The Subreal Fantastic Five


Subreal wouldn’t be the conventionally cool kid in school. It wouldn’t be talked about by the teachers in the staff room, it wouldn’t have the girls giggling as it walked by, and it wouldn’t make homecoming queen. It would be sat on the bench at the peripheries of the playground, chatting with those who feel out of place among the crowds, and whose talents have gone unnoticed and unappreciated, to help voice their counterculture views and share their rarefied tastes.

Stella Ahn and Marco Polo Guitierrez, otherwise known as Amazondotcom and Siete Catorce, set up the record label Subreal back in the summer of 2019 (what a beautiful and free summer it was). Less than two years on, their after-school music club has become an internationally recognised label as it drops its fifth release; Rastros by Loris.
A Mexican artist with roots bedded in Palestine, Loris is the most recent of five artists to release on Subreal who dabbles in a subculture of music which, at best, has been on the fringes of their respective hometown’s Friday night scene.

Stella and Marco opened the label with Mirror River - a bass heavy and synth-packed EP by Amazondotcom featuring a mix of fun synth stabs and short-cut dub wobbles sandwiched between some more aggressive and industrial tones.

El Irreal Veintuino does an incredible job at distorting the indigenous and Pre-Hispanic musical landscape of Mexico into hypnotic hardcore-cum-cumbia on the label’s second release, Poliformo. This is definitely my favourite discovery from the label - track 3, Yuto Nahua, especially.

Their third release, and first during the pandemic, was CNDSD’s In Tongues. If I were ever throwing an algorave, Malitzin Cortes’ number would be the first on my list. In Tongues is a digital dream, recorded as a series of live-coded events. Light and airy at times, yet quick and complex at others, CNDSD feels like Mexico’s answer to Renick Bell.

Stella and Marco teamed up to release Vague Currency in the Summer of 2020 (sadly less beautiful and less free), taking on two tracks each while collaborating on the fifth. Proper percussive experimental club music here, the kind that all them empty basements need come post-lockdown.

As previous mentioned, Loris wraps up the Subreal fantastic five with her recently released EP Rastros. The Mexican producer uses a Middle Eastern darbuka to maintain an upbeat percussive rhythm throughout the opening track Muro, silenced only to allow a flute-like duduk melody to take centre stage just after the two minute mark. The darbuka drums remain prominent throughout the four tracks, but I feel they work best at tying in the more classical and instrumental Arabic sounds with the more electronic latin tribal club sound on the record’s third tack, Sin Señal. Under the spell of the moon, the last track, Luna, sees Loris’ synth work come to the fold as she uses a yaylı tambur’s oscillating waves of sound to create an appropriate atmosphere from which to depart. I do get this sense that this record is more synonymous with the Middle East than Mexico, which is remarkable for an artist who’s been brought up in Saltillo in the state of Coahuila. But, all in all, Rastros is another unique record for another weird and wonderful subculture, and that in essence is why I’m such a fan of Subreal. Without platforms like these promoting and showcasing this kind of music, I would never get to hear such cross-cultural fusions - only taste them at a Central London restaurant.

Subreal’s not going to be the talk of the playground. It’s not going to be played at the school disco. But that’s A-OK. Given the sheer breadth of the internet, and the ease at which we can listen to music made halfway across the globe (as is the case for me and the majority of these records), there are plenty of subcultures which will welcome these talented artists and their experimental, left-field music with open arms. What they missed out on sitting at the back of the bus growing up, they’ve gained in headlining Saturday night raves. I do love kicking it at the back of a bus, but I think there’s only one real winner here.