Women in Music 2016

Meet Brooklyn Club Producer Brenmar, Freshly Signed to Fool's Gold and Ready for Center Stage

Ryan Mikail

The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Chicago producer -- and former chess champion -- released his new EP, 'Award,' on Fool's Gold this week.

There's a lot you might not know about Brenmar, one of this year's breakout producers whose new EP, Award, is out this week on Fool's Gold. The 29-year-old Chicago native (real name: Bill Salas) relocated to Brooklyn in 2007 to join the rock band These Are Powers, but soon drifted into the deliciously grimy electronic hip-hop scene that dominates the club circuit. Billboard caught up with Salas ahead of his EP release party in New York City, which he'll host at Chinatown's 88 Palace, a dim sum restaurant that converts into one of the city's hottest warehouse spots. "It's super weird, and super chill," he said. "There aren't, like, a bunch of angry doormen to throw off everyone's mood."

Where does the name Brenmar come from?

My little brother was born with a speech impediment and gave everyone in our family their own name when he was growing up. That was what he called me. He used to say it "Bwen-mahr." I love it. 

How did you get started with electronic production?

When I was 15, I saved up to buy my first sampler. I had a Gemini, but it was limited, and all the hip hop producers were using MPCs. But at the time, MPCs were like $1,500 so I worked at my Dad's auto shop, and maybe sold some weed on the side here and there, you know, to save up some cash. Over the years, my music got weirder as I fell into a few different scenes. Chicago has a really cool experimental jazz community and I got into that for a while, so I've gone through phases. I look back at 20-year-old Brenmar and it was this weird, one-man-band noise project looping drums with hip hop. But it helped me become who I am. 

Whatever happened to These Are Powers?   

The band kind of ran its course. The last year that we were doing it, we weren't connecting, and I was ready to tune back in to hip-hop. I missed the club. I started getting excited by this new UK funk dance music and rediscovering some classic Chicago house records, and they fulfilled this new need. I started doing remixes again and DJ-ing some underground parties, and really felt the love. The last song These Are Powers put out was a song I produced, and it was very well-received. It felt like there were signs that this is what I should be doing.

You've talked about the fact that your music draws in a female audience, which can be tricky in electronic music and hip-hop. Were you aiming for that in the studio?

For sure. When I first started getting back into hip-hop and house music, there were zero girls at these shows. And, I mean, it's not a party if there aren't any girls there, at least it's not a party I'm trying to be at. If the girls aren't having fun, I'm not having fun. I'm Latino, I went to Latino parties growing up and there were always girls dancing and having fun, it sets the mood. Women are queens in that culture. They're very sexualized, but very respected. So as a producer, I'll throw in a few tracks for the guys, but overall I try to keep the vibe sexy. 

Why did you decide to go with Fool's Gold for this release?

Award is the culmination of years spent trying to refine my sound, and I wanted a label that could help me build on it. A-Trak and I talked right away and he got what I was going for. Sometimes I feel like I'm too dance for the hip hop parties, or too hip hop for the dance parties, but Fool's Gold gets that intersection. And even more importantly, they understand how to do it in a way that pays respect to wherever you're borrowing from.

You've described your music as 'club music for the present.' What does that mean?

It's kind of my playful way of responding to some of the weird terminology people use these days. I feel like a lot of people throw around the term 'future,' like future disco, future house, future bass. But what does that even mean? Like for real? I've had people use all those terms to describe my sound, too –– and it's cool, I get it –– but let's take it back down to earth. I'm trying to make the most relevant music for right now. For me, it's about the new and the now. 

You've got a wild tattoo collection. What's the story behind them? 

Yes! I have a solar system tattoo on my right hand, which was the first tattoo I ever got and also the biggest. I have 773 for Chicago, 1985 for the year I was born, and the Willis Tower in Chicago, or the Sears Tower, whatever they're calling it these days. I also have the eating Pac-Man symbol to remind me to stay hungry. But the most unexpected is probably a chess queen piece tattoo on my left arm because I was a chess champion in high school. There was this real cocky guy who was beating everyone, but he had the worst attitude about it, so I was like, 'you know what, f--k this kid.' I stopped making music for six months, took out all these library books, and studied chess every single night because I was so determined to crush him. And I did!