There’s a freedom in shaking your ass to the beat on a crowded dancefloor and in Madrid, that freedom is called Perreo. It’s hard to describe the genre-defying movement that’s rolled everything from Puerto Rican reggaeton and Spanish trap into one electrifying sound, but it’s also more than just music. For rapper Kaydy Cain, it’s a lifestyle and attitude; for others, it’s freedom. But most importantly, it’s a tool bringing a necessary dose of freedom to what’s long been a male-dominated dancehall scene. As Flaca, of the female DJ collective Chica Gang, explained to me last month: “In Perreo culture, girls are the boss.”
That isn’t to say that men don’t have their place in Madrid’s Perreo culture, but as I waded into the swirling sea of people shaking their ass and grinding in the Sala But nightclub last month, the girls and gays ruled the dancefloor. With a line snaking around the block, the club was playing host to Boiler Room and Ballantine’s True Music project, the collab showcasing emerging and established artists around the world for years and building community support. With their stop in Madrid, True Music brought a stacked lineup of international artists that embodied Perreo's borderless spirit; including everyone from Madrid’s own Chica Gang and Kaydy Cain to Brussels-based DJ Clara! and American rapper Rico Nasty.
Long before Perreo spread to Madrid’s music scene, the genre was twisting its way across the world. Its lineage has been traced to Puerto Rican reggaeton, Jamaican dancehall, Panamanian Dembow, East Coast hip hop, and Spanish trap. But along this voyage, it’s also fought against racist backlash; in 1995, Puerto Rican record stores were raided and reggaeton cassettes were confiscated over claims that the music was linked to a rise in youth violence. Even as the international community rides high on the resurgence of reggaeton thanks to songs like Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” or DJs like Mexico City’s Rosa Pistola, artists in Spain have had to overcome the country’s bias towards the genre. “Before, it was regarded as music for poor people or music for criminals,” Kaydy Cain explained. “Now people are starting to like it, and it has a better status in society.”
Alongside its rise, it has also turned clubs into safe havens for women and the queer community. Removed from the anti-LGBTQI discrimination and sexism on the streets of Madrid, Perreo has become a salve; an upside-down where women rule the music scene. To get a better sense of how Perreo fits into Madrid’s music scene and the challenges it still faces, we caught up with Rocío, Alba, and Flaca from the city’s Chica Gang collective to talk about how they met, why if you don’t dance, you’re not going to fuck, and how they’re “colonizing you white bitches.”
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What does Perreo mean to you?
Flaca: Perreo for us, for the girls and LGBTQ community, it's a tool for expression. Perreo gives me a lot of tools to not to turn crazy.
Rocío: Empowerment and freedom; giving people a voice.
Alba: You are the jefa; you're the boss of your body and control what's happening.
Flaca, you’re from Argentina. Was there much of an LGBTQI scene there or did you really discover LGBTQI scene here when you moved?
Flaca: When I moved, yeah. I came from a super religious family. My aunties [were] saying gay people do not have to kiss in front of the schools in front of the kids. Now, I am [here] with the pride flag and I do not fucking care. It is crazy.
How did you meet Rocío and Alba?
Flaca: I was at a party and two girls came to me and said to me, "We love what you do, we need to do something.” They know me from social media and know that I was a DJ. At that time, I was living in San Sebastian. Three months later, I came to Madrid and I tell them, "Hey girls, I am here" and we started to work. They are my best friends now.
As a female collective, how often do you deal with sexism?
Alba: It's crazy for us, most of our problems come from the fact that we are young girls. If we were men...
Rocío: Everything would be easier. [Guys] saying that you're not good enough for just being a girl; you're not talented enough.
Flaca: Yeah. We have to face a lot of people mansplaining. I am not only a female DJ, [I’m] a young female DJ. They think I am dumb. Like, “Here is the queue, and the play.” I’m like, bitch, I know that is a queue and a play. They hired me for this! All the time, we are fighting with this and fighting for this psychologically. We are fighting with a lot of people treating us like kids.
