Festival Nrmal, Part 1: El Evangelio

Picture by Pierre Lestruhaut



It’s no mystery that this site has repeatedly stated its own admiration for Festival NRMAL and the kind of line-ups that they’ve put together over the past three years. I’ll point out the obvious: the curation is so good that it just makes other festivals on the continent look like overpriced crowd-getters where smaller acts have to play in front of a crowd who’s just waiting to see a big band that’s playing in the city for the first time in 10 or 20 years. And I mean what kind of crowd-getters does this festival have anyway? Ariel Pink and Sky Ferreira for people who only read Pitchfork? Brujería for old-timer metalheads? And ignoring Todd P‘s American-centric vindication of the festival, this is a solid forward-thinking platform that showcases plenty of emerging Latin acts. But then I think about my own self-centeredness and realize perhaps I’m only validating an event because it aligns itself with most of my own musical taste. And then I wonder, if I might be traveling too much just for something that could be another excuse for twentysomethings to get wasted... 


Finally reunited with half of the rest of the Fonograma crew that was coming into Monterrey (Enrique Coyotzi and Souad Martin-Saoudi), the festival started for us at Sergio’s for the Vale Vergas Discos Showcase. Selma Oxor put on a show inclining toward electronic abrasion and disruptive sexiness, though I still have a bit of trouble getting around her whole electroclash aesthetic. It was Soledad that really fucking owned the night, though. Before the show, I hadn’t heard more than a couple songs that I thought were pretty decent, but on Wednesday they were a sharply different band from the one I remembered: pretty much the kind that reminds you how much a guitar, a freakin tom-tom drum, and a whole lot of talent are enough to make a show that’s both intimate and wild. Back at the hotel, Coyotzi and I talked about how wrong we both were to have completely slept on their previous EP Fe. Now that I had the chance to give it a few more listens, I kinda already miss the band that played at Sergio’s.


Someone else will probably have a more elaborated reflection on the Chilena Banda Showcase that took place at Gómez on Friday and that featured Fakuta, Gepe, MKRNI and Alex Anwandter. I’ll just go ahead and point out that having these amazing musicians from the other end of the continent playing at an acute-angled corner in an outdoor venue was seriously one of the most unreasonable things I’ve seen in my own sparse experiences with live music. I mean, sure, seeing Gepe and Anwandter was something close to a fucking dream come true, but, come on you guys, these dudes deserve an actual stage where they can actually do their thing, not that claustrophobic attempt at a stage that they ended up playing at.


On to the actual festival on Saturday, after CF favorites Ave Negra, Capullo, and Matilda Manzana pulled out good (though very short sets) in front of small crowds in the early hours, Escenarios Rojo y Azul had a pretty good series of erection-inducing guitar acts for which my own expectations were high. Tijuana’s San Pedro El Cortez were the kind of act that lights up any crowd with just a few chords and a good dose of strident on-stage energy. Sure, they also thrive on own goofy on-stage antics, which just adds the kind of positive carelessness that makes for good visceral live rock. And, seriously, this was stuff that fluctuated between raucous and psychoactive, hysterical and resolute. In short, this shit spoke to me on many levels.

After that, Chilean psych-rock band The Holydrug Couple were pretty much the kind of mid-tempo dreamy rock band you’d expect them to be (which, fine, their record is quite good but I prefer falling asleep to them on my headphones and not at a festival venue). Then Protistas had to face the challenge of playing after Brooklyn act Parquet Courts (who pretty much pulled the best set of the afternoon) and deal with the bass-heavy sound at Escenario Rojo. Even though they were a bit short on the vivacity that has characterized so much their own recordings (maybe because you just couldn’t hear their guitars and Álvaro Solar’s singing that much), the rockist in my heart went on to accept the fact that well-rehearsed rock is mostly about hearing the songs you love, and I was reminded of how much I really fucking love Protistas. And how much I still fucking love guitars in general.


