Issue 2/2001 - Net section

Electronic Music from Argentina

Noise from a faraway island where no one wants to survive

Pablo Schanton

A legend has grown up around electronic music from Argentina - that is, electronic music that is associated with pop rather than with serious music. It starts with 30 kilos of fruit and stones. The date is November 1982, and the scene is a festival that was called »B(uenos) A(ires) Rock.« Let us briefly take our bearings: the Falkland war was over, and »Nationalistic Post-Galtieri Rock« (named after the dictator who sent thousands of young soldiers to their death) was just getting under way. Because it was forbidden to broadcast English songs on the radio, Argentinean rock, which until then had always been pushed into the »foreign« corner, was redefined by the authorities of the military regime as »Young Official Folk Music.« The counterculture of rock had become harmless.

Now: the oranges and stones were hurled as projectiles by an audience of people with an anachronistic hippie look who found the sound of synthesizers and rhythm machines on the stage unbearable. »Los Encargados« was playing with Daniel Melero as leader, dressed as an astronaut. What a declaration of war: such coldness, such inhumanity was too much! »Love and peace«? Forget it: let's start stoning! It is not without reason that the founding of Argentinean electronic music can be summed up in this outburst of aggression; the traumatic dialectics of rock versus techno has been repeated connotatively in other pairs of opposites to this very day. One could put it this way: hot (rock) vs. cold (techno), animal vs. mechanical, direct vs. indirect, true vs. artificial, street vs. laboratory, played vs. programmed, and so forth. The three variables upon which the »technophobia« of Argentinean rock fundamentalists is founded are geography, class, and sex: the electronic musicians were damned as »strange,« middle-class, and »gays.« Whereas Anglo punk, Jamaican reggae, and Afro-American blues have already been suitably nationalized, Argentinean electronic music is still seen as guilty of the serious transgression of »not being part of the culture of its country« (as had been the case with rock until Galtieri).

Having managed to survive in the underground during the eighties, ex-Encargado member Daniel Melero brought out the book-record »Recolección Vacía« in 1992, a testimonial to his importing and original translation of the ideas that Brian Eno, influenced by John Cage, had brought down to the level of pop. This world of thought achieved almost biblical cult status among the younger generation of electronic musicians, and began to flourish in the nineties (with Flavio Etcheto, Estupendo, Leo García, Leandro Fresco, Audio Perú, Gustavo Lamas, Diego Vainer, Audio Das Poly, Martim Arce, Pablo Reche, Carola Bony, Pommrenck, Microsfera). Those were the years of what was called »rock barrial« - »district rock« (La Renga, Los Piojos, Viejas Locas), in which the local street corner was raised to the status of a fetish to counter the concept of »shop-ization« and globalization that entered the country under Carlos Menem's government. This was the moment when the electronic musicians gathered behind the flag of an internationalistic impulse, something which set them apart from »rock barrial,« thus confirming »rocker« prejudices against them.

The most important electronic group of the nineties was Estupendo, a duo consisting of Fernando Lamas and Sebastián Mondragón. Their immaculate, self-managed record productions started in 1994 with »Bistró Málaga.« This recording anticipated the style of comfortable techno pop, which was to become famous through the French group »Air«, by four years. This debut album called for the time-honored values of the middle classes, like tourism and good cuisine - with a tongue-in-cheek treatment of kitsch elements. These demands were a veritable ideological scandal, when one recalls that the »alterlatino rock« then in vogue (Todos Tus Muertos, Fabulosos Cadillacs) was in the process of reviving the icons of the anti-imperialistic Left in the seventies, embodied, for example, in the Che Guevara T-shirt. It all seemed like taking aesthetic revenge on the utopia of a »patria socialista,« which the success of the »alterlatino« fighters seemingly prolonged, when Estupendo clutched onto the most bourgeois values it could find. In doing so, they were following a »retro« that had a lot to do with a return to their childhood during the military dictatorship. This was extremely »politically incorrect« at a time when the »psicobolchetos,« educated young middle-class people, were dressing up as poor people and traveling through Latin America in a sort of pro-third-world tourism. Estupendo's later recordings stress that they are »de-Argentineanized« and cite foreign countries as inspirational landscapes in their titles and covers (Norway, Canada, Borneo, the Alps, Japan). While »Antenna« (1996) is a homage to Kraftwerk and attempts to synthesize with frequencies »from outside,« »Montevideo« (1998) finds the right touch for its collages in the melancholy of the tango from the Uruguayan capital. The following year, the German duo Triple R and DJ Anima brought out a record with the title »Electronic Music from Buenos Aires.« The tracks have the tango-inspired weightiness of Argentinean electronic music after Melero as their main characteristic.

With their project, these two Germans, invited by the local Goethe Institute to play in Buenos Aires, promoted the »exportability« of Argentinean music. Our musicians are children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants, who try to sublimate the third world by becoming integrated in a techno-political network in which national borders are neutralized. In contrast to Mexican or Brazilian techno, Argentinean (and still less Chilean) techno feels no obligation to use its own folk music as a point of reference. It prefers to take its bearings in turn from The Orb, Aphex Twin, Oval, Mouse on Mars, Mike Ink or Autechre. Unfortunately, the connection between musicians and DJs here was not as productive as the explosion of »rave« in 1997-99 seemed to promise. Rave did, however, manage to produce musicians that had both feet of the dance floor (Trineo, Audioperú). However, a certain »isolationism« (»Repliegue« - »Retreat« - is the title of a theme by Audio Das Poly) and autism as the aesthetics of the privileged (Ocio - Idleness - is the name of the electronic group of the latin pop star Gustavo Cerati) is also emphasized. As a consequence, the audience for a concert of electronic music scarcely has more than a hundred people - except, of course, in the case of classics like Melero, a star like Cerati, or a soloist like Leo García, who relies on pop songs.

In the internet era, the web site, which is open for all Argentinean and foreign DJs and musicians, is the definitive embodiment of the internationalistic impulse of these »aliens« in their own country. These days, national rock has accepted the use of »machines« (the »Redonditos de Ricota« - something like the South American Grateful Dead - compose with computers). And there is an increasing number of young Argentinean emigrants who, like the Cuban »boat people,« long to bring their records out outside the country. Even Frágil Discos, the only label exclusively specializing in electronic music, will soon be moving to Barcelona owing to the economic recession. With the YK2, electronic music has become the ideal soundtrack for modern-day Argentina: noise from a faraway island where no one wants to survive


Translated by Tim Jones