Under a zinc-colored sky, a block away from the railroad tracks and next to a buzzing electrical substation, a young man with hair immaculately slicked back, in black baggies with fob swinging low, oversize gray suit, starched white shirt, and a fat Forties tie takes giant strides as he leads me down the asphalt corridor toward the crowd ahead, and I am doing my best to keep up with him.
"Now you're going to see the true history of Mexican rocanrol!" he calls back over his shoulder, flapping along through the warm, smoggy breeze.
We dive into the marketplace. Throngs of Mexico City youth in all manner of rockero regalia surround us: chavas in leather miniskirts or torn jeans and chavos wearing Metallica T-shirts, James Dean leather jackets, or Guatemalan-style indigena threads. We walk past stall after rickety stall, scraps of splintered wood and twine holding up faded blue tarps over cassettes, CDs, LPs, and singles, bootlegs and imports, posters, steel-toed boots, and skull earrings. Boxes blast New Zealand's Pestilence, Mexico's El Tri, Argentina's Charly Garcia, and U2.
"Tenemos punk, tenemos heavy metal, tenemos en espanol y en ingles, tenemos al Jim Morrison y El Tri!" yells one young vendor, exactly as any one of Mexico's army of street vendors hawks elotes asados, rosaries, or Chiclets. It's but one voice among hundreds at El Chopo, the largest, most eclectic rocanrol swap meet in the universe.
It is a Saturday afternoon, some ten years after this institution was born, and the vendors - a collection of young punkeros or trasheros (thrash fans), leathered heavy metaleros, Peace and Love veterans, and "chavos de la banda" (the working-class followers of Mexican raunch-rock heroes El Tri) - tell me this crowd of about 3000 is on the light side.
"What's chingon is that there's no divisions here between the different rockeros," Ricardo, a high-school kid in a LARD T-shirt, a beret, and hip-hop high-tops tells us. "It doesn't matter whether you're hard-core or trashero."
Mexican authorities haven't distinguished between styles, either: all are equally suspect. El Chopo is often raided by police eager to club skinheads and longhairs alike, Ricardo and his young punk friends say, as a Peace and Lover strolls by with a gleaming white Fender Precision bass, telling everyone that he'll let it go for one million pesos.
It isn't long before my zoot-suited guide is recognized. "Don't you play with la Maldita?" kids inquire, before asking for autographs. Roco, the lead singer of Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio, greets all comers effusively. "And don't forget to make the gig tonight! At Lucc, about midnight! Ahorale, hijo!"
We're hopelessly late for a meeting with Maldita's manager clear over on the other side of the city, but Roco is intent on getting me freebies. Already I'm loaded with copies of the magazine La Pus Moderna, home to the city's underground artists and critics, and more than a dozen LPs and cassettes by groups with names like Atoxxxico, Sedicion, Psicodencia.
All the while, Roco talks about the endless possibilities for rockin' across the biggest cityscape in the world. "It's the craziest city, hijo," he says, words spilling out rapid and vowel-twisted, in classic Mexico City slang. "Anything can happen here.
"We've received influences from all over," he adds, as he stands in place for a rare moment, before a stall featuring a lithograph of Marilyn Monroe hanging next to one of Che Guevara.
"From the North, from the South, from Europe. It might be true that rock began in the North, but now it's all ours."
Since the mid-Eighties, in Mexico, Argentina, and Spain, rocanrol has been billed as the perpetual Next Big Thing. Record labels - mostly the Spanish and Latin American subsidiaries of majors such as Sony, BMG, or WEA - signed dozens of bands. Stadium gigs drew huge crowds at most of the big capitals in Latin America.
The adjectives from the record industry spell out what they call a revolution: "Rock en Espanol," reads BMG's slogan, "Music for a New Generation!" Key groups have lived up to the advance publicity - Mexico's Los Caifanes, a dark pop band, sold a respectable 100,000 copies of its first album; a subsequent cumbia-rocksingle, "La negra Tomasa," sold more than a half million. Other acts, such as Radio Futura and La Union from Spain, Los Prisioneros from Chile, and Miguel Mateos and Soda Stereo from Argentina, have also sold well and garnered airplay both in Latin America and, occasionally, on U.S. Latin radio.
