Producer Slic Talks Overstuffed Stems and Sick, Slappy Synths

In their first live performance under the stage name Slic, Cami Dominguez slinks in and out of the rosy-tiled doorway of a New York apartment bathroom, twisting knobs, cueing up gritty industrial beats, leaning up to the mic–part house party DJ and part shower-singing pop auteur. The intimate showcase streamed as part of a Pride-themed event by the Miami Institute of Contemporary Art, appropriately enough; before going to art school in Massachusetts, Dominguez spent their formative years in Miami’s melting pot of house, techno, and the many musics of Latin America and the Carribean.

The songs for the set came from Slic’s debut EP Toygirl, but also a slew of unreleased collaborations. When it first dropped in January, Toygirl’s addled exploration of the NYC party scene landed like a mission statement. Now it feels more like the pregame to a club crawl that’s just getting started, picking up other artists along the way and getting deeper into the Venezuelan grooves of Dominguez’ childhood. Their latest single, “Ez,” interpolates those beat patterns with hyperpop intensity and gloss, the tap of a controller pad echoing off bathroom tile into what their bio calls “a shimmering, transnational future.”

After the performance, before “Ez” graced digital platforms, Dominguez spoke to The All Scene Eye via Zoom about their background in visual art and their ongoing development as a producer of pop fusion fantasies. If you’re interested in learning more, supporting Slic’s future work, and even scoring exclusive samples, you can follow them on the music community-driven platform Ampled.

You recently had your first live show of 2021 for the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami Pride Online. What was it like recording that session?

It happened really fast, the turnaround, and it was really funny. I recently moved, and I always knew, “I wanna have a shoot in this bathroom.” It has this crazy pink tile–it’s very Miami. To me, it just looks really, really fun, so I knew it was gonna be there. It made sense because it’s somewhat, like, acoustically sound? Not really, but it sounded reverb-y. And the set, I mean, luckily I’ve just been doing a lot of sessions and writing a lot of music, so I had enough material. Once all the tracks were in the Ableton file, it was just about sequencing and singing, which I enjoy the most out of all of it, you know? I love to sing my little songs. [laughs]

When you’re writing these songs, do you think about the live performance?

Most recently, yeah. Actually, [“Ez”] was essentially written as a live vocal performance for an audience of one person. I was continually improvising those lines and thinking about how to create a vocal line to this sort of intense track–that helped me get into the headspace of where I wanted to go with it, and really using the vocalization as a breathing tool. ‘Cause I think of singing as mostly a breathing exercise. 

So–yeah, I do think about it in that way, but I’m sort of new to the live performances. That was the first one of this year, and the first one as Slic. I had done some under a previous name in 2019, but now I have the bug, and I’m like, “When’s the next show?”

So take me back–when did the Slic name come to be?

It was previously slicpup. It was sort of a Deadmau5 joke [laughs] or Deadmau5 reference, and I was like, “Alright, I don’t think I need this reference that very few people are gonna get.” I dropped the latter part of it and went with Slic, but since 2018, pretty much, it has been my production project.

When did the Toygirl EP come to be?

I think the urgency of the pandemic made me want to release music. I always felt like I needed to put something out, and I had written a lot of demos, but with the shutdown, I just–I sent the demo of “Perfect Day” to a friend who makes animations, and I was like, “Can you do a music video for this?” and his response to it was, like, “I love this song so much. Let’s do anything,” like, “Get it out there.” 

And then I realized the missing ingredient for me putting out music was I needed a mix engineer, and I was connected to Erin Tonkon, who works on my mixes now–like, during the pandemic. I basically sent her all the tracks off Toygirl, and they were loud enough to release [laughs] after a little engineering. That was mostly it. It was some technical stuff, but yeah, I feel like the conception of that and the mood of it was just, all the songs that I had written made sense as a collection.

What is your production space like? Where do you work?

