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POP MUSIC

Latin music on the move

August 14, 2003|Ernesto Lechner | Special to The Times

The preeminent annual celebration of rock en espanol is coming home, but don't cue the fireworks just yet.

Yes, the Latin Alternative Music Conference is moving to Los Angeles after three years in New York City. But fans who dreamed of a string of shows featuring the likes of Cafe Tacuba, El Gran Silencio, Julieta Venegas, Ely Guerra, Molotov or Aterciopelados might be disappointed.

"People have to remember we're not concert promoters," says Tomas Cookman, the conference organizer and one of rock en espanol's key executives. "The whole idea of LAMC is to network, close new deals and also have some great showcases.

"Doing the show in L.A. is a different dynamic. Cafe Tacuba understands the merits of playing a free gig at a Brooklyn park for 10,000 people; on the West Coast, they can sell out venues like the Greek Theatre."

Still, the fourth edition of the conference, a gathering of fans and industry insiders for a series of panels and performances that runs today through Saturday, will feature Los Amigos Invisibles, Sidestepper and the Nortec Collective, along with other acts that aspire to make a mark in rock en espanol, the genre that fuses mainstream rock idioms and rootsy Latin folklore.

"The lineup this time is definitely weak," says 22-year-old Monica Romero, a Latin rock fan who last year flew to New York just to attend the event. "There's great bands out there that should be in the lineup. I hope I'm proven wrong, but I was much more excited about it last year."

It would be easy to interpret the conference's lackluster lineup as a sign that rock en espanol, which peaked creatively between 1998 and 2000, is going through a slump after failing to cross over into the American mainstream.

"In the past, record companies could afford to bring their artists to events like LAMC or our awards show," offers Emilio Morales, publisher of Latin rock's quintessential La Banda Elastica, whose annual awards ceremony is held in conjunction with the conference. "Not anymore. That's why the big names like El Gran Silencio and La Ley have secured the sponsorship of brand names such as McDonald's and Chivas Regal for their tours."

Still, the absence of stars does not necessarily mean that the conference has lost its raison d'etre. "LAMC helps you meet up-and-coming producers, DJs and press people," says Lady P., the Chilean vocalist of the L.A. group Los Abandoned. "Those contacts can give more exposure to your group and help you out when you need to record an album or make a music video."

Morales blames the record companies, whom he maintains are too busy promoting their bestselling artists in the norteno and Latin pop fields to invest in the development of promising rock talent.

"The shortsightedness of [the labels'] A&R people is legendary," he says. "But the fact that the record companies put out a scant few rock albums these days does not automatically mean that the underground scene has ceased to exist."

If there's one reason for optimism this year, it would be the conference's overdue move to the city thought of as the unofficial capital of rock en espanol. It is here that the movement's biggest names perform frequent sold-out shows at large venues such as the Universal Amphitheatre.

Although the quality of the local Latin rock scene might be lacking, its enthusiastic presence is hard to ignore: Dozens of bands enjoy loyal followings.

"The conference went to New York with the intention of opening up a new market there," Morales says. "Now that we achieved that, it was about time that we came back to L.A."

Morales is still optimistic about the music to which he has devoted most of his professional life. It is Latin rock's innate resilience, he emphasizes, that has allowed the genre to survive since its inception in Mexico and Argentina during the late '60s.

When asked whether rock en espanol's iffy commercial potential would eventually push him to fold La Banda Elastica, the publisher's response is vehemently passionate.

"Are you kidding? We have a voice now," he exclaims. "We started the magazine when nobody cared about this music, and the established publications could not even pronounce the names of all the bands that are now considered media darlings. We are committed to continue documenting a generation of Latinos who did not have a voice in the traditional structure of the mainstream."

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Best of the LAMC

The best acts to catch as part of the Latin Alternative Music Conference, which runs today through Saturday. For a complete lineup and more information, visit www.latinalternative.com.

Los Amigos Invisibles

There's an addictive feeling of melancholic nostalgia beneath this Venezuelan quintet's seemingly shallow mixture of disco, funk and light-as-a-feather bossa nova. Three years in the making, Los Amigos' upcoming fourth album is one of rock en espanol's unequivocal masterpieces. Lounge has never sounded this soulful.

When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Santa Monica Pier, free.

Sidestepper

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