Viva Pomona 2014: Festival Report

Despite being the fifth largest city in the U.S, nothing really happens in Phoenix when it comes to the music festival circuit. What is fortunate though, is its proximity to cities where cultural production (in the form of events) is fruitful. We didn’t hesitate to take a 6-hour drive to Rosarito Beach a month ago to see Fuete Billete at All My Friends, and it was a no brainer to do the same for El mató a un policía motorizado at this year’s edition of Viva Pomona.

Although it had featured several bands from our “Iberoamerican Indie” world on last year’s lineup, this year Viva Pomona became a stronghold and acquired real relevancy in our circuit. Following the example of Monterrey’s NRMAL and Tijuana’s All My Friends, this year the curation of Vive Pomona emphasized the bicultural need of featuring bands from the region, and from down the border. While Coachella raised eyebrows with the last minute inclusion of Zoe as their Latin token card, there’s no cultural desperation felt in the curation of Rene Contreras and his Viva Pomona crew.

Taken place at the Glass House, the festival witnessed a mixed crowd of hipsters and alternative kids. On its first day (Saturday), the event had a discrete crowd. My twin brother and I had one mission: get as close to the stage during El mató's set. But before that festival highlight, there were some good surprises earlier that night. Guadalajara’s Dorotheo (who are on a west coast tour with Francisco y Madero), really sounded bold and blended nicely with the Californian chilly weather (for us Phoenicians, anything below 90 degrees is cold). If anything, Dorotheo proved to be entertaining and far less alienating than how they sound on record. Austin-based, via Monterrey Gus Goose (who’s put out one of the most memorable music clips of the year) showed just how convenient (and awesomely great) one-man acts can be at music festivals. There was warmth, energy, and rage in his performance –if somebody single-handedly embodied the DIY essence of the fest, it was Gus Solis.

The main stage inside The Glass House was uncomfortably dark, with what seemed like ten pounds of smoke floating on the stage. But no scenery or lighting flaws could prevent us from enjoying El mató a un policía motorizado. I had always imagined they would open their set with “Nuevos Discos” and they did. The restraint in this song might have angst a few, but once they released that “Nuevos discos, nuevas drogas” chorus, everyone understood the band’s negotiation with melody. The set was focused on promoting La Dinastia Scorpio, which is being released in the states by Nacional Records next week. Songs like “Mujeres Bella y Fueres,” “Chica de Oro,” and especially “Yoni B” sounded truly grand and transgressive. Not to forget the pulling of our heartstrings in the always-beautiful “Más o Menos Bien.” They sure made the trip worth it.

The second day of the festival (Sunday) brought about twice the crowd of Saturday (a whiter crowd, I should point out). That sure is unusual, but not entirely unreasonable considering the attraction of bands like Thee Oh Sees and Crystal Antlers. First time playing in the U.S., house favorites Los Blenders were terrific. Not exactly looking like the surf/poptart culture they often sound like, they were probably the band that earned more new fans after the festival. Their blood-curling performance of new single “Chavos Bien,” was the best individual number at the festival. Another highlight was Chicano Batman (with their awesome blue outfits and retro hair styles… yes, even the drummer’s mullet and the shiny bald head of the guitarist) who managed to be simultaneously classy and funky. But the nicest surprise out of the entire lineup was L.A.-based band Santoros. Excuse my lack of sources, but I just couldn’t figure out if the band was made out of Latinos or Philipinos. But it really doesn’t matter. Their awesome performance made up for any technical (the lack of printed programs made it difficult to move around the three stages) or lineup flaws (Porter) of the entire fest.

If there’s anything to change for next year, is to point out the lack of popular music. Not meaning mainstream, but a bit of ruidoson or cumbia would’ve made everything that much more special. And here is hoping the fest maintains the interest for showcasing bands from both the anglo, and Iberoamerican worlds. Because really at the end, those of us traveling from places like Tijuana, San Francisco, and Phoenix made the effort of fueling our gas tanks to support that foundation. Viva Pomona! could do well with all-California bands, but what ultimately made this edition a relative success is that push to attract that inevitable “latin hipster” audience that’s soon to arrive in bigger, more profitable ways.