The annual South by Southwest conference hosted in Austin, Texas, has been growing in scope each year, which is great news for Latin American music. Many artists from the region are invited to play in the massive event each year, and the list grows with each new edition. This allows the festival to showcase a large diversity of genres being produced in Latin America, even some that have not been associated, in the U.S. mainstream consciousness, with Latin American acts.
Take dream pop, for example. The genre associated with British shoegaze from the 1980s has seen a revival in the past few years throughout the world, and a couple of Latin American bands will be at this year’s SXSW to showcase how they’ve reinterpreted these sounds and made them their own.
This is the case of Puerto Rican band Balún, who will play twice at this year’s SXSW. The quartet, originally from San Juan, but now based in Brooklyn, NY, has released a trove of singles and self-released compilations since their debut album, Something Comes our Way, came out in 2006.
The project began as a group of college friends trying new sounds, but it evolved as original band members Angélica Negrón, Noraliz Ruiz and José Olivares moved to the U.S. where they entered graduate programs in composition and musicology. Throughout their run, the sounds and machinations from the Puerto Rican underground and the studies completed by the band members have influenced their experimental, indietronica soul to form its own identity: a still introspective, yet danceable rhythm that subverts the beats of reguetón and dembow, and adds them to Puerto Rican instruments which give their songs an original vibe, and subdued lyrics which are not meant to be understood, but to completely encompass the listener.
This is especially evident in their singles “La Nueva Ciudad” and “Años atrás,” a preview of their forthcoming album Prisma Tropical.
Also at SXSW will be Ságan, a Colombian project with a short trajectory but already a huge impact in the national scene. The duo, formed by María Mónica Gutiérrez (of the jazz band Suricato and the experimental group El Último Boabdil) and Felipe Ortega (of the pop group Surcos) defines itself as an electronic live act that includes dream pop, trip hop and IDM, all geared towards building pop songs.
Because of the themes of their songs, and their choice of band name referencing astronomer Carl Sagan, Colombian media has dubbed their sound “cosmic dream pop.” But, regardless of the name, theirs is a refreshing sound that forces you to slow down to appreciate the atmospheric production, and the gorgeous vocals that accompany it.
Ságan was formed in early 2015, and by May of that year, they had already recorded and released their first album, Cada Célula, produced by Ortega.
But despite the briefness of their process, they have managed to create a sound that has resonated with listeners. In the short time they’ve been active, they have been mentioned in many “best of the year” lists, nominated for various awards for their music and their videos, and landed a show at the iconic Seattle-based radio KEXP.
For the Mexicans of Coma Pony, recognition came just as suddenly, even if not as quickly. The couple of friends Marco and Chuy formed the band in Chihuahua in 2011, and released their first demo, Pepper, in 2012. But things were not going great, and sometimes they didn’t even have the instruments to record or perform.
In early 2016, they decided to record their first EP, Pony en coma, which they released on Spotify in April that year. They forgot about it for a few weeks, and when they checked again, they realized their single “El domingo las niñas van a jugar al parque” (a somewhat surrealist title maybe influenced by the classic Molotov album ¿Dónde jugarán las niñas?) had become a phenomenon, with thousands of listeners and millions of plays.
Now they have the chance to play their instrumental—they don’t have vocals because they got tired of only finding terrible vocalists—atmospheric brand of dream pop, and showcase their repertoire of self-released singles, at SXSW.
Joining these Latin Amercan dream pop bands will be an Argentinian heavyweight: Altocamet. The Mar del Plata group has been playing together since 1995, and has accumulated a massive discography. They collaborated closely with Gustavo Cerati of Soda Stereo, one of the original translators of british new wave into Latin American music, and their influence on Altocamet is still evident.
Most recently, Altocamet released a video clip for their single “Somos tornado” off their album Más allá.