Best of the 2010s

The Club Fonograma staff have reunited to recap the Best Iberoamerican (Latin America + Iberian) music of the decade. This project consists of essays from ex-Club Fonograma writers and friends, along with a full list of our top 100 songs and top 50 albums of the decade.

K-Pop Goes West
by Blanca Méndez
The decade when Latinx K-pop fans saw their worlds collide.
Helado Negro and The Music That Let Us Exhale
by Julyssa Lopez
How Roberto Lange used his music to give listeners a place to think, heal, and recharge.
The World According to Natalia Lafourcade
by Andrew Casillas
What her rise to pop icon status says about our past, our present, and our future.
Generación Ruidosón: Creating the Sound of the Border for a New Decade
by Reuben Torres
On ruidosón, Mexican identity, and the ghosts of a generation.
Club Fonograma,
the Ungovernable Generation,
and the Pop Insurrection:
A Decade in Revolt

by Ze Puga
Understanding the socio-political (and highly danceable) last decade of protest pop.
The Brief Cuban-American “Gozadera”
by Stefanie Fernández
Cubatón in the age of U.S.-Cuba normalization.
El Embrujo Inconfundible de Mi Sol
by Verónica Bayetti Flores
On Rita Indiana's diasporic return anthem "La hora de volvé."
Déjenme Llorar: Thank-You Letters to the Songs that Held Me 2009-2019
by Phoebe Smolin
Club Fonograma and the songs that are my favorite places and my sweetest friends.
How Women Reclaimed a Space for Themselves in this Decade of Música Urbana
by Lucas Villa
A post-Ivy Queen generation fights for representation in a male-dominated genre.
The Night Dënver Gave Me a Future
by Richard Villegas
How Música, Gramática, Gimnasia changed my life.
by Sam Rodgers
The Latinx LGBTQIA+ artists who globalized queer culture.
How Spain Turned to Música Urbana in the 2010s
by Pierre Lestruhaut
Trap music found a new outpost in the Old World.

Club Fonograma Archive

Club Fonograma was a United States-based music publication established in 2008 by Carlos Reyes, and featuring collaborators from 10 different countries. The site was devoted to music criticism and commentary focused on global pop and independent music from artists of Spanish and Latin American origin or background.

The present site is an effort to preserve Club Fonograma's full archive, as it still remains a rich and exhaustive testimony of Latin music and culture from 2008 to 2016. Below you'll find links to pages compiling some of Club Fonograma's most meaningful work over the years, which includes end-of-year lists, album reviews, compilations, artist interviews, and coverage of music festivals.

Carlos Reyes

Contributors/Staff Writers:
Paulo Correa
Jean-Stephane Beriot
Andrew Casillas
Juan Manuel Torreblanca
Blanca Méndez
Pierre Lestruhaut
Enrique Coyotzi
Adrian Mata Anaya
Reuben Torres
Giovanni Guillén
Souad Martin-Saoudi
Claire Frisbie
Sam Rodgers
Glòria Guso
Jeziel Jovel
Monika Fabian
Cheky Bertho
Marty Preciado
Pablo Acuña
Stella Vásquez
Zé Garcia

Club Fonograma's Best Albums of the 2010s

     Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

The Club Fonograma staff have reunited to recap the Best Iberoamerican (Latin America + Iberian) music of the decade. This project consists of essays from ex-Club Fonograma writers and friends, along with a full list of our favorite songs and albums of the decade.

Here are Club Fonograma's top 50 albums of the decade. You can listen to songs from the albums featured in this list on our Spotify playlist. And also check out all of Club Fonograma's best of the decade recap here.

K-Pop Goes West

   By Blanca Méndez | Nov 26th, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

I still remember that night three years ago, sitting on the floor of my Seoul apartment, eyes glued to the screen of my laptop, nervously waiting for the clock to strike midnight and for Big Hit to tweet out BTS’ new music video. The seven-member K-pop group had by that point been the center of my musical universe for more than two years, and the thrill of the midnight release was just part of the deal. BTS had just wrapped up their The Most Beautiful Moment in Life era and the teasers for the new Wings era promised drama and lots of it.

When I followed the link to “Blood Sweat & Tears,” I was met with a cinematic intro that immediately signaled an ambitious undertaking. As soon as the music started, it was clear that BTS was determined to show a more mature side, and as it progressed it became evident that this didn’t just mean a sexier image but more experimentation with their sound and their storytelling. I emerged from that first viewing in awe and in tears.

Then I took a breath and watched it again because was that moombahton I heard? In 2016 K-pop? K-pop has somehow always been both behind and ahead of musical trends in the way producers reimagine and repurpose popular Western music. But moombahton, as I remembered it, was a happy accident which quickly turned into a very niche and short-lived trend. How did it make its way to the producers at Big Hit?

It turns out that, while I was pivoting completely to K-pop, moombahton, as a small part of the broader tropical house wave, had taken a hold on the West. Thanks to the likes of Major Lazer and DJ Snake (along with Danish singer MØ and everyone’s favorite culture vulture Diplo) and their hit “Lean On,” moombahton was scrubbed of its roots and repackaged as something ambiguously ethnic that white people could enjoy at a music festival. Then came the success of Justin Bieber’s foray into tropical house on 2015’s Purpose – which was wildly popular in Korea – and K-pop producers began injecting tropical rhythms into everything.

Co-ed quartet K.A.R.D. debuted in 2016 with a reggaetón-leaning sound that they’ve since embraced as their signature, but everyone from Red Velvet to Twice to Winner, Playback, and CLC has given the trend a go. Even rappers like Jay Park and Hash Swan got in on it.

And as these songs emerged, Latinx K-pop fans began to notice and to get excited about their worlds colliding. On the other end, K-pop execs took notice of Latinx fans a fairly untapped market. Huge and loyal fan bases had already allowed groups to tour in Latin America and special concert editions of countdown show Music Bank had been filmed in places like Mexico, where this cover of “Sabor a Mí” had fans sobbing. But outside of these special concerts, there wasn’t a lot of effort given to catering to Latinx fans through music releases until more recently.

