Viva Presents A Chilean Women Synthpop Bonanza for “30 Days In LA” REVIEW+PHOTOS: Javiera Mena, Francisca Valenzuela & Marineros @ Multiply.LA 11/3/16 For Red Bull Sound Select's 30 Days In LA
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All Chile. All women. All night.
The gameplan that Viva Presents put together for Red Bull Sound Select’s 30 Days in LA at Multiply.LA was pretty straight forward: feature three of the most talented young women to emerge from the Chilean synthpop dance music scene; feed people free tacos; let goodness ensue.
First up was Marineros. The duo is made up of Constanza Espina on vocals and Soledad Puentes on guitar and drum machine. The two combine for a minimalist sound that is lyrical, melodic, and very chill. But at times, the lyrics trend toward a rhyme style and attitude that reminds you that they’re from the same tierra that produced rapera extraordinaire Ana Tijoux. These girls aren’t really in the same genre as Tijoux – this is synth-driven dance music with an almost neosoul vibe – but there are moments when you notice just a shadow of intersection and influence. Or maybe I’m just projecting.
If there’s a grand dame of Musica Latina to compare them to it would be more Julieta Venegas than Ana Tijoux. And much like Julieta Venegas, their music sometimes flirts a bit too closely with the anodyne. You’d like to see it get a little grittier now and then. But overall, for a band hailed by Vice as “la nueva promesa de la musica chilena” their set is solid and sets the bar at a solid clip for the rest of the evening.
The next artist brings a little more heat. When Francisca Valenzuela takes the stage you immediately feel a stronger presence. With a tall lanky frame in a tight leather jacket, she looks kinda like Cece’s Russian model roommate in New Girl. But unlike her television doppelganger whose skills are limited to un-PC insults and imbibing vodka through a non-oral orifice, Valenzuela is a super talented author, clothing designer, singer, model, and multi-instrumentalist musician. In some circles, she’s most best known for her poetry, where her credentials are legit.
One of her collections of poetry wasn’t just published, it earned a prologue from Isabel Allende. If you’re not familiar with Latin American literature, that’s kind of a big deal. And much like slightly older Chilean author Alberto Fuguet, she spent most of her childhood in California before moving back to Chile. Not that there’s anything relevant about that comparison. I just dig the parallel. There’s something creatively and artistically dynamic about growing up in a place like California, an incubator and crucible that both fosters and crushes dreams, and then at the age of 12 or 13, right as your creative mind begins to mature, move 5600 miles away to a place whose physical geography is the inverted mirror image of where you spent your youth.
Just think: Chile and California each have thousands of miles of coastline, tons of surf, shreddable mountains, buckets of avocados and kickass wine. But Chile is so radically different culturally and politically that you’re able to view everything – your new home and the old – with both the intimacy of a local and the creative distance of an outsider’s perspective.
Musically, Fernanda Valenzuela fits nicely into the synthpop genre that’s being featured tonight, but her music has a little more velocity than Marineros. It’s a little more weird and a little more fun in a retro throwback 80s / 90s kind of way. Her stylish and subtly brazen stage presence reminds me a little bit of Sabina Sciubba from Brazilian Girls … or the actual Brazilian girls that front the dance punk band CSS. There’s something playfully irreverent but still very warm and inviting about her vibe. You feel it in songs like “Quiero Verte Más” that has a strong uptempo beat. With the dueling keyboards behind her, it sounds a little like Fine Young Cannibals “Good Thing” with hints of an homage to “We Got the Beat”.
Valenzuela has the charisma to pull it all off, however, there are moments when I’d be stoked to hear a fuller sound behind her voice, especially in a venue like Multiply where the acoustics can make it challenging for a vocalist. It also has to do with bringing recorded sound to a live audience. They have a couple songs where the minimalism sounds tight on tape but when performed live, it would be dope if they ditched the drum machine and got analog with a full kit. Because the pieces are all there. They have this Footloose everybody clap, move your ass, retro energy. But whether it’s drums or a little more from the two, sometimes three, keyboards that are in the mix, there are songs that could use a little more punch and would have that punch if they allow some of the spatial synth pop to give way to a richer thicker sound on stage. And I think they know that because near the end of the set they seem to find or tap into a stronger collective energy as the dudes on the keys unleashed a bit to develop the heavier kind of sound you might get in some of Fiona Apple’s piano-centric work. I’m splitting hairs here and being a little over critical – especially given how strong the performance was – but I’m doing it because Valenzuela and her bandmates, all four of them, have combined to produce something really special and it would be phenomenal to see them break through to gain a wider degree of notoriety, at least within if not well beyond the radius of alternative and “world music” fans who are willing to embrace a band from outside the domestic pipeline.
When Javiera Mena takes the stage, she and her bandmates come out in fat matching hoodies. They look like pro boxers entering the ring with their robes on. Or maybe like a crew of Chilean house music Jawas. Heavy electro beats fill the room as two of the girls break into a tightly choreographed routine. If you can’t really hear or follow the lyrics, watching a couple dancers go OFF on the stage is always a universal way to get hyped. And these two ladies were letting loose. Arms windmilling around and heads whipping back and forth with carefully coordinated precision.
It was super rad but also pointed up one of the disconnects at a show like this. People were here more to “check out” the bands. But all three of these bands exist for people to dance and dance hard. Which doesn’t happen much in LA, especially when people don’t show up with that as their prime directive. But by this point, the house was full and Javiera didn’t care what people were doing. As she downshifted from harder beats to a more spatial vibe, her homesisters got a little more sophisticated with the choreography. The performance art component of it all is pretty sick and a constant reminder of how the crowd – under ideal circumstances – would or should be getting down. Bob. Weave. Pop. Lock. Jerk. Glide.
On stage it was all happening. Off stage, in the audience, not so much. But people were definitely getting down in their own way. Whole lot of schmoopiness in front of me. Girls and dudes. Dudes and dudes. Girls and girls. Really nice during these politically charged times to be in a space where love and affection aren’t self-conscious of any artificial boundaries. Really beautiful to see it all just be… normal.
Back on stage, the hoodies suddenly give way to an explosion of glitter and shine. Javiera steps out from behind the controls to master the mic while the the pro-jock ninjas in their sparkly gear just keep getting nastier and nastier (“nasty” is universally accepted as a compliment now, right?). There’s so much artistry and athleticism. It’s the kind of production you’d usually associate with a bigger venue. But it feels very natural, very organic. There’s a “get in where you fit in” aesthetic to the movement. And the relationship between Mena and dancers starts to come into focus. The dancing doesn’t explain the music so much as give it a frame of reference. The dancers reveal and double down on the energy that Mena produces from behind the board. Javiera as emcee is the marionette controlling the movement. That’s what emcees do. But she’s an emcee who sings. And as a singer, Javiera brings it. As her vocals turn it up higher and higher, the dancers move forward to do what I can only describe as a methed out version of the Rerun. Pretty glorious. I don’t know what the hell is going on in Santiago these days but Santiago has definitely got it going on.
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Music. Yoga. Literature. Languages. Water. Wood. This is the world in which I dwell as I continue my quest to keep it analog.