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