It changes all the time because I’ve moved around a serious amount in the pandemic. I’ve had to change apartments and studio spaces, but currently, I have a shared space with a band. They’re, like, a rock ‘n’ roll crew, and then I have a little L-shaped desk with monitors, my interface, and a bunch of random pads. I have a lot of friends who let me borrow gear that they’re not using, so right now I have a Launchpad that I’m gonna start using, and basically just, like, pressing stuff. [laughs]

Yeah, I noticed for the live performance, you had a little setup you were using. What was that?

It’s an Akai LPD8. Just an eight-pad controller that I–I basically do everything inside software instruments except when there’s live bass, and this little eight-pad controller, I can map it to pretty much anything. On the live performance, it was just sequencing whatever song was coming next, but it also has knobs that you can set to anything. I had it on the distortion pedal VST, so I use that a lot. I’ll also program with my computer keyboard, but I use the pad, and then I do a lot of live modulation that I record.

How did you first get interested in producing your own music?

To go all the way back, I used to do visual art. I was doing weird installation art with video projectors–like, many video projectors synced together using found footage that was sort of remixed–so I feel like that was a very compositional way to approach visual art. It was in art school, so I was on a semester schedule, and I always ran out of time to make the music for the videos, so at one point, I was like, “Ok, I’ll take a music class.” 

I was in several music classes in school, but it seemed very siloed from everything else. They had me in classical singing, which I was just like, “This is cool. It’s free, so I’ll do it,” [laughs] but I took a class that was really wild, which is how I got Ableton on my computer the first time. It was kind of an ethnomusicology class where I learned about synthesis and the history of that, but I didn’t take it that seriously until I graduated, and I was like, “Okay, wait, this class where I got to mess around with Ableton, that’s how I can start playing music and producing.” 

For the longest time, like, up until the Toygirl EP, I was just messing with the stock instruments, straight-up on the grid with the computer keyboard, and you can do really cool sound design just with the Operator and stuff like that. I still use the Operator a lot–I’ve gone off of the presets that they have and started building my own stuff inside of it, but essentially, I was just doing sound design and playing melodies into the computer, and then at one point, I bought a mic and was recording. 

It took a really long time for it to all come together. I feel like I was just messing around in the dark for a really long time making extremely weird, like–nobody would call them songs, you know?

[laughs] But compositions?

Yeah, they were just, like, vibes. [laughs] But then I started doing sessions with people. I had a couple people early on who I wrote music with, who kind of helped me understand song structure. Inside of what I wanted to do, which was weirder, more sound design, more abstract, textural stuff, they helped me wrangle that into something that a listener could understand and that I could also know my way around. Because I did it all just out of the box, I had a friend who gave me thousands of samples, and was like, “Use these. Don’t use the stock sounds.” [laughs] But I don’t have a really sample-based compositional approach. A lot of it now is generating stuff inside software synths.

Was it art school friends who were helping you out, or just people you knew who were musicians?

People I knew, yeah. I actually did a couple of sessions with a producer who I thought was gonna be my producer; I was gonna be a pop thing and I was just gonna write the songs on voice notes, and he was gonna produce, but that did not–[laughs] it was not the vibe. He was like, “Can you sing it to the metronome? Can you write a hook?” And I was like, “This is the hook.” So he eventually stopped emailing me, but he connected me to somebody else, who was the person Pablo who gave me, like, millions of samples. I don’t know, I think I just met them through friends.

You talk about coming from visual art and that perspective of composing with images. Do you still think of things that way when you’re combining musical elements?

Well, someone said to me something that really clicked with my approach, which is, when you’re doing a collage, you’re taking all these elements that are fully realized and making something new from them. I think I treat each of the tracks–like, I want to make a really long track of me messing with buffer effects on a bunch of chords and let that rock for a really long time, and then from that fully-developed piece, extract little bits and make a cohesive whole. I do think that was the approach when I was making videos too. I was making a lot of videos of, like, sports. [laughs] Entire videos of, like, a relay race, and just taking really cool moments that I thought could be abstracted and could say something else other than, “These people are running a race.”

That really makes things click for me because I was looking at the stems that you put out from “Party Music” and realizing some of them are six minutes long. So it’s just a matter of picking sections of each one of those?

