On a weekend as damp and cold as a dog’s nose, the mountains enshrouded in thick layers of foreboding fog, one corner of Bogota is alive and pulsating. Señor Vikingo spends the weekend at Bogota’s free rock festival, Rock al Parque, and shares his thoughts on the bands on show
Interviews with bands:
- Sacred Goat
- The Coup
- Atari Teenage Riot – Alex Empire
- Atari Teenage Riot– Rowdy Superstar
- Brain Implosion
- Ill Niño
It’s a rock festival, but run by the local government, with all the competence that implies. The overbearing bureaucracy forces entrants to pass through security check after check, somewhat akin to Danté’s circles of hell, until finally, shorn of dignity and anything that could remotely be a weapon, one passes through into the maelstrom of leather and studs.
A strange fusion of social posturing and heavy metal preening is the result, putting beards and flowing manes cheek by jowl with anti-taurino and cero basura adverts. Also, it’s totally (cough cough) dry, as The Man is terrified by the freedom inherent in musical creativity, so there’s no chance of getting drunk and misbehaving like actual rock stars. It doesn’t seem to have crossed anyone’s mind that maybe the little roquero kids are angry because the Alcaldía doesn’t trust them. Still, at least the Aguila Cero is being ignored and left in the corner, just as it deserves. Even at a dry fest, the dry vomit and blood on the floor looks more appealing.
Traditionally the heaviest day of the festival, Saturday promises a lot of noise and speed, if little creativity. The main and third stages feature a plethora of BLACK METAL, with nary an actual singer to be seen, while the second stage is all about thrash, as though it were still the eighties and we were looking forward to a Colombian World Cup.
Demolator and Blasfemia harry the third stage with pentagrams, howling and brutal blastbeats. It’s all slightly black metal by-numbers, but done with a fair deal of panache and competence. Ultimately though, mere competence isn’t enough to draw much of a crowd, who rightfully give a collective shrug of whatever, as the youth are prone to. These are classic fill-the-bill bands who you wouldn’t pay to see.
Things start to get going just before sundown on the main stage with perennial RaP favourites Nosferatu arriving in a storm of sludgy riffs and anguished screaming. The media tossers largely stay away, sipping on free sponsored piss (hi Red Bull, thanks for helping to ruin music), but the hordes of pure-metal fans are starting to get warmed up. Following Nosferatu come Melechesh, a musical oddity from Israel. Exiled from Jerusalem for blasphemous lyrics, festivals like this keep the band alive, and they crackle with an electric energy and rage, frustration pouring out in the form of monolithic riffs and searing solos.
The energy continues to seep from the stage like molten lava from a shattered volcano as Sacred Goat take the floor. Tiny lead singer Karin Ortega has a voice five times too big for her frame, ripping primal screams from way down in the gutter, seemingly from the pits of hell itself. Disturbing goat-based imagery fills the screens as the guitarists strangle their guitars, their warped screams mirroring that of Ortega’s vocals. Sweatstained but triumphant, they give a tenderised audience over to Serpentarius, who provide yet more brutality, despite looking like the Legion of Doom.
Sacred Goat took some time out of their schedule to give us a few words on the experience of playing the colossal main stage. “It was excellent in every way. So many great bands, both national and international, the production and sound were always impeccable and of course the energy of the crowd is brutal. We felt that this year the crowd really responded to us.”
They continued, “The festival’s been really dynamic this year, Rock al Parque is always looking to get better and better and I think they’ve done that. Especially the sound has been a lot better this year.”
It is the audience that really gets them going, “The best thing about the festival is always the public – without them we have nothing. We feel very privileged to have an audience that supports our type of music so much and who allow us to achieve our dreams.” And now that the show is over, what are the band going to get up to? “We’re looking forward to Putrilus, Behemoth, Tears Of Misery, Nuclear Assault, A.N.I.M.A.L., Ataque En Contra, High Rate Extinction, all those bands are brutal and unmissable”.
This is not their first time here, and they recount the previous experience. “It’s the second time we’ve had the opportunity to play, thanks to the convocatoria distrital, a competition for local bands to get involved in Rock al Parque. In truth, both times have been useful experiences, we’ve learnt a lot and taken some things away to improve and work on. Last year we were anxious but we didn’t realise the magnitude of the event until we arrived on the stage. This meant that this year we were much more nervous before the event, but at least we could plan better and make arrangements with things like lighting, set design and of course the sound. All of this meant that this year we had a great time.”
