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Alex Anwandter's disco-infused homage to dancefloor liberation

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

As Chilean musician Alex Anwandter was putting together his latest album, he had a simple test to see if the songs were danceable.

ALEX ANWANDTER: It was the middle of COVID. I didn't have, like, a dance studio - in my bedroom using a yoga mat (laughter) and wearing my AirPods, just, like, trying it out in front of the mirror.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEX ANWANDTER SONG, "EL DIABLO EN EL CUERPO")

CHANG: That's right. It was a one-man bedroom mirror dance party. And that requirement - danceability - was crucial here. Anwandter was set on making a dance album or, maybe more specifically, a dance floor album.

ANWANDTER: To me, as a queer person, it has always functioned as some sort of, like, safe haven, I suppose.

CHANG: The result is an homage to dancefloor culture and the liberation it provides, a disco-infected album called "El Diablo En El Cuerpo" or "The Devil In The Body."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL DIABLO EN EL CUERPO")

ANWANDTER: (Singing in Spanish).

The album is a bit abstract, but it's also about the way we communicate with the body. And it's a lot about desire as well and pursuing desire and the effects of pursuing desire and societal norms around pursuing desire. So I think when I'm saying I have the devil in my body, what I'm saying is I want to communicate my desire through my body. And I don't care if that goes against certain social grain or whatever.

CHANG: So what happens when you give yourself over to desire?

ANWANDTER: Well, for instance, it might go against what is perceived as, like, true love, say, only being sexually with one person for the rest of your life. But also it's - for me, desire also is extremely related to self-image...

CHANG: Yeah.

ANWANDTER: ...And how we want to be and how we communicate that. It's a very, like, complex web of desires that we act upon or repress. And somehow, I think the nightlife kind of dissolves all of that repression and those rules. And that's why I kind of set the themes of the album in the dance floor, so to speak.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEX ANWANDTER SONG, "UNX DE NOSOTRXS")

CHANG: I want to ask you about the song "Unx De Nosotrxs"...

ANWANDTER: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Which is about growing up queer in Santiago, Chile. What was your childhood like? I know that's a huge question.

ANWANDTER: (Laughter).

CHANG: But paint some broad brushstrokes for me.

ANWANDTER: Well, for starters, I grew up in the middle of the dictatorship. I was born in '83. The dictatorship of Pinochet ended in '89. And it was such a different country - like, very strange, politically silent. There was nothing to be said about any social issues. It was a pretty conservative society, and growing up queer was a little weird, I guess. Going to gay clubs or something wasn't, like, something that was very accepted or even, like, common. I remember in 2011 - so not that long ago - I put out a song. It was kind of a love song directed to a boy, a guy, and it was all over the news. Like, it was a first in Chile.

CHANG: It was revolutionary to be seen...

ANWANDTER: Yeah, it was...

CHANG: ...As something like that.

ANWANDTER: ...So weird. Like, I didn't even think about that - like, that there hadn't been any, like, love songs - like, same-sex love songs before I wrote that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNX DE NOSOTRXS")

ANWANDTER: (Singing in Spanish).

CHANG: Well, I wanted to ask you about the juxtaposition between the lyrics in "Unx De Nosotrxs," which are heavy, but the song - it's kind of upbeat. It's...

ANWANDTER: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Got this classic house feel. I mean, one of the lyrics is, I've been hiding from others for a while. Friend, I don't want to feel life is broken. Was it purposeful to dress up such a difficult story inside such a happy beat?

ANWANDTER: No. It's kind of a thing I do, and I really like it. I find that, like, brilliant music tends to go very well with dramatic lyrics. This is something that I feel is very Latino.

(LAUGHTER)

ANWANDTER: But also, I think the feeling of ecstasy that a beat or, like, a dance song can produce goes really well when you're trying to be vulnerable and connect emotionally. And it produces a sort of a deeper elation, if you will, when you're dancing and at the same time thinking about something that's kind of profound.

CHANG: Right. Well, can I also ask - one of the lyrics in that same song is, take me to the Blondie, which is...

ANWANDTER: Yeah.

CHANG: ...A dance club in Santiago, right?

ANWANDTER: Yeah.

CHANG: Was this a club that meant something quite important to you when you were growing up there?

ANWANDTER: Yeah, for sure. It's like almost a rite of initiation going to Blondie discotheque. It's still there. It's an institution. Now I go do shows mostly there. But I can't go because there's too many people that listen to my music, so I can't really go, like, incognito.

CHANG: (Laughter).

ANWANDTER: Once I wore, like, a bandana around my face, and people still recognized me. It was like, how...

CHANG: Could ever...

ANWANDTER: ...Do you know it's me? Like, it was so weird. Anyway, it's a great place. And I remember my first time there. I don't know exactly what I was wearing. I must have been, like, 14 or 15. People go out really young in South America.

CHANG: Yeah.

ANWANDTER: Parentheses.

CHANG: I love that.

ANWANDTER: And someone pointed at me and said, like, oh, the little Boys Choir of Vienna or something. I was like, what (laughter)? Like, I thought I was dressing, like, super-cool.

CHANG: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEX ANWANDTER SONG, "UNX DE NOSOTRXS")

CHANG: Well, you are now based in New York City, and it made me wonder, do you miss the dance floors of Santiago?

ANWANDTER: It's a great question. I do. And at the same time, I had to say goodbye to them before leaving Chile. Not to toot my own horn, but I'm more famous there than I am here, obviously. So I couldn't really go out dancing that much - as much as I wanted.

CHANG: Ah, but you enjoy the greater anonymity in New York City that you have...

ANWANDTER: Yes, absolutely.

CHANG: ...When you go out dancing.

ANWANDTER: Yeah.

CHANG: OK. So, Alex, when you are seized with the desire to go and dance, please tell me you go further than your yoga mat.

ANWANDTER: (Laughter) Well, the yoga mat was my COVID - it was a COVID restraint. So yeah. I like disco, actually. I like dancing to disco music. And there's great disco parties here in New York, so that's my go-to, I think.

CHANG: That is Chilean singer, songwriter and producer Alex Anwandter. His new album is called "El Diablo En El Cuerpo." Thank you so much. I so enjoyed this.

ANWANDTER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRECIPICIO")

ANWANDTER: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.