Totally, and I’ll sometimes have all this stuff at the end. I’ll have a three-minute track and then ten minutes of noises. [laughs] And I’m glad that I don’t always delete them, because when you come back and revisit, I find that I’ll draw things from that pile a lot more than just the first thing that comes out. I feel like every song could also be a hundred thousand other songs, which is not a productive way to finish stuff, but that’s why I think putting the stems out, letting other people use the sounds, is really cool, and I love the stuff that people make. Another New York artist, Turtlenecked, made a super fun “Party Music” remix, posted it on Soundcloud. I’m like, “This is my Britney song.” [laughs]

Talk about the way things came together for the EP as a whole. What was it like putting together four cohesive little buckets of sound?

I think I didn’t know that you could just do singles. I was like, “Boom, an EP is what you do when you’re starting out.” 

I think I knew exactly what I was saying for that EP. I wrote “Toygirl” the song, and that came from a really strong place of where I had been feeling for a really long time–it was basically living in New York with no resources or access and seeing a lot of privilege, feeling a little outsider-y and removed from that, but also not necessarily wanting to fully enter that place, of like, “I’m gonna go into a bubble in the condo building and live my life this way.”

Also, being kinda new in town, you come into this city with a lot of expectations about what people are here to do. I think I expected the art world to be something that was very different than what it really was, right? There’s a lot of different ways that the mission statement of “We support artists and this is for the people” is absolutely not what’s actually happening.

I knew that was what I was making music about, and a lot of those ideas and feelings were pre-pandemic. When COVID hit, it really just did give me a vantage point from which to assess, right? It became time to observe what had happened, and I think I didn’t know how much I was speaking from that place until afterwards. I think now I have a pretty good distance on the Toygirl EP, but it was just me kinda having complaints. [laughs]

But also, feeling like there was something there as far as connections to other people and the fantasies that we collectively build about what New York City is or what this nightlife scene is. That’s what’s compelling, and what keeps people going through those disappointing moments where the reality flashes to the forefront, so I was like, “Well, if the thing is the fantasy, and the thing is what we build for each other through that fantasy, let’s find some better, more accessible fantasies.”

You talk about having complaints about the art world–is that something that extends to music communities also?

I feel like I haven’t even gone there. [laughs]

Too soon to say?

Yeah, too soon–well, right now it’s all been through the online discourse, but I think the real difference between visual art, fine art, and music is that people actually really truly engage in music who are not in the industry. I think the art world is very much for…

Art for artists? 

Yeah, or for people who have the degrees, you know? So I feel like that’s always going to be a big difference that makes music a little bit more alive.

You say you have some distance from it now. How has it felt to have that experience behind you of doing that EP that you thought was how you needed to start out?

Yeah, I feel like I have to do things to understand them, and that was fully the process of making the EP. Like, even all the ways that I’m talking about that vantage point and the feelings that I had–I didn’t know that until I wrote those songs and I could hear it all together. I still have to do that. Like, I have to do different looks and different musical energies to understand my feelings [laughs] so I think what’s been cool is I stopped focusing so intensely on these four songs and made a bunch of new songs. 

They’re getting all the scrutiny, which lets me just hear the songs, and I think I’ve been surprised by how much I still like them. I think it’s really easy to be self-critical, but I still really feel like those things that I was saying are true things, and it’s also been really interesting hearing from other people. People tell me what their favorite song is, and I’m always like, “Yes! Wow, you like the song?” [laughs] Like, your review did this, and some of the other writing about the EP made me understand things about the music that I didn’t necessarily know when I was making it.

One element of your music is this influence in your beat patterns from Venezuelan music. What differentiates those rhythms, and what draws you to them as part of your sound?

That was one of the things that I discovered when I was away from the music for a little bit–especially “Party Music.” Like, I was making “Party Music,” and then I was listening to some of the stuff from when I lived in Venezuela, when I was a kid–so like, music that was happening in the late 90s out there–and I was like, “Wait a second!” [laughs] “These are similar.” In a very refracted way, ’cause there’s so much distance, but one of the first types of music that I loved and would listen to was Venezuelan gaitas and reggaetón. I think it’s just in my brain because I heard it and liked it when I was so young.