But while pop-rockers such as Menudo have become megastars, the heavier rockeros are still on the margins - and not because they necessarily like it there. Roco and the Chopo crowd want to shake Mexican culture right down to its very roots. Only thing is, they might never get the chance to do it. As one veteran of the Mexico City rock wars puts it, "The joke here has always been that this is the year rocanrol is going to make it - and we've been saying it for 30 years."
The Eighties found Mexico City on its knees again (ever since the conquest, this city's suffered), enduring the worst economic crisis since the Revolucion of 1910. A profound malaise contaminated all areas of life - until September 9, 1985.
Early that morning, the Mexican capital lurched over its liquid foundation, the ancient volcanic lake the city was built upon. The images of destruction were televised the world over: the low-cost housing complexes of Tlatelolco turned into mass tombs; the famous Hotel Regis collapsed into a steaming pile of snapped slabs of concrete and twisted steel; "topos," small, wiry men burrowing through the rubble, looking for survivors or cadavers; the government declaring the next day that the situation was under control, before the second temblor made it clear nobody controlled anything.
Just a few weeks before, a group of chavos from different barrios began holding jam sessions. A piano player, a vocalist, and six percussionists (water bottles, pots and pans), but nothing experimental about it. "Either we waited to save up and buy equipment or we played with what we had," recalls Roco, his leg bouncing nervously up and down on the bar stool. "We chose the latter."
Then, rrrraaaaazzzz! El Temblorrrrr.
"It was total devastation, cabron," says Roco, leaning into me and yelling over UB40's "Red Red Wine." "Whole barrios darkened without electricity, water running everywhere, people carrying coffins, looking for their loved ones." With the government virtually paralyzed, he says, "the people of the barrios organized themselves. And all of a sudden, people who I'd seen my entire life but didn't know, I knew. We helped each other."
The city was transformed by the experience. In post-earthquake Mexico, citizens' committees organized relief efforts and eventually became low-income-housing lobbies. Super Barrio, a masked wrestler, turned into a political activist/performance artist, showing up in yellow cape and red suit wherever slumlords did their foul deeds. Cuahutemoc Cardenas nearly tossed the PRI dynasty out of office (something that may yet happen). In the midst of this upheaval, Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio were born.
"No tengo ni puta idea por que quiero hoy salir
Lo ultimo de mis ahorros me lo gastare en ti
En la fabrica dijeron, "Ya no nos sirves Joaquin"
Para no perder dinero nos corrieron a dos mil
Hoy es viernes, por la noche todos salen a bailar
Yo me apunto en el desmoche, tengo ganas de gritar:
Ya no aguanto mas, quiero bailar!
-Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio, "Bailando"
I don't have a fucking idea why I want to go out today
But I'll spend the last of my savings on you
At the factory they said, "We don't need you any more, Joaquin"
They fired 2000 to not lose any more money
It's Friday, tonight everyone's going out to dance
Sign me up in the madness, I really want to scream:
I can't stand it any more, I want to dance!
A few minutes later, other members of la Maldita make their way over to our table, weaving through the crowd. These "ninos bien" have paid 50,000 pesos (about $17) for Maldita's tocada, their gig. For we're in the Zona Rosa, the Pink Zone, at Rockstock, a club whose logo bears a suspicious resemblance to the Hard Rock Cafe's.
In comes Pato, curly locks peeking out from under his trademark gray fedora, a veteran of several vanguard Mexican bands; Sax, the youngest of the group at 22, is leaning toward a U2 look with long, straight hair and loose, gauzy white shirt - he's the purest musical talent in the group, and moonlights with mariachi bands in the famous Garibaldi Plaza; Lobo, a dark, leathery rockero, is the quiet one who batters the congas; Aldo, born in Argentina but now a full-fledged Mexico City boy, is on bass; and Pacho, the oldest at 29, with head shaved close on one side and exploding curly on the other, is the drummer, a university-educated intellectual, having studied anthropology at the UNA. (Roco too: he's finishing his degree in journalism.)
La Maldita huddle close together, sipping Coronas and smoking Marlboros in Rockstock's cagelike no-smoking section. (Dios mio! The Zona Rosa's even copying the latest U.S. crypto-fascist laws.) Their look - resonances of James Dean, Tin Tan (a Mexican comedic great of the Forties and Fifties, who popularized a Chicano/Pachuco-swing style), U2, and the Mexico City barrio kids of Los Olvidados - clashes wildly with that of the surrounding scenesters. Roco's wearing a pair of mammoth black work boots. He notices me eyeing them.
