Submission: Cure For The Crash – The Buenos Aires Musical Underground Is Trapped In 2004.

| August 10, 2015
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Photo of Agustin, taken by Alan Sainz (previously a member of Astrosuka)

Words by Brenton Clutterbuck

I WAS introduced to the Buenos Aires musical underground by accident; this is nearly the only way to be introduced to the musical underground. I had come to Argentina as part of a writing project, meeting the members of a chaos worshipping religion called Discordianism. One of my Discordian contacts was Kokote Multiversal, a tall, slim man, with a bold moustache and goatee.

The house I first went to see Kokote at was crowded. I was let in, unsure of what was going on here. ‘Some kind of show’ was all Kokote had revealed during our online conversation.

We were ushered into a small room where a band was setting up. This was Astrosuka. The two members fed off each other’s nearly hysterical energy, a girl I was later introduced to as Tatiana pounding on drums and singing vocals, and a guy, Sergey, on electric guitar, manipulating the sound through electronic devices. Their sound was harsh, playful and catchy by turns, a little like Sleigh Bells but instead of meeting the line between pop and rock, they schizophrenically launched from one genre to another. People in the room sat around, bobbing heads with enthusiasm.

Eventually when they had finished their tour de-force, people wandered out and I was able to be introduced to Kokote.

“Right now I’m writing a musical,” he tells me.

“In a band?”

“Yeah. In a couple of bands,” he says.
His best known band is Los Siquicos Litoraleños, a surreal psychedelic outfit known colloquially as ‘El Pink Floyd de los pobres’; the poor man’s Pink Floyd. They have a reputation for strange and vivid live shows, including such methodology as dressing as extraterrestrials and throwing tarot cards at the audience. A track of theirs is featured on a compilation album called ¡Salgan al sol!: Avant-rock en la Argentina del siglo XXI.
“It seems everybody here is in a couple of bands,” I say.

“Yeah… with the regulations it’s getting harder and harder,” he says.

There are two more bands to play. One consists of three solo acts performing together, in a makeshift temporary girl-group. As they begin to play in a girlish, sweet almost indie-folk sound, someone has hooked up a projector to a laptop, and is playing pornography up against the wall from a commercial free-porn site. At some point, the video stops, and there is a chorus of demands for a new background video. The closest to the laptop, the duty falls on me to play a new video; awkwardly I press the first of the related videos. They are unimpressed by my selection, and soon change it. The girls finish, and are followed by a third act, El Espiritu Santo, a rollicking gypsy style band in the spirit of Gogol Bordello. They were formed as a fictional band within a play, I am told, and just enjoyed what they were doing enough to continue playing after the play was over.

It is Groundhog day in Buenos Aires music scene. Here we are forever trapped in 2004, the year that a flare set off inside the bar República Cromañón ignited a fire that killed 194 people. Most were teenagers; some were even younger, children of staff members. They died trying to escape through emergency exits that had been locked shut, they died in the cramped confines of a club filled to three times its capacity, they died from the smoke that flowed through the annals of a club that had never been made properly fireproof. They died because owner Omar Chaban failed to make the building safe, because the police failed to compel him to do so, because the government failed to ensure the police did their job. They failed, 194 people died, and those left to see the wreckage afterwards were furious.

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República Cromañón || Source: thomaslockehobbs.com

It was as brutal an aftermath as could be expected. Nightclubs were shut down, high profile arrests were made. Jail terms were served for members of the band, the police and Omar Chaban. Some nightclubs reopened; many did not, and the Buenos Aires musical underground felt the noose tighten on its collective neck. This process was described in music critic and author Norberto Cambiasso’s liner notes to ¡Salgan al sol!, the compilation that Kokote’s band was included in.

The indiscriminate closure of places to play for not meeting the eligibility requirements, the disproportionate increase in the demands and pressures on publishers large media conglomerates concentration accelerated a process that was already underway, through which the rock business with all that that implies, was in the hands of a very few producers and entrepreneurs who, with the complicity of national governments, provincial and municipal saturate the market with an offer of very limited bands… In other words, the underground after Cromañón became even more under.

I was first told about this on the night of the show, by a girl called Anabel Gorbatt, a slender girl with black hair. Anabel runs Alfa records, a label dedicated to bass music. She’s been a member of multiple bands, and has a solo project called A. Canyon. Her first band, Turpentine, began when she was only 16, and their first show took place less than a week before the Cromanon disaster.

Since then it has been really difficult especially in Capital Federal to find venues suited for underground bands, she tells me online, later. Most of the places where we could play, still nowadays, for a 50/100 people audience are illegal or poor in sound quality/amenities. And there are not many options if you can’t get to a big venue.

Anabel gives me the address and details for another show, a few nights later. At first I think I’m in the wrong place; the heavy metal door was locked securely shut. As I stood around, I saw them opening up to bands as they came by. Having previously abandoned my plan to use Google Maps to get to my destination on foot after finding myself stalked down several blocks, by a sketchy guy who kept asking me for the time, I understood their rationale.

