We headed over to Casco this week to talk to Lloyd and Kevin Keene, the brothers behind the indispensable Villa Agustina, the cultural space/party destination where you probably spend most of your weekend nights (and maybe mornings). The Keenes are also a prominent Panamanian DJ duo — Check out the K.E.E.N.E soundcloud here. The owner of the Villa Agustina space, Maria, has allowed the Keenes to throw parties there since 2010 and all of Panama City should thank her for it. She also let us open up the big blue doors Tuesday morning and chat inside with the Keene brothers.
Lloyd showed up first with an oatmilk, oatmeal cookies and lots of cool stories. (Notable but not included: his dad once built a car from scratch. It took 12 years.) Kevin came just before we had to head home for work but we got to talk a little while speeding down the Cinta Costera.
How did you two start working together? [Lloyd] We were forced to from the beginning. We had to share a room. We had this radio, mainly Radio 10 (88.1) and would make like mixtapes, music we liked from the radio. At some point we had to agree about what because tapes were very limited. I think that was the whole beginning.
Who’s older? Yeah, I’m the older one. (Laughs.) I’m five years older.
Where are you guys going in Europe for tour this summer? Mainly Berlin. That’s where my friends are. Then we’re going to travel around Spain and England, basically. Most of the cities are Spanish cities. Ibiza, Madrid, Barcelona and Bilboa.
I know you lived in Berlin for awhile, did Kevin live in Europe too? Noo. He has been all over America actually and even the Caribbean but never in Europe. This trip is the first time actually.
So is that why he wants to stay and hang out? Not really. I bought the tickets wrong. That’s the reason actually. He didn’t want to pay for the change. Actually it was like $300 to change the tickets.
To come home early? Yeah.
Well that’s not worth it at all. Yeah. But I have to do it. I come back to work and pay for my mistakes.
Where does the name Villa Agustina come from? Alright, that’s a nice question. We wanted to call the place for obvious reasons The Factory. And it was a factory.
Right I remember you saying something like that. Agustina, is the name of the owner’s mother. So that’s why. But the space was an ice factory in 1928, maybe.
What does it mean exactly to be an ice factory? Well, yes. They were making ice. Have you ever been to one?
No, hah. That’s why I asked. Sometimes I assume that people know them. It’s actually quite interesting. They have pools where they made the blocks. But mainly they have storage rooms where they keep the ice.
Like, that pool there? Yeah.
We were noticing the flags out in front that we had never seen. Were those here before? No, no. They were from Saturday. From a party on Saturday. We basically build the whole thing up every time we have a party.
What inspired the Chinese lights? There were some friends, her grandmother’s birthday. They came here and we made a very fancy dinner. And yeah, they brought those and we kept them.
Do you have any major construction plans? It was, it’s going to be a hostel. We came here, we saw it, we liked it. We asked [Maria] if we could make one party. Our friend was coming to visit and I wanted him to play. So we asked her and we did this party and it went really really great. So we asked her if we could keep on making parties. It was really tough in the beginning because we had to get permits every time and it was like a two-week thing.
So now you just have all of them? Yeah, we have like a regular bar. [The permits] are really expensive but worth it, definitely.
What year was that? Last year. We’ve been here not even two years. In December it will be our second year.
So it’s not going to be a hostel anymore? No, it’s going to be one. Hopefully next year.
Was that your idea or Maria’s? No, no. That was her idea the whole time. The party thing was our idea. We had to convince her. What we do is because of the rainy season, we have like sports seasons, I don’t know if in the states, they are like this. But in the rest of the world, a football season is 2012-2013 and you start one year and finish the next and have vacations in the middle. Our season will finish on June 2nd. We will start again in September maybe, October definitely.
What would you like your role to be or Villa Agustina’s role to be in Panama’s cultural scene? Well, that was our dream in the beginning. The whole name of Villa Agustina is Espacio Cultural Villa Agustina. We wanted to have on the second floor every time, paintings and exhibitions. We wanted to have special acts. For example last year we invested – because it was an investment – a lot of money to bring this band from Costa Rica. We brought them here and people were not that receptive. We thought that maybe, it takes a little time. We have to take it slower. We have to mix stuff they know, or that they’re familiar with, and not bring crazy stuff right away because it won’t work.
So the next thing I wanted to ask you was where do you want to go in terms of your music? It’s funny because we have two studios, like I have my own stuff at home and he has his own and we work online. We have a shared folder and we share projects but definitely Kevin is coming a lot more to my place.
How you describe your type of music? Depending on where we’re playing what time we’re playing we’d say we’re deep house and new disco to…techno. It’s funny because we have a – I don’t know if it’s a problem – but my approach to electronic music was very late. I was attracted to it because it’s like a science. So we are making very weird music. I don’t know if what we’re making is actually house, but we definitely want to approach that. We are not playing that much progressive. Sometimes acid house as well but we are not doing that much progressive, or trance. That’s something we don’t feel close to. We’re also very interested in making stuff that represents us as Panamanians especially and our backgrounds. We have African roots as well, and we’re very interested and close to that kind of percussion sound, that bassline.
That’s interesting. I had never thought about electronic music in that way, as so technical. Wow, you won’t believe how technical it is. We made this song. It’s called, right now it doesn’t really have a name. It’s called track 10030, the process of this track is to make something that is very close to the night of Portobelo. Have you been to Portobelo?
Oh yeah, last December. So we had this trip there and we wanted to make it sound like this trip. We haven’t finished it yet. We did this cricket and we placed the cricket everywhere, they are not just there, they are not just in the speaker in front of you, they are here, there in the back. We wanted to make the whole process of the song. You move from left to right, then you come to the water. The bass line is engaged to the main kickdrum so every time the kickdrum hits, the bassline disappears. You have the feeling that they are working together. Something that is moving forward and forward and forward.
What kind of music were you guys doing before electronic music? I was doing a lot of rock and jazz and music for short films.
Does Kevin play instruments too? He’s playing keyboard too. We’re not fluent. Oh, I think Kevin’s here. One moment.
OK so now we’re all in the car and we admit half of Kevin’s interview responses are lost to the sounds of the highway and the car’s stereo. Note to ourselves to get a real recorder.
So Kevin, Lloyd was telling us a lot about what you guys are doing in the future and what you want to be doing next week or next year? [Kevin] Next week… I don’t know. Traveling. Making music.
And we heard you studied sound technology here in Panama City?
[Kevin] Yep. I studied in AMP. Academia de Music en Panama and I’m taking keyboard there now. Wait sorry, where are you guys going again?
Thru Paitilla! So you guys started Via augustina two years ago? When exactly did you start it?
(L & K in unison) December. December 17th, 2010.
[Lloyd] But that’s just at Villa Augustina.