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Kinky's sonic criss-cross keeps them wanting masThe Mexican techno-funk band, heading to the Conga Room on Thursday, embraces its musical multiplicity.

January 31, 2013|By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times
  • Members of the Mexican band, "Kinky."
Members of the Mexican band, "Kinky." (Kinky )

Human beings have trouble sitting still when the Mexican techno-funk band Kinky fires up its hit song "Más" (More), with an insinuating bass line that recalls '70s Philly-soul classics like the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money."

But what's the message conveyed by the tune's increasingly frantic refrain, "Vamos queriendo más y más" (We keep wanting more and more)? Is it an invite to a group love-in, or a commentary on consumerism run amok? It's no wonder that "Más" has been used in Nissan commercials as well as in Tony Scott's brutal vigilante thriller "Man on Fire."

Musical mixed messages? Not really. Like many of Kinky's songs, "Más" reflects the double-edged nature of the quintet from the northern city of Monterrey, who'll bring their act to the Conga Room at L.A. Live on Thursday night. It's what keyboardist Ulises Lozano refers to as the band's "duality," its constant criss-crossing between English and Spanish, between the cool technology of robotic beats and the up-tempo, hot-blooded humanism of Kinky's lyrical concerns.

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"We grew up listening to radio stations from the U.S. and visiting a lot of times the U.S., and kind of living and growing up in a culture that is mixed with these two different countries," Lozano said in fluent, idiosyncratic English. "So it was not just about the instrumental part of our music, it was about everything else."

Duality is a virtual birthright of many artists from Monterrey, a business-minded metropolis less than three hours from the Texas border that has been ravaged in recent years by drug-related violence.

Kinky, formed around 1998, was among a slew of new Monterrey bands including the hip-hop outfit Control Machete and electronic dance-rockeros Plastilina Mosh that caught the country's Mexico City-centric pop industry by surprise. In a short time, groups as disparate as Control Machete, Plastilina Mosh and reggae-rockers El Gran Silencio had redrawn Mexico's musical road map and placed Monterrey near its center.

No group embodies the region's musical multiplicity more than Kinky. Its signature sound combines insanely catchy disco-funk rhythms that music-licensing and ad-campaign directors adore. But its lyrics don't always stick to the sunny side of the street, and there's an anarchic alter-ego to its bouncy, good-natured stage persona.

"We like to have more of a free show where anything can happen," Lozano said of the group, whose other members are Gil Cerezo (lead vocalist), Carlos Chairez (guitar), Omar Gongora (drums) and Cesar Pliego (bass).

"If we think the audience are more into dancing and they want to keep dancing, we kind of switch songs and bring more of the dance part of the band. Sometimes they want to be more aggressive and we play more punk and rock songs."

Kinky's creative tensions color all its records — including "Sueño de la Maquina" (Dream of the Machine), released last year and nominated for a Latin Grammy as best alternative music album — said Mark Torres, founder and co-host of the long-running modern Latin music show "Travel Tips for Aztlan" on KPFK (90.7 FM).

Over the years, Torres said, the band has been very consistent in its approach to making music, and very selective in working with virtuoso producers such as Money Mark and Chris Allison, the British impresario who has teamed with Coldplay and Walter Becker and originally signed Kinky to his Sonic360 label.

"I think what makes them special is that they're pretty uncompromising," Torres said. "They just had a cool, groovy vibe and they knew how to milk that sound without getting trite and boring. They were always open to experimentation."

Josh Norek, a record label executive and co-host of "The Latin Alternative" national radio program, said that Kinky has been "hugely influential" in developing Latin America's electronic dance scene, "maybe more influential than their record sales would indicate."

"They're an incredible live band, and that's not so easy to find in electronic music," he added.

"Sueño de la Maquina" was produced and mixed by another industry heavyweight, John King, who has collaborated with Beck, the Beastie Boys and the Rolling Stones. The album's standout track, the caustic "Negro Día," which received a Latin Grammy nomination for best alternative song, features a haunting performance by Spanish rapper Mala Rodríguez.

Norek said that although "Sueño," like its predecessors, is rooted in funk, it's "a little darker" thematically than other Kinky albums.

"I think the situation in Mexico may in some ways be affecting the music," Norek said, referring to the narcotics-related mayhem that has left 60,000 people dead since 2006. "The song 'Despues del After' is a very funky, up-tempo song, but lyrically it's talking about partying in the afterlife."

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