Words + Photos by Antonio Hernandez.
Sumo Hair is a Mexican-born, and now Los Angeles-based that merges haircuts and cumbia. For over 15 years, Sumo has clipped, styled and layered the hair of some of your favorite DJs and producers. In New York City, he trained with the masters at the Vidal Sassoon, helped open the flagship Toni & Guy Academy and now continues to mentor a new generation of stylists.
In 2012, Sumo decided to become a creator and curator of music, after being a fan of the scene for so long. Drawing inspiration from everything to Tha Dogg Pound to 2 Live Crew, Sumo venture into cutting and slicing his favorite songs over cumbia beats, in the style of cumba sonidera, originating in Mexico. Both of his passions merged into the creation of “The Cutting Room,” this past March, which mixed hair styling, live music and visual art. In July, he released the “Cholombia Presente” mixtape, a compilation of all his remixes, through Germany’s Kumbale label.
Sumo Hair discusses the transition from cutting hair to chopping samples, his inspiration to blend Miami Bass and cumbia sonidera, and how he gained the confidence to release his own music.
Q: Tell me about this party and what your goal is.
SUMO HAIR: This was an attempt to bring cumbia sonidera, a sound system-based cumbia, to L.A. and bring the youth out more to listen to this kind of music.
Q: Did you grow up in Mexico City, or was this something you simply wanted to bring to L.A.?
SUMO HAIR: I was born and raised in Mexico for my first eight years and the we moved to L.A. Pretty much after that I was listening to music through my parents.
“Mixing cumbia with hip-hop is my way of expressing the way I felt about my childhood”
Q: You have a lot of mixes and remixes, blending West Coast rap with cumbia. When did you decide to incorporate that?
SUMO HAIR: I grew up on hip-hop. When we first moved to the states, we moved to Long Beach. Long Beach has a very strong hip-hop scene, in particular the 90’s. When we moved over here, it was in the 80’s and 90’s, and we were listening to a lot of Warren G and Snoop and a lot of the Dogg Pound before they became the Dogg Pound; we were listening to the mixtapes.
I’ve always had a big interest in hip-hop because of where I grew up. Mixing cumbia with hip-hop is my way of expressing the way I felt about my childhood.
^ Sumo Hair at Office Bar, Los Angeles, CA.
Q: How did you come up with the name “Sumo Hair”?
SUMO HAIR: I started doing hair when I was 20-years-old. I’m 35 now, so I’ve been doing hair for 15 years. Sumo came from a collection of hairstyles I did for Paul Mitchell, this was ten years ago. I came out with my own collection for Paul Mitchell, and the name stuck with me.
The name of the collection was called “Sumo” and it was so catchy that when I started on MySpace I just stuck to Sumo, but “Sumo” had already existed. So I had to pick something that similar to [that], and “Sumo Hair” was the next best step. I just stuck by the name because a lot of people know me as Sumo.
“We had thought about doing a party, and cumbia was that one thing that at the moment we were all able to relate to”
Q: Tell me about the making of the documentary and your collective Metralleta de Oro.
SUMO HAIR: Me and these guys, we grew up together – I’ve known them since I was 13 or 14. We were music heads since I could remember. I moved to New York; my friend Eduardo, who’s DJ Fondo, he moved to San Francisco; and my friend Diego stayed in Long Beach. We didn’t see each other for many years.
When we all moved back, we had thought about doing a party, and cumbia was that one thing that at the moment we were all able to relate to, even though they’re into different kinds of music. Fondo is really into The Smiths, Diego (DJ Fuego) is really into West Coast underground hip-hop and MF Doom and Stones Throw Records. I’ve always been into Miami Bass. I like that bass music, Dr. Dre, Snoop all of that stuff.
How Metralleta de Oro came about, is that we were trying to come up with a name. We just wanted to sound gangster-ish but cheesy at the same time. When we first started doing the parties, we wore the gold chains and go with the whole look, but after a while we just got tired of wearing all that stuff.
“We were trying to push sonidera, a particular sound system style, that’s mostly in Mexico City”
Q: How has the reception been to the style of cumbia you’re trying to bring? Has it difficult trying to promote and the parties?
