New Weird South America “started half as a joke,” says Guillermo M. Cerredo. Originally a Facebook group founded by Cerredo, co-head of Pakapi Records and member of the group Panchasila, New Weird South America was intended to be a space for his music-minded friends to share their findings before evolving into an all-out portal for the South American avant-garde.
From New Weird South America’s blog and mixtape, as well as through a network of labels and artists from the region, you’ll find kaleidoscopic sounds that range from homemade field recordings to pummeling industrial cumbia to darkly psychedelic drones. It’s as diverse as the vast continent itself, reflecting its towering Andean mountains, rural communities and sprawling megacities.
In 2018, London label Discrepant founder Gonçalo F. Cardoso released a four tape run New Weird South America on Discrepant sub-label Sucata Tapes. Leading the pack is an album of Panchasila’s grainy, swirling cumbia dub. The other three tapes are more compact but no less engrossing. Tomás Tello has crafted an exceptional mixtape of Andean music, including some of his own tracks, stitched together with the static of radio transmissions. Los Siquicos Litoraleños’ entry explores similar territory with an imagined radio recording of their own freeform folk. The run is completed by a triple tape split shared between Bardo Todol, M.M. Peres and Úgjü Sectas who channel the esoteric sound worlds of Argentinian noise, improvisation and field recordings. This is, unsurprisingly, where things get truly weird.
But what does “weird” mean in this instance?
For Cardoso, it’s music that doesn’t fit a logical narrative, instead representing the messiness of music assembled from seemingly incongruous sources. “In South America, you get bombarded by music everywhere. It’s a cacophony and it’s often about who’s the loudest,” he says. “What these guys are doing is using all of those influences from their continent [like cumbia, reggaeton, salsa] and making it their own.”
Cardoso nailed down the shape and direction of the releases while visiting the continent from September 2017 to January 2018. He landed in Bolivia before moving through Peru, Ecuador, the Amazon and then traveling down the Brazilian coast. The majority of his musical exploration, at least, was concentrated in three major cities. He hung out with Luis Alvarado, head of Buh Records, in Lima, Nico Kokote of psych-folk group Los Siquicos Litoraleños in La Pas and Eblis Alvarez of The Meridian Brothers in Bogotá.
“For me, it’s literally the tip of the iceberg,” Cardoso says. “What I’m trying to do is get it to a different audience.” He describes various South American cities where there’s a palpable hunger for the free-willed experimentation he’s focused on but little revenue for artists. Shows are well attended in places such as Lima yet few people are buying the music; often, the music won’t see a physical release at all. Instead, it’s hosted on Bandcamp or burnt to CDRs and passed around for people to rip. “There’s no distribution,” he says. “In terms of a market for records, it’s miniscule.”
In spite of such a hurdle, the Buenos Aires-based label Pakapi Records has amassed a sizable catalogue of digital releases since 2012. Alongside single-artist albums, Cerredo and his label co-founder and Panchasila bandmate, Juan José Calarco, have released a string of compilations. Pakapi Compilation Vol. 1 arrived in 2013 with La Psicotropia and Industria Tropical in the following years. Most recently they’ve released part one and part two of La Danza Del Agua. The label has slowly become a home for hard-edged electronic takes on the region’s rhythms, albeit with a strong dose of psychedelia. On ‘Explanada’, Bloque del Sur creates a heady, dread-filled take on reggaeton. Elsewhere, Astrosuka & Ornamenti d’oro take a slower beat and scatter disquieting vocal samples and sino grime-esque melodies across it.
Cerredo and Calarco’s work as Panchasila is some of the most psychedelic they’ve yet released on Pakapi. Taking the cumbia rhythms of their home and blending it with dub, environmental recordings and Southeast Asian film samples, the duo’s music is spatially immersive, transporting the listener to a new, unsettling sound world. Embedded within Buenos Aires, Calarco describes a thriving underground scene but one not without its own set of problems. “Most venues are not authorized by the city administration,” he says. “They exist in a blurred legality. This might sound cool but it makes it more complex and less accessible for the people outside the scene.”
