038: Going Underground with Boston's ALFREDO
Updated: Sep 7, 2021
For over a decade, Alfredo Rico-Dimas has been at the helm of a party known as “Social Studies,” which gained a reputation as one of Boston’s best House, Disco & Techno nights. Alfredo is a graphic designer by trade which seeps into everything he touches. He is a DJ who has been an integral part of Boston’s underground scene.
As a designer, Alfredo has worked on a number of projects, mainly for the online music boutique, Get On Down, which specializes in hip-hop reissues & related merchandise.
Alfredo’s projects have a consistent, easily recognizable aesthetic that I won’t try to put into words here, but you can get a taste from in the graphic he designed for his OVER&OVER mix. This aesthetic carries over into his DJ-ing & curation for Social Studies.
Social Studies started in the late 2000’s & helped elevate Boston’s music scene by connecting the city to important artists in the US from cities like New York & San Francisco. While Social Studies is a proper dance night, Alfredo has taken care to make sure it’s done the right way - first with good music, the right DJ’s & always drawing on the roots of dance music.
The Social Studies line-up has been a slew of quality DJ’s, some of whom were not well known but went on to be internationally recognized in a short time. Names like The Blessed Madonna, Jason Kendig, & Moodymann should ring a bell to those who have even a modest interest in dance music. It’s safe to say Alfredo has been ahead of the curve & he continues to generate interest for his night in a city that, at times, lacks appreciation.
Alfredo is an expert DJ who plays vinyl primarily. He always has a knack for understanding the room while pushing the boundaries of his listeners & dancers. We were happy to catch up with him for some questions & hear him describe his work with Social Studies from the beginning.
Tune into his hour long mix at the end of the interview & be sure to catch Alfredo spinning at Social Studies with his pal (& OVER&OVER contributor) Azzedine & the up-&-coming NYC duo, Musclecars. You won’t regret it!
BAD LT.: Alfredo, thank you for being a part of our OVER&OVER PRESENTS series.
As we always start, how are you doing? It’s been a long stretch of pandemic, which continues to evolve… how have you been holding up through it? Have you found any silver linings or has it just been a grind?
ALFREDO: I'm doing good, grateful I've been able to stay busy. However, these last few years haven't been easy. We've seen a lot of things happen that have been heartbreaking. This country has a long way to go when it comes to guaranteeing social justice for all.
BL : As I discussed above, you’re a designer by day, DJ by night. I just saw the Cypress Hill set that was released (which looks dope by the way). Can you tell us a bit about the design projects have you been working on for the past year or two?
A: Pandemic aside, these last two years have been the busiest in my tenure as Art Director at Get On Down. This year alone we've worked on the 25th anniversary edition of Nas' It Was Written, The 30th for Cypress Hill's debut album, collaborated with Outkast on the 25th anniversary of ATLiens & even put out Instrumentals for Only Built for Cuban Linx's 25th. As you can see, we obviously specialize in Hip-Hop reissues, but also have a vast catalog of Funk, Soul, Reggae, Jazz & the occasional Dance reissue.
As far as current music, I've had the pleasure of assisting Czarface (Inspektah Deck, 7L & Esoteric) on design duties frequently over the last few years. On that note, MF DOOM, who they had previously collaborated with, passed late last year, so it was an honor to have worked on their last joint album "Super What?".
There are a lot of projects I've enjoyed working on during this pandemic, but if I was to choose one project that I'm the most proud of, it was Edo. G & Insight's most recent LP. The self-titled album was recorded in the midst of months of protests, so the music spoke directly to what was happening culturally. As far as the artwork, the inspiration for the cover come from a 60s newspaper called the Boston-Roxbury City News. This small Roxbury newspaper was reporting on the social injustice of the time, & the parallels worked out effortlessly.
BL: Have you always been into music & art? How did it all start for you?
A: Music has always been something i've gravitated towards. I'm very fortunate that music & design cross over in my professional life right now, but that wasn't always the case. Architecture School, Album Art & Graffiti have trained my eye for what I do today. I'm not a trained graphic designer, so it's a little ironic that my love for music has been responsible for the path my career has taken in the last 10 years.
BL: You are also a Hip Hop aficionado, as seen in your work with Get On Down. Can you tell us about the connection between these cultures - Hip Hop & dance music - which perhaps aren’t obvious to the newcomer? What through lines do you see between these worlds and how have they inspired you as an artist & DJ?
A: I really wouldn't go as far as an aficionado. Hip-Hop is definitely something that I've learned to love through work. I think being such an outsider has actually helped me.
At the beginning of every project I really have to immerse myself into the period the material was made; read all the liner notes, do all the research, find all the relevant art, & learn everything i can before even opening a file. 9 years in, I'm still connecting the dots. You are right, these two cultures pretty much have run in parallel since their inception & intersect in unexpected ways.
As far as the music goes, production is pretty similar, just different tempos. They are both for the most part sample-based & produced with the same studio tools. It's funny cause we all know Kenny Dope as one-half of Masters at Work, but all the times i've met him at the office, not once did he ever talk about house music. It was all about breaks from rare funk records & Hip-Hop production. After a few years of doing work for Kay-Dee Records, I finally broke down & asked him to play Social Studies. But honestly I think it's quite well-known that Hip-Hop producers love house music. Tony Touch sometimes produces dance music. DJ Clark Kent owns a lot of Larry Levan's record collection, & actually from first hand experience, I can say Easy Mo Bee (who is best known for his work with Biggie) is a HUGE house head. Same with Just Blaze.
