For all of our hemming and hawing over the importance of being free-thinking indie kids, do you ever get the feeling that we're all pretty similar? That our record collections repeat a lot of the same songs, that our closets repeat a lot of the same clothes, that our conversations repeat a lot of the same ideas? We aspire to be cultured, but most of us can claim only a family trip to Paris and a weekly dose of sushi as our international repertoire.
I can't even claim that my trip to Buenos Aires -- which culminated in a full-fledged study and report on the role of women within Argentinean rock -- was based off a desire to remove myself from the insular "Western" rock scene. On the contrary, before arriving in Argentina my idea of Latin rock fell somewhere between Menudo and mariachi, and I doubted that the country had any decent rock music, much less a thriving indie scene.
But thriving was what I was met with. You see, while we were busy with the likes of Chicago and Creed, Argentina was whipping up its own brand of rock music. And over the course of forty years, the country has amassed quite an impressive collection of crooners. Some of it sounds familiar -- globalization has, after all, made bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Ramones nearly unavoidable -- but most of the music is a reflection of a different place, a different language, a different culture and a different history (in Argentina's case, a repressive dictatorship until the early '80s and a major economic crisis in late 2001).
And we mean "different" in the best way possible, because you can only hear so many clichéd Brit-punk bands or tired experimental post-rock groups before going berserk. So order in some lomo, rent Evita, and consider this list of the best indie bands Argentina has to offer. It's a far cheaper way of culturing yourself than actually buying a plane ticket.
Photo by Rebecca Willa Davis
El Otro Yo
They may be the grandpas (and grandma) of the list, but that doesn't mean the members of El Otro Yo can't -- or don't -- still rock out. In fact, El Otro Yo, considered one of the main players in revitalizing the alternative-rock scene in Argentina in the '90s, has never been more prolific. In the past year alone, the band released its eighth album (Espejismos), its first DVD and its second live album, and it's planning to release another DVD and a new album this year.
But more impressive than this perky punk-rock group's output is its attitude, which is one of complete independence. The band members -- the Aldana siblings Cristian and María Fernanda as well as drummer Raymundo Fajardo -- practice the political and psychological sovereignty they preach in their songs, working exclusively out of their own record label and, most recently, creating the Union de Músicos Independientes (Independent Musicians' Union). With all of this under their belt, it's not surprising that the band members are now setting their sights on the U.S. Although they had a mini-tour in 2001 (Cristian Aldana is eager to point out that Beck was in the audience during the band's L.A. gig) and a U.S. release of their album Abrecaminos, they are currently on the lookout for a U.S. label (hint, hint) and in the process of planning another coast-to-coast tour for sometime this year.
Photo by Rebecca Willa Davis
People aren't in awe of Rosario Bléfari because she's a published poet, actress, and writer and director of plays. No, it's because she has the enviable ability to create the sort of effortlessly catchy songs that all indie-pop bands aspire for but seldom achieve. Perhaps it's from years of experience (Bléfari was the singer and songwriter for the seminal '90s indie-rock band Suárez). Or maybe she's just got a knack for sound. Subtle flourishes are layered over hook-laden tunes on her second solo album, 2004's Estaciones, and her electronic-leaning contribution to Monika's four-way compilation, No Woman No Cry, is by far the standout.
"It would be interesting to see how elements of rock known by everyone -- because they are in the history of rock -- appear mixed from a South American, feminine gaze, reorganized to share this particularity," says Bléfari in reference to the idea of an English-speaking audience listening to her music, possibly referring to the sound of her next album, to be released this spring.
But just listening to Bléfari is not enough. Her live show is best described as like watching Karen O cover A.C. Newman songs after taking a few singing lessons. Which means that those firmly seated in the U.S. are missing out.
Narco-country is how the members of Los Alamos describe themselves, and the label is rather apt. You half-expect to walk by cacti and cow-head skulls while listening to their debut album, No Se Menciona la Soga En Casa Del Ahorcado. "I think of [the term narco-country] as a way of describing the country origins that we started with that have since been warped by a reality that grows more ephemeral with each passing day; the augmenting of country into its mutated modern self," says Jonah Schwartz, the band's mandolin player and resident ex-pat.
Although the album is a ripe blend of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed -- wholly American figures -- the group maintains an Argentine identity, exemplified by the recent addition of an accordion player on several songs. Further proof of the band's recent success and rise to indie-darling status in Buenos Aires has been coverage in Latin America's Rolling Stone and the Argentine underground culture mag Los Inrockuptibles.
For 2006, the plan is to "ride into town on our steeds, pillage, loot and engage in acts of musical narco-terrorism throughout the land," says Schwartz. In short, take a tour of the southern-cone countries and perform on Argentina's national radio. Those stuck in the south best lock up their houses and hide their children and ladies: Los Alamos is coming.
Who said it's bad to be bored? For nearly ten years now, Victoria Mil has been successfully assuming the position of the utterly jaded, utterly uninterested indie fixture in Argentina, with no sign of letting up anytime soon. Although the bouncing bass line and keyboards on the band's most recent release, Estoy Bien Bien Bien, may indicate otherwise, singer Miguel Castro gives it all away, drawing out words as if he hardly has the energy to finish his sentences.
But don't confuse ennui with inactivity. Besides continually mutating their blend of post-punk psychedelic pop, the members of Victoria Mil have been setting their sights beyond the southern cone. They plan to release Estoy Bien Bien Bien in Mexico, Spain and the U.S. Just don't expect a Go! Team-style show if they ever stop by your hometown.
