Dispatch From Chile: The Rock En Concé Festival
When my wife and I decided to spend her academic sabbatical in Concepción, Chile, I wasn't aware that Concé (as the locals call it) is known as the rock capital of Chile. After two weeks here, I’m still not entirely sure what that means because I’m long asleep when the local bands begin their gigs at midnight. But this past weekend provided a clue. It was the second annual “Rock En Concé” festival, timed, suspiciously, a week before the huge “Lollapalooza Chile” festival in Santiago. Is Concé trying to steal Santiago’s thunder?
While the much larger festival in Santiago features such globally renowned, English-speaking acts as Eminem, Mumford & Sons and Alabama Shakes, Rock En Concé showcases exclusively bands from Latin America. I'm embarrassed to admit that prior to this weekend, my knowledge of Latin American music could be summed up in three words: Miami Sound Machine. So I wasn't sure what to expect from the lineup. But I'm thrilled to report that I heard some excellent music.
Of the acts I saw (disclaimer: I didn't hear all 20+ bands over the two-day festival), my favorite was Los Tetas. You may not want to translate that into English for your kids. These guys are a Chilean funk/rap band formed back in the mid-90s but still kicking after two breakups, one of which lasted seven years. Think George Clinton meets the Beastie Boys. It's a combination not unlike peanut butter and jelly in its deliciousness. In addition to their groovy vibe, I appreciated their liberal use of the word “funk” in their lyrics since it was one of the few words I understood over the weekend. Below is a sampling of some of their tracks. I particularly like “Papi, dónde está el funk?”
The most interesting band of the weekend, hands down, was Concepción’s-own Cangaceiro. I've never heard a combination of sounds like theirs. It was traditional native music (pipes, flutes, bongos) run through a blender with jazz, folk and death metal (with an emphasis on the latter). If Black Sabbath had a floutist, it would still sound nothing like this. But it would begin to approach Cangaceiro’s sound. My 10-year-old son was appalled and demanded to leave the festival. He was visibly angry. “This makes no sense!” he screamed, barely audible over the din. Any music that can inspire such emotion is worth a listen. Check ‘em out.
If that left you needing more, I’ve got your back. Just don’t tell my son.
It’s too bad my wife had to escort my son home because he would've liked the next band, Javiera & Los Imposibles. Theirs was a much softer sound than Cangaceiro’s, but that’s a low bar. This Chilean band, which has been around for 20 years, is led by acoustic guitar player/singer, Javiera Parra, who struck me as a cross between Chrissie Hynde and Céline Dion. Chrissie Hynde mostly because they look alike, appear to be roughly contemporaries and lead hugely popular rock bands in their respective homelands; and Céline Dion because even though I couldn’t understand the lyrics, I had a strong sense they would make me cringe. The women in the crowd, all of whom it seemed were in their 20s and could've been (and likely wished they were) Javiera’s daughters, knew every word of every song and sang along breathlessly. At one point, the jumbo-tron showed a twenty-something chico belting out the lyrics, his eyes closed in rapture. The crowd loved it, reveling in his humiliation.
My favorite song of the set was “Humedad.” I took a video to show my son what he'd missed, but I found a much better clip from 2002 on-line, so here it is. (Note that Javiera looks more like Sheryl Crow in this video than Chrissie Hynde, but it was 14 years ago. Trust me, today she looks like Chrissie Hynde).
Another highlight of the festival was the set by Fernando Milagros. He's originally from the next town over from Concepción but now hails from Santiago. His sound leans more toward the folk-rock end of the spectrum. Milagros’ first record, Vacaciones En El Patio De Mi Casa (2007), is a spare, acoustic record that he apparently recorded in his backyard. I believe it because you can hear a dog barking on a couple of tracks. But its rawness is what makes the record so appealing. When I want to learn about a band I’ve never heard before, I start with Track 1 from their first record. That track usually gives a good sense of what the band is about (think “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses). Track 1 off Vacaciones En El Patio De Mi Casa is called “Mi Ciudad” and it's excellent. Here’s a clip from 2012 (with a backing band). The sound quality, unfortunately, is not great, but it should inspire further exploration.
If you can’t get past the sound quality, here’s a link to the studio version. Or check out this video of “Caravan” from Milagros’ 2011 release San Sebastián. It features vocals by a well-known Spanish artist, Christina Rosenvinge.
The festival’s headliner on Saturday night was a band from Mexico City called Molotov. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't check out their catalog beforehand, knew nothing about them, and so opted to spend Saturday night gorging on carne at a Concepción parilla (and in my defense, there was no way I was getting my son back to the fairgrounds after his meltdown over Cangaceiro). It was an excellent meal, but it proved to be a huge mistake.
Out of a sense of journalistic responsibility I studied up on Molotov after the fact. Wow! They are the real deal. Molotov strikes me as a Mexican version of Rage Against The Machine, except Molotov’s lyrics are laced with expletives in English and Spanish. They have a similar sound, heavy on the distortion-filled guitar riffs with throbbing bass and crashing cymbals. And as their name suggests, Molotov shares Rage’s political leanings. I'm just learning Spanish, but even I can pick up the references to la policia and el gobierno. The band is not supportive of those institutions.
Molotov’s first record, Dónde Jugarán Las Niñas?, released in 1997, is a play on the title of a 1992 record by another Mexican band, Maná, called, Dónde Jugarán Los Niños?, which is the biggest-selling Spanish-language rock record ever. The title of Maná’s record translates innocently as “Where Will the Children Play?” Molotov’s translates as “Where Will the Girls Play?” and its cover is adorned with what appears to be a teenage girl in her school uniform, lying down in the back of a car, legs in the air, with her blouse pulled out of her skirt and her underwear wrapped around her legs. I imagine Spinal Tap’s original cover for “Smell The Glove” might've had a similar feel. Many record stores refused to stock the album. Not sure if it was because of the album cover or the lyrics. Probably both. But it's a great record. As I say, start with Track 1, below: “Que No Te Hagas Bobo Jacobo.”
Some of Molotov’s tunes are more refined than Rage’s. Unlike Rage, Molotov can take their foot off the gas. Check out this live version of “Hit Me” from their 2003 record, Dance and Dense Danso.
The weekend was a musical education. A whole new world of music unfolded in front of me. While I'm not planning to take the Stones out of my rotation any time soon, there are some great new sounds in there now. And if I ever need to get under my son’s skin, I know just what band to put through the house speakers.