The room was creatively furnished with paintings and a giant fish above the bar, which mainly served huge bottles of beer. I met a girl there called Noelia who began to describe to me the Argentine musical underground, as we began to get ready.

“Fortunately right now there are a couple of places that are open and it’s easier to make a deal and play here in Buenos Aires, there are some other places outside the city but there are many places outside that it is not that easy to play. Sometimes the talent right now is to find places where you don’t have to pay. But for now there’s some places most of them little places that are starting to move things. There’s lots of places every weekend. Maybe Mondays, Tuesday’s there’s parties that you can find that you can play so- it’s not that easy but it’s getting easier. It’s a thing that all of the fans from the underscene are trying to achieve a place and make some things easier, and right now it’s becoming a bit easier than a few years ago.”

I ask what she finds most exciting about the bands around right now.

“Underground bands, they don’t just stay at home, and wait for something to happen and wait for someone to invite them to play. I really like that the underground scene is moving and doing things all the time. New places new things, new bands and trying to make something happen and become bigger. And I think that’s great, I think that’s the coolest thing, Every time you go to where there’s bands playing there’s always someone inviting you to the next gig. Next party. So that’s very interesting. They’re working very hard.”

She also tells me about one of the bands not playing tonight, the Di Giovannis, a band who have contributed considerably to the Buenos Aires music scene and recently opened for The Cure on their international tour. Later that she taps me on the shoulder and points to a very tall man who’s just entered, in gothic attire. It’s the Di Giovannis lead singer Alexis, and his bandmate, bass player Victoria. They’re kind enough to grant me an interview so we wander down the hall to chat.

“What was it like playing for The Cure?” I ask.

“It was an honour to us, because Robert invited us personally to play with him and The Cure and basically it was just like a dream,” Alexis responds. “And it, all the people told us that was a miracle because we are a super-underground band here in Buenos Aires and here in Argentina if you don’t work with a production company you don’t have a press manager ,and support of a company you will never play with a band like The Cure in a huge stadium like Rio de la Plata. Because Robert invited us it happened. It was the only way it could happen. Sorry for my English.”

“No, it’s a lot better than my Spanish,” I say. “How did he find out about you, how did he hear of you?”

“He heard us on Internet and he liked it,” says Victoria. “He sends us an email, inviting us to the show.”

“To support them here in Buenos Aires,” adds Alexis. “They posted a question on Facebook to the Latin American fans to share South American bands to them to be their support band in Latin America. So many fans of Di Giovannis posted links, songs, three or four weeks later we received an email from The Cure inviting us to the show.”

The Di Giovannis gave a shout-out to the underground bands before their final song of the set. They’ve long been not only part of the underground, but major supporters, running a cassette tape only label.

“We want to help other bands,” Alexis says. “We have our own record label, in cassette format. We make the cassette by our hands and distribute it in shows in the gigs.”

“How many bands would you say you’ve put on cassette?” I ask.

“Of now there are six bands in total. The Di Giovannis, Real, Mission in the Centre, Astrosuka. The next band to join the label it’s called Mammon. That’s all at the time but we will add more bands soon.”

“Why did you choose to use cassettes?”

“Because we love that format. We love that sound. We think that you can find the same sound in the digital archive in the internet, the same sound as a CD, so we make cassette to add another characteristic to the sounds, And that’s all because I love vinyl too but here in Argentina there’s not machines to press vinyl so we make cassettes.”

“What advice would you give somebody trying to find success in the Argentine underground music scene?” I ask.

“It’s very hard because we don’t know that,” says Alexis. “We don’t succeed; we only play with The Cure. It’s hard. We think that always you have to do what you feel and what you think is correct ethic to your art. You don’t have to corrupt yourself and your feelings. Never. This is our philosophy of work. Be for nothing.”

“And you have to make all- you have to-” Victoria begins, struggling for words.

“Do it yourself,” finished Alexis.

“Yeah, do it yourself,” finishes Victoria, “and never wait, ‘til someone to come and offer you something; you have to do it yourself.

I stay for the two bands performing. There’s Ricarda Cometa another band featured on the ¡Salgan al sol! compilation, featuring Tatiana again on drums, and Andromeda, a nearly feverously energetic rock band, whose lead singer Deckie at one point runs into the mosh to thrash convulsively like a victim of possession.

buenosairesstay.com

Buenos Aires || Source: buenosairesstay.com

I stay with Rita Gonzalez, another Discordian, who is also a poet and member of cosplay community. We go together to see Kokote and another of his bands, Sencasion Tropicale who are having a rehearsal and have extended an invitation.

They play their tracks, groggy, swirling psychedelic indulgence, with Kokote dressed in a witch’s hat, growling and singing into the microphone while swaying like a drunken sailor. Afterwards they take us out to a traditional style Argentine barbecue. We drink and talk and celebrate, and I ask Kokote if there’s any way to live off your music in Argentina.

“It’s more like a religion,” he says. “We work other jobs and waste all our money playing music.”

Brenton Clutterbuck is returning to BA is March 2016 to complete a work on the musical underground.

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