Agua de Rosas DJ collective spread the gospel of reggaeton, and although based in Milwaukee, they also have an evangelist in Chicago: Karen Valencia, better known as Karennoid. In November the trio (Valencia, Julio Cordova and Gabriela “Chanchita” Riveros) played their first gig in Chicago at the up-and-coming underground dance venue Podlasie Club. They opened for the faceless Tijuana rapper Muxxxe, who stumbled onto the stage around 1 a.m. drunk with glamor and wine and rushed in front of a crowded crowd who had already lost track of time when they were watching Agua de Rosas’ reggaeton mix Wall. Valencia would say that’s the magic of music. This is how the DJ started.
As Micco Caporale tells
I grew up here in Chicago, southwest of Gage Park. I am a first generation Mexican American and grew up in a hard working middle class family. From a young age I was encouraged to go to college and aspire to work as a professional in a company – you know, something my other relatives may not have the opportunity to do. But during my childhood I was always interested in music and other creative things like writing.
I’m the youngest of three so I was exposed to all kinds of music when I was a kid. My parents listened to more traditional Mexican music, like boleros, and romantic and regional music from the 60s and 70s. . . also Mexican and Latin American styles of 80s rock. But then my older siblings had their own things. That’s how I came into contact with hip-hop and pop-punk and alternative rock. My brother listened to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and introduced me to Chicago house and juke music. And my sister got into Shakira and exposed me to No Doubt and Smashing Pumpkins. I just had a lot of music that helped me develop my own taste.
Musically, I’m everywhere. I grew up in the “1.2 Step” Ciara era and heard all these bops in elementary school. Then I was an emo kid in high school. I was a hipster for a while too, listening to She & Him and all these indie bands for example. Then I was in Fall Out Boy and Panic! in the disco and paramore. I just love music so much. It was always part of my identity, but I didn’t see it as a job or a hobby because I felt like I shouldn’t. As if it were taboo.
I went to Northwestern and majored in English Literature with a minor in Gender Studies and Film and Media. As a kid I dreamed of becoming a writer, and even today more people know me as a poet than a DJ. But after graduating in 2015, I started working at Uber Corporate. I really tried to do what my parents wanted. When speaking to other first generation people there is this sense of guilt and responsibility for making these dreams come true that may not necessarily be yours. You want to be successful, not just for yourself but for your whole family. And so I tried that. But I knew in my heart that I wanted to do something creative. I just wanted to be someone else.
In 2016 I discovered this mixtape by an artist named Bad Gyal. She’s that girl from Spain, and the band was all very raw underground, DIY reggaeton and reggae-inspired music. That absolutely changed my life. I had reggaeton in the back of my mind – for example, I grew up watching things like Daddy Yankee and Ivy Queen – but that wasn’t a huge part of my life. Then I heard this mixtape and couldn’t stop thinking about reggaeton.
Karennoid released this mix in autumn 2021 via the online label Caballito.
It just grabbed me. Reggaeton grabbed me to the core as a listener: my body, my mind, my spirit. When I look at it as a performer, it just took on this whole new aspect for me. I wanted to hang up because I knew the power of music to move people – not just physically, but also to feel something. I wanted to build a world with it, tell a story. I’ve always been a storyteller and I’ve been very theatrical – I majored in theater in high school – so I started fantasizing about being a DJ. For example, I have very clear memories of going to the gym and thinking about it all the time.
I built up my Spotify library and made tons of playlists. I imagined performing reggaeton in front of an audience and imagined everything from the songs I would share to the artistry. For example, what was I wearing? What was my attitude like? Who was that person? I could imagine playing that beat – you know, that iconic boom chick reggaeton beat that comes from the speakers – and people just go crazy for it. I had all these visions on the stairmaster.
This mix puts the famous Jamaican Dembow rhythm in the foreground.
