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SPOTLIGHT : ROCKING IN TONGUES : Clubs Are Adopting the Offspring of Dance Beats and Spanish Language--Rock Pop Espanol

October 06, 1994|ROSE APODACA JONES | Rose Apodaca Jones is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Orange County Edition. and

Midnight rolls around and sounds of a baby crying pierce the dance number pumping out of the sound system at Metropolis. The recorded wailing serves as more than a signal of the 12 o'clock hour to the hundreds of sweaty patrons on the floor of the Irvine club--it's a reminder of the birth of rock pop Espanol into the mainstream.

Rock pop Espanol is claiming a night or two at clubs throughout the Southland, where promoters are anxious to cash in on its popularity among trendy young Latinos, and their non-Latino friends who've gotten hooked on the vibe.

In Orange County, Latino clubs J.C. Fandango in Anaheim and Orchids in Orange have been packing fans in; El Paraiso in Anaheim will join them this Sunday when it debuts a similar program of Latin-flavored rock and pop music.

But the single best illustration of how hot this craze is, say observers, is the decision last month by Metropolis owners to turn that mainstream, upscale club's coveted Friday night spot over to a rock pop Espanol format.

Rock pop Espanol is an umbrella term that encompasses rock and pop, as well as house, techno, disco, reggae, ska and alternative. The common denominator is that any singing is in Spanish. If some songs sound suspiciously familiar, it's because there's a tendency to pattern tunes after English-language rock and pop hits.

"In the Spanish market, there hasn't been a separation of the various categories of rock and pop like there is with (English-language) rock, which has hard rock, classic rock, alternative rock and many others," said Carlos Ramos, the lead singer of Bravo, a Los Angeles-based rock pop Espanol band that played Metropolis on a recent Friday. "We have Spanish rock pop and that's it."

While there have long been pop and rock songs sung in Spanish, the all-encompassing category didn't attract much mainstream attention until earlier this year. The Shark Club in Los Angeles introduced a Sunday rock pop Espanol night called La Cama (the bed) and Spanish-language radio station KLVE (107.5 FM) started playing less salsa and easy-listening music and added more rock and pop. (La Cama promoters brought their super-trendy brand of rock pop Espanol Fridays to Orchids when the club opened in the middle of last month.)

A following quickly developed among young Latinos who had grown up on KROQ and never bought into the cowboy grind of banda. Club deejays still included blocks of KROQ hits, from Erasure to Nirvana. But the predominance of rock pop Espanol excited crowds most. Here was music they could not only dance to, but sing along with, too.

"Because this music is in our own language, we feel it better," explained Edith Tellez, 21, of Westminster. Tellez, stylishly put together in black lace, short boots and model-perfect makeup at Orchids recently, added that she and her friends have stopped going to "English clubs" since the advent of the rock pop Espanol nights in Orange County and Los Angeles. A new acquaintance of Tellez, Jose Castrillo of Anaheim, has also changed his clubbing habits. Slickly decked in Dr. Marten boots, calf-length trousers, a flannel shirt around his waist, a nose ring and a goatee and long, wavy hair, the 22-year-old said in Spanish that it's all about "el ambiente ." It's the ambience, he said, that appeals to him, along with the Spanish lyrics.

Indeed, it's el ambiente like no other. Club patrons cheer wildly when their favorite songs come on. The entire dance floor might bounce together, arms in the air, or garnish the chorus of a song with palmas (hands clapping). The celebratory atmosphere is infectious and just about everyone--non-Latino patrons included--participates in the New Year's Eve-like revelry.

Javier Castellanos, the general manager of his family-owned supper club, J. C. Fandango, calls it "the most enthusiastic crowd I've ever seen. The ladies start yelling and screaming so the guys start too." The Anaheim club was the first to bring the concept to Orange County in April with the help of promoters Los Cinco Muskateros. The Sunday fete proved so successful, with a consistent draw of 600 to 700 weekly, that early last month the club added a Friday gig, called La Luna.

For Metropolis owners Gregg and John Hanour, the Friday installation of Baby Rock--their name for the rock pop Espanol format--has resulted in an evening that's a breed apart from other nights.

"It stands out in the collective expression of how (club-goers) feel about the music," said Gregg Hanour. "It's not a night of posturing as much as just partying. There's more of a realness to it than what you typically see at clubs. These guys aren't afraid to show their excitement for the music."

Include Rich Grbavac, 22, of Huntington Beach among the more expressive revelers. He and three friends--only one Latina among them--whooped it up at Metropolis recently like it was their last day on Earth.

"I love this!" he yelled over some bouncy number.

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