Brenmar: These Are Powers Percussionist Makes Leftfield Juke and Ghetto House Tunes Inspired By His Hometown
- Words: Ali Gitlow
- Photo: Yumna
Bill Salas is chuckling during our email conversation. "I'm in Trier, Germany now," he writes. "The toilet paper is like cardboard." The Brooklyn-based producer and DJ is spending most of his summer days tweaking samplers on a European tour as part of art-rock band These Are Powers. But amid the sweaty late-night shows, he is also hard at work on his personal dance music project: Brenmar.
The project’s name is inspired by his brother, who was born with a hole in his lung that made it difficult for him to pronounce certain words. While Salas studied recording and engineering at Columbia College in his hometown of Chicago—"I’d skip class to stay at home and make beats," he admits—he often hung out with his then-two-year-old sibling. "He pretty much made up his own language," Salas reveals. "He gave everyone in the family their own specific name. I got Brenmar. Where he got it from? Who knows."
After school, Salas hightailed it to Brooklyn. At the time, Brenmar was a one-man band of effects pedals, turntables, loopers, samplers, and keyboards. He opened for These Are Powers in 2006, and they hit it off. When a replacement percussionist was needed, he was first on the list.
Aaliyah - "R U That Somebody (Brenmar Windy City Remix)"
As Brenmar, though, Salas has gone through many musical phases, from pop to ambient to noise, before focusing on dance music. With tunes informed by hip-hop, R&B, the London bass scene, and especially Chicago juke and ghetto house—staple sounds of his youth—he is quickly becoming known for his amped-up remixes of tracks by forward-thinking artists like Javelin and Blondes, as well as Chicago ghetto-house master DJ Deeon, pop songstress Cassie, and R&B crooner Jeremih. His Windy City Remix of Aaliyah’s seminal tune "R U That Somebody" is three parts juke, one part UK funky, and 100% dancefloor friendly. "I wanted to play these R&B tracks but keep a certain momentum and energy going within my DJ sets. I also didn’t much care for the big house and trance versions of those tracks floating around, so I made my own remixes," Salas explains. "I’m trying to keep the sex and sensuality there—just up the tempo a bit."
Earlier this year, he also released a couple of original tracks. "Heavy Pockets" begins with ultra-slippery percussive beats before upbeat sirens kick in and make it seem like the rave police are coming for you, while "Kicked Beneath Too" features retro synths, frog croaks, and a male vocal sample that proudly repeats the words "bass kickin'." These tunes serve as previews for forthcoming releases—an EP for Discobelle and another for Sinden’s Grizzly label, as well as collaborative EPs with Austin producer Dubbel Dutch and LA duo Nguzunguzu. If they are any indication of what's to come, a steady stream of Brenmar-brand dancefloor bangers are on the way, crafted by this up-and-coming producer who feels like he's found his sound. "I feel like I finally really know what 'Brenmar' is, and where I want to take it," he says.
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