Perched on a curb outside the music venue La Tangente, five of us are passing around a bottle of cheap champagne while chain-smoking cigarettes emblazoned with vivid depictions of the damage they may be inflicting upon various organs right at that moment. No one bats an eye at our brazen street drinking, as many are doing the same. The conversation rapidly transitions between Spanish and English, which is generous, as I’m the only one on the entire block who doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, or really very well at all.
It’s my last night in Buenos Aires before spending a few days in Mendoza and then heading back to Seattle – and it’s a magical one. At this point, I’ve spent nearly every night of the past week exploring the nightlife and music scene of this incredible city and feel like I’ve genuinely made good friends. For many, it was the first time they’d needed to use the English they’d been taught years ago in school so it warms my heart for so many of them to make the effort for me.
I wouldn’t go back to my hotel until 6:30 that morning and it was far from the first morning I had. The dense amount of music, bars, clubs, and just people out and about until the wee hours of the morning was invigorating. Particularly in the district of Palermo, which is the heart of the Buenos Aires music and bar scene and whose streets I’d come to know better than I do some parts of Seattle. It reminds me a lot of Austin, Texas, in its lively energy, friendly people, and overflowing of music.
I didn’t know much about the Buenos Aires, or even the Argentinian, music scene before rolling the dice on a plane ticket to join my KEXP colleagues in South America for our live broadcast. And, with the massive geographical distance between our two cities, why should I? But after diving headfirst, I’m here to tell you that Buenos Aires should be considered amongst American cities like Austin, Nashville, New York, and Seattle as premiere destinations for a constant stream of incredible live music. Here’s just a small slice of what I found.
Only mere hours after the 20-hour journey into an entirely new hemisphere and season, I took a cab to the Palermo neighborhood to get my first taste local music. With the help of KEXP's Latin Content Producer and El Sonido co-host Albina Cabrera’s help, a number of Argentinian friends had submitted recommendations of shows happening that week on a Twitter thread. This proved to be immensely insightful. Tonight’s was happening at local favorite Strummer Bar. It piqued my interest after reading an article on headliner Mujer Cebra with a headline that claimed the band makes “Post Punk Inspired by Sleepless Nights and Despair.” Count me in.
The other bands on the bill included femme quartet Piba, who blend garage, surf, and punk to spacey effect, and Revistas, whose noisy pop similarly perked my ears. Unfortunately, I showed up too late and missed Piba (although came to meet a couple of the members later in the week) but had just enough time to awkwardly attempt to order a beer and a shot of Fernet in my broken Spanglish before Revistas took the stage.
I was pleased to find that I’d chosen a sartorially suitable look for the night with my black minidress because the majority of other showgoers were also garbed in the dark hue. It was an appropriate shade for the moody soundscapes both Revistas and Mujer Cebra poured into the room. Both with clear shoegaze influences, the former band’s take on the genre features sharp guitars and bouncier rhythms while Mujer Cebra was lusher and haunting while evoking the anxiety that’s tantamount to the majority of their lyricism.
Now a tried-and-true Mujer Cebra fan in just one night (and now-owner of not one, but three shirts of theirs), it was imperative for me to chat with the band. Assuming at least one of them felt comfortable speaking English. Thankfully, drummer Patricio D. Garcia Seminara – who would become a good friend and show buddy for me – was up for the task. So, on a lively sidewalk outside Strummer (and after an unprofessional amount of drinks to elegantly conduct an interview), we chatted about the band, life in Buenos Aires, and the local scene.
As with a number of bands I spoke with over the course of the week, Mujer Cebra consider themselves a “Covid band,” as it was only shortly before lockdown that the trio, who had played together in different bands previously, finally found the sound they’d been searching for and started composing the material that would make up their debut self-titled record.
“It took us like two years to figure out what we wanted to do,” explained Seminara. “Then the pandemic started so we got a little delayed by that. But when we started going out again, we locked up in the studio and started composing. We called Estanislao Lopez, which none of us knew, but we sent our demos to him. He liked the songs and started working on the album. And then after the album was done, we published it and started playing. And when we started playing we couldn't stop. We played every weekend for like a year and a half.”
