Chilean band Astro draws a big crowd to Carpa Danup with their expansive, psychedelic pop sound. Wearing ironic tropical button-downs and formidable mustaches, the band plays hits like “Ciervos,” sounding something like a cross between MGMT and Animal Collective, in Spanish. According to lead singer Andrés Nusser, it’s a sound that has been really made possible because of the internet-powered music scene of today.
“We listen to a lot of Brooklyn music,” says Nusser, before prattling off a list of new artists on his iPod rotation. “Bands like Grimes, Toro y Moi, Deerhunter. It’s difficult to be in Chile and hear the newest things live, but we read a lot of news coming from blogs. I love to be influenced by different things. I think the world turns when you take in these influences.”
In fact, Andres isn’t sure that he would categorize what Astro does as rock at all. “I guess its rock, but this is a new kind of rock. A lot of artists now are doing these blissful, unique atmospheres. I think we need a new word for it. It’s like a new new wave.”
Henry D´Arthenay of the Venzeulan living dance party La Vida Boheme would agree. “I’ve started to correct myself in interviews. I don’t talk about rock ‘n roll anymore – it’s just youth culture,” he says. “Its purpose is to not stay in the same place, to always challenge the status quo. Nothing against the status quo.”
La Vida Boheme, one of the finalists in MTV Iggy’s Best New Band lineup in 2011, play an infectious combination of disco and punk, bouncing around the stage tirelessly as if possessed by intergalactic demons. Many of their sounds weren’t in the typical Latin American musical diet until recently.
“We in Latin America are arriving at a very important place in the history of pop music and youth culture because we have access right now to everything that Anglo culture have had for years,” says D´Arthenay. “Like, we didn’t listen to Joy Division in the ’80s because we didn’t know about it. But now with the internet, we’re processing all of that stuff and we’re putting our unique cultural filter over it.”
Indeed, from the songbird-sweet pop of Mexican thrush Carla Morrison to the chintzy ‘90s throwback sound of Chile’s Javiera Mena, few of the bands performing on the Danup stage were easy to categorize. Here at Vive Latino, omni-cultural pastiche is the rule.
That pastiche was even more apparent at Carpa Intolerante, a stage reserved for the most offbeat and experimental groups in the festival and named for Mexico’s marquee independent record label, Discos Intolerancia. Performers here included Vincente Gayo, who make noise rock out of hacked children’s toys and perform in front of a giant disco-lit metal rooster. Then there was Descartes a Kant, who do some kind of girl-pop-electro-thrash while dressed as characters from Alice In Wonderland. Perhaps most interestingly, there was Juan Cirerol, the former rocker from Mexicali who famously once smashed his keyboard on stage (literally) and began playing traditional Norteño music on guitar, but with a unmistakable punk rock attitude. One of his hits is a love ballad between a man and his crystal meth.
Juan’s narco-ballads were almost out of place the festival, which for all its stylistic diversity didn’t feature a single traditional or folkloric band on the lineup. The only mariachis in sight appeared on stage with Foster the People for a pandering version of “Pumped Up Kicks.” Among the artists I spoke to, there was a lot of disagreement about the role that folklore should play in Latin American youth culture today.
“I think right now, Latin American music is losing the folk influences, and I think that’s for the best,” says Astro’s Andrés Nusser. “We’re in a global planet now, and we’re playing a global sound.”
Henry D´Arthenay from La Vida Boheme however, had a different take.
“You see here in Mexico City, it’s a really complex city. It’s huge, but you see from block to block different styles of architecture, different people and different things but with roots all over it,” says D´Arthenay. “You walk on the street, and you see a building that could be from Paris and then a building from Berlin and then a building that could be in Houston. But it’s natural. You feel like it’s natural. It’s like that. We’re not making an effort to have our roots in our music, but it’s inevitable. We have our own roots in us.”
D´Arthenay paused for a second, and added, “And now we’re coming to understand that we are a more complex culture that we actually thought we were.”