In Argentina’s countryside, Los Siquicos Litoraleños has slowly carved out an idiosyncratic sound indebted to local folk traditions, improvisational and noise music. The group formed in 2004 in Curuzú Cuatiá, a small rural town in Northeast Argentina. Group founder Nico Kokote describes it as a conservative place, in contrast to the group’s freewheeling experimentalism, but crucial to the development of their sound. “You couldn’t have a band like Los Siquicos Litoraleños in a big city,” Kokote says. “We lived very close to each other and there wasn’t much to do except play music all day.” The group would rehearse almost perpetually, members dropping in and out of lengthy, improvised jams: “I remember playing for something like seven or eight hours. We had time to try a lot of different things and I think that openness helped develop an almost telepathic communication.”
The group has incorporated the local folk style of chamamé into their music, as well as what Kokote describes as the “regional atmosphere” heard from neighbors’ radios. Cumbia, Mexican folk music and cheesy Argentinian commercials from the ’60s all make their way into the mix. Indeed, Radio Siquica takes the form of an imagined radio station, a nod to Kokote’s vicarious consumption of music through his immediate environment. It skips between psychedelic, looping rock, lilting acoustic interludes and rhythmic workouts. The group record on whatever equipment they can find, be that Walkmans, four-track recorders, or even digital cameras, layering different qualities of sound on top of one another. Kokote says each sonic layer acts as a “portal to a neighboring universe”, a concept perhaps partly influenced by the psilocybin mushrooms growing around Curuzú Cuatiá.
Aesthetically, at least, Los Siquicos Litoraleños share common ground with the work of Tomás Tello, the Peruvian sound artist and founder of Andesground now living in Portugal. Tello’s release on Sucata Tapes, Ekeko Mix: Sonidos Transporta Sueños, is a mixtape of his own music and other artists operating in the region, framed by radio static. He records live, filtering the sounds through his AM and FM transmitters and two guitar pedals, deftly weaving Andean bells and flute throughout the composition. He was born in Lima but moved to Arequipa, a mountain city, when he was a child, a place where it was difficult to get hold of instruments. “In any analysis of South American music, we always have to think about the availability of the instruments,” Tello says. “It always turns out that the people who have more money are the pioneers.”
Artists such as Cesar Bolaños spearheaded the Peruvian avant-garde in the mid-twentieth century, aligning electro-acoustic synthesizer music with regional instrumentation. But for Tello, the Peruvian avant-garde exists as a product of the country’s organic biology. “I think a lot of this avant-garde takes its energy from psychedelia,” he says. “It’s from the plants.” At the age of fourteen or fifteen, Tello would harvest the psychedelic cactus common to the area, boiling it down to release the psychotropic qualities. Having consumed the substance, he and his friends would go for walks in Arequipa’s nearby countryside, a landscape framed by the towering volcano, Misti. “Just watching that mountain is crazy. The nature in Peru is in your face. Big waves. Big mountains. You feel so tiny,” he continues. “The milky way is also so clear. It’s not such a human world, not so invaded by humans.”
Such a sentiment is echoed by Luis Alvarado whose Lima-based Buh Records sits at the center of a burgeoning experimental scene. “Psychedelia has nothing to do with how much you sound like krautrock,” he declares. “For me, the psychedelic is a mental revolution and you have to disassociate it from a form or an already established sound.”
From the Peruvian capital, Alvarado has focused on highlighting not only the country’s current artists but those of its past in an effort to tell the story of the South American avant-garde. “My impulse is that the histories of experimental music are Anglocentric or Eurocentric,” he explains. “And that illness is reflected in the criticism and the musical journalism. At the same time, I know that there has been a great vacuum of archival and research work in South America. I want to show there is sound experimentation here that is unique, that has its own conditions and has the right and ambition to rewrite history.”
