Roberto Carlos Lange has been making music under his Helado Negro moniker since 2006, crafting two albums and several EPs that each share roots in the dance beats and sultry heat of his South Florida upbringing, but branch off to explore synthesized sound, Latin funk, folk, and even atmospheric tones. His third LP, Invisible Life (out March 5 on Asthmatic Kitty Records), seems almost a survey of the past seven years’ work. At moments it’s sparse then lush, Spanish then English. Muffled beats build swirling rhythms and chop them up. It’s a dance record streaming from the bottom of the Atlantic, and Roberto’s conversational croon keeps it all anchored.
I meet up with Helado Negro the day after winter storm Nemo has hit Brooklyn. Every surface is blanketed in snow, and getting around requires penguin-like shuffling over patches of ice that were once sidewalks. My teeth are chattering, but Lange steps out onto the stoop of his Crown Heights apartment building in a T-shirt and socks, seemingly unaffected by the cold. He welcomes photographer Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez and me inside the apartment he’s shared with his visual artist wife since for the last five years with a warm smile and handshake.
The front door opens into a cozy living room turned DIY studio. The bright sun bouncing off the snow outside is filtered through heavy curtains; seating is sparse, and every surface, including the walls, has been taken over by turntables, small instruments, and synths, records, cables, and posters from past gigs. “This is my studio,” he tells us. “This is where I made the most recent record, Invisible Life. I did this record last year with my friend Juliana Barwick—the OMBRE record; I did that in here. I mixed one of the Bear in Heaven records here, worked on the Savath y Savalas record here…countless things.”
It’s the perfect command center for someone like Lange, who is never not making music. “[Music] is what I do, and I need a studio,” he says. “It’s the easiest thing I can accomplish with the space that I have.”
“My brain is fried because we just had rehearsal,” Lange admits after a tour of the kitchen (the site of last night’s “snow party”). “I’m trying to switch gears. Maybe let’s sit down for a second.” We each grab a chair, and Lange puts on a trippy Brazillian funk album from the ’70s to clear his head. “Tim Maio,” he explains. “He was into this whole extra energy, transcendental, crazy, spiritual, cosmic shit.”
Talk turns to music, specifically to being a full-time musician in the most expensive city in America. “I do freelance stuff, like writing music for commercial stuff,” he says. “It sucks in the sense that its not the most exciting, creative work,” he says of these gigs—like making bizarro versions of pop songs for tampon commercials, for example. But it lets him work on his own music, on his own terms, the rest of the time. “There’s no outside pressure to sustain some kind of image or quality,” he tells us. “At this point I constantly am able to do whatever I want. Maybe I am eating beans, but I know I’m able to wake up the next day and say ‘I’m gonna make this ’cause I wanna make this.’”
Stomachs are grumbling, and it’s time to leave the toasty apartment and strike out into Crown Heights. As soon as we step out, the cold wind slaps us in the face. But we march onward neighborhood favorite Chavela’s (736 Franklin Ave). Lange is a connoisseur of the Mexican menu and offers to be our personal waiter if we need help deciding on anything. “When I first moved to my apartment, I think I ordered the same thing from here every day,” he boasts. “They have a lunch special that’s really good. So all my friends that live around here, we always come here and meet.” We keep it simple with chips and salsa, sangria, and a Michelada for Lange.
The afternoon winds down as we talk past—the influence of all-night parties with his Ecuadorian family—and present—preparing for a live performance piece at SCAD’s deFINE ART. The future is open; rolling down to South by Southwest this March in friend and bassist Jay’s van, the White Whale, is all he has planned at the moment. But Lange is far from worried. “I have a lot of ideas,” he says. “I feel like I can slip into a situation where they are like, ‘Make an album.’ and I’m like, ‘Cool. I’ll make it this week if you want me to.’ I feel confident about the things I have in my mind.”
Photography by Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez