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Magazine Makers

Friends turn Spanish rock fanzine they began six years ago into successful nationwide publication.


Like many a happy venture, Los Angeles-based magazine La Banda Elastica started as a labor of love.

Six years ago, the premier issue was a four-page fanzine created by graphic designer Emilio Morales and photographer Maria Madrigal, two good friends with a common interest in the then burgeoning genre of rock en espanol.

A year later, the friends became lovers, and the fanzine a respectable magazine with national distribution.

On Sunday, La Banda Elastica will celebrate its sixth anniversary with an extravagant, five-hour concert at the Universal Amphitheatre. The bill includes four of the genre's most successful bands, as well as a couple of surprise appearances.

And, unlike many rock 'n' roll couples, Madrigal and Morales are still together.

"Our personal and professional relationship works really well because we're still best friends," Madrigal said last week, during an interview after a long day of meetings with corporate sponsors. "We have pretty much spent the last five years together at all times, and I like it that way."

You could say the pair's meeting was a matter of fate. In 1992, Morales was a guitarist/songwriter with local group Maria Fatal, and Madrigal a beginner photographer with a fascination for gothic rock.

"Back then, I was a graphic designer working for a big corporation, and I wanted to be part of the establishment," Morales recalled, with a laugh. "When it came time to create the magazine, I realized that I had the means to do it without selling any advertising."

Morales appointed himself editor and designer of his publication. Madrigal became the photo editor, and for a long while, the only contributing photographer.

"In the beginning, I was the only one taking photos of all these bands, and I felt I had to document a very important movement that was going on," she said. "As time went by, I started focusing on the more technical aspects of photography."

"We didn't have any musical or editorial pretensions," added Morales. "It was something that was done with a lot of intensity and no business plan--a project that grew in an organic way."

After the first year, however, there was a need to reconsider La Banda's goals. The fans' response had been overwhelming, and big companies started realizing that rock en espanol was there to stay. Now, they wanted a piece of the action. Or at least, the chance to place ads in the movement's most recognized magazine.

After debating whether to turn La Banda into full-time jobs, the pair decided to go for it. Today, the magazine is published on a bimonthly basis, with a circulation of 40,000. It enjoys a strong fan base and has managed to stay atop a handful of other similar publications that have come out since then.

Part of La Banda's appeal lies in the strong emphasis the magazine places on informing its readers about everything that goes on in the world of rock en espanol. Even if you are new to the genre, reading a few issues will give you an accurate perspective on Latin rock.

Morales' psychedelic graphic design has also helped, as well as the inclusion of established music writers such as Enrique Lopetegui, the guru of rock en espanol journalism who has just joined La Banda's stable of collaborators.

The idea behind the concert at the Universal is to celebrate yet another year in the magazine's life with what inspired it to begin with: music.

"We will also be giving awards to the best bands and records of the year," explained Morales. "There will be two kinds of awards given: the people's choice, voted by our readers, and the critics' choice, voted by our writers."

Roco, the lead singer of seminal Mexican band Maldita Vecindad, will emcee. Appearing on the bill will be Pastilla, a local group that finds inspiration in '80s Brit pop; Plastilina Mosh, a Mexican duo whose experimentation with electronic dadaist rock has garnered them critical acclaim on both sides of the border, and La Ley, a Chilean group offering a Latinized version of electro-pop.

But the show will also be the Los Angeles debut for the eccentrically named Argentinian group Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas. The duo virtually created the sub-genre of hip-hop en espanol, paving the road for successful outfits such as Control Machete and Molotov, which have achieved considerable success rapping in Spanish.

The show is boosted by a number of unconfirmed appearances that are likely to occur. One of these will find Andy Summers, ex-guitarist with The Police, reuniting with drummer Stewart Copeland for the performance of a Police tune sung by Colombian singer Soraya.

Another possible guest is Spaniard Manu Chao, whose recent solo effort titled "Clandestino" is one of this year's best albums.

What's interesting about La Banda Elastica is how the magazine's own growth mirrors the journey of rock en espanol, a genre that started out with bands that sounded terrible but eventually blossomed into a new kind of music that rivals (and often surpasses) Anglo pop in sophistication and originality.

"When we started La Banda, rock en espanol was a genre in transition," agreed Morales. "Slowly, the bands liberated themselves from their Anglo influences and found their own voice. Now, the genre has achieved a more natural and mature fusion between rock 'n' roll and its own Latin American roots. There's no doubt that this is a very fortunate moment for this kind of music."


La Banda Elastica's Sixth Anniversary Concert. Universal Amphitheatre. 7 p.m. $15-35.

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