It starts with the hips—that’s the first thing you’ll notice when you watch Divino Niño play live. The Chicago-based five-piece can’t seem to stand still onstage. First their swaggering hips get loose, then their long arms flail, and soon the musicians are completely unbound, the picture of freedom. To watch Divino Niño is to experience that freedom yourself: to move your body not because you came out ready to dance to anything, but because the group’s pulsing, hypnotic music reminded you how good it could feel.
The band’s 2019 debut album, Foam, is ethereal and psychedelic, gliding seamlessly through beach rock, dream pop, and indie rock, its pastiche held together by the mellow, breathy vocals of guitarist-singer Camilo Medina and bassist-singer Javier Forero. When Medina, Forero, guitarist Guillermo Rodriguez, and drummer Pierce Codina toured to support Foam in 2019—adding keyboardist Justin “JV” Vittori for the road—they danced through set after set. They were surprised when audiences didn’t do the same. So when Divino Niño set out to make their next album, the new Last Spa on Earth, they were determined to try something different.
“We kind of realized that music is at a certain BPM for a reason,” Codina says, laughing. “There’s certain sounds that just make people move. We started experimenting during our last tour right before the pandemic, playing our songs a bit faster or improvising jams that were a bit more dancey. It was a good start, but we wanted our next album to do that more intentionally.”
Divino Niño, Little Jesus, PieriThis show is a release party for Last Spa on Earth. Sun 10/9, 8 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, $25, 18+
Last Spa on Earth is more vivid and energized than Foam, with grooves that are almost frenetic. The tracks span various sounds and genres: “Miami” cleverly mixes electronic sounds and beach pop; the effortlessly cool “XO” blends surreal psychedelic instrumentation and a refreshingly languid rap; the slow-building, disco-inspired “Ecstasy” feels playful and ecstatic. What connects the 12 songs is not genre, style, or instrumentation but rather the sensation they evoke: if Foam’s danceability simmers under the surface, then on Last Spa on Earth it leaps to the forefront.
Foam was written and recorded with all the band members in one room, but COVID pushed them to make Last Spa on Earth in what they call a “collage” style. Because they couldn’t make music together in person during the early stages of the pandemic, they began writing and recording instrumental parts remotely and sending them to one another, then using a computer to assemble everything into a song. “You make one part, and then add another part, and then you find yourself moving the Lego pieces endlessly until you find harmony,” Medina explains. “And that’s a whole different puzzle than before.”
Guitarist-singer Camilo Medina created the artwork for Last Spa on Earth.
Medina and Forero met in their mutual hometown of Bogotá, Colombia, when they were small children, and later reconnected in Miami—Medina’s family moved there when he was a teenager, and he had no idea Forero had already been in the city for several years. They first played music together in middle school, while entangled in what Medina calls a “bad Christian cult.”
They both moved to Chicago for college, where Medina met Rodriguez at the School of the Art Institute. In the early 2010s, when Divino Niño began to play shows around Chicago, they felt their sound wasn’t full enough—instead of a drummer, they’d been relying on electronic percussion loops. In 2014 they invited Codina into the group to help carry the delicious arrangements they’re now known for. When Vittori toured as a support player with Divino Niño in 2019, he liked it enough to become a full-fledged member the following year.
Watching Divino Niño perform or even just sitting with them as a group, you can pick up on the special chemistry among the musicians. You’ll frequently see them share knowing grins from across the stage or even a hug between songs. The band members clearly know that together they’re greater than the sum of their parts.
“There’s this genius mentality that’s kind of American,” Medina says. “But honestly, this pandemic has got us all on level zero—we’re all on an equal playing field. I sort of realized, damn, I wanted to be that individual hero and genius, but now it’s so clear we need to collaborate with everyone to survive. I used to think I could just do my own thing, but no, we’re all connected in this central web. Being in this band has been a spiritual way of exploring the importance of collaboration, and at the end of the day, our sound is more colorful than something I could have done by myself.”
“A lot of people are probably feeling like me, like they need to live a little bit,” says Camilo Medina. “There’s too much darkness in the world, and I think we’re all looking for a release.” Credit: Matt Allen
This dedication to collaboration is part of what drew the band to Chicago. When they first arrived in the city and didn’t yet know many people, they felt confused as to where they fit in Chicago’s music scene. Nowadays they have a better grasp of the different artistic communities around town, and they still enjoy checking out the local talent at occasional late-night shows—they’re especially fond of the Empty Bottle.
“Lately, I feel like another door has opened up to Chicago’s music scene,” Forero says. “There’s a crazy house scene, there’s a techno scene. I think the city is very colorful in that perspective—you just got to know where to look.”
Last Spa on Earth feels more personal than Divino Niño’s previous music: its themes include embracing loneliness, seeking catharsis after a period of desolation, and releasing guilt from a strict religious upbringing. While writing Last Spa on Earth, Divino Niño became fascinated with neoperreo, a wild subgenre of reggaeton pioneered in many cases by women. Though the scene’s epicenter is online rather than in a particular city or region, major figures are based in Mexico, Chile, Spain, and elsewhere. Divino Niño took inspiration from the likes of Ms Nina, Bad Gyal, and Argentinian group Ca7riel y Paco Amoroso, and the band got excited to put their own twist on the sound—which included writing more lyrics in Spanish.
When he was developing material for Foam, Forero didn’t feel confident using his native language. “I think at the time, for me, I didn’t think that Spanish could be cool when you’re singing,” he reflects. “I hadn’t found my voice. These people opened up a door of, ‘Actually, you can do it like this, and it’ll be really sick.’ That freed me up a lot.” The lyrics are almost all in Spanish throughout Last Spa on Earth.
Divino Niño have also provided a more transparent window into their inner world with their recent music videos. The clip for “XO,” for example, begins in what looks like a fairly typical Catholic church but quickly devolves into a scene of debauchery, with the congregants stripping, dancing wildly, and even smoking out of a bong in the shape of the baby Jesus. It’s a personal statement for Medina and Forero—a reaction to their painful, stifling experiences with Christianity as children. “We’re not saying, ‘Fuck you, Catholic shit,’ but it’s more like, ‘Yo, question everything,’ you know,” Medina says.
The “XO” video, directed by Ambar Navarro
The new album is out—the end of a complicated process, complicated further by the pandemic—but Divino Niño still have a long road ahead of them. They’re currently on a North American tour with Mexico City group Little Jesus, and they’ll arrive at Lincoln Hall for a release party on Sunday, October 9. They’ve already started to play their new music at shows, and little by little, they say, listeners are starting to move and groove.
“We played at this festival in Wisconsin, and it was at a farm, but yo, it was kind of like a party,” Medina says. “We lit that shit on fire. During the pandemic, I just accumulated too much pent-up energy, because I’m a social person. And then I went dancing once and I was like, whoa! I get the feeling that a lot of people are probably feeling like me, like they need to live a little bit. There’s too much darkness in the world, and I think we’re all looking for a release.”