Norenid Feliciano is a 19-year-old musician currently studying journalism at the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico. The original post is available in Spanish at her weblog, Háblame de Música.
It's Friday, getting close to 10 at night, and in the “pub” begins the distortion of the guitars and the shrill sound of the drums. After a minute, it's impossible to not move and feel awakened by this music that synchronizes my feelings and makes me follow the beat and caustic poetry until I slip away into the agressive swaying of the solos. It's an outlet, it's a night of rock.
Each generation has its musical favorite and in Puerto Rico, we're no exception. However, our country is a crossroads of all sorts of genres and so it's not odd that we have been influenced by the most famous musical genre of the world: rock. Since the 1950's rock music has been heard on our radio waves and, just like the rest of the world, we were jolted by the dominating “Beatle-mania” of the sixties. In the seventies, a type of rock which was heavier and more charged with socially aware lyrics began to surge.
The Impact of MTV
With its founding on the first of August, 1981, MTV forever changed the North American music industry. And this had its effect on the Puerto Rican youth of the 80's. With the boom of the so-called “pop culture” a revolution was started that modified rock music. Thanks to MTV's broadcasts, we were introduced to groups like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Motley Crew, Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, Scorpions, Bon Jovi, as well as many others that developed “Metal” as a genre of rock.
Heavy metal, beginning in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California, had much influence in the 80's. It was a modification of rock that had been popularized by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. With more aggressiveness in the chords and a distinct way of singing, metal became a favorite genre of many Americans. It was an era of excesses in North America indebted to the boom of so-called “Hairbands,” a name which alludes to the way they wore their hair: long and eccentrically styled.
It was in the 90's, with the surge of a new genre called “Grunge,” that the characteristic sound of pop rock changed and another series of variations within the genre commenced. However, because of the band Nirvana – which practically established a rock hymn with their song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 1992 – the metal scene in the U.S. began to change. Eighties metal groups had to adapt to the rock revolution which started in Seattle, Washington by similar successful bands like Pearl Jam.
After “Grunge” – a type of music that combines strong guitar distortion with sad yet agressive lyrics and melodies – rock music has become something else.
Invaded by musical history and seduced by new proposals, in Puerto Rico there is a group of young people that aren't just fans of rock, but also play it and want to develop the genre.
Groups like “La Secta” and “Circo” are currently receiving much attention, but they're not representative of the groups that comprise Puerto Rico's rock scene. But, just what is a “scene”?
It is a group of local rock artists that don't rely on the economic support of any kind. They're not marketed by some record company. And they play original music. According the the Puerto Rican guitarist, Paco Cestero, the musicians of the scene “are there for themselves. They make the music for themselves, not for the people.” Cestero, 32-years-old, expressed that the scene's artists try to continue making their music not to please the industry, nor the expectant fans, but rather towards the end of creating genuine music.
Many times, marked by stereotypes, Puerto Rican rock musicians are seen in a unfavorable light. Cestero, who is one of the most impressive guitarists in the country for his technique, said that many times people degrade the musical talent of a rock musician with expressions like, “Rocker … ah, that's not a real musician”
Even though the view of rock musicians is polarized, Puerto Rican rock has many followers but the situation for the musician who plays in a band and simply wants to live a life of music is difficult. It could be said that it is practically impossible. Many of the bars or clubs decide to let original bands play only with the condition that they are paid only a portion of what is earned in entrance fees. It sounds reasonable if it were only one band playing, but the reality is the three to five bands play in one night and must divide the earnings.
Guitarist Julián Acosta Cooper declared that “rarely does a bar pay original bands to play. What they do is give what they collect at the door and the business earns its money with the consumption of the drinks.” Acosta Cooper, a 19-years-old student of Computer Sciences at the University of Puerto Rico in Bayamón, commented that “when a band is played often on the radio, well, they can charge. But for us, depending on the show, sometimes we're not paid anything.”
There are always exceptions and in Puerto Rico there are still some establishments that pay original bands. Hard Rock Café in Old San Juan and Elvis Pub in Orocovis are two of the few places that are fair to the bands.
They need to be “pegado,” or “stuck in the heads of listeners” to be able to charge, but how are the bands going to be heard if they don't have the space? On the subject Cestero, who currently plays with the bands “Errant Society” and “All That I Bleed” among others, argued that “… “On the radio in Puerto Rico nobody hears Metal. There aren't any radio stations in Puerto Rico that give a space for Metal to be heard except for a few weekly little programs. And there are so many bands that, believe me, it's as if there were no exposure at all.”
Because of the situation the rockers maintain an “underground” scene that, although it has its followers, is limited. Also, many bands have opted to compose songs in English with the hopes of promoting their music in other markets since they feel that there is no commercial space in Puerto Rico for Progressive Rock, Hard Core, and other genres.
Christian Muñoz Olmeda, the leader of the local band, The Redflux, made clear that “we are not doing this for money,” but rather to spread their musical art and transmit a message to society.
One initiative of this 24-year-old young man was to create an event by the name of “Made Here: Metallic and Social.” The event was carried out in the venue of the “Puerto Rican Athenian” on the 29th of October, 2005 with the participation of five bands: The Redflux, Serpenta, IRA, La Maldad Campesina and Tavú. All of the bands play original songs with social and political themes.
It should be noted that the event organized by Muñoz Olmeda was the first rock concert to be held at the Puerto Rican Athenian and had a record attendance of more than 340 people. The singer emphasized the attendance, explaining that regularly, the shows in clubs attract between 40 and 60 people.
The fact that it has produced an event that demonstrates the seriousness and social conscience of the musicians should start eliminating, little by little, the already established stereotypes and serve as a catalyst to the movement.
Those interviewed consider that the rock scene of Puerto Rico is better than it once was because it has incorporated more bands and more followers, however what is really worrying is that within the scene, there exists divisions and the support is not sturdy. This is contrary to what is occurring in genres like Reggaeton. In general terms, the rockers hope that their situation improves and that they are recognized as creators of musical art.
Translation by David Sasaki