Discover Argentina’s Prolific Underground Rock Scene
Experimental rock music has a long tradition in Argentina. In 1973, Billy Bond Y La Pesada Del Rock And Roll released Tontos, a proto-punk and musique concrète album, and in the early ‘80s, the post-punk underground exploded in Argentina with a proliferation of great bands like Los Corrosivos, Los Pillos, Todos Tus Muertos, Mimilocos and La Sobrecarga. This music has never achieved mainstream popularity, yet it never died. It’s a dark reflection of the city that connects with the culture of tango, which has retained its original tragic and nocturnal sensibility despite the creation of new versions that are geared toward tourists. It’s been nine years since we last lived in Buenos Aires full-time and there are still hundreds of bands we don’t know much about, but what follows is a survey of some of the bands we do know and like. For anyone looking to go deeper, we recommend South America is Part of the Problem, a compilation of underground music from the region released by Stereo Neg earlier this year.
Alan Courtis (sometimes stylized Anla Courtis) is an ex-member of Reynols, the most important Argentinian experimental band ever, which is famous all over the world for its unique conceptual approach. Its drummer/lead vocalist had Down Syndrome. They made one album by amplifying and processing the hiss of blank tapes and another from field recordings of a chicken farm. Courtis has released many albums of shamanic noise music since the Reynols broke up, including collaborations with Acid Mothers Temple founder Makoto Kawabata and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo.
There are good bands, and there are bands that are more like alternative universes. Marrying darkness and furious energy with intricate melodies and a romantic sensibility, Mujercitas Terror falls into the second and rarer category. The group’s lyrics can be read as poems or as chapters in a never-ending novel. They’ve released two albums so far, and according to Bandcamp, their third, Fiesta Muda, dropped yesterday. Carmen used to play keyboards with them.
Alejandro Torres and Fernando Floxon started their ¨hallucinatory laboratory¨ in the early 2000s. Since then, they’ve released several unique and totally essential efforts. The duo’s sound has been very influential in the last decade and perpetually mutates. As an experimental band with a rock ‘n’ roll heart and a punk instinct for confrontation, almost any sound can be and has been integrated into their music. Their shows are legendary psychedelic affairs involving free improvisation and noise over a relentless dance/kraut/punk pulse. The above track is taken from their most ritualistic album, Áxito, which was released in 2004.
Uno X Uno
These guys are real veterans, and theirs is the only band from Buenos Aires’ underground explosion in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that never broke up. They somehow managed to retreat to their suburban home, build a studio and quietly continue with their work. True experimenters, their work is always unpredictable, from their early industrial stuff to modern electronics, acoustic ballads with jazz drumming, ambient music and beyond. Way in their 60s and as uncompromising as ever, the members of Uno X Uno continue to release great music and play almost-secret shows.
Psychedelic in the sense of the Butthole Surfers,Olfa Meocorde is truly one of the wildest, fiercest bands we’ve ever seen. They marry a wicked sense of humor with an ability to play, corrode and fuck up myriad styles of rock music, and they’ve released lots of noisy tapes and three song-oriented albums in 15 years.
Pablo Reche is a solo noise artist who works with field recordings and electronic feedback. He has released nine LPs and dozens of EPs via labels all over the world since 1999.
DHD are obviously influenced by noise rock and industrial music but produce a very stark, bleak brand of electronic rock. They’re impossibly fierce live and apparently determined to leave audiences deaf. I saw them clear out a room in a skinhead club in five minutes. Live, their music may seem like just a (great) wall of harsh noise, but they’re actually playing songs, and if you dig into any of their albums you’ll find that they’re unexpectedly catchy songs, despite the dirty-realism subject matter of the lyrics.
These guys opened for us last year in their town, Córdoba. They’re signed to the same local label that’s also released some of DHD’s material, Cruz Discos. We know nothing about this band. We only know that they sound fantastic and you should listen to them.
Cuzcos is a man-and-woman duo who play drums and bass guitar to make short, repetitive songs that are like misanthropic meditations and calls for social unrest. They have a very distinctive sound, somewhat like OM attempting to cover anarcho-punk songs. You’re better off listening to them and deciding for yourself. The singer’s electronic side project, Cunnus Cranco, is worth checking out too.
Hernán Espejo, a guitar player in legendary extreme metal and crossover bands, has been recording under the alias Compañero Asma for more than 15 years. His songs number in the hundreds and cover an incredible range of sounds and languages; he uses Spanish, French and English. He also incorporates a lot of influences, like krautrock, intelligent pop, bossa nova, folk, psychedelia and classic rock. It’s all bound up by a strong melodic instinct and Espejo’s unmistakable voice and guitar playing.
Tildaflipers was formed by veterans of several hardcore and post rock bands and lead by Tomas Spicolli, an artist who remains crucial in the development of DIY culture and street art in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. Its main influence is dub, but instead of sticking to the genre, the band took its premises and techniques and ran away with them to make a sound of their own. They can end up sounding like pop sometimes, although they’re coming from the opposite end of the spectrum.
A young, dark-punk duo with a drum machine and lots of ¨anger = energy,” Di Giovannis took their name from one of the greatest, bravest and most tragic anarchist heroes in Argentinian history, Severino Di Giovanni. Their namesake was an underground publisher, bank robber, anti-fascist activist, ¨idealist of violence¨ and former public enemy number one who was sentenced to death and executed just before he turned 30.
José Unidos is a band, not a solo artist. José Unidos was the alias credited to the prodcuer of the most universally hated Clash album, Cut the Crap. Their music is very song-oriented and elegant, with guitar riffs like melodic razor blades in the tradition of Andy Gill and Will Sergeant. José Unidos has a particular Buenos Aires quality you can’t quite put your finger on, but it’s there.
Nebularia is landscape music: improvisation with analog electronics and psychedelics in search of some kind of godless illumination. They made the album el título no puede expresar el enigma in collaboration with their friends Paises Bajos.
Chillan Las Bestias
No one in this band is from Buenos Aires. Three of them are from Bariloche (where the Nazis hid after World War II), one of them is from Uruguay, and the others are from Peru. Yet no other band on this list sounds closer to the flagship music of Buenos Aires, tango. Think Tindersticks meets [Argentinian tango singer] Edmundo Rivero or Tom Waits lost in the Buenos Aires underbelly, hanging with sailors and prostitutes around the port in the ‘50s.
PAAR layers the spoken word of almost-deaf poet, DJ and writer Nicolás Domínguez Bedini over improvised, meditative rock mantras. The band features Fernando Lamas, a very influential musician and producer who’s been active since the ‘90s.
Part of a new scene that marries minimal electronics with anarchist ideals, El Mal is a duo based in Buenos Aires that plays dark electronic songs.