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LIVE

Dick El Demasiado

by James Hadfield

Dick El Demasiado is, by his own admission, an impostor. Born Dick Verdult in the Netherlands in 1954, the musician and media artist has become a pivotal figure on Argentina’s experimental music scene thanks to an elaborate hoax.

In 1996, he unveiled the Web site for Festicumex (Festival de Cumbias Experimentales), described as “an event that unites friendship, music and new experiments, and that dares to ignore the music industry’s laws.”

The inaugural bash was held in Honduras, and featured genre-bending artists such as Hygienica Gonzalez, Loteria Erotica and Dick El Demasiado. Except that it didn’t. The event was pure fiction. As its creator described it, “The first subsidized, antedated festival,” but it took on a life of its own.

Come 2003, El Demasiado was hosting a second Festicumex in Buenos Aires, featuring real-life versions of the imaginary artists who played at the first one. By this point, he had begun his own fruitful experiments with cumbia, a loping style of folk music that originated in Colombia a century ago. Though it enjoys widespread popularity in other Central and South American countries, cumbia is a more divisive presence in Eurocentric Argentina, where it is often derided as working-class or casposa (bad-taste dandruff). In El Demasiado’s hands, such objections are rendered moot. Over five albums, the highlights of which are compiled on Utakata Records’ recent Japanese release “Sus Cumbias Lunaticas y Experimentales,” he samples, shreds and reinterprets the music with all the respectfulness of vintage Butthole Surfers or Lee “Scratch” Perry. Though El Demasiado’s activity has coincided with a surge in cumbia’s international popularity as club music, he has little in common with this scene.

Tellingly, his first trip to Japan, where, according to the optimistic claims of the accompanying press material, he “has gained a huge following” — will see him appearing alongside local experimental musicians rather than dancefloor-courting DJs.

Dick El Demasiado plays July 20 at Sound Channel, Osaka (6 p.m.; ¥3,000; [06] 6212-5552); July 23 at SuperDeluxe, Tokyo (7 p.m.; ¥4,300; [03] 5412-0515); July 26 on the Cafe de Paris stage at Fuji Rock Festival. For more information see utakata-records.com/dick2009/