Last year, industry vets Super Junior teamed up with Leslie Grace for “Lo Siento” and later with Reik for “One More Time (Otra Vez).” The collaboration with Reik went for a more adult contemporary take on Latin pop that felt more natural and fitting. In the time between the two collaborations, K-pop producers have shifted away from tropical house and toward Latin pop.

When BTS was making waves on the American entertainment news circuit around the time of the 2017 Billboard Music Awards, you couldn’t get them to stop singing “Despacito.” Later that year, when they returned to the States for the American Music Awards, they had already fixated on Camila Cabello’s “Havana.” While absent from our Best Songs of the Decade list, both songs had undeniable impact and were largely responsible for K-pop’s shift to Latin pop. BTS even enlisted one of the “Havana” songwriters to help write “Airplane Pt. 2” for their 2018 album Love Yourself: Tear.

Mamamoo followed with sultry “Egotistic,” which, like “Despacito,” starts with guitar and builds into reggaetón rhythm (and sounds like something Shakira would have done circa Sale el Sol). Similarly sultry (G)I-DLE took a brassy approach with “Senorita” earlier this year. But the biggest surprise came just a few months ago with De La Ghetto’s feature on VAV’s “Give Me More (Un Poco Mas),” which I’m still recovering from.

Just as the 2016 release of “Blood Sweat & Tears” was a turning point and a defining moment for BTS, this year marked a defining moment for the group’s rapper and dancer J-Hope. His remake of 2006’s “Chicken Noodle Soup” featuring Becky G, while not Latin music per se, is a cross-cultural triumph in three languages that, according to Becky G, proves that music is universal. Both K-pop and Latin music had a strong second half of the decade in terms of global reach, and as a fan of both, I can’t wait to hear what the next decade has in store. Maybe I’ll finally get the J-Hope x Bad Bunny collab I’ve been yelling about for the past two years.

Blanca Méndez is a writer and editor who contributed to Club Fonograma from 2010 to 2013. Her work has since appeared in Glamour, Rolling Stone, and Spin. Now she mostly cries over BTS. Follow her on Twitter if you’re into that.

Helado Negro and The Music That Let Us Exhale

   By Julyssa Lopez | Nov 22nd, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

When Helado Negro released his debut album Awe Owe in 2009, one of the project’s defining characteristics was its sense of space. The breezy opener “Venceremos” sounded like it had endless room to keep stretching out; languid ditties like “Ver a Ver” and “Deja” were short yet elastic. Helado Negro, an Ecuadorian-American producer and musician whose real name is Roberto Carlos Lange, revealed himself in the music’s dark expanses, half-singing and half-whispering in his beautifully intimate soundscapes that were both delicate and boundless.

Away from the safe insularity of the record, the outside world was practically screaming with uncertainty. The U.S. was still reeling from the calamities of the financial crash and the rest of the globe had fallen into economic recession. If you were any kind of young person trying to plot a future, things looked about as promising as preparing to go out while watching a tornado form outside your window. Anxiety wasn’t just creeping in through the cracks of the zeitgeist; it blanketed everything. Over the next several years, that panic would intensify, exacerbated by the din of social media notifications and relentless news cycles that never blinked.

However, Helado Negro would continue to make music that offered brief but necessary timeouts. Even when he indulged his experimental side, as he did on 2011’s Canta Lechuza and the Island Universe EPs, he never lost his sense of subtlety. He ventured further into electronic production on 2013’s Invisible Life and refined his skills on 2016’s stunningly complex Double Youth. What connected each release was tenderness and a quiet wisdom, as Helado Negro drew people further into the depths of his expansive imagination. His lyrics could be playful and his melodies often had the pulse of dance rhythms, but the subtext of his catalogue was clear: Pause, take a while.

Despite the comforts we took in the music around us, for so many black and brown communities, the period leading up to 2016 felt like a particular kind of gut punch. In 2014, while Helado Negro was on tour, news erupted that there would be no indictment for Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who killed an 18-year-old black kid named Michael Brown. The scenario would play out over and over again as outcry grew over police brutality and violence against unarmed black individuals. Then, Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric spewed out on the campaign trail and permeated most of the U.S. public discourse. He reduced immigrants from Latin America to criminals and rapists, words that seemed shocking but wouldn’t nearly capture the level of horror to come.

Helado Negro changed his calculus ever so slightly to reflect what was happening externally. He reacted with an indomitable wave of soft power: On 2016’s Private Energy, he wrote songs that doubled as love letters to his skin color and his identity. “Young Latin and Proud” became an anthem among Latinx kids, while “It’s My Brown Skin” was a prompt to embrace the layers that make and protect you. “My skin glows in the dark shines in the light/It's the color that holds me tight,” he declared gently. It’s this album that turned work that had always been poignant and pretty into critical, forthright expressions of our tenacity as a community and the potency of our shared paths.

By 2019, though, exhaustion had set in. It wasn’t uncommon to hear people share how tired and helpless news of the Trump administration made them; finding ways to recharge and stay in the fight became crucial for activists. While individuals tried not to let their spirits sputter out, Helado Negro had been discreetly tinkering away in his studio, working on This Is How You Smile, his latest project. Taking inspiration from the one-sentence short story “Girl” by the Antiguan writer Jamaica Kincaid, he wrote out his own course for self-preservation, drawing on past memories as well as the strength inherited from past generations.The standout is his stunning “Please Won’t Please,” where he lulls, “Lifelong history shows/That brown won't go brown just glows.” From beginning to end, the masterpiece feels like a boxer taking a gulp of water before stepping back in the ring. Helado Negro leveraged the space he had always built in his songs to give listeners a place to think, heal, and recharge.