So, what differentiates that–this is an art project that I always wanted to do, just teach myself how to play traditional Venezuelan tambores through YouTube. I almost tried to find the instrument itself. It’s still on my list, like maybe I’ll physically get one of the drums. I have cousins who play this stuff, and it’s very, like, irl. People will play this live and be in salsa bands, but so, for me, it was almost like a music theory course because I was trying to not just say, “Oh, I’m from here and I can make this song.” I wanted to really understand the core of what was happening in those drum patterns because they’re super complex.

It’s an Afro-Venezuelan tradition that has so many hundreds of different subgenres, so I just found some YouTube–[laughs] some YouTubes, and I realized pretty quickly that the patterns are–there’s one that’s intended for one part of the song where it’s almost like a verse, and then there’s the more intense one that happens when it heats up, so I applied that idea. I also did take the specific pattern, but then I ran into the problem of, like, “Okay, what samples go here?” I didn’t feel like the move was to just rip it from the YouTube. That didn’t make any sense to me, because then it’s like I’m just taking this guy’s song, you know?

So I was like, “Okay, I have this really interesting, complex beat structure,” and that’s when some of the sound generation happened, because the other style of music that was so formative for me is techno and house music. And again, I think this has been in the bio forever, but Miami is the place where all these things–it makes sense for there to be Latin techno stuff coming out of Miami. So I made these really slappy synths; it’s like a suction cup. [laughs] I just made the hit sound that I liked in a software synth and made that the beat. I almost wanted it to be like a very opposite-world kick drum. Like, instead of a “boom” full sound, I wanted it to be suction-y.

The sort of negative image of a kick.

Yes, that’s what I was trying to say. I wanted it to feel almost heavenly. I wanted it to feel like an upward movement instead of that floor-kick traditional vibe.

Are there specific artists in that Miami fusion scene that you think of, or is it more the overall atmosphere?

Right now in Miami, I actually have Bitter Babe and Nick León. Those are people who make this type of stuff. I actually vaguely know them from Miami, and they just have a really hardcore, cool sound. I think people who are Latin American who make music–because of the popularity of reggaetón, and, like, pop right now, everybody’s sort of looking at that and understanding that there’s this market, but almost pushing back against it. Being like, “There’s so many other types of Latin music.” I think there is a need for people to interpret it their way.

I feel like there is a moment right now for a lot of Latin music becoming popular, you know, in the U.S. and among people who haven’t been tuned in before, so I get that that can pigeonhole and sort of force a lot of things under an umbrella that’s maybe not accommodative to the full scope.

And there’s just no way–it’s a massive continent with so many cool musical traditions. Like, thousands of them. I think the fact that reggaetón was the thing that crossed over is opening doors. There’s an element of pigeonholing and that type of thing, but also, I think the people who I mentioned and the people who really seriously look at the music and make their own things from it, they’re not too worried about the reggaetón thing. [laughs] Yeah, it’s sick. I think I could spend the rest of my life just looking at different Venezuelan subgenres, trying to figure out what’s going on, and interpreting it.

So tell me about this new group of songs. What have you been working with as you’ve been moving on from the Toygirl EP?

Once the EP was done, I was like, “Gotta make new music. Gotta make tons of new music.” All I wanted to do was make new stuff and work with other people, and I got to do both. Somehow, in the pandemic, there were people that were local to New York that I was able to work with in a lot of Zoom sessions–mostly Zoom sessions, up until really recently, but one of the things I started doing was generating more of my own sounds. Like, I got Massive X after I did the EP, and was really learning about what all the knobs were doing.

It’s kinda like leveling up my sound design, and then also bringing that to collaborators. One of the people who I work with is Griff Spex, who’s a producer and artist out of New York, and I feel like working with him unlocked a level. He really pushed me to go to a more abstract place, or not feel so, like, “Oh, you have to structure this in a conventional way for it to be a song.” It’s so fun to work with him. The last time we did a session, he was like, “Wait, I have a blender. Let’s record the blender.” Anything can be part of the song with him, so I think, yeah, I was embracing more of that electronic sound, more of a dance aesthetic, where things can ride for longer and you can add more weird sounds, like a blender. [laughs]

Tell me about the song “Ez.” How did that one take shape?