"They're just like my father's, cabron," he says, lifting his foot up and inviting me to tap the steel toe. "They cost 60,000 pesos, cabron - not like those European ones that all the ninos bien wear, that sell for 300,000 here in the Zona Rosa."
Maldita and other young bands, such as Cafe Tacuba, Santa Sabina, and Tex Tex, lash out at the Americanization of the Mexican middle class, a tendency led by media giant Televisa. This corporation prides itself on its nationalism, a tune that's made it millions and helped keep the government in power for the past 70 years. Yet if it's a bastion of national pride, Televisa also promotes "malinchismo," a term that goes back 500 years to the conquest: Hernan Cortes's Mexican translator - traitor to her own people - was named La Malinche.
Televisa's is a no-lose strategy: by backing both national and gringo, mainstream and underground, it's cornered all markets. But somehow the gringolike acts always seem to fill the screen.
Pato tells the story of the time Maldita did not meet Madonna at L.A.'s Club Vertigo. Seems that somebody told somebody that Madonna was in the club the night of the band's first L.A. appearance, in September. Though the band members swear they never met her, tabloid headlines hit home instantly - the blond goddess had given the sons of Mexico her blessing. Upon returning to Mexico City, they were deluged with press queries about their all-night party with Madonna.
"They wanted to know about her, nothing about us," recalls Aldo. Horrified - would Public Enemy want to be associated with Madonna? - the band called a press conference to set the record straight. "But it didn't matter," Aldo says, finishing his beer before he heads backstage. "They still ask us about her all the time."
Maldita bound on-stage, and start without so much as a hello. They play with a precise fury, styles merged, overturned, and burned. Ska gives way to funk, funk to rap. Running throughout are tropical rhythms as varied as son veracruzano, danzon, cumbia, and mambo. Los ninos bien skitter perfunctorily about the dance floor; a few sing along. But the energy is tepid - could it be that these kids don't want to risk tearing a thread?
Roco doesn't care; he's bouncing up and down, splaying his legs like Elvis being chased by la migra, diving down and nearly kissing the floor with the mike stand. His face flashes a grin, a sneer; now he jerks his head back repeatedly, as if he's being slapped by interrogators as he raps his way through "Apanon," a song about police abuse of barrio youth:
"En un sucio callejon despiertas sin recordar/Nada de lo que paso, te duelen hasta los pies/No traes chamarra, no traes dinero/No traes zapatos y ya no traes pelo/Sales de ese callejon, ODIANDO..."
"In a dirty alley, you wake without remembering/Anything about what happened, even your feet hurt/You don't have a jacket, you don't have money/You don't have shoes and you don't even have hair/You leave that alley, HATING..."
Jesus, I'm thinking, Maldita have blasted on the wind of a free-jazz sax past decades of balding folk trios, put the lie to the World Beaters by merging mambo, danzon, R&B, ska, and rap - within each song - exploding it all on-stage with the rage and rapture of boys possessed by the most sacred rock demons, and these kids (black-stockinged chicas, Mel Gibson chavos) aren't seriously dancing? After the set I discover why. UB40's "Red Red Wine" again blares through the speakers as Maldita's roadies break down the equipment. Suddenly, 500 Zona Rosa kids are singing along in English, dancing so cool. While the ninos bien pride themselves on their Americanized hipness at Rockstock, elsewhere in the city, a bunch of kids from Tampa, Florida, Nocturnus, are playing before another crowd, having been billed as death-metal heroes from the North. On Televisa, surely, there is a fake blonde reading the news off a TelePrompTer. And all across the city on billboards and posters hung in liquor stores, buxom blondes are tonguing beer bottles, sucking cigarettes. Looks like La Malinche is alive and well and as sexy as she was 500 years ago.
Yo no soy un rebelde sin causa
Ni tampoco un desenfrenado
Yo lo unico que quiero hacer
Es bailar rocanrol...
-Los Locos del Ritmo, ca. 1960
I'm not a rebel without a cause
Nor a hoodlum
The only thing I want to do
Is to dance rock and roll...
