The Rock Music of Argentina

Article Written by Alexander Greco

With Lucas Galeano

May 7, 2019

Stay until the end for a list of recommended music.

Argentine Crowd at a Pearl Jam Concert

I was hooked on Argentina when I watched a clip of Pearl Jam live in La Plata, Argentina. I’ve never seen anything quite like a few thousand Argentines losing their minds to Even Flow. I watched this, and realized there was something special about Argentina.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Lucas Galeano, a rock enthusiast from Argentina, with a rock broadcast page on Instagram. We talked at length over email, and I got to pick his brains on Argentine rock—its history, its influences, its passion, and where it is today.

“The musical culture of Argentina is very broad and has many influences due to the large number of migrations that came from different parts of Europe—it is a mixture that acquired its own identity. …there were many Spanish, Italian, French, German, Polish and Portuguese influences. They came from many different countries at different times, but culturally the strongest influences were the Spanish and Italian.”

Argentina was settled by the Spanish monarchy in the 16th century, and officially declared its independence in 1816. After years of civil war, Argentina emerged as a modern, federal nation. In the late 19th century, Argentina enacted liberal-economic policies, and promoted large-scale European immigration. By 1908, Argentina was one of the most prominent countries, and by the 50’s and 60’s, Argentina was booming with American rock music.

“[In Argentina] we are already talking about rock music in the 1950’s with the explosion of rock in the United States. The local bands had their first influences, but they just covered [the American bands]. In the 1960’s, there is a lot of influence of beat music. The bands that most stand out from that time are Los Gatos, Almendra, the beginning of Sui Generis, and Pappo. They all exploded in the 70’s.”

The Argentine Dictatorship of ’76 – ’83 was marked with violence, censorship, missing persons, and a decreased standard of living.

This explosion of music coincided with a military dictatorship in Argentina, which lasted until 1983. This dictatorship was responsible for the deaths and disappearances of thousands of people, and for the censorship of journalists and musicians.

“Argentina had a long time of the twentieth century dictatorships. It affects a lot in the psychological sense, since lack of freedom is not just damaging to a person; it is damaging to a country. At that time, it was a hard blow also for the disappearances that there were in the country… there was no freedom of the press. If you went out at night without authorization, they took you prisoner.

“It was a very hard blow for the country. Many musicians had to leave the country, and those who remained sent hidden messages in their songs to avoid problems with the regime. That was extremely risky. If [the government] found out, they were killed.

“The messages of the musicians are subtle in their songs. If they have noticed something, they censor the lyrics or, directly, they ban the song. The majority of rock of the 70’s Argentineans are letters in double sense. Everything they said had a different meaning. The Charly Garcia stands out first and foremost. The public song called ‘The Dinosaurs’. He said in the lyrics that the friends of the neighborhood can disappear, but the dinosaurs are going to disappear. The dinosaurs were a metaphor for the military, but they did not realize it.”

It was a boom of joy, and was represented in their songs. In the eighties the music was very happy. The lives of the people changed, but the economic present of the country was not good. It was hard to live every day, but the Argentine was happy.”

Los Gatos in their Early Years

…when democracy returned, [the country] felt a boom of joy that was transmitted in music.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding this boom, the music that came from the late 60’s up to the early 80’s shaped Argentine music into something truly unique.

A Young Litto Nebbia

One of the first major original Argentine bands, Los Gatos, was formed in the late 1960’s. Their debut album was the first Argentine rock band to locally out-sell American and British records, and this has been considered the birth of Argentine rock. However, when a new dictatorship arose in 1976, Litto Nebbia, the lead singer of Los Gatos, fled the country and took refuge in Mexico. Eventually, Litto was able to move back to his home country, though it would not be for several years.

Other major Argentine bands of the time were Vox Dei, Sui Generis, and Almendra.

Vox Dei

Vox Dei (Voice of God) began in 1967, and is the first Argentine rock band to have created a concept album, titled “The Bible” (1971). Vox Dei produced 10 albums in the 1970’s, and a total of 19 albums between 1970 and 2015. They were also one of the first progressive rock and psychedelic rock groups, as well as the first Argentine rock-opera band.

Charly Garcia and Nito Mestre

Sui Generis is a folk and progressive rock band formed in 1971, and is considered one of the most influential Argentine bands of all time. Sui Generis was formed by Nito Mestre and the aforementioned legend, Charly Garcia. The band originally played experimental psychedelic music, but eventually found a voice in the folk genre.

Charly Garcia would go on to form other legendary Argentine bands, such as Seru Giran, La Maquina de Haver Pajaros, and PorSuiGieco. Beginning in the 80’s Charly Garcia became a highly successful solo act, and has put out several albums that experiment with jazz, folk, synthpop, lo-fi, and, of course, hard rock and experimental rock. Many of his albums are comparable to the musical experimentation of Radiohead, The Cure, and Beck.

Almendra

Almendra is another Argentine band of the 60’s to experiment with psychedelic rock, folk music and progressive rock. Almendra has often been compared to The Beatles, and though they broke up in 1970, their first two albums—Almendra and Almendra II—revolutionized the Argentine music scene. After splitting, members of the band formed new groups—Aquellarre, Color Humano, and Pescado Rabioso. The lead vocalist—Luis Alberto Spinetta—would go on to be another highly successful solo act.

