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Casa Fantasmes is the Finest Homemade Recording Studio in San Juan

Casa Fantasmes

Photo by Pamela Baez.

On a busy corner in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, right behind a restaurant that doubles as a small theater, sits an inconspicuous two-story house that is estimated by its tenants to be a little over a 100 years old. With its weather-beaten, off-white paint job, the house could almost disappear into the city landscape, overshadowed by the modern architecture of the newer, taller, and shinier buildings that surround it. But its humble facade is a bit misleading—inside the structure is Casa Fantasmes, the studio responsible for some of the most enthralling, grungy recordings coming out of Puerto Rico’s DIY music scene.

The space was established by the members of the psych rock group Fantasmes—Mario Negrón, Darío Morales-Collazo, Daniel Sierra, and Juan Arroyo—along with Gabi Sifre, the owner of the label Last Bummer Records. The group was looking for a way to record their music without the limitations of time or space that come with a typical commercial recording studio. The band—specifically Negrón, who’s an engineer—had a specific vision for the sound they wanted to achieve: lo-fi, distorted, weirdly compressed music aligned with the sound of ‘60s and ‘70s analog rock ’n’ roll recordings.

They recreated this particular sound on their first two records, Redness Moon and Thralls to Strange Witchcraft, with found, traded, and sometimes purchased vintage equipment (a 1959 Hammond M3 organ, 1967 Yamaha Spinet piano, an Indian harmonium, 1979 Realistic Stereo Reverb, Maestro Echoplex tape delays, among many others). It became a hit with quite a few musicians in the scene, some of them even looking to replicate the sound and vibe in their own recordings. It wasn’t just because it was different, but because it suggested new possibilities for what Puerto Rican music could sound like.

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