At the top of the 2010s, Shakira’s “Waka Waka” was a chart-topping World Cup anthem, Calle 13’s Calma Pueblo was giving Latin American hip-hop a conscientious thesis statement, and rising superstars like Carla Morrison, El Guincho and Bomba Estéreo were still finding their critical and commercial footing. At the same time, a handful of Chilean musicians began quietly crafting a blueprint for indie pop nirvana armed with little more than synthesizers and adolescent angst. Up until the new millennium, Chile was best known as the cradle of the 1960s Nueva Canción movement by virtue of folk icons Violeta Parra and Victor Jara. Later, in the 1980s, the country became more closely associated with political strife – a central theme in the lore of rock en tu idioma revolutionaries, Los Prisioneros. However, over the past decade, the remote South American nation has experienced an artistic renaissance that completely overhauled its standing in the international community.
Seeds that have blossomed into some of the finest pop records in the country’s history can be traced back to 1988, when General Augusto Pinochet’s bloody and insidiously oppressive 17-year regime was ousted via a landmark plebiscite that ushered a gradual return to democracy two years later. Steady economic growth and a slow cultural thaw followed, bearing fruit through a generation that grew up in the shrinking shadow of the dictatorship while enjoying unprecedented freedom of expression. By the time these artsy, counterculture kids started making noise, social media had become an innovative marketing tool and rising independent publications like Club Fonograma and Remezcla (yes, we’ve been on the ground since Day One) were feverishly documenting the vibrant new wave.
“In those days, the underground scene was really prolific,” folk-revival trailblazer Gepe told Remezcla in a 2016 interview. “I remember instances where Javiera Mena would play with a 10-piece orchestra, followed by an experimental pianist and then a rap group.” Beyond avant explorations, Chile’s pop golden age was characterized by inexplicably relatable storytelling, subversive queer edge, orchestral arrangements influenced by disco and chamber pop, and bass lines designed for packing hipsters onto dance floors. In a later interview, foundational producer Cristián Heyne described the tightly knit network of local artists as a “workshop,” highlighting Chilean indie’s modest beginnings and the constant collaboration that spurred rapid maturity and increasingly polished releases. Heyne is often regarded as the architect behind the scene’s distinctly glossy sound, with production credits on emblematic records by Gepe, Javiera Mena, Alex Anwandter and Dënver – a creative pseudo-monopoly that led to criticisms of sonic homogenization.
Keep in mind your favorite stars were far from the only forces reshaping the Chilean indie landscape. As Heyne described, it was a collective effort. Venues like Bar Loreto, Cine Arte Alameda, Blondie and defunct DYI haven Espacio Cellar allowed kooky experimentation and raucous performances to thrive and proliferate. Small but influential imprints like Quemasucabeza, Cazador and Discos Pegaos exported the diverse sounds brewing in the underground, which extended far beyond synthpop with acts like Ana Tijoux, DJ Raff and Ases Falsos. A visual signature also began to emerge, with director Bernardo Quesney and production house Enciclopedia Color creating cinematic clips and designs to accompany each new evocative release. Even festivals like Fauna, Neutral, Fluvial and Feria Pulsar prospered thanks to the bevy of readily available homegrown talent. In fact, Mexico’s NRMAL was notably ahead of the curve when their 2012 edition featured scene pioneers such as Astro, Adrianigual and Javiera Mena, doubling down the following year with a follow up showcase that included MKRNI, Fakuta and Alex Anwandter.
Chile remains a musical powerhouse to this day, though in recent years popular trends have evolved in a more urbano oriented direction. Many of the scene’s standard bearers have also disbanded, most notably Dënver, Miss Garrison and Astro, while others simply left the nest, like Javiera Mena who spends most of her time in Spain, Alex Anwandter who’s lived in Los Angeles and New York City, and (Me Llamo) Sebastián who morphed into a one-man gypsy caravan. Now, as we enter a new decade, Chile faces the most challenging socio-political chapter of it’s post-dictatorship history.
Before fully diving into this brave new world, we wanted to take one final look back at some of the artists that defined one of Latin America’s most swoon-inducing musical chapters in recent memory. Don’t worry; it’s Ok to get swept up in the nostalgia. We won’t judge you.
Check out our playlist of Chilean Indie pop’s golden era here:
The first resounding star to emerge from the Chilean indie pop explosion, Javiera Mena captured our hearts with the clammy-handed earnestness of her 2006 debut, Esquemas Juveniles. But it was later albums like Mena (2010) and Otra Era (2014) that anointed her as Chile’s undisputed disco goddess – each new production stacked with robust synth-driven walls of sound and enough dramatic disco strings to make Donna Summer jealous.