These artists, and several others, changed music in Argentina forever. Just like the music revolutions of America and the UK, Argentine music began evolving in the 70’s and the 80’s, especially with the fall of the dictatorship in ’83. From this came new, dynamic artists, with influences spanning across American and British pop, classical European music, and Latin dance music (the Tango, in particular).

“You have many popular Argentine artists who were on e very popular artists throughout Latin America. Classics [I] would say Charly Garcia, Seru Giran Gustavo Cerati, Soda Stereo, Luis Alberto Spinetta, Pappo, Renga, the “Indian” Solari. Contemporary artists, very good bands that are already playing, [include] Las Pelotas, Divided, The Pills of the Grandfather, Ciro and the Persians, Babasonicos, You Point Me, [and] The Decadents, there are many.

“Today is difficult, because there are many very good bands, but I Stayed With You to Point out to Me, The State of the Motorized Police, the Plan of the Butterfly, [and] Crossing the Puddle.”

Las Pelotas (The Balls, or Bollocks!) began in the 80’s, and contains elements of hard rock, 90’s psychedelia and 80’s synth and FX. In addition, some of their songs use Latin rhythms and chord progressions, as well as elements of funk, blues, reggae, folk and punk. They’re an incredibly dynamic and fun band to listen to.

Las Pastillas de Abuelo Live

Las Pastillas de Abuelo (The Pills of the Grandfather) is an urgent, driving fusion of hard rock, latin music and jazz, and god damn did I like their music. This band may be one of the purest fusion of traditional Argentine music and influences, and the rock revolutions of America and Britain. Las Pastillas de Abuelo began in the 2000’s, and contains the experimental, post-rock vibes of the time. However, this is one of those bands that transcends the genres it was born from, and becomes its own, unique type of music. It’s all at once relaxing and urgent, driving you forward with fluid grooves and huge energy.

Babasonicos is another thoroughly unique band with a great sound. In some ways, they remind me of Muse or The War on Drugs, in other ways they remind me of Alt-J and The Flaming Lips, and they also remind me of a Latin crossbreed between Guns and Roses, Beck and The Beatles. In other words, they’re really difficult to pin down…

…but I love it.

They’re their own incredibly unique band, with their own eclectic mix of Latin-folk, electronica, classic rock, dream-pop, and psychedelia. They’re funky. They’re heavy. They’re psychedelic. They’re absurd. They’re deeply emotional. They’re overall fantastic. I highly recommend this band, they’re fucking crazy.

In addition to these bands, Argentina has a huge variety of contemporary artists who deserve a listen. I listened to at least a couple dozen contemporary Argentine bands, and I kind of loved every band I listened to. However, for the sake of time, I narrowed down my current five favorites (though there’s still a lot to explore).

archipielagos self-titled EP

archipielagos is a math rock band that experiments with all kinds of styles and sounds. Their music includes odd meter, dynamic and complex rhythms, beautiful polyphonic melodies, and experimental composition. While the songs are primarily instrumental, the vocals we do hear are gut-wrenching yells, dreamy, crooning laments, and lo-fi sampling. Their music is similar to bands like American Football, Hella, Foxing, and Tiny Moving Parts, though this band is already developing a distinct voice. They are a pretty fresh and developing band, and have the potential to be a truly unique group if they continue down the path they’ve begun.

Las Ligas Menores

Las Ligas Menores (The Minor Leagues) is a bittersweet mix of garage rock and dream pop. Their music maintains a driving yet not frantic rhythm, matched by calmly-energized guitar riffs that dance on the edge of clean and bright melodies, and big, heavy walls of distortion. They play with a youthful energy similar to bands like The Strokes and Florence + The Machine, but mix it with the synth and distortion of bands like New Order and My Bloody Valentine.

El Mato a Un Policia Motorizado

El Mato a Un Policia Motorizado (That Boy Killed a Motorized Police) is a pretty popular post-punk/rock outfit stylized by drifting, spaced out melodies and punk-infused noise rock. Their music is a carnival of shoegazing pedal-work and electronica. If you go far enough back into their discography, you find a heavier punk core, similar to the now-legendary sounds of Cap’n Jazz and Sunny Day Real Estate. Their newer albums however explore a wide breadth of sound, and broaden their compositional toolkit.

Harm & Ease

Harm & Ease takes a much different approach stylistically than the other bands I’ve talked about. Harm & Ease mixes hard, romping blue-rock with powerful, soulful vocals. This band is a mix of heavy blues, grungy, energetic soul-music, and a gritty folk twang. On top of this already-dynamic sound is a psychedelic veneer reminiscent of the Doors and the Flaming Lips. Harm & Ease is groovy, powerful and unique, and god damn, what a voice this guy’s got.