Yeah, that was the one. The original demo for it was in Spanish, ’cause I was looking at the YouTubes–I made those drum parts first, and I was like, “This is a really complex beat.” I laid down some chords that I thought were so cheesy–they’re horrible [laughs] horrible chords, but I put them through buffer effects, and it created this very, to me, classic house synth arp. Arpeggiated, like, “bum-ba-dum-ba-dum-ba-dum!” And I was like, “Okay, I don’t have to use the horrible chords. I have this synth line.” It’s super big-sounding, so I basically constructed the entire song out of pitching that up and down and trying to find a structure for it.

From there, I would just play the full track and sing to it. I didn’t do any writing other than when I was doing it that way. I wanted all the songwriting to come out of what was happening on the track. ‘Cause in the past, I have come with the melody and then built stuff around it, but this one, I was like, “I don’t wanna really excavate these really intense drums and this synth. I think that’s really strong.” So the challenge was, “What vocal line goes with this stuff?”

As I was doing that, I realized I wanted to write a song where when I sing it, I could feel like I was exhaling, like, “Ah!” Like melting. I wanted it to feel like there was a moment of release, and I think I structured it that way too, where the beginning is introducing elements and things are building up, and then you get more dancing-type stuff. There’s more fluidity in the second half. And yeah, I wrote it so that when I was singing, it was like, “Okay, the beginning is a little bit of tension, and from the second half on, it’s like, big exhale.”

I read in another interview you did that for the Toygirl EP, you were singing in this unaffected way, and now that you’ve moved on from there, one thing you want to do is create tension with the vocals. Can you tell me about how that works for you, and what that’s been like, mixing up your approach?

Yeah, I think it comes out of having to record in my apartment and feeling like, “Oh my god, the neighbors are gonna hear. I have to sing really soft.” Also, my speaking tone is just–it’s not deep, it’s not loud, necessarily, so I just wanna find different voices. I’ve sang with the same voice for my whole life, and I’m like, “I know there are different tones that I can bring out,” and I think just being open to that and noticing that helped me to find that.

I think I started writing in a lower register. In the session when we were writing and recording, Griff was like, “Match my tone.” He’s very intense, and I was like–[laughs] “What am I gonna do? Am I screaming?” And after a couple takes, once I get out of my self-consciousness, I could match what he had laid down on the track, so it’s still a work in progress. I think the way that I’ve been writing where I build out the track and then try to match the track is helpful, and then, yeah, just being in the studio with different people that sing differently helps me to be like, “You can do that too!”

It’s like realizing you have another knob to turn. There’s another parameter you didn’t know you could adjust.

Exactly. Singing in a lower tone and in a more speaking tone has sort of been where I went with it, but then there’s also, like, “Okay, there’s speaking, but then if you want to get really loud, you can do that too.”

It was cool to hear, on some of the stuff you did for the live set, there were other voices in the tracks.

Yeah, mostly that’s collaborators that weren’t in the room with me. Griff is one of those people, another one is Aura, and Valley Latini. They’re all people that I write songs with or have written songs with, and yeah, that’s exactly what I was talking about. Putting other people in the room and trying to match their energy as a collaborator totally helps me not to do the same voice.

What’s the plan for the rest of your 2021?

I will have an outdoor show in Brooklyn at the end of July, and I’m trying to figure out–I feel like all the songs that I wrote in that space between Toygirl and now, they seem like singles. They seem like they have a life of their own, so I’ll be releasing those or playing them live, and then, yeah, I wanna write. I feel like I have a longer-form project in me, and I wanna just buckle down. I don’t necessarily wanna go all over the place; I want to sit and write some more. [laughs] But yeah, I wanna invite everybody into the studio. That’s sort of the vibe, is like, “Well, if we’re vaxxed and you’re comfortable with it, come through. Let’s do songs.” I want to wear my producer hat for a little bit.

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