In her brilliant book How To Do Nothing, the visual artist Jenny Odell makes an argument for finding space for oneself in an attention-driven economy. When the world around us is at its most cluttered and cacophonous, she believes a pause to take in our surroundings – particularly our environment – is one of the best ways to refocus our sense of time and place. “We know that we live in complex times that demand complex thoughts and conversations – and those, in turn, demand the very time and space that is nowhere to be found,” she writes. “In an endless cycle where communication is stunted and time is money, there are few moments to slip away and fewer ways to find each other.” Helado Negro has understood this deeply as a creator, and has believed in encouraging connection as much as he does free space. “Take care of people today/Hold their hand,” he sings on “Two Lucky.” “Call them up if you wanna say, ‘Hey, I miss the way we used to hug/We used to dance a tiny bit.’”

This November, fewer than two months before the end of the decade, Helado Negro tweeted a couple thoughts to anyone whose attention he may have captured for a few minutes. “Take your time, my friend. Tell yourself to be quiet, and in the mornings, sit in your favorite room. Write down everything you hear,” he wrote. “Find yourself listening to everything from that place you are sitting, everything changes the longer you listen. Windows open. Leaves wiggling and rubbing against one another after the wind tickles them.”

He continued, “The neighbors turn on their sink then off, and you can hear a slight drip at the faucet, then hear your bare feet rubbing on the floor while your hand has been holding your other hand and the folds of your skin make the slightest sound with the friction as you move them slowly concentrating on what you're hearing. It's your heart, and it's on time, and listen to it beating, and then tell yourself, MAKE SOMETHING.”

The message is simple and parsimonious, and it encapsulates what Helado Negro has given listeners over the last ten years through his music. During an era of trauma, of tumult, of too many cell phone vibrations, of children in cages, of ICE agents breaking down doors, of ever-present ugliness rearing its head, of natural disasters, of ecological fears, of anxiety, of the kind of unbearable noise that promises to choke out your creativity, here is someone reminding us simply to breathe.

Julyssa Lopez is a writer based in Brooklyn by way of Berlin, Managua, and Washington, D.C. She covers music, art, and culture. You can find her work at The Nation, where she is a frequent columnist, and the Nightlife section of The New Yorker, where she previews upcoming shows. Her writing has also appeared in the Washington Post, Billboard, the Guardian, GQ, NPR, Remezcla, the FADER, and more. She's on Twitter @jooleesah

The World According to Natalia Lafourcade

   By Andrew Casillas | Nov 21st, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

Only ten short years ago, I interviewed Natalia Lafourcade on the balcony of the Austin Convention Center; conducted during our annual SXSW coverage, it was the first interview ever published on Club Fonograma. In the decade that followed, Natalia:

  • Released the seminal indie album Hu Hu Hu;
  • Shot straight into the upper annals of Latinx pop stardom with Mujer Divina (which included a performance at the Latin GRAMMYs);
  • Released “Hasta La Raíz,” Club Fonograma’s #1 song of the 2010s;
  • Released an accompanying album by the same name – Hasta la Raíz – which won an actual Grammy for Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative album and was nominated for Album of the Year by the Latin GRAMMYs (and led to another performance on the telecast);
  • Performed on the seminal American music series Austin City Limits;
  • Released her highly-successful Musas album series (which led to ANOTHER Latin GRAMMYs performance); and
  • Performed the Academy Award-winning theme from Coco, “Remember Me,” which included a performance on the telecast.

Phew. Seriously, that all happened within ten years of performing “No Viniste” before a ballroom of laconic, half-bored music industry middle-managers (and one overeager blogger) in central Texas. Even the Kim family in Parasite would impressed by that quick rise in stature.

But this essay isn’t meant to contextualize Natalia’s music within the spectrum of the Latin American songbook. For anyone interested in that (and you damn well should be), I suggest reading Julyssa Lopez’s excellent NPR essay on the subject. Instead, as we close this chapter of Club Fonograma, it’s important to contextualize how one of this site's own achieved a level of canonical importance and what it potentially bodes for the next decade of Latinx pop.

For the casual Latinx pop fan in March 2009, to see Natalia Lafourcade go from playing the token “Latin” SXSW showcase to performing on the fucking Oscars would have been unfathomable. But even the high of that creative peak was quickly diminished upon seeing many U.S. media outlets (including one self-anointed “Most Trusted Voice in Music Criticism”) not even reference Natalia Lafourcade by name in recapping the performance. That is to say: that for many Latinx musicians, even some of the most popular and critically acclaimed, public discourse is still prone to ignoring your achievements completely for . . . reasons.

And Natalia Lafourcade is arguably one of the lucky ones, albeit with some built-in advantages. She started her career with a Sony recording deal and quickly developed a profile and marketing strategy worthy of the pop star 1%. And as Rosalía’s rise to global fame has shown, there remains whole segments of the media who will go to bat over lighter-skinned (if not literally white European) artists occupying the same space as Afro-Latinx or non-European, U.S., or Mexican-based artists. Even the most well-meaning outlets (including this one) could have done a better job at prioritizing non-white Latinxs in their coverage.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Latinx artists are greater able to seek success on their own terms – and in their own language – far more easily than in generations. Even ten years ago, it would not have been surprising to hear Bad Bunny drop an English-language verse on a Katy Perry track, or Cardi B playing hook girl for Usher, and everyone just accept it. But that’s no longer the case. The #1 song in the United States of America was a Latin trap song headlined by three Latinx artists. And rather than have J Balvin in the studio for a remix, Beyoncé jumped on J Balvin’s own song and made him the special guest for her iconic 2018 Coachella performance. Latinx artists can now suffice appealing for their own, predominantly Latinx audiences, and everyone else can jump into the line if they choose (looking at you, Grammy Awards).