BL: Let’s talk Social Studies, the House & Disco night you built & curated for about a decade now. You’ve brought in some amazing guests, crafted a unique aesthetic, & paid homage to the roots of dance music, especially impressive in a city that isn’t steeped in dance music history & culture. You’ve been ahead of the curve in so many ways - bringing in DJ’s before they became internationally recognized in many cases (like The Blessed Madonna, Jason Kendig). The focus has always been on quality when many people may not know the difference. What inspired Social Studies? What is its ethos? Have you seen a growing understanding & support for its mission in Boston over the years?
A: The Inspiration came from what was going on in NY in the early 2000s. I think there was a resurgence of Disco & there were a lot of talented DJs doing parties in lofts, garages & just anywhere they could. The clubs that were left in Manhattan had almost all become bottle service joints so things were just organically more underground in Brooklyn. At the time Brenden Wesley (who I eventually started the night with) was friends with people like Jacques Renault, Roy Dank, Brennan Green & a number of other DJs releasing edits before "Nu Disco" became a thing & disco edits became quantized remixes with a 909 Kick Drum.
By the time we actually started Social Studies in 2011, we just wanted to bring people from NY who we knew, & could play anything from disco to techno. We both loved the music that was getting played on Tim Sweeney's Beats in Space, so that's what we did the first year. Eventually I got deeper into dance music. I was buying Deep House & Detroit records; had seen all the Detroit guys my friend Alex from Queens booked.
Boston had a really good thing going on for a while. Every party was different & catered to different sub-genre, but people still just went to everything. Unfortunately things always come to an end. The bottle service clubs downtown started playing "tech-house" & the other nights just focused on accessible techno & whatever Resident Advisor & Beatport pushed at the time.
Looking back I guess we kind of just went even more underground & booked bigger names. Our friend Gabi Aguilar started helping us with the bookings which is how we ended up booking Omar S, Derrick May, Moodymann & Dan Bell. I think Gabi really elevated the party in ways I was too scared to at the time. I just wanted do the low key disco party, but you know, evolution.
At the end of the day the ethos was just loving the music. We all were just real nerds about it. I think from the outside people appreciated that we were always sailing against the waves. I can't claim to be the first one to do it, but 10 years later we are still here. There is a reason why I've branded the night now with "Back To Basics." For me it's going back to how we started. I'm quite lucky I met Azzeddine while doing the Sunday shift at Vinyl Index. We bonded a lot about music and he's really good at catching what's worth checking out.
BL: How important is the diversity of the crowd to you? From what I’ve seen, there has always been a small, committed group of people who understand the vibe & aren’t just passing through. Is this an essential element to a good night in your mind?
A: Diversity is everything &, honestly, there is nothing wrong with a passing-through crowd. I think some of the best nights have been when people have filtered from the upstairs at Good Life & stayed downstairs to dance all night to music they've never heard before. There is a core group that comes to Social Studies that gets & knows the music, but a lot of times I meet a lot first time comers. I think if there is a constant theme to Social Studies it’s that more likely than not, we'll book someone & see them blow up a few years later. I think people have picked up on that & trust that we have that intuition. You mentioned The Blessed Madonna, & I felt it at the time like I do today with Musclecars.
BL : Have there been obstacles along the way? I imagine that hosting this sort of night in Boston - a city more committed to sports bars than art & culture - has been difficult to assemble & maintain?
A: A ton. Location, Boston being a small market. The Big EDM boom. Bottle Service clubs booking festival DJs. But at the end of the day you kinda learn to just ignore all of that & focus on why you do it in the first place. The Love of music, making people feel safe & dancing. Those three are really the most important things.
BL : You have always had a deep appreciation for the importance of New York City’s culture, history & continuous evolution. It would have been easy to leave Boston for New York. What has kept you here?
A: Chinese Food! Our Chinatown is Dope. In all honestly I do love Boston. I've been here for 20 years & have been fortunate enough to have met many of the talented people that keep Boston relevant. It's definitely become hard to see the city sprawling with new developments, & culturally become very monotonous, but there is still hope one day Boston can find something outside of Sports. I've been here long enough to see glimpses, so I'm optimistic.
BL: Obviously, you’re keeping the flame burning with a Social Studies night coming on Friday, September 17th - Back to Basics with Brooklyn duo Muscle Cars at your old haunt Good Life on Kingston Street downtown. What can we expect from that night?
A: An expressive, joyous journey through the true roots — the soul, the jazz, the movement, the beat, the emotion — of the dance music we love, house, disco, techno.
BL: You’re a vinyl lover through & through. I’d love to hear about your favorite records at the moment - not necessarily new or old - just any records you’re feeling at the moment. Pick three.
A: Well, they are all in the mix...
1. PALMS TRAX & NONKU PHIRI - Petu (this is the JAM)
2. JOHN FM - February (Incredible Vocalist from Detroit, Even Better DJ)
3. OLIVE T - This is a Bop (Found this Gem through Justin Vandervolgen who mastered the EP)
BL: All time artistic influences? Design, art, movie, book - one or two.
A: Architecture & Graffiti.
BL: So last but not least, what should we expect from this mix? Is there a concept in mind, a story to be told or was this free form?
A: I wanted to primarily highlight music from friends & cuts I’ve been feeling recently. There is music in there from Justin Strauss, Vin Sol, & Boston's own rising bass superstar Amadeezy. Plus past Social Studies guests like Moodymann, Mike Simonetti & Omar S.
BL: Alfredo, thank you again for being a part of our series. We love the mix & the graphic - in true Social Studies fashion - & we’re excited to share your mix with the music community out there for people to jam out to over Labor Day Weekend.
Be sure to catch Alfredo and his pal Azzedine (featured on OVER&OVER PRESENTS 011) & Muscle Cars on Friday, September 17th at the Good Life for the return of Social Studies. Back to Basics.
& now, the mix. Jump in...