hits the club.

Chancha bringing it onstage.

On par with Chancha are Fauna, a duo whose second album, Manshines, has just been released. Known for their onstage swagger and ability to keep a crowd firmly in the palm of their hands, they are one of ZZK’s greatest assets, and despite some very real tragedy, continue to share their unique sounds with the world with an incredible new record, which features plenty of other members of Camp ZZK.


Making something out of what’s available is a major theme in Argentina, and whether you’re a legit porteño or an expat fresh off the boat from New Jersey, there’s no denying how life in Buenos Aires requires taking the notion of working with what you’ve got to get what you want to a whole new level. If anyone embodies that spirit of getting shit taken care of no matter the circumstance, it’s Grant Dull, a Texan-turned-world-traveler-turned-BA-resident. As the head of ZZK, it’s his multitasking prowess and ability to handle logistics without ending up completely ruined that’s helped ZZK artists land on continents all over the world (and get home in one piece, too).

Whether putting in 20-hour days, spinning in Moscow, or crowd surfing in Germany, Dull is always thinking about how to help ZZK get to that next level, which recently has meant partnering with some helpful States-side management and bringing on some new acts. So cool kids and new-school cumbia heads all over the globe, prepare yourselves: there’s a whole lot more to come from this Buenos Aires label.

– By Whitney Weiss

Download the Frikstailers Remix of Fauna’s, Para Mi and watch their psychedelic video below.

Chancha Via Circuito – Rio Arriba 2010 by zzkrecords