Of course, there’s also the issue of “Despacito.” One of the global smashes of the decade, if not the century, came perilously close to becoming a novelty hit, resurging the talking point of “a new Latin boom.” Even “I Like It” and its boogaloo sample almost fell subject to the same trap. (For greater detail on that issue, I’d highly recommend Gary Suarez’s excellent Vice article.) Ultimately, however, those tracks were able to avoid “cultural fad” status. And the fact that general music fans can look beyond the novelty, and Latinx audiences have a space to call out media bias in the promotion and promulgation of white artists over their Afro-Latinx precursors or contemporaries, is something to celebrate. It shows that these artists – our artists – are operating within something bigger than a movement. It’s something that’s growing to scale, and will survive into the next generation.

And that brings us back to Natalia Lafourcade. To think that this generation – the oft-examined Millennials – has its first legacy artist . . . and that she was one of Club Fonograma’s seminal artists . . . and that such success was achieved without catering to a cynically created “Latin Explosion” or on the back of an English-language crossover (even her verse on “Remember Me” is in Spanish) is remarkable. Her decade of rapid success is unlikely to be repeated again any time soon, at least not while streaming media waits to fracture and consume us all. But to think that there’s a chance – an actual, plausible chance – that this level of acclaim and fame could happen to your own future favorite Latinx artist or band, that is what’s life affirming.

Think about that the next time you read an interview taking place on a non-descript balcony. Club Fonograma forever.

Andrew Casillas is an attorney and former Club Fonograma writer from Texas. Today, you can find him writing about Latin music for Rolling Stone and on Twitter @PincheAndrew

Club Fonograma's Best Songs of the 2010s

     Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

The Club Fonograma staff have reunited to recap the Best Iberoamerican (Latin America + Iberian) music of the decade. This project consists of essays from ex-Club Fonograma writers and friends, along with a full list of our favorite songs and albums of the decade.

Here are Club Fonograma's top 100 songs of the decade. You can listen to songs featured in this list on our Spotify playlist. And also check out all of Club Fonogramas best of the decade recap here.

Generación Ruidosón: Creating the Sound of the Border for a New Decade

   By Reuben Torres | Nov 19th, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

The 10s were a decade of oversaturation. Even before the streaming revolution came along in the latter half of the decade, my generation, that is, the generation that came of age in the new millennium, had for years already been bombarded by a wealth of sounds coming from a slew of avenues: p2p networks like Napster, Limewire, and Soulseek, the rise of mp3 blogs, and endless torrents. All of this allowed us to consume every artist and style from across history, in a way that no generation had before. We experienced a kind of flattening in our mode of consumption and subsequent exhaustion as a result. This proved to be a great source of anxiety for some of us who lived through the analog-to-digital transition.

It was this anxiety, I think, that first spurred me and a small cohort of artists and misfits to throw small raves disguised as house parties around San Diego and Tijuana sometime around the start of the decade. At the time, we had the lofty aspiration of creating a musical scene that would speak to our experiences as fronterizos, or border kids. Something that would wade through all the noise.

Up until that point, Gen X had been the only reference point for Tijuana. They were the first generation to introduce the border city to the world as something other than a seedy pit stop for low lives and narcos and instead presented it as an actual vibrant metropolis and unlikely cultural epicenter. They defined what it was to live and experience that geographical limbo, through literature, art, and especially music. The very notion of a true “regional sound” of Tijuana that we aspired toward had already been cemented in electronic music through the legacy of Nortec Collective, who would characterize the clash of cultures in their mix of house, techno, and banda/norteño music. But that narrative was already growing stale for our generation and it was clear that someone needed to break away from it.

That someone was Tony Gallardo. Up until then, he was a virtual unknown in the scene, because, well, there was no real scene of which to speak. He’d been making music as Unsexy Nerd Ponies – a kind of glitchy avant-pop project that was criminally underrated during its time – and performed regularly at our aforementioned parties. After a few years of flying under the radar, he began experimenting with guapachoso sounds. The sawtooth synths and chiptune beats in his songs were replaced by tropical rhythms, cumbia and banda samples, inspired in part by the likes of El Guincho and the burgeoning global bass craze.

The hybrid that Tony explored wasn’t especially groundbreaking, but it hit close to home for a select group of artists, myself included. Our generation had a closer affinity to American culture, as opposed to our Mexican roots. This wasn’t exclusive to the border, but it definitely felt more present there due to our geographical proximity to the US. Even though we’d grown up with the folkloric sounds of our forebears, they somehow felt alien to us. We were culturally uprooted as a result of capitalist consumption, globalization, and, of course, the Internet. But Tony’s approach made these sounds tangible again, somehow, like hardening back to some earlier, more innocent time.

The true seismic shift in Tony’s music came when he began to sing in Spanish, which for him necessitated a new identity. He rebranded himself as María y José, the names of his parents and also two of the most common – if not the most common – in Mexico. It was as rootsy as it could get. Through songs like “Espíritu Invisible,” “Tierra Sagrada” and “Ola de Calor” he spearheaded a new sound, which married the old and the new. We called it ruidosón.

It began as a joke, as it was never really clear what ruidosón was, nor was it meant to be, really. It was a sound, to be sure, and a series of parties. But it also sounded like something that’s been around forever. Like the name of a salsa radio station or a banda channel on cable TV, ruidosón evokes the soundtrack of every Latin American party ever. But really there was a great deal of ingenuity in the name, if you read between the lines. It described a condition, which we were all simultaneously experiencing, a sort of zeitgeist that would ultimately shape the way we made music: that eternal clash between the past and the present, tradition and relentless modernity.

Los Macuanos – a group I created alongside Moisés López and Moisés Horta – was the first ruidosón project to emerge after Tony’s. Our sound manifested all these aforementioned anxieties: political, technological, cultural, existential, even temporal. Early songs like “Alma,” “Ritmo de Amor” and “El Metralleta” – first featured on this very blog – defined what the ruidosón sound would become: ghostly, noisy, unsettling, dissenting, dark, made for the hips as much as the head. But more importantly, it was curious. The music of Los Macuanos, and ruidosón, always presented Mexican identity as a question rather than a statement.  Our first true successor, Santos, would later mold this aesthetic into even weirder permutations (See: Agonía and La Sombra de Satán), featuring a much more prominent guapachoso sound, true to the joie-de-vivre spirit of Mexico, and painting a darker shade on the debauchery of our culture’s eternal fixation with la fiesta.