The live gig hustle paid off – if only judging by the amount of Mujer Cebra shirts I counted over the course of the week (granted, they’re incredible designs). With their debut only being released last year, it’s safe to call them a band on the rise with a whole community of friends and fans within Buenos Aires.
“When we were making the songs in 2020, we didn't know that there were bands doing something similar to what we were looking for.” Seminara remembers. “We discovered the bands once we started playing and we discovered that those bands were new too. So it's like a new wave of bands that started after the pandemic. That is a coincidence that... I don't know if it sounds similar, but we have the same philosophy of DIY and shoegaze and post-punk influences, but making it more pop, you know, with melody is more a singable not so ethereal.”
This post-Covid new wave is an interesting, if not unexpected, facet of the Buenos Aires scene. “The community changed after the pandemic,” he continues. “They started a new movement. There are a lot of new bands that started after the pandemic. And it's growing every weekend. You have sold-out shows everywhere. You don't even know where to go because there's a lot of shows happening the same night and we are all friends. So it's good. It's cool.”
While it may seem difficult for English-speaking audiences to open themselves up to music from bands singing in Spanish, Seminara is adamant that the feelings in Mujer Cebra’s music will still reach those who may not be able to completely decipher them. “It doesn’t matter,” he states with a laugh. “Like tonight, when we play in venues like this that maybe people that speak our language and don't know the songs and don't understand a single word about what we're talking about in the songs, they feel it the same way.”
“They know that they are dark sometimes,” he continues. “They can understand when we're talking about love, when we're speaking about something that bothers us or, we don't really talk about politics, but we talk about anxiety and depression on this first album and that was a story that every person can understand in different ways. They don't understand exactly what we wanted to talk about but they feel some part of it. The last song is about suicide so the record is about the steps - the ups and downs - everybody has. Everybody can have a different meaning when they listen to that song.”
While Mujer Cebra are currently writing their sophomore record, the band is celebrating the one-year anniversary of their first at Niceto Club on Friday, November 4th.
It was interesting how often Argentinian politics came up casually in conversations during my time there. One minute you’re taking a shotito with a new friend, the next you’re discussing the pros and cons of Peronism. While I still don’t feel educated enough to speak on the politics of a country with such a long and complicated history, it was incredible how active and vocal the young people seemed to be engaged with it.
One interview, in particular, was incredibly insightful. I met 19-year-old Maria Victoria Franchino – who goes by Victoria or Vicky – at that same Mujer Cebra show, where she caught my eye for her enthusiastic front-row fandom and absolutely killer outfit. I had to know this girl.
“I always come to the shows of what I call the under or the independent scene in Argentina, in Buenos Aires, which is where I'm from,” she replied when I asked what brought her to the show. “I like to see everyone that I can. And well, I'm a big fan of Mujer Cebra, so I'm here mainly for them, but also to discover new sounds.”
“There [are] lots of beautiful bands here, so I always try to go to shows,” she continues. “There's a whole community with different bands and all the bandmates know each other and they speak to the public. When the show ends, you can go and talk to them which is not the same when maybe you're listening to a bigger artist. Small artists in general have this community that is very welcoming to everyone and every way of creative expression, whether it's music or visual arts or photography.”
The conversation skews deeper as Franchino, a visual artist herself, very eloquently outlines the importance of having a local community and the concept of “la contrahegemonía” which is an increasingly used social and political ideology in Argentina in which the arts carry particular importance because they represent the stories and history of the country and thus should be placed in the hands of the people and the artists themselves rather than lawmakers or the powerful few.
“In art, it is very important that we listen to the voices that are not part of the dominant and powerful people of society and are the people who have control over art and artistic expression through history,” she wisely muses. “Which we sometimes think that it's not enough but it's hard to get through into a museum, it's hard to get on stage if you don't have certain social and political power. So I guess that that's sort of a way that powerful people have to control the information that gets to us because art is that, it's information.”
