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iQue viva el rock! Mexico's rock scene struggles to shake off its past and maintain the essence of its sound. (Living in Mexico).

In electronic dance beat pulses from the stage where hopeful, young Mexican rock musicians will soon perform. The locale is decorated more like a dance club than a typical rock venue, and the crowd--mostly well-to-do adolescents (except for this lone reporter)--is dressed stylishly. A chat with the bartender reveals that the spot, called L' eclipse, is actually a techno dance club most nights, and that it is only now beginning to feature rock shows.

Currently, this scene is rather typical. Native rock music in Mexico has long been a clandestine affair, suppressed by the government and media for decades, and now merely relegated to the occasional show in a bar or club on the city's outskirts, that isn't dedicated to the genre. The crowd also speaks a great deal about the state of rock music in Mexico today. The current acts in the genre are cut off from their past and from the influences of yesteryear. Today's fans are young and hopeful because they're unaware of Mexican rock's history, while seasoned rock fans are mainly cynical about the prospects for native rock, as they have seen bands come and go with few getting the exposure they needed to make them last.

But the situation shows signs of changing. Clubs, bars and small cafes that had never paid much attention to rock are now beginning to allow rock acts to perform with greater frequency. New bands and managers are taking advantage of this opening with emerging varieties of rock. But Mexico's rock scene is still developing its own unique sound, even though its fate is always in question. Ignacio Pineda, a manager at Foro Alicia, a rock concert venue in Mexico City, told BUSINESS MEXICO, "There are a lot of good bands today, and people want to hear more rock. What we need are more places to spread the music.


The prospects for a native rock movement in Mexico have not always been so tenuous. In the past, Mexican rock fans and musicians have seen record labels and show promoters support a uniquely Mexican rock scene, original in its style and with the strength to reach beyond the country's borders.

Upon arriving to Mexico for the first time around 1958, rock 'n' roll was associated with the affluence of the developed world, and dancing to its catchy beat was seen as a luxury for the upper and middle classes. In an attempt to coopt the rock movement and keep it orderly and family-oriented, record labels, at the behest of the government, promoted the refrito movement: Only bands willing to cover watered-down translations of "American Top 40 hits" were allowed to record. (Los Locos del Ritmo, who began recording original rock songs around 1960, were the only exception to this rule.)

But the counter-cultural associations that rock also brought with it from the United States were an obvious affront to Mexico's traditional values. Men with long hair, women challenging their traditional role in the home, and rock's general image of rebellion and youth power were impossible for Mexican authorities and record companies to separate from the music itself. So rock soon began to take on the look of a threatening foreign influence for mainstream Mexico.

Although government authorities and conservative parents tried to control Mexican youth, profound changes were taking place in the late 1960s that could not be so easily curbed. The young generation showed their lack of faith in Mexico's authoritarian government with the 1968 student movement. And a parallel lack of faith in the paternalistic family structure showed itself in young men's refusal to keep their faces shaved, women's newfound independence from men, and youth's general insistence on making and listening to rock music.

But it wasn't until the very end of the 1960s that original Mexican rock began to get any attention from local radio disc jockeys and record companies. The first band to find success playing original rock was La Revolucion de Emiliano Zapata, whose single "Nasty Sex" (in English) got substantial radio play in Mexico, though it did not manage to break into foreign markets. Seeing that there was in fact a market for a native rock movement, record labels did not hesitate to capitalize on the newfound interest, and bands were only too willing to provide the music. To aficionados here, it seemed like Mexican rock was breaking out of the copycat trap it had been forced into, and that a uniquely Mexican sound was developing, drawing on British and American rock influences but with a distinct Latin flavor.


Many bands were eager to follow the success of La Revolucion de Emiliano Zapata. From the end of 1969, throughout most of 1971, Mexican rock bands like Peace and Love, Enigma, Ritual, Love Army and Alex Lora's long-enduring Three Souls in My Mind were growing in popularity and becoming increasingly well-known. Rock radio stations that had previously scoffed at Mexican rock began to promote and help craft the uniquely Mexican sound that was emerging. Around the music, a whole subculture was forming, taking after its American counterpart in many ways but with a Mexican flavor, of course. By September of 1971, Mexican youth was ready to come together for the generation-defining rock music festival at Avandaro.

The rock festival held at Avandaro was first conceived as a automobile show, to be held on a farm outside Mexico City. It was a producer at the television station Televisa who reasoned that the event could double as a rock festival that Televisa could then publicize and cover.

Though the authorities had long been suspicious of rock's influence and its associations with youth rebellion-- even to the point of routinely breaking up rock concerts--the Avandaro festival was given the necessary permits and was promoted in local newspapers and on the radio. According to participant Ram6n Garcia, this was done "as a ploy to justify the massacre of 68 by trying to make us look ridiculous; that is, all of us who were into rock at that time."

The Avandaro show drew some 250,000 people and, despite the foul weather, was a great success in the eyes of its participants. But Mexico City dailies immediately began decrying the show for corrupting the values of Mexico's youth. The weekly magazine of Mexico City daily Excelsior reported that Avandaro had been "a nudist camp and a refuge for drug addicts."