But it was Siete Catorce who really took ruidosón to unprecedented heights. His music, the most abstract and formalistic of the lot, exposed what was at the core of ruidosón: a total erasure of borders.  The most sublime incarnation of his vision could only be experienced on a sweaty dancefloor. It is there that he perfected the seamless art of crossing musical boundaries in an almost alchemic fashion, going from cumbia to tribal, juke to banda, hip-hop to your hips, his twisted mind to yours, without you ever realizing what went down. Perhaps no other artist defined Mexican electronic music during the past decade better than him.

Ruidosón was our way of breaking through the noise, or rather, embracing it. We assumed the transformation – at once musical and existential – that came with the new millennium and new technology, by exorcising the ghosts that haunted us, of our predecessors and theirs before them. We built a new culture from the ashes of our old, so-called traditions through the appropriation and detournement of its most prominent signifiers, those which supposedly defined our “Mexican identity.” This conflict, both specific to our time and timeless, I assume, will be relived in the coming years. When that happens, I anticipate that we will seem archaic by comparison. Perhaps this is the way it’s always meant to play out. Perhaps we too will become the ghosts to haunt the generations to come.

Reuben Albert Torres is a writer, journalist, musician and audiovisual producer from the San Diego-Tijuana border. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Columbia University, where he completed studies in film and journalism, respectively. He has written about arts and culture for publications like Remezcla and Vice, among others. He served as producer and co-host of the podcast Intelécto Genérico––alongside Tijuana writer and theorist Alfredo González Reynoso––which focused on the condition of the US-Mexico border through the lens of art and politics.

As a musician, Torres has developed several electronic projects such as Los Macuanos and Espectro Caudillo, whose productions appear in films and series like Hecho en México (Pantelion, 2012), 1994 (Vice/Netflix, 2019) and Los Espookys (HBO, 2019).

He currently writes about New York City life and politics at Univision NY.

Club Fonograma, the Ungovernable Generation, and the Pop Insurrection: A Decade in Revolt

   By Ze Puga | Nov 15th, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

As this decade draws to a close, it seems appropriate to become more intentional as we process the world we inherited and the worlds we propagated. The cultural production of our era’s music, in all of its genius, contradictions, potential, manic obsessive excess, or dissociative malaise, reflects a time when we were forced to contend and respond to the banality of our brave new world, a techno-dystopian cliché drowning in data, distorted realities, and alternative facts. Meanwhile, a formidable set of upheavals presented genuine opportunities for all people – across genres and cultures, genders, and class hierarchies – to shake the habitual. Artists, music lovers, industry executives and consumers alike were forced to contend with, interpret, and navigate an era of precarity, digital transformation, and the culture of woke. This decade – the age of the polyglot – was a time of intervention and deep questions into the logic and processes of  consumerism and citizenship. The musical polyglots of our era shapeshifted across genres, eschewed borders, and circumvented traditions, embracing instead the turning of the digital tides. In 2019, even Iggy Pop (a previous generation’s Jack White) made a comeback with “Resist” along one of the newest inductees into the Club Fonograma pop insurrection hall of fame: Femina.

Musically, the most memorable personas and moments featured in this anthropological reverie (i.e. blog post), excelled in memorializing and celebrating the conflictual and deviant. Suddenly in an era defined by rupture, everyone, even pop stars, were encouraged (maybe even expected) to have a plan of attack, or at least a clue about the draconian, increasingly Orwellian global standard. Overtly political messaging in the music was not even the mood or the most effective means of attack. Take Cardi B, pop’s crucifixion of respectability politics: a sex worker, Blood, an already legendary lethal virtuoso.

The inaugural sermon of dystopian tastemaker Donald Trump, rich in distorted aphorisms and bursting with supremacist doctrine, perfectly encapsulates humankind’s biggest, current mood: carnage. Indeed Mr. Trump, without a border you have no country.

Behind all the noise (smokescreens, phone screens) nation-states, corporations, and emerging actors are duking it out for physical boundaries and virtual territories. Today, attention and allegiance are an essential form of currency and and our personal and social imagination(s) are of deep importance and sincere concern. If we can extract anything from this bygone decade, let it be the realization that we too form part of the battlefield.

The following noise is a catalogue of artists, albums, and records within the Club Fonograma universe that were swept up in the chaos and paid homage to our ungovernable generation. Absent from this conversation are the majority of musicians, artists, and communities worldwide who have dedicated their entire or considerable craft towards emancipation. We remind ourselves and you the reader that the pop insurrection we speak of is limited to (because of time, resources, cultural bias, and personal exposure) a set of moments and movements in music within the Club Fonograma milieu, 2010-2019. We hope this essay can add to conversations over the world about the complexity of human affairs under late capitalism – a testament of some of the best music that our peers were making while we let the nation-state burn.

The pop insurrection as a measurable concept and practice is a worldwide phenomenon. It audibly rejects boundaries and genres. Naturally, the memetic energy of perreo combativo or insurgent reggaetón is of paramount importance. If indeed all colonies are burning, the Afro Caribbean diaspora has responded decisively, maybe even instinctually. By now, reggaetón is undeniably the new modality of globo-pop, underscored by views in the billions on a truly mind bending dimension. As sunset falls on the 2010s, it feels surreal that the top of the pops, the world charts, are now dominated by Spanish speaking Caribbean diasporic artists. Reggaetón (and its more aggressive sibling, perreo) is inherently political. It is a genre cut from the outlaw / DIY culture of reggae and hip-hop, nurtured in paradise-islands beholden to the restless energy of prehistoric original peoples and self emancipated runaway slaves. Uncoincidentally, reggaetón in the 2010s is the war dance of anti-colonial rebellion in Borinken. In the eyes and ears of mi gente: sin perreo no hay revolución and today, not only is the colony burning, its subjects are interrogating and rejecting the illusion of citizenship itself.  Of superlative importance are the people’s reliance on each other in the absence of the state. In the words of Bad Bunny, the colonizers might be “in denial” but you know what? Estamos bien.

