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LA La Land: Back to the future in Mexico

Back to the future in Mexico as a  post-rock house concert evokes the Summer of Love

San Francisco 1969 landed in Mexico 2019 last week. The time travel was accomplished not by a whirling machine or a gull-winged DeLorean, but by the music of two experimental bands at a private house concert in Ajijic filled with dancing swaying, laughing people mostly wearing modern day causal artistic Mexican, but a few with hints of tie-dye. 

The scene Thursday night was the home of noted singer-songwriter Yanin Saavedra and bassist Gilberto Ríos. The local experimental jazz-rock-electronic project Ayahuasca Beats showcased Mexico’s avant-garde post-rock music genre while a guest appearance by the popular New York electronic music duo Oceana Joos and Eros the Fool evoked the love and lyricism of a 1960’s San Francisco love-in. 

Ayahuasca Beats was comprised that night of Ajijic drummer Miguel Soto, bassist Gilberto Ríos, and keyboard and synth artist Damián Chalvignac.  Their instrumental compositions reflected the emerging post-rock movement growing in Mexico’s music community and seen increasingly in clubs and festivals in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Tijuana. Ayahuasca Beats played their unique experimental post-rock music with textual improvisation and instant composition combined with familiar rhythms.

The post-rock genre, which includes bands like Wohl, Austin TV, The Polar Dream and the Baja-based Meltí, explores the aesthetics of electronic music, textural grooves and ambient sounds.  It stimulates interior dreamscapes and emotions as well as the kinesthetic response of rhythm and dance. It is mostly instrumental and uses rock instrumentation while disregarding the familiar structure of rock songs. 

Post-rock requires substantial technical ability and familiarity with a wide range of musical forms, especially jazz, and compositions can often stretch to 12 or 15 minutes, as some of Ayahuasca Beats’ songs did.  The music stimulates hypnotic swaying and undulating movement in the audience rather than the head-bobbing sing-alongs often heard in rock and pop concerts.

Ayahuasca Beats was set up in the home’s spacious living room with a sound system, projection screen and chairs and benches for the audience. A balcony projector filled the screen behind the band with still and moving images reminiscent of the ’60s but updated with graphic video.  Dramatic mood lighting transformed the concert into a visual as well as sound experience.  A multi-camera video and photo team was on hand to shoot footage for the project’s music video.  The audience, which overflowed to the lawn outside, ranged widely in age and included Ex-pats and Mexicans and was sprinkled with children and dogs.   

After Ayahuasca Beats ended its set, Oceana Joos and Eros the fool took over to elevate the audience even more. An honored visitor to the Ajijic music community, producer/singer/DJ Joos  also founded the Artemisa Natural Product company and served as a producer in Guadalajara’s Tierra Estudio. Thursday night she was poised behind her equipment table and microphone and below the ongoing visual show on the wall, giving her room to move and control music from her computer.  She and her musical partner Eros the fool, a keyboard and synth artist, used electronic music, samples, ambient sounds and vocals to create whirling, swirling hypnotic trance dance music that got the audience up and swaying. The effect was similar to the “acid raves” and “trance dance parties” in places like the Fillmore West and Longshoreman’s  Hall in the early days of the San Francisco hippie movement, without the drugs.

The post-rock music on display at the house concert is well-established in Mexico.  I had attended a post-rock concert a few weeks earlier in Guadalajara’s popular club, C2Rooftop, featuring The Polar Dream, Wohl, Meltí and other bands.  Wohl had just returned from a European tour where they played to sold-out venues. The Ensenada-based Meltí band plays to an international fanbase in both California Mexico.  Post-rock bands have been featured prominently in the Latin-American Music conference, FIMPRO in Guadalajara for the past two years.

But for me, it was back to the future and déjà vu all over again at Saavedra’s house as I watched a beautifully tanned man in a sari swaying among the throng mesmerized by Oceana Joos and Eric the fool’s computer and synth-driven trance music.  The technology is different – no computers or samples in 1969 – but the effect was the same and I loved it.

Patrick O’Heffernan

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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