Pour On the Spice

New bands, new audiences and a taste of the future at Latin Alternative Music Conference

By Justino Aguila
Published on LatinoLA: August 19, 2003

Pour On the Spice

They are not household names: Circo. Plastilina Mosh. Kinky. Molotov. Natalia Lafourcade. Rabanes.

But they are part of a growing movement known as Latin alternative music, which, after years of a mostly underground existence, is gaining momentum with audiences and record labels.

This past week, fans, artists and executives attended the fourth edition of the Latin Alternative Music Conference in Southern California, a four-day event where indie musicians vie for exposure the same way the Sundance Film Festival showcases filmmakers. This year the event moved from New York to Los Angeles, which is considered the capital of Spanish rock, or rock en Espa?ol.

"Interest has grown so much," said Javier Castellanos, who manages JC Fandango in Anaheim, where some of the biggest rock-en-Espa?ol bands have played. "It's great to see more people have this much interest in the music."

Latin alternative is quickly becoming a genre that is fueled by a new generation of Latinos who are creating new sounds and reaching audiences throughout the world.

A sign of the demographic changes under way in places such as Southern California, this new wave of artists has the potential of reaching an audience worth millions of dollars as consumers.

Corporations are joining in with sponsorships, eager to reach this young demographic. Enrique Lavin, a rock-en-Espa?ol expert who has written about bands from Orange County to New York, chuckles when he hears that corporations are now looking to tap into the genre.

"It's a good sign that they are reaching out and recognizing Latino youth," Lavin said, "but it could backfire, too. Imagine Limp Bizkit being sponsored by McDonald's."

Latinos are multiplying like crazy, said Luis Tamblay, 29, lead singer of Volumen Cero, which often tours California.

"Corporations are now noticing what we're doing," Tamblay said. "They want to be a part of this."

Zen Grisdale, who attended an outdoor LAMC concert on the Santa Monica Pier, believes that Latin alternative is more than a genre.

"It's more of a movement with many musical styles," Grisdale, 26, said. "With so much happening, there's a good chance Latin alternative could become mainstream like pop music."

That's apparently the thinking at McDonald's, which is fast taking orders of a different kind by being one of several sponsors at this year's LAMC. The burger giant has stepped into the music arena in the past, working with such artists as Enrique Iglesias.

Friday, McDonald's announced a co-sponsored Spanish rock tour in November through Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York with established rock-en-Espa?ol bands Molotov, El Gran Silencio, Maldita Vecindad and Rabanes.

What makes the move different from anything McDonald's has ever done is that some of these bands offer adult-themed lyrics with references and expletives that don't speak well of gays, mothers and the undocumented, most notably in the case of Mexico's Molotov.

Molotov has been attached to controversy and accused of being homophobic. Band members have publicly said they use words to evoke social messages that are not meant to hurt anyone.

"Some words may seem offensive, but they're not being used in that context," said Max Gallegos, 32, director of marketing for McDonald's USA, which spearheaded the Spanish-rock project. When this campaign was pitched to executives, "they probably thought they were going to get Ricky Martin. Instead they got "lyrics that are not apple pie, but in its true essence you can't pass judgment."

In other words, Gallegos said, reaching out to a younger audience that could ultimately be lifetime customers for McDonald's is key to business and growth. And these connections are often made emotionally through music.

Back at the Beverly Hilton, the LAMC headquarters, Latino rockers were in town through the weekend attending panels, workshops and concerts. Many artists were trying to get published or secure a record-label deal.

"It's like an invasion of Latinos," said Mirna Aceituno, who flew from Chicago. "I've been at this hotel for events (and) it's very white and upscale. To see all these Latinos with tattoos, funky hair and glasses is hilarious. I didn't expect to see this many people."

As the Latino population reaches 40 million, according to the U.S. Census, Spanish rock is finding better footing within the industry.

Tomas Cookman, who books bands for LAMC and manages acts such as Fabulosos Cadillacs and La Ley, wants to see the genre get the respect it deserves.

The idea is to give bands exposure, Cookman said. A Santa Monica Pier concert "may be seen by someone who was just walking by. "But they may be attracted to the music. That's all that matters."

About Justino Aguila:
Originally published in the Orange County Register at http://www2.ocregister.com/ocrweb/ocr/article.do?id=52663§ion=SHOW&subsection=MUSIC&year=2003&month=8&day=18
Photo: Mindy Schauer

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