Of all the bands from the convocatoria, Sacred Goat were the highest placed in the line-up. They explain how that felt: “Emotion, adrenaline, satisfaction, pleasure, nerves… in the end I think we went through all the human emotions – we knew it was a chance we had to take to the maximum. Not only for the expectations of the public, but also the timeslot and the stage itself that we were on. It’s so different planning a show like this”.
Sacred Goat’s lead singer is a woman, Karin Ortega, which is somewhat of a rarity in the male-dominated metal scene. She lets us know what that’s like, “Well, the truth is I’ve never thought “I’m a woman”, always like a vocalist, like a musician. I believe that my opinion on the ‘-isms’ is that machismo and feminism are the same, but disguised. But it’s true that Colombian metal is still male-heavy on stage, however many women are involved in the scene in many aspects. I think that in these times to say that one gender, whether male or female, should predominate isn’t really necessary. Personally I’m very happy doing my thing, reaching my goals and improving every day. Like always, there are plenty of detractors trying to take the gloss off our achievements, but fortunately they’re a minority.”
The thrash stage, meanwhile, features an assortment of local and Latin American thrash bands, all of whom are awfully mediocre and stuck in a timewarp. In their world, music hasn’t moved on from the eighties, indeed hasn’t even had the benefit of the good part of the eighties. Topping them all come Nuclear Assault, who do what they’ve always done for the last god-knows-how-long. Singer John Conelley riffs better in banter with bassist Dan Lilker than on his guitar, but at least he’s enthusiastic. Unlike some international bands, they’re excited to be here, trying out some Spanish as Conelley leaps about the stage like a gurning competition winner. The classic machine-gun thrash riffs are balanced by the sped-up super-metronomic bass of Lilker who sways on stage like a drunk scarecrow in the face of a howling thrash hurricane. Interminable later era songs predominate in the early part of the set, although at least they close with faster stuff like Hang the Pope. Briefly, we see how exciting they must have been back in the day, and for that alone they deserve a mark of eight. You decide what that’s out of.
And so to the headliners, Poland’s Behemoth. The name is somewhat unfitting, as they’re actually quite effete. Like slender dark elves, they flit about the stage in a succession of medieval outfits and accessories, from firebrands to incense to horns. Musically, they don’t disappoint either, creating an atmosphere fitting for the dank misery of the weather with brooding bass underpinning doom and damnation from the guitars. It’s heavy and brutal, yet also strangely elegant, like a dragon aflight, which is probably what they’re aiming for. Singer Nergal is slightly camp, but that’s no bad thing for a festival and challenges the posturing machismo of the purist tosspots in the crowd.
Although still colder than a witch’s tit, Sunday features by some distance the best line-up of the weekend. The main stage gets started slowly. Ataque en Contra clearly take most of their influence from nu-metal. We had all agreed to try and forget that part of musical history, but these guys are intent on smashing it right back down our throats again. Like the sight of Fred Durst’s face, it’s something to make any right thinking rock fan gag. Vaguely RATM rhythms are drowned out by a combination of over-busy drumming and frankly appalling shouting. Like many deluded nu-metal kids, frontman Christian Chaves seems to be confused between rapping and just yelling shit about ‘the barrio’. They think they’re hardcore, bless their little cotton socks.
Genuinely subversive and political are The Coup. Led by freewheeling poet-activist Boots Riley, they bring a welcome sense of actual political involvement to the stage. Boots is just as effusive backstage, talking at length about how “musicians have for years thought of [themselves] as far more important than [they] actually are. We need to connect with people doing real things in the world, real activists. Words need to be backed up by actions”.
He goes on to talk about his work with Jello Biafra back home in California. “Diverse influences have always been an important part of my music. I used to listen to a lot of The Clash, for instance, and I think politically they’re pretty close to where I want to be.” He adds, “There’s a lot to do in this world as well as just make music.” He connects African music to Latin American rhythms, “Yeah, you know, there are a lot of similarities between the struggles I know from home and Africa, and here in Latin America. I really hope that Colombians can get involved with the world movement. I see socialism as an integral part of my music.”
