Hold the salsa
A two-day fest in Pilsen takes a peek at Latin electronica.
The programmed beat blasting down a Pilsen street doesn’t mean a Euro club has opened in the ’hood. Young, cosmopolitan Latinos are embracing digital-age culture, indie music and minimal beats just like everybody else. But the flowering of electronica in Mexico and Latin America and among Latinos in Chicago has gotten very little attention—which is exactly what makes the second annual Festival de Música Electrónica Latina (FMEL) as much of a necessity as it is a good time.
The fest was founded, as small electronic-music fests often are, out of personal need. Mexico City transplants Charly Garcia and Stephanie Manriquez wanted to see a bunch of artists they liked play live. So they booked them at a Pilsen art gallery. Over two days in 2007, Monterrey, Mexico–based minimal and experimental acts Antiguo Automata Mexicano and Seekers Who Are Lovers and Los Angeles–based nu-jazzer Kobol played a two-night showcase with support from Chicago-based Labo-Labs, Echonine and Perfect Kiss. FMEL 2007 was also an interactive art experience with a circuit-bending workshop, synth jam session and multimedia performance. The turnout and the buzz about the fest were healthy, so it’s back.
This year, the workshops, symposium and concert are separate events. The fest kicks off with workshops on digital photo and audio collage and circuit bending (for tweens) on Friday 19 (4–7pm) at the Yollocalli Youth Arts Reach and Radio Arte, followed by an art opening and symposium on “the contemporary state of Latin digital music and culture” at Efebos Cafe (7–10pm) with DJ sets from Ejival, AAM and Carlos Icaza. And Saturday 20 starting at 6pm, Fax, Carrie, Cubenx, Kobol and Kampion—all artists on the Tijuana-based indie electronic label Static Discos—headline the showcase with Chicago’s Dark Party at the APO Cultural Center.
But as FMEL organizer Brenda Hernandez tells us, the fest’s mission has broadened from booking a niche genre to fostering digital culture in the city and in the Latin world at large: “In the Latino community, there’s really no outlet for these kind of underground, electronic, experimental medias. Even in Mexico City, they are having a hard time getting the word out.” Yet, she says, there are first-generation and immigrant Latinos in the city who are looking for up-to-the-minute sounds.
The term Latin electronica might suggest programming or sampling Latin rhythms in dance music like the digital cumbias of the Argentine Zizek Sound party, but Fax’s moody, minimal house; AAM’s symphonic post-rock and breakbeats; and Carrie’s melancholy glitch-pop tunes are miles away from mariachi. There’s nothing that fits the traditional idea of romantic, tropical Latin music here, and that’s partly the point. Hernandez explains that it’s about defying expectations. “At our core,” she says, “we want this festival to be accessible so people can be inspired and encouraged and maybe even a little weirded out about all these things that are going on in Latin America and Chicago as well.”
Radioglobal.org will broadcast the FMEL music showcase, symposium and DJ sets live online.