“So information that gets to us should be what we have to say and what we have to offer instead of what other people have to say to us that we should be listening to or offering,” Franchino continues. “That's the important part, that we have a say in what is said in these spaces. Versus we don't really have a say on what is in the museum or what is on TV. We don't have a say on what song you listen to on the radio. We don't have a say in that. So here in these spaces, I guess that's where we [do]. And that's history.”
This ethos led to a rise in the diversity of people leading the music scene in Buenos Aires. “Lately I've been seeing more girls, more women, doing these kinds of events and organizing these kinds of events and being the frontpeople,” she goes on to elucidate. “And I think that's a very recent thing that it's been mostly women or at least half of the people I go to see are women and the people in the public are women and we take up spaces there. And that's, I think, a sort of recent thing or something that's been growing lately. So I don't really care who I see, I care that there is women in the lineup.”
There’s almost nothing as thrilling as watching a band at the very beginning of their career just completely out of their mind with excitement over finally putting out music, playing shows, and getting some notice. Nenagenix is currently “hyped as fuck” (in their words) when myself, the five band members, plus – of course –my Mujer Cebra bud Patricio pile into the backstage bathroom to chat about their music.
The young quintet, who range in age from 19 to 23, just finished a show opening for the indefinable musician K4 (more on him later) at La Tangente, also in the arts and nightlife hub of Palermo. The sold-out show went incredible, with Nenagenix playing their hearts out like gritty seasoned pros. Bodies jumped and bobbed as frontwoman Martina Sampietro wailed into the microphone while Blas Bulacio, Laura Ferreira, Victoria de Biasio, and Francisco Pena shredded and stomped.
While the band has only been in their final formation for the past year and a half, they’ve quickly gained momentum through their raucous shows, a very DIY 2020 EP titled Flash Memory, and an extremely good cover of a well-known song by a tech billionaire’s former girlfriend.
“Grimes actually shared the post,” reminisces Bulacio about the day they dropped their grungey take on Art Angels track “Kill V. Maim” in 2021.
“She reposted it and we fucking went nuts,” adds Sampietro with a laugh. “We woke up screaming. And we actually were not planning to post it. It was just like this spark, this impulse and we said just ‘Fuck it. Let's post it.’"
While it may have been released on a whim, the decision has helped push the band further both professionally and sonically. Currently in the process of recording their debut album, the band is looking to expand their sonic palette for their new music.
“If you listen to our EP then you'd never expect the album we just wrote,” teases Ferreira.
“Which is actually the reaction we want,” add Sampietro.
“I think the reason why people enjoyed that EP is that people really like a DIY vibe, it's relatable,” Ferreira continues. “I think that after that EP, I do feel like a lot of people that talked to us said that they felt inspired to make music too or like just try to do guitar music.”
“Guitar music was dying over here actually,” Sampietro reveals in a surprising tidbit of information that goes against everything I’d seen thus far in Buenos Aires. “But it has resurfaced. The underground scene it kind of was dead for a moment there actually."
The band then goes on to echo the sentiments I continued to hear about a new musical movement happening in Argentina after the pandemic.
“I think post-Covid was a big rebirth of the scene. Because a lot of people stayed inside and built up a lot of things, had a lot of time to think, and I think that might be related to the music. And I think a lot of people like I saw a lot of releases like really after COVID. So yeah, we were part of that thinking.”
When discussing why music fans outside of Argentina should pay attention to the bands coming out of their country, Nenagenix had a lot to say.
“I want them to know that there are rock bands - like really, really, really, really great bands - in Argentina,” spells out Smapietro. “Cause I feel like maybe they don't look for them or they don't really see them. But there is a huge scene right now and there are a lot of great bands.”
“I mean, we listen to music in English,” she continues. “So why couldn’t they?”
Stay tuned for new Nenogenix music dropping very soon, ahead of their likely-to-be-career-making set at Primavera Sound on Sunday November, 13th.