“I’ve listened to a few Latin bands, but it’s my boys here that really know about it. A couple of them are really into salsa and those tropical sounds.” Onstage, while they might not be as heavy as some might want, their intelligent and insightful lyrics drip with venomous anger and righteous fury at the state of the world today – themes which resonate as much in Colombia as anywhere else. It’s time for revolution, and this Boots was made for dancing. On the faces of the oppressors.
Hard-rock, hard-cock purists sniff at the inclusion of Atari Teenage Riot on the bill as ‘not heavy enough’. For sure, there’s no detuned guitars, just an eight-bit Atari coded pure noise terror. This is the family friendly version, designed for big festival gigs, but two vocalists and someone fiddling on a laptop make a more intense sonic assault than anyone else this weekend. Giant walls of pure noise build and build into crescendos before being torn down in crushing denouement. Atari sound like a city being levelled, replete with all the intensity of brutal war. Bright white lights strobe the audience and Nic Endo and Rowdy Superstar rocket around the stage, jerking, jumping and dropping to their knees like insane electro-puppets. Eventually, Alec Empire comes out to the front centre and implores the audience to give him more. Again and again he goes, whipping up the crowd into a fervent maelstrom of fury and energy. They’re no longer teenage but still able to bring the riot.
At one time, one of the most beautiful men in noise, Alec Empire‘s once razor-sharp cheekbones have been softened by time and age, although he still exudes personality and charm in person. He claims that what we do and what he does are similar things: “For sure, journalism is like music. Some people write to escape reality and others to reflect reality. Both can be valid, you know, but really I want to concentrate on reality, to show what is the truth and how we can react to our life situation. Atari Teenage Riot was made to protest and to give an alternative to reality, but we aren’t trying to escape. We’re trying to inspire something different to reality, not to run away from it”.
He claims that Rock al Parque is a big draw, which may surprise some sneering snipers in Bogota, “yeah, you know, people in Europe really know this festival. It’s becoming a famous thing, I guess for the size of the festival. It’s incredible that they provide all of this for free. The Berlin government could learn from this, that’s for sure. I love that it’s free, and I’m really excited to be here. It’s an audience that maybe doesn’t know us, doesn’t know what we are about. I think we showed them some of that tonight, it was an intense performance. I’d like to think that they understood us”.
That’s an interesting point, as ATR are not big here, and their sort of music is not the sort of thing that the rest of the line-up is doing. We talk a bit about their music, “Well, you know, it’s not really music, I guess. What we do is noise, really. I’m not a gear specialist, I don’t like a lot of the new technology. We still do everything on the old 8-bit Ataris! Real old school.”
Atari are a fluid outfit, as Alec goes on to say “The band is the important thing, not the members. Of course I’ve always been here, but other people have come and gone. Boots and I recorded a song a few years back for the Occupy movement… when I found out he was playing here too we just decided to play the song live. That’s how we are. Then there’s Nic, for example, she comes from a background of avant-garde sonic art. A lot of noise and pushing boundaries, but she fits in well to the band. It’s nice to have her back. And right now we have Rowdy here with us, he’s slotted in very well and provided some new directions. He’s not a replacement for CX, he’s just a different musician”.
With that introduction, we leave Alec to the scrum and move on to talk to Rowdy Superstar about joining ATR. After swapping a few anecdotes about London, he discusses the band, “I’ve been with Atari three years now and I’m really happy. It feels like a musical collection, yeah? Like a conversation between all of us: Nic will suggest something, then we all chip in with stuff. It’s often hard work and there are disagreements, but in the end it’s all worth it”.
I comment that Atari still sound so angry after all these years, maybe that’s his influence? “Not at all. I don’t see this as angry at all. Not angry, it’s a call to arms… an ‘energy’ in our music. Anger I see as something negative, something that’s against the system. We don’t like the system, but we’re looking for something else, not fighting exactly.” We settle for intense, then move on to his music, “My sound is glitchy, real stripped-down and dirty. So it works well with Atari, because Alec’s never been about overproduced music.” He jokes, “Kinda like industrial reggae!”
The real revelation comes when I ask him how he finds Colombia, “I love Colombia!” he exclaims without pause. “I love Colombian food, really love it mate. What’s that soup with the corn? Ajiaco, yeah? That’s good stuff. My ex was Colombian, back in London, so I got to know a little about the country then. I find it like the Caribbean but with South American styles too. We visited Bogota a couple of years ago but I was so smashed I don’t remember anything, like”.
