The mosh pit churns counterclockwise, all thrashing elbows and knees, a swarming, broken polka from hell. Ska's syncopated chaos wails and burps in trombones and snare hits from the stage, while below blur strobe-light moments of angry, wet teeth and tongue studs. Everyone snarls in Spanish, fists raised.
This isn't Santiago, Chile. It's not Mexico City; Madrid; Bogota, Colombia; or Buenos Aires--or any of the other predictable nests for the Spanish-language rock movement. Rather, it's a typical Sunday night at a bland Anaheim mini-mall, with local kids moshing at club JC Fandango to the sounds of Chencha Berenches, an unsigned band from South Gate.
As many Southern Californians already know, rock en espanol, or Spanish-language rock, has been gaining momentum across Latin America since the early 1980s, when bands such as Soda Stereo, Caifanes, Fabulosos Cadillacs and Maldita Vecindad emerged in Mexico and Argentina.
But many may not realize that modern Latin rock now dangles over the "mainstream" U.S. pop scene, eager--and maybe able--to drop with atomic force.
In the next month, Spanish-language rock will take several steps toward mainstream U.S. acceptance, with Los Angeles leading the way as the nation's unofficial center of the international scene known to followers as "the movement."
It all starts today with the kickoff of the 18-city alternative Latin rock festival Watcha Tour 2000, at the Universal Amphitheatre.
In its second year, Watcha is the Spanish-language version of the skate-culture-oriented Vans Warped tour, which was inspired by Lollapalooza. Watcha was founded by Warped tour producer Kevin Lyman, Warped co-founder and Creative Artists Agency agent Darryl Eaton and Jorge Mondragon, manager of the Mexican group Molotov.
Watcha financially tanked last year, which its producers ascribe to publicity and tour routing issues. They say they've taken steps to avoid a repeat this year, adding seven more cities to the tour and starting in Los Angeles--a hotbed for the music. But it still seems a leap of faith considering Watcha sold only between 11% and 66% of its tickets at venues from Miami to Los Angeles last year, with its highest-grossing show, the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, making only $125,000, according to Pollstar.
Another big step for the movement comes next week, when the Latin Alternative Music Conference begins in New York. It's the nation's first large-scale music industry gathering focused exclusively on Latin rock, culminating in the Banda Elastica awards, named for the Long Beach-based Latin rock magazine.
Conference co-founder Tomas Cookman, owner of North Hollywood's Cookman International artist management firm, said he preferred New York for the conference "because I don't want to see L.A. become the Nashville of the Latin alternative movement."
English-Spanish Tour Pairings
While some in the mainstream industry say their interest in rock en espanol was piqued by Ricky Martin's smash English-language debut, the comparison is musically and ideologically shaky, because most Latin rock acts refuse to consider singing in English.
"We think the U.S. is an important market," says Felipe Staiti, guitarist with the Argentine band Enanitos Verdes, featured on Watcha 2000. "But we also think there are enough Latinos in the U.S. for us not to have to record in English."
Signs of Latin rock's U.S. potential have already emerged in the past year, in the pairing of Spanish- and English-language rock acts on tours--Cafe Tacuba with Beck, Ozomatli with the Dave Matthews Band, Mana with Santana, Fabulosos Cadillacs with Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Molotov with Deftones, and Puya at Ozzfest.
The tour pairings come in part from stepped-up interest in Latin rock artists by top Los Angeles talent agencies, including Creative Artists Agency, which now represents groups such as Mana, La Ley, Ozomatli, the Chris Perez Band and Molotov.
Meanwhile, back at the mosh pit, all of this makes fans like Arni Toriz, 18, smile. "I've been waiting for this since I got here [from Mexico] six years ago," says Toriz, a college student with inventive sideburns. "It could happen, you know? I hope [the bands] get the attention they deserve. I hope so."
Latin 'Alt' Music, a Diverse Umbrella
Rock en espanol and Latin rock--or the new preferred title, "Latin alternative music"--are vague terms used to describe everything from the techno-pop of Chile's La Ley and the thrash metal of Puerto Rico's Puya to the heavy funk of Argentina's Illya Kuryaki. It includes the tropical grunge of Colombia's Aterciopelados, the poppish poetry of Colombia's Shakira, the ska madness of France's Sergent Garcia, the meat-and-potatoes rock 'n' roll of Texas' Chris Perez Band, the quirky art-rock of Miami's Fulano de Tal and the Spanish-language rap album from L.A.'s Cypress Hill.