Senor Coconut's brand of electro-latino music

Now it's been through Senor Coconut's laptop, Smoke on the Water will never sound the same again

"I think I've kicked her out," says Uwe Schmidt. "She wasn't very efficient." Schmidt is talking about the imaginary employee who answers his emails, who is rude and unhelpful to anyone who tries to disturb Senor Coconut in the act of creation.

Senor Coconut is also fictional, dreamt up by the German producer when he started to introduce Latin rhythms into his electronic dance music. "I started to work on a record that didn't have a name. Then one day I woke up with a high fever and saw the typography of Senor Coconut. Suddenly, I had this character, and this enabled the process of working on the music."

The first album, El Baile Aleman (New State) by Senor Coconut Y Su Conjunto, was no work of genius, but a postmodern joke that delivered the goods: a tuneful dance album based on Kraftwerk's back catalogue. Schmidt's pseudonymous credit, as Atom, reads: "Executive programmer, concept and production."

And although there is a genuine live "orchestra", with Venezuelan singer Argenis Brito and six Danish session players, they didn't record the new Senor Coconut album, Fiesta Songs (New State), in real time. "I went to Denmark and recorded snips - riffs and ideas, one after the other. It's sampling material to me, it's not recording a band. We combined that with samples taken from records.

"On the right channel you listen to a real conga player and on the left side there's Tito Puente playing conga or bongos, or something like that. Any record - even a bad one - can be raw material." So Fiesta Songs was painstakingly pieced together on his laptop, at home in Santiago, Chile: "On that album I was working for three months in a row with one day off, working weekends as well. It was like a mathematical question - how many songs, how many days, how can I do that? I drank a lot of coffee and didn't eat much."

So for all its virtuality, Fiesta Songs is just another difficult second album, following a hit debut. "The idea was to make a popular selection," says Schmidt, "so I looked at music in the supermarket, or on the aeroplane radio selection and the songs selected themselves."

It seems that the Senor Coconut formula works by defeating the pretensions of the original, but then reconstructing it in a way that reminds you why it was a hit in the first place - a great tune, a catchy hook, a clever lyric. Does it work? It certainly does on Smoke on the Water, the new single. "When we were on tour in Mexico the driver had a cassette of rock music, including that song. Argenis translated the lyrics and it became very weird." There are also versions of Michael Jackson's Beat It and the Doors' Riders on the Storm.

But however the concept breaks down Sade's Smooth Operator and Elton John's Blue Eyes, their essential flabbiness undermines the electro-latino conceit. Worse still is a leaden version of Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygene (Part II), like James Last without the charm.

Yet the fact that some of the most interesting tracks are Schmidt originals bodes well for the future: El Rey de las Galletas (The King of the Biscuits) is a hustling rhumba that cracks into a glitchy breakdown. The way the other sounds flower and mutate around the naked clicks is a good demonstration of Schmidt's laptop talents as he crossfades and mixes samples and electronic effects alongside a double bass performance from August Engkilde (also featured on the new Pole album).

On the road, Schmidt aims to reproduce what's on the record. What he plays on his laptop is a "thinner" version of the record, leaving gaps for others to fill in. As with St Germain and the Gotan Project, this can lead to longueurs, but these are early days for such groove-based hybrids. We expect manicured perfection on the recording, but audiences still like to see someone sweating. Fortunately Argenis Brito, Senor Coconut's charming frontman, sings and perspires with great style.


John L Walters

The GuardianTramp

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