Over on the other stage, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars have the unenviable task of competing with the day’s biggest draw, and at least they’re bringing something massively different to the party. They regale us with African percussion and reggae roots beats. Their poncho-clad lead singer is wonderfully charismatic and all, but really this is something that should be at a different festival, maybe in more tropical weather and certainly not in front of leather-clad rock boneheads.
A convenient placing on the bill means Koyi K Utho have a surprisingly large audience to impress. Following on neatly from Atari, these industrial-rock zebras bring a verve and intensity that almost matches the previous band. Easily the best national band of the day, it’s an absolute travesty that they have to toil as understudies to the truly dreadful headliners.
Los Pericos close out the second stage, with a passably tropical ska-lite set that seems oddly out of place in the dark gloom of a chilly Bogota night. Apart from dubious attempts at a Caribbean accent, it’s the sort of set that a second stage should have, amusing the general public in a relaxed party way. It’s not doing anything special, but most of this audience couldn’t care less about music, so they’re happy.
Sadly for the world, POD exist. They played some songs, including that sort-of-a-hit (I can’t even be bothered to google it) they had way back in the early 2000s. Probably. Honestly, I could only bear one song before fucking off to the afterparty. How they managed to headline above the previous two bands is a mystery for the ages.
Monday morning brings with it some rays of sunshine, which should ward off the suicidal tendencies brought on by having the likes of Café Tacvba and Sum 41 to ‘look forward’ to. It’s certainly the case that non-Latin bands that come to RaP are often overpaid, oversold and over here.
The third stage is often the place to find good young Colombian bands with the hunger that most of the bloated carcasses on the main stage have lost and today is no exception. Brain Implosion get the party started mid afternoon, with a sound bigger than their stage and a rarely spotted six string bass.
We caught up with Jordicaz, sturdy frontman of Brain Implosion and Guerra Total after their brutal early show on Monday, just off the third stage. We asked him about the festival this year and he replied enthusiastically, “The day’s been super cool, the show was good so we’re really content. The festival has been pretty poor on the main stage, although strangely I’ve heard better sound on the smaller stage, very good bands, some of whom have come through the local competitions.” He continues, “It’s the first time Brain Implosion have played the festival because we’re a relatively new band… this is only our fourth time playing together! That’s not because we’re strangers, but because we decided three years ago not to do live shows. Rock al Parque is a great opportunity though, and I played here last year with my band Guerra Total, so I knew how good the experience can be.”
Brain Implosion were one of the bands that came through the convocatoria distrital, a competition for local bands to get involved in Rock al Parque. Jordi explained the system to us, “Principally, you have to work very hard, secondly you need a good solid sound and thirdly you must do all the paperwork correctly!” It doesn’t sound entirely rock and roll with that last point, and Jordi clarifies for us, “It’s complicated, and a lot of people complain about people sucking up to the organisers, but we don’t know anyone, and we still got on the bill. I don’t think it’s true, although the invitation from local festivals seems a little blurry. There are a lot of good bands in all the localidades, and in truth I saw two bands that I don’t think deserve to be here in this manner, there are many better bands and I think this was a mistake.”
What of Brain Implosion after the festival, I wonder? “We have an EP ready, and we’re going to be on some radio shows, as well as shows in other cities around Colombia. It’s a process, but don’t worry, you’ll be hearing about us!” As for other bands to look forward to, he admitted that, “Principally I want to see bands of my friends, Serpentarius; Tears of Misery; Sagros, etc, and closing today with High Rate Extinction and Putrilus, whose guitarist passed on last week. I knew [the guitarist] Will a little, we had argued a bit, but it’s so sad to lose someone so young. All I can say is that we support his family and friends right now.”
It is Putrilus who follow on an emotional day. Their guitarist, Will Melo, died recently at the age of 31 and much of today is a memorial to a man much-loved among what is still a tight knit local community of extreme musicians. More a celebration of a life lived than a commemoration; this is a perfect way to honour the fallen.
After the Colombian bands come the international stars. A.N.I.M.A.L suffer from appalling sound quality which makes them far too quiet to be effective, although the kids love their set, swinging as it does between various styles, not really impressing in any of them. Ill Niño are the closers, and they bring a fair deal of fury for an international band. Certainly not lazy.