2014 was the year Club Fongrama documented what I call the pop insurrection, perhaps best reflected in Fakuta’s Tormenta Solar, an album which saw the DIY pop darling collaging 80s synthpop (“Guerra Con Las Cosas”), (James) Blakeian electronica (“La Intensidad”), 90s Latin freestyle (“Despacio”) with lyrics concerning animal liberation (“Mascota”) and fugitive lifestylism (“Fugitivos”).  5 years ago, this entire concept was relatively tongue-in-cheek blogging by an up and coming neophyte with a few hundred words to fill and a noble, aspirational brand of a more dangerous pop. 2014 was also the year that Mask Magazine published the indispensable A Year of Pop Music and Party Riots and while the transgressive energy of the party-riot persisted, the website’s domain did not. Al Jazeera, Vice, and Ultra still carry its detritus but let this be a reminder that like Beyoncé, you should be your own best friend archivist. My point then as it is now is thus: we need a popular music befitting the end of days, a pop music that sounds and speaks the language of Revelations.

It was late October 2019 and the illegal (and wildly popular) actions against public transportation fares in Chile had turned into protests turned into riots turned into over a million people manifesting against capitalism. Naturally, I turned to fakuta for her take on things and we got to talking about the response as the security apparatus of Chile unleashed a wave of despotic, deadly repression tactics usually reserved for its indigenous populations and unseen on such a large scale since the U.S. sponsored dictatorship of the 1970s. “Of course, the Mapuche cosmovision has always opposed capitalism and been the primary ‘enemies’ of the state” Fakuta messaged me. Simultaneously, she was also posting personal Instagram stories of street clashes in Santiago, plumes of pepper spray, and reposting memes referencing Axe Bahia (see: beso en la boca es cosa del pasado, la moda ahora es derrocar al estado).  Alex Anwandter was also at the riots, and I remembered me and cer of Marineros’s conversation in Wicker Park (2016) about the importance of chaos, destruction, and new beginnings. Watching Santiago actually burn (Adrianigual set the Chilean capital on fire for 2011’s “Arde Santiago”) through the social media feeds of the Chilean pop scene was brilliant albeit a bit freaky. The prophecy was coming full circle and over the next few days me and Fakuta discussed our precarity under global capitalism and how the dictatorships of the 20th Century had disguised their management strategies as democracies in the 21st.  “I don't think capitalism can save itself, much less save us, but I also don't think it will disappear so soon” Fakuta recognized. She was lamenting the (as of this writing) twenty individuals murdered, hundreds blinded, and thousands more injured by the Chilean state who have been shooting rubber and lead bullets into people’s faces in street clashes. Part of our conversation touched on the post traumatic stress again overtaking the elders who survived the U.S. imposed Pinochet dictatorship which ushered in the age of neoliberalism. She denounced the complicity of the right and the left in maintaining a despotic social order and celebrated the rushing street adrenaline fueling her personal rebellion and the “collective rage” underway in contemporary Chile. By 2020, the pop artists of today were sounding much more like the anarcho-punks of the 1980s. And as of November 12, 2019, Fakuta had reacted with the word “obsessed” and shared videos of military police being firebombed in the matrix.

Planeta No harnessed a similar effect in 2014 with their Matucana EP, a charming debut that oscillated between lo-fi charm, glossier indie-pop, and insurrectionary cool. The music video for Matucana’s acme (“Señorita”) presented queer, feminist, and gender nonconforming squatters running around Santiago setting neoliberal fetishes on fire, smashing the patriarchy, and reveling in the praxis of dangerous friendships (a concept based on the intertwining dynamics between intentional care, intimiacy, and sabotage). The heroines of “Señorita” finish a night of life-affirming vandalism in their squatted mansion – referencing the crime candy punk of “Casa Okupa.” Their 2015 follow up and Odio LP lead single “Sol a Sol” presented a sunnier, funkier hi-fidelity alternative to their punkish jangle pop but still carried the mutinous energy that had made Planeta No so appealing in the first place.

Club Fonograma’s pop insurrection found one of its greatest exponents in the iconoclastic club anthems and meticulous songcraft of Alex Andwandter. Rebeldes teased some of these concepts, but it was the superlative Amiga that established Alex as a political ambassador of Chilean pop to a global audience and went on to become Rolling Stone’s #1 Latin Album of 2016. Generally, the politics of the pop star – especially in today’s music industry – can be understood as an evolving, muted phenomenon that is part of the artist’s global humanitarian brand, carefully tailored for liberalized mass consumption in an era of clickbait cataclysm, manufactured consent, and digital dislocation. This could apply to Shakira, Latin America’s biggest pop star, who has remained transparently silent about the state of our world.   When asked by The Guardian about her thoughts on headlining the 2020 Super Bowl during a known boycott of the event by the likes of Cardi B and her collaborator Rihanna, Shakira caught herself. How clandestine is Shakira, really? In any event, credit is due to the visionaries and innovators who have stepped outside the marketable safe spaces of woke culture and plunged into overt militancy. Beyonce sank a cop car in New Orleans; riots, lasers, and stampeding elephants became part of Jay Z and Kanye’s street scripture; Cardi B described why people attack police officers and call them pigs in her interview of Bernie Sanders;  M.I.A. printed 3D guns and the floor plans of parliament; Alex Anwandter put out the call to set the State and the Church on fire.

