Things to Do in Miami: Helado Negro at North Beach Bandshell November 20, 2021

Twelve years after he began releasing music under the name Helado Negro and 22 years after leaving South Florida to pursue a career in the multidisciplinary arts, Roberto Carlos Lange will return to a city that left a lasting impact on his creative spirit when he takes the stage at the North Beach Bandshell on Saturday, November 20.

The upcoming concert at the Miami Beach outdoor venue, which is also set to feature local band Seafoam Walls as support, will be Lange’s only headlining performance of 2021. Fittingly, those in attendance will be among the first to hear the talented songwriter and musician perform new material from his latest studio album, Far In, which was released to strong acclaim last month via the independent British label 4AD.

Far In has earned Lange praise from media outlets ranging from NPR to the New York Times. Comprising 15 colorful and vibrant tracks squeezed into a 68-minute runtime, Far In marks Lange’s seventh studio album under his Helado Negro moniker and features contributions from an eclectic mix of guests recruited from across the indie music community, including Luis Del Valle (Buscabulla), Opal Hoyt (Zenizen), Jason Trammell (Sinkane), John Herndon (Tortoise), and former Kanye West backing dancer/singer-songwriter Kacy Hill, to name a few.

Now a member of the 4AD family after decade releasing music through independent imprints such as Asthmatic Kitty and RVNGIntl, Lange finds himself among a roster of respected, nonconforming, genre-dissolving artists like Deerhunter, U.S. Girls, and Future Islands, all of whom, like Lange, have carved out niche fanbases without mainstream success.

“4AD has such a unique history,” Lange says over the phone during a recent conversation with New Times. “It’s been exciting because they’re just really generous with the way they give space to the artist, at least for me. They were really generous in the way that, ‘We want to participate in your world as much as you want to participate in ours.’ It was like a collaboration in a lot of respects, and there wasn’t any kind of heavy-handed anything. They just wanted to know what I wanted to do and what I wanted to make, and it felt really easy to do that.”

For Lange, who grew up in the Fort Lauderdale area in the 1980s and ’90s, the upcoming show will be the first time the skilled multi-instrumentalist will have a chance to fully explore his new material in a live setting in front of fans. He returned to the stage for his first performance since March 2020 earlier this year with a set at the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh and delivered an intimate, private performance in New York City last month to celebrate the arrival of his new album.

“The festival was kind of different; it was my first time playing again. It was just kind of a different atmosphere,” Lang says of his return to the stage after a pandemic-forced year away from performing. “This is really the first time that I’m going to play this music from the new record live, whereas the festival was more of a ‘best of.’ For all intents and purposes, this is the first and last show of this year. I’ve been really excited about doing it but also kind of wanting the right scenario.”

Lange was in Marfa, Texas, when the concert industry shut down in March 2020. He and his partner, visual artist Kristi Sword, were working on a multimedia project commissioned by the nearby arts center Ballroom Marfa. They wound up staying in Marfa for six months, during which Lange was able to use the  backdrop of West Texas to develop songs that would end up on Far In, including “Aguas Frias,” “Agosto,” and “Thank You for Ever,” in addition to the completion of his astrologically inspired, feel-good single “Gemini and Leo.”

“A big thing for me that was kind of sobering was losing a lot of work last year,” he openly admits when discussing the pandemic’s impact on his career trajectory. “Losing all these tours, losing all these shows, and losing a lot, to be honest.”

While Lange has stumbled upon some midlife success in the music industry thanks to Far In and its predecessor in 2019’s This Is How You Smile, he found himself at a crossroads owing to the lack of work. He decided to leave his longtime home of New York City earlier this year and move to Asheville, North Carolina.

“I think I’m really looking forward to coming back from a tour in the middle of the night, and I don’t have to unload any gear. In New York, sometimes when you get back home from a tour you have so much stuff and you have to lug it all up three or four flights of stairs,” Lange says with a chuckle. “For me, the move is a change of perspective. It felt like a good time to have a change and to live in other places. It’s not necessarily changing my perspective of what I want to do — it’s just having an opportunity to be somewhere else.

“I really did think I was going to live there forever,” he adds.

click to enlarge Helado Negro's show at the North Beach Bandshell should be a triumphant homecoming. - PHOTO BY NATHAN BAJAR

Helado Negro’s show at the North Beach Bandshell should be a triumphant homecoming.

Photo by Nathan Bajar

Though life as a working artist is no stroll through Central Park. Lange makes a point to note that he felt he was only living in the city 100 days out of the year, what with all the touring. New York is where he began his career — working in post-production sounds for film and television after graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2003. While New York will always have a place in his heart, it was in the culturally diverse setting of South Florida where the first sparks of musical inspiration flared in his creative mind.

“I grew up with so many people from so many different places, with Miami being like the capital of Latin America in a lot of respects,” he says of formative years spent in Lauderhill and Davie with his first-generation Ecuadorian-American parents. “So all these folks from different places were in my house all the time, saying different words in different languages.”

That said, Lange didn’t learn about artistic expression at home.

“I didn’t grow up around that,” he says. “My family wasn’t going to museums. My family isn’t musicians or artists or anything like that. My parents worked.”

But his ears soon picked up the then-new 1980s sounds of early electronica rendered on pioneering musical technology like TB-303 bass synthesizers and Roland TR-808 drum machines. (“Those were sounds that were, like, permeating out of every car rolling down the street, and that was definitely absorbed into my subconscious,” Lange said of his past experiences during a recent appearance on Aquarium Drunkard’s Transmissions podcast.)

“My first mind-expanding experiences were through music and in Miami specifically,” Lange tells New Times. “I can’t remember the name of the club — maybe it was Beat Camp. This must have been ’97 or ’98, and I remember downstairs there was like this ragga jungle room, and I was really into jungle and ragga because my brother had brought back some CDs from Europe, and one of them was a ragga jungle CD from like 1994. I was like, ‘This is amazing, I’ve been wanting to hear this somewhere live and see these MCs just doing their thing over this instrumental music.’

“I was attracted to this music, and I’m seeing there were other people who are into this,” he goes on. “Then later, when I left high school and went to college, I would come back a lot and some other friends who I knew already had become a part of this community that was involved in those places I where used to go. That was when I started hearing about Miami-based labels like Schematic, Counterflow, Beta Bodega, Merck Records, and Chocolate Industries. These were like beacons of light for me, because there’s all this amazing output and community that was generating and sharing and bringing people there to the place I’m from.”

Still, it wasn’t until after college that music began to manifest, through early projects like ROM, which Lange formed alongside his friend Matt Crum. And even after his move to New York City, he’d return to South Florida more often around 2006 to collaborate on various art projects.

“I’m glad there is a lot more attention to artists who are working in South Florida now,” Lange says of the scene that has blossomed in the Miami area in recent years. “I think that’s really important. I think there’s an obsession with [the idea that] New York or Los Angeles or Chicago are the only places where these things can happen. The world is really beautiful everywhere, and there’s so much art everywhere. I would always hope and wish that South Florida had these communities and vibrant scenes to go and experience.”

Lange’s November 20 show should be a triumphant homecoming. If they listen closely, those in attendance might be able to hear his earliest musical influences sprinkled throughout the performance — influences that are forever engrained in Lange’s artistic subconscious from those first mind-expanding experiences in Miami many years ago.

Helado Negro. With Seafoam Walls. 8 p.m. Saturday, November 20, North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-453-2897; Tickets cost $34.50 to $60.

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