Regardless of the actual mood at Avandaro, Mexican authorities took the opportunity to turn most Mexicans firmly against the new attitudes of rebellious youngsters, in all their manifestations. So, after its brief taste of success--less than three years in all--under pressure from the government, Mexican rock music was swiftly and decisively forced underground by newspapers, television, radio and record labels. The music was henceforth to be associated with a breakdown of societal standards, and its history was to be erased.

"After Avandaro is when the real repression began against all the young people who went to rock shows or who had long hair," said Garcia, who later founded the arts and music market, Tianguis del Chopo. "The police followed us and harassed us for the way we looked."

Throughout the 1970s, rock music and its fans were virtually driven out of town. Police routinely broke up rock shows and confiscated equipment, while no form of media so much as mentioned rock and focused on other musical styles, such as cumbia. Rock bands now only played from the backs of trucks (for speedy getaways), or in secret dives or warehouses on the edge of town, called hoyos fonquis (literally "funky holes").

As rock retreated to the city's perimeter, it became more and more a thing for tough barrio kids. The hoyos fonquis that still exist on the edge of town are, in a sense, the real heirs of Mexico's original rock movement, but over the years, the music has succumbed to the influence of its surroundings. Though a handful of dedicated bands who had tasted success before Avandaro survived the 1970s, by 1980 the hoyos fonquis were mostly for monotonous heavy metal and punk bands whose tough sound and lyrics appealed to the anger and frustration of their fans.

It was not until almost 1980 that another original rock scene in Mexico showed even a hint of being plausible. A handful of venues opened up towards the end of the 1970s that began featuring new rock acts on a regular basis, without being harassed by the police. Hip 70, Tutti Frutti and Rock's were among the first signs of an opening of venues for local rock music; Rockotitlan was among a few other establishments that opened in the 1980s, dedicated to promoting the rock scene. Also, the famous Mexico City counter-cultural market known as the Tianguis del Chopo was founded in 1982, creating another of the few spaces for rock music and its fans.

On the wings of these few opportunities, rock became increasingly accepted throughout the 1980s. By 1987, several independent record labels were promoting new bands, and some mainstream labels were starting to notice the genre's potential fan base. New spaces for rock concerts such as the Foro Alicia and Bulldog began operations around this time. Still in business today, they are now among the only places where regular rock shows are staged.


Although a host of new bands hoped to cash in on what looked like the biggest boom in the local rock scene in almost 20 years, only a few were actually offered commercial success in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mana, Kenny y los Electricos (formerly Kenny and the Electrics) and Cafe Tacuba--all of which still exist--were among the most successful groups to appear around this time. But many rock enthusiasts were not satisfied with the sweetened pop sound that several groups began to adopt in their efforts to please record companies.

After having made Mexican rock commercially palatable and relatively popular, record labels surprisingly lost interest in Mexican rock once again around 1995. Flor Romero, Mexico City-based manager of such groups as Kenny y los Electricos and Lost Acapulco, told BUSINESS MEXICO, "From the late '80s until around 1995, we all worked from offices and had television stations calling us, but since then, everything has been much more closed."

Since 1995, opportunities for up-and-coming rock bands have been scarce. Centered in Mexico City, there is an obvious rock music fan base, but "record companies will only support the styles that have been tested, which means pop," says Fernando Benitez of current progressive rock group El Diablo.

Thus, anyone old enough to remember even a bit of rock's history is bound to feel discouraged by its lessons. The early 1990s wave of rock that got mainstream attention has maintained a steady base of pop fans, but has lost the rock crowd.

Despite its bumpy history, Mexican rock is at a potentially interesting point. New bands--mostly made up of musicians young enough to feel more optimistic about their chances of success--are taking rock in creative new directions. The first generation of Mexican rockers criticize them for adopting the influences of foreign (mostly American and British) music but, cut off from Mexican rock's early history as they are, they have little choice. New rock bands like Dragon Zaga, Eye 3 and Zoe are quick to admit their foreign influences. Zoe drummer Beto Cabrera said, "We're influenced by David Bowie and Pink Floyd--hardly at all by Mexican groups or even Latin groups."

But regardless of their influences, they remain Mexican rock bands.

"It has its own mark," said Pineda. "There are a number of styles among the 3,000 bands in the city, including grunge, progressive and surf. And it all has a unique style. Even groups that deny it have their Mexican roots and musical education, even if they don't want to admit it."

The fate of Mexico's latest rock movement, depends entirely on the support it receives from record labels, the radio and television.

"There are only two radio stations in Mexico City that play rock in Spanish," said Pineda. "If there aren't radio stations or record labels to record it, how can the music spread?"

Traditionally, these media have supported only tried-and-true genres like pop and Latin music, though Mexico has long since proven that it has the fans to support its own rock scene. But whether or not it achieves mainstream success, rock 'n' roll will continue to evolve in tandem with the tastes of its public.

Traviss Thomas is a Mexico City-based freelance writer and avid rock fan.
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Author:Thomas, Traviss
Publication:Business Mexico
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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