Mexico City intellectuals are only half joking when they say that postmodernism actually originated here 500 years ago, with the conquest and its clash of radically different sensibilities.
The tango, swing, and mambo each arrived from distant lands to transform the city's style. Even so, most of what was promoted on radio, vinyl, and the silver screen through the first half of the century was the sacred cultura nacional - mariachis and romantic balladeers such as Agustin Lara or Pedro Infante.
When the first leather jackets and Elvis pompadours appeared on the streets of the barrios, the over-40 guardians of culture burped up their cafe con leche. Nervous that Mexico City youth would arm themselves with switchblades and roar Harleys through elegant Zona Rosa establishments, authorities mounted an all-out assault. Films such as Blackboard Jungle were pulled from movie theaters; newspapers apprised the populace of the dangers of rocanroleando: gang violence, lax morality, and, especially, the destruction of la cultura nacional. Maybe the single thing the government, the Catholic church, and the Marxist left could all agree on was that Mexican youth were imperiled by the Protestant, decadent, and individualistic North. But bandas such as Los Locos del Ritmo, Los Apson Boys, Los Hooligans, Los Crazy Boys, and Enrique Guzman y los Teen Tos all had avid followers.
Most songs from the early years were covers either sung in English or awkwardly translated into Spanish ("Hotel descorozanado," "Rock de la carcel," "Pedro Pistolas," "Un gran pedazo de amor"). There was something absurd in all this. "Imagine thousands of kids addicted to rock," says Ricardo Ventura, a Salvadoran poet and rock historian. "Dancing and singing along to words that meant absolutely nothing at all to them."
Gradually, the translated covers of American hits became more than literal adaptions; Mexican rockeros began rewriting the lyrics. While these tunes were often fluff, the feel of the songs was subtly shifting toward a Mexicanness that, many years later, would come to exemplify the best of the country's rock.
Lest the old-world version of la cultura nacional be forever buried, the oficialistas made one final attempt to crush the rockeros. Elvis Presley, undisputed king in 1957, was their weapon. In what was probably an unsubstantiated story, Elvis was quoted in a border newspaper as saying, "I'd prefer to kiss three Negro women than one Mexican."
Headlines across the country!
"INDIGNACION POR INSULTO A LAS MEXICANAS!" "INICIA FUERTE BOICOT CONTRA EL INSOLENTE ARTISTA!" Radio stations sponsored massive public record-shatterings; "Love Me Tender" was yanked from playlists. But as Federico Arana, Mexico's premier rock historian, points out in his Guaraches de ante azul, the conspiracy was bound to fail.
"The story of the three kisses helped," he writes. "The reason is obvious: the best that you can do for a person or group to reaffirm their ideals is to persecute them and surround their lives with prohibitions." Ayer tuve un sueno, fue sensacional
Los pueblos vivian en paz
Nunca habia sonado nada igual...
"Ayer tuve un sueno,"
Los Pasos (Spain), ca. 1970
Yesterday I had a dream, it was great
The nations lived in peace
I'd never dreamed anything like it...
In Mexico, rock had become a solid underground christened "La Onda" (a hipsterism that survives today in all manner of colloquial speech: "¨Que onda?"). "Jipitecas" wearing auto-tire guaraches hitchhiked across Mexico on hallucinogenic pilgrimages, a tattered copy of Las ensenanzas de don Juan stuffed into their rucksacks.
Mexico's Woodstock happened at Avandaro, on the outskirts of Mexico City, in 1971. Up to half a million chavos de la onda attended the two-day festival, which featured Three Souls in My Mind, Love Army, and El Ritual.
The spectacle was a mirror image of Woodstock, right down to one of the organizers stepping up to the mike and warning the kids about a bad batch of LSD. The authorities braced for a riot, but the rockeros camped out peacefully under the rain with little food or warm clothes but, yes, plenty of pot and acid.
"The fact that so many kids got together in one place really scared the government," recalls Sergio Arau, who later formed Botellita de Jerez, one of the most important bands of the Eighties.
The government had every reason to be nervous. It was the first large gathering of youth since 1968 - the year the army massacred as many as several hundred protesting students in the Tlatelolco district of Mexico City. Since Avandaro, the Mexican government has rarely granted permits for large outdoor rock concerts.