It was interesting to hear about how men are still scared to dance here.
Flaca: Poor them. You know? Because it's a thing here, in Spain. For me, [coming from] Latin America, it's completely different. If you don't dance, you're not going to fuck. You need to dance, [but] reggaetón is super criticized because, in Spain, there’s a huge influence from the church. They say reggaetón is misogynist, and it's like, "No, bitch."
Rocío: Yeah, anything related to sex... it shocks people here, [but] lots of rock and roll and all these genres are really offensive to women. It's not a genre problem, it's a global problem, a social problem. The way everybody talks about women, it's offensive. The only thing about reggaetón is that it's explicit, and talks about sex. But right now, if you hear a reggaetón song, they're actually super respectful and really worship women. I don't feel that when I hear some songs that are mainstream. There are songs from really famous artists here in Spain that say really bad things, and they're on TV and everything.
Flaca: All the songs talking about emotionally abusive relationships - it's crazy because you are fucking educating the girls.
For male artists out there, how do you think they could change what they're doing to be more respectful and stay away from the misogyny that has been so tied into music?
Alba: Rethinking everything.
Flaca: [Through translator] Go back to school! [And] actually giving their space to female artists to tell their story.
What kind of problems does Perreo face right now as an up-and-coming genre?
Rocío: Racism and classism.
Flaca: Yeah, in the past year, a lot of people really believed that Perreo was something for ignorant people. The lower class. I've seen a lot of that same line: "My son or my daughter are not going to listen to Perreo because that music is from evil!" I think that they also believe that reggaetón is a simple genre. It’s not hard.
Rocío: It's not elevated.
Flaca: It's fucking crazy because if we analyze two different songs, one reggaetón and one indie or whatever the people with the guitars are listening right now, it has the same structure.
Alba: Even if you're mixing reggaetón, it's actually a lot more difficult than any other kind of techno or electronic [music], it's actually very difficult.
What makes the LGBTQI community here special compared to other cities? What have you seen within the community?
Rocío: There's a lot to work [to do[ here because there's not a real safe space in Madrid for the LGBT community. In Chica Gang, we make parties and we try really hard to have a safe space for women and LGBTQ people, but we have to work more. The real [safe] spaces are not in the center of Madrid, which is where the party happens. In Madrid, it's really hard. You're walking somewhere, and someone shouts at you.
There's a lot of bigotry?
Rocío: People here are like, "Why do they need a pride month?"
Flaca: And we are [through translator] just moving backward. We have people in political parties saying on television that [LGBTQI Pride] has to be in a bar —
Rocío: That children can't see that.
Flaca: That's fucking crazy. And they get elected. What the fuck, man.
Rocío: [Through translator] That actually normalizes that political discourse. Right now it's a tense moment for anyone that is not white, cis, hetero male. You use music to combat that.
Flaca: Yeah, [but] I don't believe that I'm an activist. We are doing what we believe we need to do. And we are doing something individually. We try to work for a community and to create a space, but we need to expand and to make more things when we can because they don't let us.
Rocío: And actually, we were talking about the LGBTQI community not being in the center. For us, venues don't want to work with us because of what we do. I understand that we're soft for like, underground. We're three girls. I understand that if venues don't want to work with us, they won't want to work with more radical parties and communities.
Flaca: The three of us are white and Latino, but I am white-passing. We are these girls... it's easy for us, in some way. That's also why we are doing this; to pave the way.
You create a door for them.
Rocío: And as a party, we're trying to book different kinds of people, so they have space and a platform to show what they do.
Another way you’ve connected and shown support is through Instagram. I think the Perreo movement is really reflective of this new interconnection younger generations have shown on social media. How has the internet helped you?
Flaca: For me, [the internet] is super important because you can be a pioneer in your city or in your country, but you need a reference. The internet gives us that. All these people are talking about how the internet is a bad thing and it's making us dumb but, for me, it was really a tool for minorities to recognize each other, and to see that you are not alone.