Chile’s crowned prince of political pop first stepped into the spotlight fronting hitmaking rock band Teleradio Donoso – later breaking out on his own with the sublime dystopian soundscapes of his cryptic electronic solo project Odisea. However, with his albums Rebeldes (2012) and Amiga (2016), which were released under his own name, Alex Anwandter finally cemented himself as a pop wunderkind with an incisive, critical voice, ready to take on archaic political institutions on record and the dance floor.
One of the most fascinating musical trends to take hold of Latin America in recent years is the folk revival wave that has integrated roots music with catchy pop songwriting and modern production techniques. In Chile, no one stretched the margins of tradition further than Gepe – a force of nature that seamlessly collides Andean music and nueva canción with everything from reggaeton to merengue and hip-hop. Check out his albums Audiovison (2010) and GP (2012) for some of the most refreshingly inventive fusions of the decade.
The embodiment of star crossed lovers as twee pop idols, Dënver were possibly the most musically voracious band to emerge from this scene. From the folky minimalism of their 2008 debut, Totoral, to the melancholy chamber pop of 2010’s Música, Gramática, Gimnasia, and the extraordinary cinematic world building of 2013’s Fuera de Campo, every new Dënver album was a master class in artistic evolution with a hefty dose of romanticism.
Not until bands like Föllakzoid and The Holydrug Couple came around did psych become a major topic of conversation in Chilean indie. But when rowdy space cadets Astro first broke out, we were treated to a delightfully mind expanding wormhole of surrealist lyrics and titillating sonic journeys. Their self-titled 2012 debut album remains a monument to the eclectic originality of the time, proving that oddball humor and Andres Nusser’s cartoonishly high voice can be as intoxicating as any hallucinogenic.
Brazen and unflinching, Ana Tijoux was a much-needed shock to the Chilean musical system. After parting ways with influential hip-hop crew Makiza, Tijoux became one of Chile’s principal purveyors of artistic dissent – unraveling patriarchal oppression, capitalist violence and post-dictatorship trauma across riveting albums like La Bala (2012) and Vengo (2014). Tijoux was also one of the first Chilean indie artists to gain stateside attention when her politically searing hit song “1977” was featured on popular TV drama Breaking Bad.
Francisca Valenzuela has always been poised for pop greatness – a charismatic performer with catchy and incisive self-penned tunes and movie star good looks. And yet, unyielding creative control and her formidable body of work helming feminist music festival Ruidosa have canonized her as an indie patron saint. We highly recommend checking out her excellent 2011 album Buen Soldado and recent singles “Ya No Se Trata de Tí” and “Héroe” to grasp the full extent of Valenzuela’s winding artistic journey.
Cristobal Briceño is one of the most prolific minds in Chilean music, paving riveting yet completely different career paths with Ases Falsos (formely Fother Muckers), Los Mil Jinetes and as a solo performer. The first is no doubt his longest and most beloved venture, completely reshuffling the band’s name, sound and mystique with the release of 2012’s absolutely perfect Juventud Americana, and its possibly better follow up Conducción (2014). Power chords, classic rock hooks and an unmistakable falsetto all make Ases Falsos a band of legend.
When Fakuta came on the scene with her 2011 debut Al Vuelo, the architect turned pixie-voiced pop ingenue seemed like an uncharacteristically timid new player entering the fray. That all changed with her 2014 follow up Tormenta Solar, a bold maelstrom of crashing synth melodies, abrasive percussion and head-turning features from buzzy contemporaries such as Bronko Yotte, Coiffeur and Violeta Castillo. And for the savvy fans at home, we guarantee your stomach still flutters every time the opening bass lines of “Juntapena” hit your eardrums.
With a weighty co-sign from Alex Anwandter and underground dance pop hits “Arde Santiago” and “Me Gusta La Noche,” the hyperbolic proclamation of Adrianigual’s sophomore album Exito Mundial (2011) seemed entirely possible. However, music videos, festival appearances and Latin American tours weren’t enough to keep the deliciously disparate pairing of vocalist Diego Adrian and multi-instrumentalist Nacho Aedo together for long. That doesn’t mean they were any less fun to watch.
Chile’s high priestess of bizarro pop first boggled minds with her 2011 debut Ambrolina and its hair-raising lead single “Tunupa,” which was directly influenced by Roma culture and pre-colonial folk legends. After that, the curve balls just kept coming. From the psychedelic cumbia and bangra-soaked diatribes of 2016’s Mesmer, to Imaab’s aggressive ballroom production on 2017’s La Devoración, and the ghostly Japanese tinges of this year’s Madre del Agua, which she has declared her final album – Kali Mutsa will be forever remembered as a shapeshifting human collage of art history and global wonder.
synthpop. Friday, December 20, 2019 at 10:24 AM EST