For Carlos Monsivais, one of the Mexican left's best-known essayists, la onda still seemed more of an imitation of the North's hippie culture than an authentic national discovery, but with one all-important exception. "La onda was the first movement in modern Mexico that, from an apolitical position, rebelled against institutionalized concepts [of culture]," he writes in Amor perdido, a collection of essays about the Sixties in Mexico. "And it eloquently revealed the extinction of cultural hegemony."
By the early Eighties, however, Mexican rock was on the verge of extinction. A handful of bands survived the doldrums of the Seventies, and El Tri, formerly Three Souls in My Mind, was the only solid draw. The battle between English and Spanish, North and South, had been virtually conceded to the gringos. The city had a bad case of Saturday Night Fever.
The remaining bands looked for a way to prove once and for all that rocanrol was as Mexican as guacamole. After generations of rockeros had done their best to overthrow the cultura nacional by singing in English and bleaching their hair, it took a few radicals to discover the obvious - that they didn't need to go North to take back rock and roll. Botellita de Jerez announced the birth of a new sound: "Guacarock" (guaca as much a reference to the sacred national snack as to "guacatelas" - an onomatopoeic term for vomiting). Botellita reclaimed popular traditions such as the nortena and the cumbia, as they ridiculed American rock megaheroes and el PRI. Mexico City youth were rejoining their city and its history.
One begins to wonder whether rock is really foreign to Mexico City at all. Ask Roco, and he'll say that the blues could only have begun here, what with the city's deep ties to Afro-Caribbean culture, its long-standing love affair with death.
And rock itself? Where else could it have exploded into being other than in the biggest city in the world, where soot and sex and social unrest are legendary? Roco even claims rap. The music actually originated in Mexico with Tin Tan and fellow golden-era comedian El Piporro. "Just listen to the raps on the streets of the city," he says. "The vendors are the best rappers in the world!"
After Botellita, frenetic movement ensued: hard-core punk (Atoxxxico, Masacre '68), industrial-disco-rap (Santa Sabina), roots rock (the perennial El Tri and younger bands such as Los Tex Tex), dark pop (Los Caifanes), straight pop (Neon, Fobia, Los Amantes de Lola), and bands such as Maldita and Cafe Tacuba, with crazy blends of styles from North and South - all churning out Spanish-only product.
"There was an explosion," says Luis Gerardo Salas, executive director of Nucleo Radio Mil, a network of seven radio stations in Mexico City, one of which is dedicated full time to the scene. "Everyone in Mexico seemed to want to be a rocanrolero. People discovered that there was rock in Spanish with the same kind of quality as in English."
The "hoyos fonquis," underground clubs that spontaneously appeared in poor neighborhoods, were the heart of the new scene. Bands would set up in the middle of the street, running electricity straight from somebody's living room. "All of a sudden, you'd see smoke rising around the stage," says Lalo Tex, lead singer of Los Tex Tex. "But it wasn't from a smoke machine; it was the dust being kicked up by the kids dancing on the asphalt."
A childlike awe overwhelms me as we pull up to the headquarters of the biggest media conglomerate of the Third World. We walk past the security checkpoint, and wait in an antiseptic hallway. I glance at a pair of memoranda on the wall: one says you'll be fired if you're fifteen minutes late, the other urges employees to attend a seminar entitled "How to Enhance Your Image." Tonight Maldita enters Televisa's domain, for a live appearance on Galavision, a cable infotainment network. (Galavision is available on cable networks throughout Dade County.)
Televisa's history is a long and reactionary one. Though it is often considered synonymous with el PRI, it may be more powerful than the party. It is one tentacle of the country's most powerful business cartel, the Monterrey Group (owning more than 90 percent of television outlets, numerous radio stations, an important record label, and, to boot, the country's biggest brewery). If you want to reach the public, Televisa is the only way.
Members of the group lounge about smoking cigs, antsy to get the performance over with. "Our real audience is in the barrios, at the universities," Pacho says, a little defensively. So entering the realm of Televisa is a contradiction, right? "We aren't just going to do Televisa's bidding - we aren't about that," he scoffs.