Alex’s calls for “total destruction” might find more allegiance with the crust-kids of No Cash or Crass Records, but in the 2010s, as in the age of Stonewall, the club was the ruse and disco the dialect of the dispossessed. On Fridays, we set the work regime on fire is the distilled essence of “Siempre Es Viernes En Mi Corazón,” an echo of Gepe’s insistence on general disobedience and his refusal to become a proverbial working class hero on “Marinero Capitán.” “Siempre Es Viernes En Mi Corazón” was the first single from Amiga, an album brimming with anti-patriarcal vitality (“Traición,” “Amiga”); queer violent balladry (“Manifiesto”); and even a Juan Gabriel revival in the epic closer, “Te Enamoraste.” The album’s highlight is the elegant, post-colonial parable of “Cordillera,” an audio-visual odyssey taking place in a War of the Worlds, martian terrain where an emaciated, rugged Alex states the obvious: “quiero pelear.”

2018’s Latinoamericana delivered another set of politically aggressive (and masterfully engineered) moments of excellent pop, this time harnessing more Talking Heads and less Fleetwood Mac. The album’s first single, the daylight funk of “Locura,” found Alex driving maniacally with a shotgun on his way to (presumably) kill Donald Trump – reminiscent of Rita Indiana’s visual for “El Juidero” which also looked towards the dynamite-ready 1970s for inspiration. Guitars, funk grooves, and the opulent, majestic sounds of Motown constitute what could be Alex’s finest album, but it is “Canción del Muro” which transcends, connecting the bright pop of Rebeldes with the orchestral and political prowess of everything Alex has done since. The result is another anthem for the pop insurrection: an infectious call for the demolition of laws and borders and a cosmic proposition against obedience.

Even the beguiling Dënver could not escape the fervor of Chilean pop. Their most direct overture to direct confrontation occurred with the Cristóbal Briceño [of Ases Falsos fame (another political and polemical component of the pop insurrection] assisted “Concentración de Campos.” . In between the krautrock of “Arbol Magnetico” and the psychedelic disco of ‘Tu Peor Rival”, “Campos” condemned the logic of the concentration camp and revived new life into the old adage: everything begins and ends with you. Elsewhere, as esoteric as ever, Dënver alluded to the barricades and the expanding fire (“Revista de Gimnasia”) and even imagined themselves as bank robbing outlaws (“El Infierno”). Not really one for politics, Milton and Mariana (back in 2015) confessed to me their complete and total devotion to Motown and Black American music in general (particularly for Fuera de Campo). During this same conversation after their show in Chicago, Milton turned to me and said something about the Milton Friedman School of Economics and how here in Chicago, they (you know, they) had planned the U.S. funded invasion of Chile in the 1970s. Indeed, neoliberalism may have been designed in Chicago but it was first implemented in Chile. Today in 2019, millions in Chile chant: here neoliberalism was born, here neoliberalism will die.

Major recording artists from Mexico or Mexican origins arguably did not rise to the challenge in a way befitting the plight of Mexicans and immigrants in the U.S.: from mass shootings to concentration camps. This is nothing new as traditionally, the Televisa-Univision apparatus has been incredibly effective in enforcing uniformity. One highlight from the 2010s was Kap G’s fuck the police anthem which connected the fact that the functions of la migra and la policía are inextricable: the criminalization of captive populations. The rise of DIY channels, aptitudes, and technology did also give rise to the perennial chillwave of Cuco who has been doing more than most in using his #Vote4Pedro swagger to speak against immigrant detention and the separation of families. He also used his spot on Univision to wear his branded FTP (see: fuck the police) t-shirt but still, it really does seem like those of us who were assigned Mexican at birth can and should be doing more to step it up (including Cuco) in advancing a vision that all of us, regardless of a criminal background or statutory qualification, belong in the communities of our choosing – not in the camps. Such was the message of Miguel, who made the GEO Group / Immigrations Customs Enforcement operated Adelanto Detention Center one of his first stops along his War & Leisure tour in 2017. Miguel’s performance was his contribution to a movement aimed at defunding the police and prisons, a conversation he is very much a part of as a Black Mexican with roots in Los Angeles and Michoacán.

Mom (Julieta Venegas) did have her moment with “Explosión,” a post-punkish vignette of contemporary Mexican death: Ayotzinapa, femicide, and apathy in the face of annihilation. Reminiscing in the anarchist motifs of her time with Tijuana No!, Julieta’s prescription is didactic: may everything explode, rise.

Mexico’s crowning moment within the pop insurrection does in fact belong to Tijuana, the motherland of ruidosón. Ruidosón, a new genre of borderlands electronica, arguably came into full view with María y José’s beloved (and unmastered) Espíritu Invisible. The genre was sustained by Santos – a ruidosón “purist” and the genre’s superlative torch bearer. It was brought to international prominence under Los Macuanos who closed out the genre with 2018’s Epílogo, notably not a ruidosón album per se. Ruidosón was also filtered through the cold, spectral qualities of Siete Catorce but in the eyes of many, movements come in three and Siete Catorce (who to be factual was  already firmly branded within the NAAFI logotype) is often overlooked.

Ruidosón and its main protagonists are inherently political: they were creating spaces within the barren, shuttered, and horrific nightmare of the drug-war-torn borderlands from 2009 onwards.  The sound of ruidosón was never uniform and always shapeshifting and might explain why the genre has seemingly perished by 2019, but its basic elements shared and reflected the macabre reality of living and dying through the apocalypse of narcocapitalism in the 2010s. Its best moments transposed folk sounds like banda, cumbia, bolero, and pasillo and refracted their traditions through sinister techno, tribal, and combat electronica. It is the music that best encapsulates contemporary Mexico (so much so that “Ritmo de Amor” has become the de facto theme song for Vice videos diving into Mexican political and cultural affairs) and sounds like a disturbed DJ set at a ghastly fertility ritual (colloquially known as a quinceañera); a bullet ridden narcowedding; or a broken family party in someone’s backyard. More than just a concept, it was an intervention into party culture not just in Mexico but also in the U.S. and begged the question: how are we mobilizing against this trauma, what do our parties sound like living through a genocide? Ruidosón’s essential moments answered the latter and it sounds like dancing on top of graveyards collecting the bodies of a perennial holocaust, sediments of Latin American history, from colonization to neoliberalism.