Alvarado describes some of the Peruvian electronic artists of the ’60s such as Cesar Bolaños, Enrique Pinilla and Edgar Valcárcel, each working primarily in the academic field. Then, with the arrival of Miguel Flores, Manongo Mujica, Arturo Ruiz del Pozo and Luis David Aguilar in the ’70s and ’80s, a freer attitude utilizing rock, jazz and improvisation was integrated into the avant-garde. “It’s ritualistic, very hypnotic, trance music,” he says. “In a sense, they are the first generation of experimental music artists in Peru.”
In present day Lima, Alvarado organizes concerts in a range of locations including residential homes. “I really like going to those shows where the exchange is very intense,” he says. The Fundación Telefónica Center, the Amil Project and the Cultural Center of Spain are more traditional venues where experimental music has been offered something of a home alongside festivals such as International Integraciones Festival, Ruidismos festival, and La Trenza Sonora. “There are more labels, more activity, many festivals,” Alvarado says. “There is growth.”
The artists that make up the final release on Sucata Tapes, Bardo Todol, M.M. Peres and Ugju Sectas, profess to sitting outside of such developments. Salvador Cresta of M. M. Peres says he lives in the Colombian city, Córdoba, but that it exudes no impact on his music. Cryptically, he describes himself as neither Argentinian nor terrestrial, instead wanting to return to his home planet of origin. Ugju Sectas, meanwhile, says the three groups exist in isolation. “We’re hermits,” he says, “We don’t have a precise idea of what’s going on in our background.”
Across their triple-split release, Adzer, each of the outfits contribute two tracks. Ugju Sectas shift between shimmering synthesizer work and polyrhythmic percussion while Bardo Todol craft what sounds like an imagined field recording, occasional distorted squelches interrupting the music like alien signals. On ‘Semen de Pájaro’, M. M. Peres sits reverb-drenched flutes on a bed of clinking bells and wheezing drones. The accompanying video to the release (the English version can be found here) depicts what might be a newly imagined fable or folk story detailing a process of colonization. Using stop motion animation and an array of contrasting images and textures, the video feels like a suitable introduction to the bizarre audio territory each artist is mapping.
In some ways, it appears to encapsulate the spirit of what’s occurring with some of the new weird South America — music that exists at the nexus of an ancestral folk history and the bleeding edge of compositional and sound design. Tomás Tello’s Ekeko Mix is named after Ekeko, a god of abundance and prosperity popular in the mythology of people across Southeast Peru, Northern Chile, Northern Argentina and Bolivia. Nico of Los Siquicos Litoraleños says how important the twentieth-century Argentinian folk artists, Atahualpa Yupanqui and Jorge Cafrune, are to his musical outlook. Each of these singers carried out important work researching and recording the indigenous songs of the country, revealing a set of musical roots in the process.
Tomás Tello describes how such identity has been in flux since the early, brutal days of Hispanic colonization of the region introduced divergent musical cultures. The indigenous Peruvians devised a song and dance to rid themselves of the Spanish oppressors but then quickly adopted the tools of their occupiers. “Imagine, in such a close moment to the start of colonization, they were already using Spanish instruments,” he says. “There are very few things that are pure expressions of the old times. You know, instruments standardise tunings, so when a piano or keyboard appears, everyone tunes to that and the music is gone. But the rhythm can persist.”
Cerredo of Pakapi Records and Panchasila agrees, describing a musical culture stretching deep into ancestral folk traditions alongside more recent developments from not only South America but also Europe. Ultimately, he hopes the idea of new weird South America might spur people on to further investigate both the music’s present and the past while also solidifying connections between artists operating today. “I think there is a gap in the region’s media to cover local artists working in a more experimental field,” he says. “But even if we generate minimum interest from other people outside of our social circles, or help to strengthen these existing links, it could be considered an achievement.”
Lewis Gordon is a freelance writer. Find him on Twitter.