Riel’s Sueno Electrico album

Riel is an incredibly well-executed balance of 90’s indie rock, 80’s post-punk, and contemporary garage and blues-rock. Mixing the dissonant, heavy sounds of Sonic Youth and Nirvana, the jangling walls of 80’s reverb, and the stomping intensity of bands like White Stripes and Arctic Monkeys, Riel creates a landscape of churning, crashing noise one moment, then a drifting, dreamy river of reverb the next moment. Riel’s music is a sunny drive with the windows down, a waterfall of percussion and shredding, and a journey into the Great Beyond of distorted feedback.

Like I said, there’s a huge list of Argentine rock music that I’ve only just begun to explore. If you listen to these bands and enjoy them, by all means, do some exploring of your own. You’ll never know what sort of bands you’ll find.

Now, I wouldn’t be doing Argentina justice if I didn’t talk about their live music scene. It’s wild.

In addition to listening to hours and hours of Argentine rock spanning from the 1960’s to the 2010’s, I’ve also watched at least 2-3 hours of footage from rock concerts in Argentina, and it’s fucking crazy. Thousands of people are jumping up and down, and chanting, and singing. You can see the band members’ eyes light up when they play for Argentine crowds, and it has this massive effect on the band’s energy. Sometimes, the Argentinean crowds seem to take over the entire concerts, by beginning a song on their own, or singing so loudly they’re almost competing for volume with the band onstage.

As my friend, Lucas, explained, “The concerts in Argentina have a lot of adrenaline. And that adrenaline is from the beginning of the recital until it ends. Here we sing the solos of guitar, piano, saxophone, whatever. Sometimes the same audience invents songs for the bands that give life to the show.”

“I have seen many interviews with musicians from other countries, and they are fascinated by the attitude of the Argentine public in relation to artists. If you are a musician and want to record a video, the best place to go is always Argentina.

“Once I went to a festival here. I met a Peruvian and he said, ‘I can not believe the energy they have, I do not give more and you continue, I can not keep up with your rhythm’.”

There is a deep passion in Argentina for music and live performance. There is a love for the energy and the wildness of music. There is a love for the beauty and the complexity of music. There is a love for the craft and the showmanship of music; a love of playing, a love of experimenting, a love of coming together as a group, a love of the power music has on you, and love of the freedom of music.

Argentina is a nation with a history of struggling for freedom, battling for its sovereignty, and rising up as a nation of individuals. I’ve seen pictures of beautiful nations, and I’ve seen art from distant lands, but there’s something special about listening to music that feels entirely individualistic. When I listen to Argentine music, I think what drew me in the most was the sound of each, individual musician being empowered through their music. It’s beautiful to listen to.

To end this, here is my list of recommended Argentine musicians and songs:

For early music and classic rock:

  • Los Gatos

One of the first major Argentine bands to become popular. Their debut album out-performed American and British records in Argentina, and their first record is considered to be the birth of Argentine rock.

  • Favorite Album:

Seremos Amigos

  • Favorite Songs:

La Balsa

Quizas No Comprendan

Manana

  • Sui Generis

A legendary duo of two highly-influential Argentine musicians, Nito Mestre and Charly Garcia. These two would go on to start several other bands, as well as successful solo projects.

  • Favorite Album:

Vida

  • Favorite Songs:

Cancion para Mi Muerte

Rasguna Las Piedras

Confesiones De Invierno

  • Almendra

Considered by some to be the Argentine Beatles, though they have a sound and style that is quite distinct from the Beatles. This band revolutionized Argentine music.

  • Favorite Album:

En Obras I y II

  • Favorite Songs:

Color Humano

Ana No Duerme

Muchacha (Ojos de Papel)

For 80’s to the early 00’s

  • Las Pelotas

This band implements the best of 90’s rock, 80’s and 90’s synth/FX, Latin fusion, and elements of jazz and reggae.

  • Favorite Album:

Amor Seco

  • Favorite Songs:

Si Superias

Astroboy

Hola Que Tal

  • Las Pastillas del Abuelo

2000’s post-rock fusion band. They blend a wide variety of influences, including heavy rock, folk music, and traditional Argentine music.

  • Favorite Album:

Desafios

  • Favorite Songs:

Incontinencia Verbal

Viejo Karma!

Ojos de Dragon!

  • Babasonicos

A highly experimental 90’s and 00’s band. They mix hardcore rock with punk, psychedelic blues, electronica, and folk-rock.

  • Favorite Album:

Vortice Marxista

  • Favorite Songs:

Larga Siesta

Desarmate

El Loco

For contemporary bands:

  • El Mato Un Policia Motorizado

Popular 00’s and 10’s band. Roots in punk and hardcore rock, though they progressively experiment with more and more synth, psychedelia, space-rock, and dream-pop.

El Mato A Un Policia Motorizado

Guitarra Comunista

Mas O Menos  Bien

La Noche Eterna

  • Harm & Ease

Powerful and dynamic fusion of folk, funk, soul, punk and blues. They mix huge, stomping sounds with roaring vocals.

  • Favorite Album:

Black Magic Gold

  • Favorite Songs:

Run Back

Save Me from Myself

Cosmic Measure

  • Riel

Driving and dreamy mix of post-punk, psychedelic blues/garage rock, and 90’s indie rock.

  • Favorite Album:

Sueno Electrico

  • Favorite Songs:

Vertiginosamente

Nocturno

Merienda

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