Argentina’s iconic hardcore punks A.N.I.M.A.L are entertaining backstage, clearly happy to be in Colombia as they sprawl across sofas while laconically talking to us about playing the smallest stage. Rather than an insult, it was something they chose, as Andrés Giménez explains to us, “We had the possibility to play on the main stage, but for us it’s more important to be in contact with the fans so we can feel their energy and their souls”. For example, with our song GodKiller, it’s a commentary about the US and we want to deliver songs like that in a revolutionary and emotional manner. That’s not really possible on the big stage, with 100,000 people so far away”.
They’re obviously a socially aware band rather than a bunch of hardcore jocks, and they tell us more about their life away from the stage. “We’ve got a whole bunch of alternative projects back home” they confess, “other bands of course, but also a school for drummers which helps to promote music for children, and keeps them away from the bad influences that we sometimes have in Buenos Aires.”
After cracking a few jokes about Mick Jagger, they discuss the issue of animal rights, specifically bullfighting, which is this year’s hot topic at the fest. They make it clear that they are firmly in favour of banning bullfighting, “It’s a spectacle of death and humiliation. Those are exactly the things we sing in protest against in terms of humans, so why not animals? Ending this in Latin America would be a good thing, it’s already happening in Europe, so we should follow”.
Ill Niño are from the Latin side of New Jersey, and speak excellent Spanish. “We’ve always promoted Latin influences in our music. It might not always sound like it, but we consider Puerto Rican sounds and culture to be key to our sound. Latin Metal. At home we had lots of old salsa records that mom used to play while she was working in the house. So, from that, those rhythmic beats became something we try to work into our sound”.
On the big stage, Los Cafrés sound far too much like UB40 to give too much attention to, before Yooko spice things up with some much more acceptable Latin-infused grooves. They finish with singer Andrés Galvez brandishing a charango to celebrate Latin influences and musica Andina. Nice late afternoon fare that doesn’t make us think too much.
The second stage, meanwhile, is the opposite, Kontra El Sistema angrily decrying all manner of perceived injustices in the world, from educational opportunities to the cliché of bullfighting. All of the band are employed to roar the choruses, which gives a sense of riotous abandon. Guitars whinny like horses being poked in the eyes by needles and drum beats pound out like giant dying fish.
All a bit serious for a festival weekend, so the Basque Country’s finest slapheads Soziedad Alkoholika arrive to give a slightly less angry but just as charged vibe. Boisterous and bouncy, they’re like springs, but springs made of IRON.
As we move into night and the rain begins to fall, it’s all about the main stage, which is running on a good hour’s delay by now. Somewhat disappointing on paper, especially after the sonic fireworks of Saturday, it’s time to work things up and end on a high note.
Vetusta Morla are not the band to do that, providing an oddly glam-indie sound that would be great in a small club but falls somewhat flat on a giant main stage. If they sound sort of like The Smiths, Diamante Electrico follow with an Oasis-esque sound. Although no one really needs to hear a new Oasis, at least it fits the size of the stage, their bombastic overwrought posturing backed up by a drum-kit brought to the front of the stage.
If 42 is the meaning of life, then Sum 41 fall short, which is fitting, since that’s what they do generally. Not angry enough to do punk, not heavy enough for metal, not charismatic enough for rock, they score 6/10 in every category. Although far from being Canada’s worst crime against music, they do still exemplify exactly why music should be banned north of the Falls (with an exception for Leonard Cohen and Voivod. Neil Young if we’re being generous). It’s their first performance in South America, and on this basis, we should hope their last. They are however worryingly popular with the general public, which reminds you that the general public voted for Uribe.
And so to Café Tacvba, who close the weekend with a solid festival performance. Opening with Ingrata and resplendent in Mexican fancy dress, they then shift to a balls-out power riff barrage led by ‘Meme’ Del Real for a good four minutes, just to prove a point. After that breathtaking initial blast, things settle down to their usual funky, groovy Latin pop-rock, and much-loved singer Ruben Albarrán wins yet more folk on board by calling the crowd his parceros. Café Tacvba might not win many fans of actual music over, but they’re a perfect festival headliner: upbeat, popular and with stage presence to spare.
Photos: Claudia Paola and Oli Pritchard.