No Lo Soporto
Best watch your back: No Lo Soporto's sneaking up. Which isn't to say that this trio is devious; rather, the members are just plain smart. The band's album art is overwhelmingly "girly" (the cover is decorated with flowers, balloons, cursive handwriting) and their onstage personas are equally engendering (shaggy hair, smoky eyes, matching outfits). But the moment the music starts, it's clear that these ladies are not to be messed with.
Booming riffs and slithering bass lines abound on their recently released eponymous debut, catching the unsuspecting listener off guard. "[Our music] is something new, original, that combines subtlety, beauty and energy," says No Lo Soporto's bassist, Lara Pedrosa, whose talent and enigmatic onstage personality nearly upstages the rest of the band. Only recently has No Lo Soporto begun touring outside of Buenos Aires, but the ladies have already set their sights on Mexico, Chile and the U.S.
Argentines call it having onda; the French call it je ne sais quoi; and Americans know it as an un-peggable characteristic that -- to put it simply -- just makes you cool. And so it can't be definitively explained why, but Lucas Martí has onda.
Okay, perhaps we can try to explain it: Between irresistibly upbeat melodies, intelligent lyrics and an undeniable stage presence (think Freddie Mercury), it's hard to dislike Martí. Case in point: "Dolor+Miedo," the opening track of Simplemente (one of two albums Martí released in 2005), starts off with a few notes of the holiest of church organs before giving way to a stuttering melody so upbeat you'd never guess that Martí is singing about fear and suffering.
Judging from the handful of new songs he's been testing out at shows recently, the kid ain't planning on letting up any time soon. But, hey, talent's talent, onda's onda, and we say bring it on.
The Jacqueline Trash
The Jacqueline Trash experience is one of complete sensory overload: Besides the music's attention-grabbing shrieks and sputtering guitar lines, the band's live show injects onstage spasms and arty 8-millimeter projections into the mix. Blame the members' musical inspirations -- namely a potpourri of hardcore and psychedelic bands -- but you can't help but sense an impending implosion on tracks such as "14 Hours" and "But, They Move on Conquering."
The Jacqueline Trash's guitarist, who calls himself Nicolas V., picked up on this off-setting combo, saying, "We have the urgency of hardcore/punk -- we sound heavy and fast -- but we inject the music with high doses of psychedelia and moments more calm and tranquil." Is it any surprise that this band sounds most at home when it plays in cramped, claustrophobic bars, ensuring that the spectator has no choice but to take it all in?
El Compañero de Asma
El Compañero de Asma is the epitome of Argentine rock. On the one hand, its songs are steeped in outside influences, ranging from jazz to Jonathan Richman; on the other hand, it proudly waves its country's flag, reflecting the folkloric past of rock nacional greats such as Luis Spinetta. Although in the hands of a less capable band this would result in a schizophrenic mish-mash of sounds, El Compañero de Asma manages to pull it off, with easy, breezy songs such as "Hay Que Saberlo Comprender" working just as well as the straightforwardly bittersweet "If We Could Make it All Over Again."
Hernán Espejo, the man behind El Compañero de Asma, began the group as a one-man project in 1993, but he has since picked up two other members, with whom he released 2005's Respira. Like many of its contemporaries, El Compañero de Asma has chosen the independent route, releasing several virtual EPs and working with the UMI for 2005's Respira.
Photo by Martin Mercado
El Mató a un Policía Motorizado
If the band's name (in English: He Killed a Motorized Police Officer) doesn't catch you, its music will. Equal parts spatial punk, indie rock and noise pop, El Mató a un Policía Motorizado has the tortured-indie-boy thing down pat.
Hailing from La Plata, a small city located beyond the outer limits of Buenos Aires proper, didn't stop the band from growing up on a diet of the Pixies, Pavement, Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Blood Valentine, as revealed on the band's eponymous debut, released in 2004. It recently released Navidad de Reserva, the first installment of a self-proclaimed trilogy covering birth, life and death.
Yes, it all sounds rather ambitious, but with an EP full of Christmas-themed songs and a Web site that links to both Stereolab and Elvis Presley, does it really matter?
The members of Los Dulces are calling for a revolution, and not one of a political persuasion: "All that we do, we do with an infantile passion. We would like to revalue youth [we're] thinking of a revolution of any type," says Los Dulces' drummer, Sebastian Ciavaglia. Indeed, this band has the youthful thing down: The elder of the group is a mere twenty-two, its songs focus on figures such as Olivia Newton-John and sentiments such as "no me importa nada excepto el verano" (nothing matters to me except the summer), and its zine -- handed out at every show -- is replete with middle school-era doodles.
Although the members of Los Dulces show a clear affinity for the Rolling Stones, there are also touches of glam-rock to their tunes, rendering a blend of sounds made all the more raucous when watched live. Whether their recent affiliation with Argentine clothing label Antique Denim was due in part to their youthful looks or youthful sound has yet to be determined; the band is in the midst of recording its first full-length (two EPs already exist). But rest assured that when it comes, the Los Dulces revolution will be in full swing.
Want to hear more Argentinean rock? Stream Rebecca Willa Davis's radio show, Side A/Lado B, every Sunday from 10 p.m. to midnight. Eastern Standard Time at http://www.wbar.org/. Previous shows can be downloaded at http://www.wbar.org/showinfo.php?show=1236.