The Marxist youth of the Sixties and Seventies would never have walked through Televisa's glass doors - except with machine guns. Even today, some look upon rockeros like Maldita or Los Caifanes (who've been on several Televisa shows) as "vendidos," sellouts. Maldita insist that reaching the mass audience is crucial. But what will happen on the day they decide to sing a song, say, about political prisoners on a Televisa program? Or burn the Mexican flag? Or use profanity on a single? A 2 Live Crew wouldn't stand a chance in Mexico. (A few years ago - before Andres Serrano's Piss Christ - a young Mexican artist stuck Marilyn Monroe's head on la Virgen Maria's body. His career was crucified.) While the TelePrompTers roll a few feet away, the band takes its place on the stage, with its elegant bronze urns gushing water, and its pristinely waxed floor. The newscast breaks for a commercial and, a few seconds later, on a talk-show set at the other end of the studio, entertainment hosts Rocio Villa Garcia and Mauricio Chavez (she an aging, tall fake blonde in a red one-cut dress, he a light-complected innocent in preppy sweater and black tie) shuffle papers and listen to the countdown. "And now, with us tonight is a group of fine young men..."
The studio fills with a loud recording of the only song that's received airplay - "Mojado," the tale of a father who makes the perilous journey to the USA and who dies "like a pig suffocated in a truck" along the border. The song's blend of tropical and flamenco styles is highly danceable; Televisa staffers crowd the plate-glass windows that seal off the newsroom, watching the band make only a half-serious effort to lip-synch to the recording.
Restrained at first, Roco begins jumping in place. This image is being seen all over Latin America, Europe, and even L.A., I'm thinking; but twenty minutes from now, it'll be back to the soap operas and wheezing professors discussing the Aztec legacy.
On the second song, the Veracruz-style "Morenaza," the band really loosens up. Sax spreads his arms and snaps his fingers, twirls about. Pacho and Lobo are bashing away on percussion - which, apparently, you're not supposed to do when lip-synching - you can hear the skins being pummeled even above the deafening monitors. Aldo plucks his bass with a vengeance. And Roco is now all over the waxed floor, collapsing his legs, flailing them outward in a leap, skidding and sliding...and then I notice it. Roco's black work boots (just like his father's), since the moment he hit the stage, have been scuffing the Televisa floor like jet tires on a runway. Rocio Villa Garcia is drop-jawed in horror. Technicians are making exaggerated hand signals, trying to settle Roco down. But he is blind to the world, on the verge of knocking himself out dancing as the song slowly fades.
Out bounds Villa Garcia, all smiles for the interview. "Roco," she bubbles, "just how is it that you can dance around with those heavy boots?" Roco looks down at them, and notices the dozens of black streaks radiating out around his mike for the first time. Before he can answer, Villa Garcia is already into her next question.
"Now just what is this about Madonna showing up at your concert in Los Angeles?"
In the late Eighties, encouraged by the success of such Argentine rockeros as Soda Stereo and Charly Garcia, as well as the birth of guacarock in Mexico, the labels began signing again. BMG's Ariola led the way, producing Mexican acts Los Caifanes, Maldita Vecindad, Fobia, Neon, and Los Amantes de Lola. A suspiciously supportive Mexican government also helped by allowing a few rock acts from Argentina to stage large outdoor gigs. At the Plaza de Toros in 1987, 25,000 rockeros attended the biggest rock-en-espanol gig since Avandaro.
In 1988 the hit that promoters, label execs, radio program directors, and rockeros had all been waiting for arrived: "La negra Tomasa," by Los Caifanes. The song was a slightly electrified, cumbia-ish cover of an old Cuban standard, and it sold more than a half-million copies - more than any other Mexican single in the 30-year history of rocanrol. It seemed as if rock's Latin hour had finally come.
Not quite. No other band came close to matching the numbers of "La negra": most acts topped out at well under 50,000 units. Maldita barely managed 25,000.
"There was a crash," says Jorge Mondragon, a Mexico City rock promoter. "People were saying that rock en espanol had only been a fad."
The reasons cited for the crash were familiar: lame label promotion, unscrupulous concert promoters, conservative radio, government censorship. Soon after the initial boom, pop-rockers such as "Mexican Madonna" Alejandra Guzman (daughter of Enrique Guzman of Los Teen Tops, the Fifties rockero heroes) achieved stardom, propelled by Televisa's massive promotional machine.