SUMO HAIR: In the beginning it was, but I think people caught on. We were trying to push sonidera, a particular sound system style, that’s mostly in Mexico City. I think what helped was that people were remixing a lot of the stuff, so it got more of the youth to come out and listen to the stuff they could relate to through cumbia.
Q: You’re older and are in a youth-dominated scene. Have you had to adjust your outreach our your approach?
SUMOHAIR: I started about three years ago. In fact, my DJ skills are not the best. I’ve thought about it a lot because I’m older. These kids are making great music at like 15-years-old, or like 13-years-old and they’re making some really dope music.
I was around the scene a lot, I was a fan. I started doing hair for a lot of these DJs that I looked up to. Diplo used to come over to my house to get a haircut – back in the day before he blew up. A lot of people in the L.A. scene, that were throwing parties, were getting a haircut from me, like Mexican Dubwiser, Chico Sonido, the guys from Tribal Monterrey.
So I was around this stuff all the time and it kinda inspired me too, to do music. A lot of the top DJ’s today in L.A., in the tropical bass and cumbia scene, I used to do their hair. It motivated me to start doing it. I used to play in punk-ska bands when I was a teenager. And slowly and surely I got more into cumbia and I started getting back to my roots.
“Having all that inspiration, I said fuck it I’m gonna do it”
Having all that inspiration, I said fuck it I’m gonna do it. I was maybe like 31 when I said I’m going to learn how to use Ableton Live and I’m going to start chopping up some of my favorite tracks. If you go to my Soundcloud, you can hear I’m remixing a lot of 2 Live Crew, and I recently did a remix of Eazy E. I‘m trying to come hard but cheesy at the same time. It’s really cheesy because when people hear it they’re like “oh my God, he’s making Eazy E cumbia. It’s really stupid and cheesy.” But that’s the point. I want to be cheesy and stupid. I think it’s funny.
“When people hear it they’re like “oh my God, he’s making Eazy E cumbia. It’s really stupid and cheesy.” But that’s the point”
As far as marketing goes, the only thing I really have is my music and my friends who help us promote it on Instagram and Facebook. It really came out of nowhere because we were not popular at all. I knew a lot of popular people.
I think it’s funny because me doing the hair had a lot to do with it. Having some of the top DJ’s in L.A. having their haircut by me, pushed me even more to be like, they’re doing it, I’m going to do it too. Their support was very helpful. Toy Selectah was a very big inspiration for me. That guy has been to this party. I used to hang with him before he blew up that big. When he used to come out to L.A., a lot of people didn’t know who he was, and I used to tell him how much he inspired me. It’s great that I know these guys on a personal level.
“It’s heavy bass and I put accordion over it”
Uproot Andy was here and he does Que Bajo, and I tell these guys that you guys inspire me even though you’re on the east coast. I’m tuning into what people are doing on the east coast. I didn’t grow up in Miami, but I’m a big fan of Miami Bass. I love Miami Bass. DJ Laz, 2 Live Crew and Pretty Tony were making all of this music that I liked to listen to. A lot of my tracks, if you listen carefully, you can hear the drums from the 2 Live Crew albums. It’s heavy bass and I put accordion over it.
Q: What gave you the confidence to release your own music?
SUMO HAIR: Til this day, it’s still really hard. I think it would’ve been better if I didn’t know all these people. I think I would’ve put out more stuff at a faster rate.
“The thing about being my age is that you either do it or you don’t. I have nothing to lose right now”
It’s kind of intimidating of being judged by the same people that I used to look up to. When I know that a lot of my friends are big, and I’m intimidated, I feel sometimes they might look down on me because I’m trying to be like them. But I stopped caring after a while too.
The thing about being my age is that you either do it or you don’t. I have nothing to lose right now, so I’m just going to go ahead and do it.
Q: Where will you be in 5 days, 5 months and 5 years?
Five days from now, I will be in my room making music. Five months from now, hopefully I got a lot more tracks going on, and more people are listening to my music. Five years from now, I hope a lot of the people I respect and look up to are actually playing my music.
SUMO HAIR: It’s already happening right now. It’s a great feeling when some of my friends that are pretty big DJs are now asking me for my music. Two of my tracks were released on a European compilation in Germany, and it’s really great to know that here I am – this Mexican guy in Koreatown that’s making music, that his music is being heard in Germany.