However, in my little dream, I felt alone. In the beginning I never, never, never told anyone because I was so afraid of the family’s reactions and what people would think. It was a secret I sat with for years. From 2018 to 2020, I would secretly research and buy equipment and talk to other DJs I knew who were girls, like Squadooble and Cqqchifruit. These two women really helped me a lot to get where I am today. Then in March 2020 I decided to quit my job and just get started. 6th March [laughs].
But the quarantine really forced me to hide and learn to DJ. No more treadmill daydreams. My name “Karen” is bilingual, so I wanted my artistic personality to be bilingual too, because I carry my Mexican-American identity with me everywhere I go. A friend of mine came up with “Karennoid,” and I liked it because it merged my name with something more technological, like an android. I’m super inspired by Y2K Cyber Realness. Although I’m a digital DJ, I love physical media from this era – like CDs, floppy disks, cell phones, and the like. Neoperreo is clearly my biggest influence: the music, the fashion, the gothic style lettering – just hardcore, but sweet and at the same time very, very Latina. Being Karennoid makes me live in this cyber matrix world that is flirtatious and Gothic and uncompromising Latina.
My first DJ set was in a Pilsen art gallery in July 2020. I continued to play house parties and generator shows. Then flash through until 2021, around April or May, and I would post things on Soundcloud and promote them on Instagram. This is how Julio Cordova found me. He is co-founder of Agua de Rosas alongside Gabby Riveros. They are Milwaukee artists and DJs who love underground reggaeton.
This mix brings together underground dance styles from Mexico.
I remember Julio following me on Instagram and I was like, “Oh, who is that? He seems super cool. ”And then I saw the Agua de Rosas Instagram and was shocked. I became immediately obsessed with them. I invited her to watch me at a Memorial Day farewell party and we learned we had so much in common. Like it’s crazy how much we had in common. We even had tattoos from the same tattoo artists. In June they asked me to join their collective.
Until I met Gabby and Julio, I felt very alone in the particular reggaeton that I liked. It’s funny because we’d met before, but we didn’t know. Tomasa del Real, a great reggaeton artist from Chile – she came to Chicago for the Ruido Fest in 2019. I freaked out at the time, but no one else I knew liked her. Meanwhile, Julio, Gabby, and all of their Milwaukee friends drove to see her, and we ended up in the front row together. Just like a few months ago, we spotted a photo of me bombing her on the show. It is wonderful.
Joining a collective changed everything for me. As a DJ and an artist, it can be very lonely. I had a very small group of supporters and you compare yourself to everyone on social media. Finding employees gave me confidence, but it also encouraged me to experiment and push boundaries. I’m still a beginner DJ, but it feels like I have a family to challenge and cheer me on.
The oldest mix on Karennoid’s Soundcloud page isn’t quite a year old.
As a collective, we try to show our colors. We say, “Hey, we’re here too, wanting to be part of the reggaeton party map.” People overlook the Midwest, but Chicago is so rich and diverse in culture and music. I want Agua de Rosas to help grow the reggaeton community here because the music from Chicago is damn iconic. We don’t just play DJs here. You will experience something multidimensional that attacks all of your senses. We’re more DIY and bring a lot of art and that really makes it special. I just want us to get bigger and better so we can gather more people and showcase more underground and local talent.
Reggaeton is very similar to hip hop culture. The tone is heavily influenced by rap and a lot of reggaetoneros are rappers. But they are also singers and dance is also a big part of reggaeton culture. Literally the twists – the movement of your hips. The beat affects your body and takes over your mind. I read on Instagram that there was a study that reggaeton activates more brain activity than classical music. So there is science behind the power of this music to move our bodies.
Culture is really about bodies being together and having the freedom to express our sexuality without prejudice or inhibition, so there is a fashion that comes with that too. It’s very specific with an iconography that evolves with the subculture, but you generally want to feel sexy. You want to feel like your strongest and best self. But there is also reggaeton slang. The culture is very, very rich. When you’re a die-hard you recognize other followers as if it were a religion.