"Rock was taken over by people who aren't rockeros," says Nucleo Radio Mil's Gerardo Salas. "Sometimes I think that the whole rock en espanol movement was planned and promoted in such a way that pop-rockers like Timbiriche and Menudo would end up winning."
Pop-rock, one Televisa promoter told me, is most successful with the middle class - Mexico's strongest consumer force, and the bulwark of the PRI. Working-class "chavos de la banda," who are more likely to listen to the underground, are not part of the equation. "They're dirty, violent," says the promoter, who complained about violence at some of the few large-scale concerts (a violence, rockers say, that is usually provoked by the authorities). "The underground may just as well roll over and die. We don't want to have anything to do with that crowd, and we never will."
"Let's face it," says Giselle Trainor, an Ariola label manager. "It's not as easy to sell this concept as it is to sell Lucerito," a teen-star whose voice is nonexistent but whose legs and fair hair have made her a Televisa darling. "And if other labels don't start supporting rock, it's going to collapse."
Still, buoyed by the recent success of Latin rappers Kid Frost and Mellow Man Ace, rock en espanol supporters are hankering to cross over. And whenever they map the future of Mexican rock, one name keeps coming up. "Maldita Vecindad can definitely cross over," says
Billboard's Latin music contributing editor, Carlos Agudelo. "They're perfect to come across as a world group. And not crossing over in the sense of abandoning Spanish - they're just as good as any Anglo band."
Bouncing around El Lucc, a dingy concrete vault light-years away from Rockstock in the south of the city, Roco has his arms around Saul Hernandez, lead singer of Los Caifanes, slurring, "Come on, cabron, admit it. You guys sounded like the Cure. Ya no mames, guey." And Saul comes back: "Not everything has to be so obvious like in your songs. There's an interior landscape, too, cabron."
By the time Maldita stumbles onto the stage, the walls of the club are sweating; everyone's hair is pasted to their foreheads in the dripping-wet air. I inch my way through the crowd, slipping on stray bottles on the unseen floor below. The balconies are on the verge of collapse, dozens of kids hanging over the railings.
The sound coming from the stage convulses, lurches; Roco, Sax, Pato, Aldo, and Lobito are floating away on tequila-inspired riffs (they've been partying since early afternoon, steamrolling crazily toward a great abyss, drunk boys daring each other as they look down into the darkness and laugh). The anarchy doesn't perturb the crowd in the least. To the contrary: on the dance floor, a thousand bodies match Maldita's wild energy leap for leap.
Roco loses his breath during the melodramatic, held note of "Morenaza." Sax stumbles through solos, barely keeping up with the rushed rhythms; he flaps across the stage in his loose shirt, waving his arms, giggling. Lobito is oblivious to everything but his own private torpor, slamming away at bloodied congas (he ripped open his hand during the second song).
Punkish youths rush on-stage and rumble back down into the crowd. Now Roco himself takes a diving leap of faith into the mass of steaming bodies. Now Sax. Now Roco is pushing Pato, guitar and all, into the pit.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The band launches into "Querida," a hard-core cover of pop megastar Juan Gabriel's hit. Roco jumps skyward so high that he bangs his head on the red spotlight overhead. Saul Hernandez suddenly climbs onto the stage in all his tall, dark elegance, plays with the microphone-become-penis between his legs, hugs Roco like a long-lost brother, throws his head back, closes his eyes, and then without warning he too flies head first out onto the dance floor, where the slamming youths edge ever closer to absolute madness.
As the crowd files out afterward - punks, ex-hippies, ex-Marxists, kids from the barrios - Lobito is nursing his hand, bleary-eyed in the arms of his girlfriend; Aldo is downing more beer at the bar; Pacho, the only one who played the gig straight, is talking with a small group of fans; Roco is nowhere to be found; Sax is back behind the percussion section, weeping drunkenly into a friend's arms - in a few minutes he'll make a bizarre attempt at taking off his pants and then pass out.
Pacho is understandably irritated; he says this is the first time the band has ever played ripped. Maybe it's all the pressure they've felt for the past six years finally exploding into one cathartic, drunken orgasm. In a few hours Pacho will go to his girlfriend's house to sleep, because that's where he's sure to get a meal.
Tonight, Maldita have fallen apart. Tomorrow they'll wake up, hung over as hell, in the city where rocanrol never quite dies.