In fact, Santos did precisely that for a Guerrero Negro x Club Fonograma video project which documented a performance of “Sin Salida” on a graveyard of fresh, post 2006 graves. Plan Mérida, the U.S. funded military assault into Mexican society- particularly indigenous communities and student and activist groups – was launched in 2006 under the guise of battling the Mexican drug cartels and has resulted in the deaths of over a quarter of a million people (by conservative estimates) and disappeared tens of thousands more.

By 2019, María y José had already adopted (and severed) several monikers, his most enduring being Tony Gallardo II, which delivered the gothic New Wave of “Juventud Guerrera”, which after our performance in Chicago, he described to me as a love letter to the Black rebellions across the U.S. against the police. “Juventud Guerrera” arrived not long after the Mexican military (using Plan Mérida money and protocol) killed, wounded, kidnapped, and disappeared scores of students from the indigenous Ayotizinapa student college in Guerrero. Santos shited focus (and presented new material under Dor+an) but 2014’s Mi Technobanda, 2012’s Shaka and 2015’s EP 3106 are essential ruidosón classics. Los Macuanos delivered the sinister hits with the brutal “Sangre, Bandera, Cruz” and the triggering “El Camotero” during the height of their international tour in the mid 2010s but had radically shifted their sonic output by 2018’s Epílogo, which found scant traces of tribal or cumbia but delivered heavy on the noise element of ruidosón and featured field recordings of street battles, military helicopters, fiery manifestations, and police-state chatter through the dispatch radio. The oppressive tension of the album culminates with “Soldado Sin Cara,” a true banger that flirts with tribal but remains devoted to the spectral, ominous techno of Silent Shout. As a solo venture, Los Macuanos’ Moisés Huerta became ℌEXOℜℭℑSMOS and adopted the anarchist techno hashtag, and plunged into harrowing “sound technologies” and “prehispanic sound artifacts” in order to address the “politics of colonization and occupation” through ritual.

As the political and corporate global order established after World War II continues to erode or fragment, suddenly, our age of mass surveillance and information warfare can be understood as a historical process of military expansionism and geopolitical strategy. It is in this moment of disintegration that leaderless social movements, motivated individuals, and yes, even corporate and independent musicians, can continue creating and leveraging the propaganda of the deed against authority.

In this definitive era of mass extinction where we have seen first hand the transformative and mind bending power of Black insurrection in places like Ferguson, it is important to reflect on the genre-defying, mind bending, and transcendent soundtrack of our ungovernable generation. Weaponizing the arts – performative, poetic, visual, sonic – towards liberatory and unforeseen horizons is in line with the heritage of Dadaism, tropicalia, punk and hip-hop. The novelty and power of our moment is that pop music – a music that can trace its origins to the Negro Spirituals of the middle passage and slavery; later hijacked by the minstresly; usurped by the corporate jingle – has been appropriated and can continue to be a physical, virtual, and spiritual form of resistance to the masters. What else could “Blood on the Leaves” be about? To hijack the words of  W. Benjamin:  we can use the language of pop music, “a language tainted by power against that power, to turn the instrument of the [corporate] state against that state.”

Latin American artists have been perennially criticized for allegedly yielding and bowing to American trends (and European standards) in the arts at large. For the sake of entertainment and its implications into the 2020s, if “Latin America” is to respond to America’s cultural lead, it would have to continue looking to the fertile grounds of Black cultural icons, the top brass in the pop echelon. By the sounds of it, the haute monde is also in on the uprising: Beyonce revamped her entire output and came home (all while paying homage to Malcom X, the Black Panther Party, and the militancy of Nina Simone); Kanye West used his platform to agitate against “the biggest factory of all,” prison slavery; and Kendrick Lamar gave this generation its first anti-police, pro-Black anthem of our post-Ferguson reality.  Not since the 1970s has “protest music” sounded this apolitical, this radiant, this strange. In the words of Ibiza Pareo “ondas oscuras nos rodean... sol y luz envuélvenos.” Without a doubt, into the 2020s (just America or Europe) the world will have to respond to the sounds of “Latin America”.  

Arguably, the imaginative dial-up of M.I.A.’s Arular and the throttling broadband of Kala served as architectonic ancestors to the current politi-pop landscape. Evermore criticized for “performing” as an insurrectionary, it seems appropriate to remember that within semiotic capitalism, anything can be stripped of context and yielded as a weapon. It will be up to those who take up “the culture” to either live to the premise of “World Town” (hands up, guns out) or capitulate to the A.I. colony, the digital plantation of the 21st Century. In the words of Lido, a garden begins with a seed and in this past decade, we have been harvesting and situating for the coming vivification.

Zé is a Chicago based (via Michoacán and CDMX) anarchist dedicated to the interrogation (and ultimate destruction) of the racist-colonial social management strategies of the global police-state.  

Zé’s work has been been published by or appeared on Club Fonograma, National Public Radio, University of Georgia Press, Northwest Medill School of Journalism, University of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University and through a variety of autonomous publications and disparate methods of DIY, anti-authoritarian, and anti-colonial cultural production. 

Zé grew up with his family, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins next to a garbage dump in Mexico City outside the Benito Juárez Airport and is a community-taught legal assistant currently working within the intersections of criminal, immigration, asylum, and civil rights law in the US. 

Zé’s interest in poetry, sound, and film continue to converge through collaborative music projects and a forthcoming debut album as a solo artist. 

Follow Zé on Instagram at: nilismo2000000