Trying to describe K4 is like attempting to describe a David Lynch film. His performances are like a fever dream that’s constantly evolving in enrapturing fashion. One could describe his music as some sort of trap-punk fusion but even that would be reductive because while one song may sizzle with energetic trap beats and high-octane scream-rapping, his next can see him softly coo over a romantic Spanish guitar.
It was a bit of a random choice to go to his show at La Tangente, just scouring over the concert calendar, but turned out to be the place to be that night. Upon entering, a police officer stopped me, which turned me cold for a moment because of my lack of communicable Spanish, but then I noticed the fake mustache and the fact that his uniform looked more akin to a stripper dressed up for a bachelorette raid than an officer on duty. My mugshot was taken – of which I hope to never see because of the confusion that likely struck my face – and a new world was entered.
K4 is a high-concept artist who uses different characters to evoke his music. There are three characters on his debut self-titled record, released in 2021 – K1, K2, and K3 – and he’s slowly been presenting them in a series of four shows. Tonight it was K2 who took the stage.
“He has a huge background story,” K4 explains to me after the show. “Every character has a specific way of acting and a specific way of living and specific space. The characters appear in my life as a way to survive.”
Apparently, K2 lived in 1975 in Argentina, is an alcoholic and a prisoner, and appears to be slowly sinking into psychosis. With a doll’s head strapped to his jacket, K4 raps, writhes, and croons amidst a stage made up like a jail cell, constantly evolving dynamics and personas while bringing a rotating cast of collaborators along for the ride.
One collaborator, in particular, struck me. A wild-haired woman who looks strikingly like Stevie Nicks plays the part of his lover, screaming out to him in agony over their separation due to incarceration. A musician in her own right, Luludot Viento makes music under La Piba Berreta and is dating K4 in real life, in true Fleetwood Macian tradition, which adds fire and intensity to their performance of a passionate, lovestruck, fucked-up romance.
It would be easy to categorize K4 as a shock artist and he doesn’t necessarily disagree.
“I'm trying to wake people,” he explains. “From little too little with weird little things with a song [so] that you can start to think about something far of the normality of your life where you go to school, go to work, go to sleep and start again and maybe inspire people to know that they are anyone and they can do what they want and they don't need to be like nothing.”
“They can be like themselves,” he continues. “[Anything] they want to fucking be. That's the point of the message. Maybe then I’ll switch it up and do songs to earn money.”
And it seems his days of earning money from music are on the horizon. The hype surrounding K4 has been steadily growing, especially on YouTube, where his characters’ story arcs have been showcased through stimulating conceptual music videos that are reaching listeners far beyond the confines of Buenos Aires. He affirms a song in English could be the next step for breaking through. He plans to tour the states of Argentina before attempting a North American tour – an expensive and difficult task for South American bands that we take for granted on this side of the hemisphere.
Over the course of our conversation, which moves from the green room to a picnic bench, and eventually ends on a rowdy sidewalk, a bevy of fascinating soundbites emerge. He wants to be thought of as a musician instead of a performance artist, doesn’t like the term “fans,” and wants to die on stage. Like, literally. “The end is die. I would like to die in the show.”
K4 is currently in the planning phase for his next show, in which K3 will be revealed. Stay tuned for details to be revealed on that unmissable show.
Going through the pictures and videos on my phone from my time in Argentina, I stumbled upon a video from that last night in Buenos Aires. Taken at 3:48 am, a packed crowd is singing their hearts out as the DJ plays “Last Nite” by the Strokes. Each person seemingly knew every word, guitar line, and drum fill to the early 2000s classic and it made me so overjoyed that I felt obliged to record the moment.
To me, it was an incredible reminder of how unifying music can be. No matter the nationality, age, race, or creed, we can all get down to the Strokes. I’m hoping someday very soon that there’ll be an Argentinian band that has that same level of impact across multiple seas where packed crowds in Seattle, Tokyo, London, and New York, are all hyped as fuck when their song plays. We just have to be open to it.
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