24 Bands From Mexico City Head To SXSW
KJZZ’s Sarah Ventre is covering the music portion of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference & Festivals. Follow her reporting from Austin, Texas, at kjzz.org/sxw.
STEVE GOLDSTEIN: The giant music, film, and tech festival South by Southwest is underway in Austin, and KJZZ’s Sarah Ventre is heading out there to cover the music portion. Sarah, I know you’re looking out especially for music from the Southwest and from Mexico — and I understand there will be quite a few bands there from Mexico City.
SARAH VENTRE: Yes. There are dozens of bands from all over Mexico that will be there, but by my count there are 24 bands from Mexico City alone playing official showcases at SXSW this year. Now, compare that to just five bands from the entire state of Arizona. All of these bands with the exception of one are new to me, so I took a listen, and not surprisingly, there’s a lot of really good stuff there. But since I’m not familiar with these bands, I wanted to check in with someone who knows the Mexico City music scene and could put these bands in some context for us. So, I called KJZZ’s Mexico City Bureau Chief Rodrigo Cervantes.
SG: Well, let’s hear something!
SV: Let’s start with something Rodrigo and I both like, a band called Agrupacion Cariño.
SV: So this is cumbia music, and cumbia is largely considered to be the backbone of lots of Latin American music.
RODRIGO CERVANTES: Cumbia is an old concept that has rebirthed as hipster cult music in the recent years. Agrupación Cariño tries to make fun of cumbia music and artists, but at the same time, the parody becomes “cool” and “trendy.” It is common to hear bands playing nueva cumbia nowadays, from DJs to cover bands that play classic songs from artists like Michael Jackson or Journey, but in cumbia-style. Cumbia is from Colombia, but it has a very strong presence in Mexico, particularly on the south-center of the country and Monterrey.
SG: Given how important cumbia music is in Latin America, were there other cumbia bands on the list?
SV: There were. Here’s one that actually combines cumbia with ska, called Panteon Rococo.
RC: Panteón Rococó has been on the scene since the '90s. It is one of the most popular and important ska bands in Mexico and, like other artists of the genre here, they tend to sing about the problems and concerns that Mexicans have, but also about love and relationships. Ska is one of the genres that exploded during the intense wave of “rock en español” from the '90s.
SG: And Mexico City is a huge city with a very diverse music scene. Can you give us a little bit of a sense of what it’s like, and what’s happening there that’s unique to the city?
RC: Rock and roll has been part of Mexican culture since the late '50s. But back then, rock artists used to sing cover songs from American artists, for instance “El rock de la cárcel” is a popular version to Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.” But it was until the '80s that the local scene really started to erupt. Before that, the state limited and tried to control rock and roll as disruptive music or even classified as “American imperialistic” music. But as globalization grew, the interest from fans and record labels on the local expressions began to emerge. By the '90s, the scene was so big that even MTV launched a channel for Latin America. And nowadays, the scene in Mexico City can be easily compared to the one in New York City, with plenty of emerging bands playing in a huge variety of venues and even becoming opening acts for international touring bands.
SG: Well, let’s hear some more!
SV: We’re shifting gears a little bit. This is a singer that I really love called Madame Recamier. As I was listening to all of these bands that are new to me from Mexico City I was making notes about what I liked and how each band sounded, and for this one I just wrote, “Gorgeous.” I just love how beautiful and smooth her voice is. She’s lived all over the world — in Mexico, the United States, Italy — and I think you can hear her pulling from lots of different places and experiences in her music. There’s another band that was right up my alley in a different way called Ruido Rosa, which means pink noise.
RC: Ruido Rosa is some sort of a Mexican reincarnation of The Runaways or The Donnas, it is an all-female band with loud chords and lyrics. Ruido Rosa has played in the past in SXSW, and their members met while studying in a private jesuit university.
SG: As I’m listening to all these bands, they all sound really different from one another.
RC: They do, Steve. As the rock scene has grown in Mexico and Latin America, it has also grown the variety of genres and styles, and even some bands play in English. But some of the artists that participate in non-Latin American festivals like SXSW complain about being labeled as “Latin music.” For instance, I spoke with some guys from Mexican band Hummersqueal — they played in SXSW a few years ago. They say that showcases are usually put together with geographic logic instead of allowing them to play with non-Latino bands with similar styles or audiences. The result is that Mexican bands end up playing for small crowds or for those who are looking for the “exotic” or “regional” appeal.
SG: I think we have time to hear one more.
SV: This is a really crazy, fun, out-there guy named Silverio. He does this sort of electronic, cumbia, dance, punk music, and his videos are way out there.
RC: Silverio is definitely one of those characters that you love to watch live just because they are weird, crazy and cool at the same time. If you put on a blender Iggy Pop, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a crazy DJ and a cumbia crooner from the '70s, the result will most probably be Silverio.
SG: That sounds intense and surreal! That’s KJZZ’s Mexico City bureau chief Rodrigo Cervantes, and KJZZ’s Sarah Ventre. We’ve been talking about the 24 bands from Mexico City that will be playing official showcases at this year’s South by Southwest. Thank you both.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to modify the number of bands from Arizona at SXSW this year.