Bonilla is a Miami-based artist, producer and selector. Like many from the Florida city, his musical outlook is as diverse as it gets, with his Latin American roots only telling part of the story. A vinyl connoisseur, his sound is a deep and dexterous one; incorporating everything from afro to dub to minimal techno into his delicately-woven sets. In other words, you can expect the unexpected whenever he comes to play.
His 15 year career starts as a resident DJ for some of the first true house venues in South Florida, including Mekka, Metropolis, Nocturnal and Club Space’s iconic Techno Loft. He’s a busy man when it comes to production too, with credits on renowned labels such as Hurry Up Slowly, BH Records, House of Huemans and Beyond The Music already behind him.
As we caught up with him, he was gearing up to play in Medellin, Colombia – proof if needed that Bonilla’s appeal is an increasingly international one. We caught up with him ahead of the gig for Medellin party, Heard From, to find out more about what makes him tick…
Hi Andrew, thanks for taking the time to catch up with us today. Tell us a bit about growing up in Miami. Is it somewhere where you’re exposed to electronic music early on? Does it feel like it’s competing with hip-hop there a bit? Do the scenes ever intersect at all?
Thank you for having me. Miami is Miami, diversity is a standard on this side, we get all kinds of sounds. Growing up in an urban town, hip-hop definitely reigned as a more popular sound. Every now and then you might catch a hit dance record on the radio. Up until middle school, that was the regular for me. That was until my older brother started working at a dance nightclub when I was about 15 years old. Every weekend he would come home with CDs from the acts that would play. It was those CD’s that really changed my ear and life as a whole.
What DJs and producers really inspired you back then?
This is really a hard question to answer. My journey began in 2006. During that era, the sound was a bit more on the commercial side, so you can only imagine. Eventually we started to become more exposed to underground sounds during WMC events when guys like Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Guy Gerber, Marco Bailey, Carlo Lio and more started breaking ground in Miami.
Can you talk us through your studio set-up a bit? How often do you get to the studio and how does the process work for you?
Most of the time, the studio is nimble and swift. I rock on the Roland MC707 as a foundation starter to get grooves going. Then jump on ableton and sauce it with some samples and vox. On some occasions, the gang I work out of Rakoon Studios in Miami, which is completely decked out with all kinds of machines and tools. The plus side of Rakoon is we get to work alongside Pezlo, a master engineer and producer to support and add the final mixing and mastering touch.
You’ve been associated with Space for a long time. Can you tell us a bit about the first time you visited the club? Did it immediately leave an impression on you? Had you been raving for a while at that stage?
When I was in high school, all-ages parties were a pretty big thing. The first time I played space was for a Life in Color paint party at like 16 or 17. By 18 my partner in crime at the time, David Zafra and I locked in a residency at Nocturnal nightclub, which was next door and a direct competitor to Space. We rocked there for a couple years until Techno Loft resident Dsan Powell gave us an invite to play at Space. You have to give credit when credit is due, Space was clearly the dream venue to play every few weeks in support of legendary acts. I rode the techno loft residency for about a year and a half.
Do you still get nervous before gigs? How do you generally prepare your sets? And what dictates the music you play?
Yes, every single time. No matter how much I prepare, the butterflies hit hard before every gig. I genuinely don’t ever want to let down a crowd. In regards to preparing sets, I feel like this depends on the party/crowd/region. If I have an idea of what a crowd likes, I may organise some playlist to match what I think will get them moving. On some occasions, I fly blind and trust in my tunes.
Do you have any guidelines or rules that you stick to? Or is it generally always spontaneous?
You know, you want to say that there are no rules in this game. But the fact is there is DJ and dance floor etiquette. Are we opening, peak set, closing? The guidelines are different in every one of those slots. For the most part, I know my role on the bill and will respect the slot, especially if you are on opening duties, you definitely want to set the vibe proper without banging it out.
Aside from your DJing work, you’ve also been gaining a reputation as a producer of real repute recently. Can you talk us through some of your upcoming release plans?
The unreleased dropbox folder is starting to stack up. We’re sitting on tons of music and shopping out a few EP’s at the moment to find the right homes for the tracks. We’re excited to announce that we’ve aligned a 4 track EP with Whoyostro which is set to release mid Dec ’22.
Similarly, if you were to introduce your music to someone who’ not heard it before, what tracks would you talk about? (Please provide YouTube link)
Here’s a two hour journey on Abracadabra that provides an insight into my sound that I hope you enjoy!
I read that you ‘disappeared musically for a few years’. What was the thinking there? Did you need a break from it all?
This one goes deep. The honest truth is that I entered the industry at a pretty young age. With adolescence comes some adolescent decisions. During the earlier days, experimenting and consumption happened a little too often. Outside of this, I wasn’t taking production as seriously as I am now. I was pretty plateaued as a local act. While lots of DJs would love to be in that spot, I wanted more. There’s only so much revenue you can drive at that level. I decided to search for other means of survival. After 5 years of building up my creative agency to its current status, I found myself with a much stronger foundation and clearer head. It’s kind of crazy how things worked out. In late 2019 I reinvested and started building out the studio. Come early 2020, Covid lockdowns began. It’s like god wanted me to cook up again.
On that note, how important is balance to you as a musician? Do you find the scene can get a bit overwhelming at times?
Balance is crucial. To really have a long and positive career, your mental health needs to take priority. You can really get lost in the sauce if you’re partying/consuming every weekend. I’m proud to say that I am navigating the industry free of hard drugs and alcohol. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting out there and having a good time, I just encourage everyone to party responsibly and look after one another. We’ve lost too many good people.
Do you make goals and plans? Or what’s next for you that you’re really excited about?
We’re very goal driven and laser focused. There’s a very simple formula to build your name in this game. Release, release, release. Pump out tunes and do your best to flood the market with quality music. That’s really been the plan from the start, keep building out the Discogs and sharing my sounds with the world. What I am most excited about is having been able to team up with protech miami and family matters agency, who are working really hard to get me and my sound out there. It really takes a village.
What’s next for you that you’re really excited about?
I’m set to make my Medellin debut late this month at Heard From. Really excited to rock that dance floor where guys like Subb an, Alexis Cabrera, Floog and more have played. Bring it on!
Keep up with Bonilla on Instagram, Beatport, Bandcamp and Soundcloud
Bonilla plays Heard From in Medellin on 26th November. Tickets are available here.