Contrary to popular belief, in the evening, the magic was happening over at the Panamérika stage (or at least I’d like to think). I chose not to believe the Sky Ferreira hype and stood around for the entirety of White Ninja's loin-awakening series of mid-tempo sonic, soul-wrenching grooves. Since their set was made almost entirely out of Sounds Like Cocoon Fever hits (which, awesome!) I’ll be lazy and just steal a few lines from Carlos Reyes’ awesome review of it to describe what the show was like: “With sweaty grooves dripping into slow-burning acid, White Ninja’s flirtations with wavelength allocate the act as part of the exciting group of artists pulsating rhythm into faded synth-pop memories.” Still, hearing it live, this was some seriously penetrating stuff. The kind that magically reconciles the struggle between ethereal electronica and heartfelt soul.


Almost every person I have talked to that has been to a Mueran Humanos show has told me of how an absolute must see it is, which is why I was surprised that Enrique Coyotzi was the only one of the Fonograma crew next to me when the show started. Although it’ll sound like a terrible cliché, the show the Argentine duo living in Berlin put on for us was the sort of climactic event the festival needed. And what will sound like an even more terrible cliché is how much words are lacking to describe the emotions elicited by their show. There’s a French idiom that refers to the orgasm as “la petite mort” (the little death), and listening Mueran Humanos play live with such a collision of energy, anger, pleasure, and sexuality, was conflicting on so many levels simply because of how their music so overwhelmingly depicts both pleasure and pain. I don’t really like singing along, but for some reason I found myself disturbingly shouting “Tu madre dice que eres basura” in front of Tomás Nochteff, and then immediately after that I was almost gushing because of how discordantly beautiful their music is.


The most unanimously loved act around CF headquarters, María y José, saw the whole Fonograma male contingent at NRMAL reunited under the tent at Panamérica stage to see his performance. That being said, expectations were high as fuck. And Tony delivered. As he lit up a fire under that tent and induced his crowd into the biggest collective dance I experienced during the fest, we saw every facet of Tony’s artistic persona right in front of your eyes: the unknown kid from Tijuana singing over laptop beats, the internet-era enfant terrible as he dissed Ariel Pink, the eccentric self-worshiping artist, the refined music fan he became with his Tony Gallardo II persona, the elegant songwriter and crooner with his slower songs, and obviously the party starter that he’s always been. As I enjoyed seeing Tony unfolding every angle of his music that I love, and as I danced with the rest of the Fonograma crew and a few other friends, I could swear that, for a moment, Carlos Reyes was dancing with us too.


Out of mostly morbid curiosity Enrique, Adrian and I quite wrongfully left the Panamérika stage where Nguzunguzu were soothingly growing their set into a true muscle-challenging dance and decided to go across the border from Latino Hipster Land into the ghoulish darkness of Latino Metal Land over at Escenario Negro to catch Brujería. The huge blanket on top of the stage that read “TODOS SOMOS PRESOS” was probably a motto that a 16-year-old social reject that gets into metal for rebellious reasons might have found interesting, which quite curiously fits the profile of the people I would think are into a band like Brujería. I’ll go ahead and admit that I really don’t know shit about metal, to the point I just had to go into Wikipedia to figure out which subgenre Brujería fits into (Death metal?), so if I piss off any metal fans just know that my criteria here isn’t to be trusted any more than that of the kids who bought a ticket to the festival just to catch Sky Ferreira. That said, even accepting my own ignorance on the subject, it’s hard for me to really see the band as being musically or artistically interesting in any way. It seems to me Brujería isn’t much more than a politically thoughtless, culturally equivocated band that’s trying too hard to still be subversive some 15 years from when it actually stopped being, if it ever was.


Half an hour after Adrian politely declined our invitation to continue to see Brujería after he had heard about 30 seconds of it, Enrique and I proceeded to leave Escenario Negro as well. And as fatigue defeated our own thirst to hear more music, the fusing echo of Juan Brujo’s own riotous fantasy, Javier Estrada’s all-referencing global bass, and Daniel Maloso’s cold disco were the last sounds that I heard at Festival NRMAL. By then my own thirst to hear good music played live had probably been satiated for at least another year, and I could finally leave Monterrey having fulfilled my selfish need for cultural consumption.