Maria y José, all photos by the author
After dreaming for so long of a Latin-American music festival that would bring out some of the most interesting acts from the region and would take place closer to home, I finally saw it happen yesterday. For the past 7 years, I have been cultivating a pretty deep interest in the Ibero-American musical scene though living in Montreal, Canada. So when I heard that Ruido Fest – a three-day, three-stages Latin-American music festival based in Pilsen, Chicago (a centennial immigrant district of the City by the Lake, formerly home to a sizeable Czech/East European population with a now flourishing Latino community) – was holding its very first edition, there was no alternative but to attend.
Under a hard-beating sun, I made my way to Addams/Medill Park in Pilsen just in time for a performance by María y José, one of Mexico’s most important electronic acts right now. Sadly, Tijuana's oh-so-charismatic "Rey de Reyes" was on early in the afternoon on the festival's Demon Stage, when most concertgoers hadn't yet arrived. Still, he showed the few spectators that he knew how to put on a great show. Dressed in some crazy camo/animal print polo, María y José started his set with the synth-driven heartbreak smasher “Tormento.”
With his mixed aesthetic, very personal, yet highly political and incisive lyrics and, of course, dazzling, sensual moves, María y José managed to give a memorable set, especially when he invited Chicago-based activist and fellow Club Fonograma writer Zé Garcia to come and perform “Kibosé” hooded and with an upside down Obama picture in hand. Maria y José got the crowd dancing on his rebel rhythms until the very last note. The father of Ruidoson then took his leave with a nod to Peru’s very own first garage band Los Saicos, intoning “Demolición” and jumping in the crowd who was already singing along, to turn the show in a dance party.
This made the perfect transition for AJ Davila y Terror Amor's set. The free-spirited Puerto Rican punk rocker launched the festival proper. Despite an injured back, AJ gave an impressive, disruptive set. I already had seen a couple of Terror Amor shows but never with the Mexico Distrito Federal members (AJ is now based in D.F.), and they were pretty solid! AJ made sure to highlight his Mexican-Puerto Rican connection and the fraternity that should prevail on the subcontinent.
It took a while before I found anything else I liked on the program, so I made my way to the shade and cooled off with some friends, some food and some beers. Dënver went on the Santo Stage early in the evening and discoed the hell out of it. I had been told how awesome they were live, and yes, they are. The duo of Mariana Montenegro and Milton Mahan – who survived a romantic broke up – gave an uplifting performance. Mariana rocking a see-through black dress and Milton, a black sleeveless hoodie, Dënver presented an impeccable collection of transcendental pop ballads and dance floor bangers all supported by intriguing projections. Their unique presence and hypnotizing delivery made the whole experience hyper-emotional.
Mariana, who seemed very happy to be at Ruido Fest, introduced their newest single “Los Vampiros,” all the while apologizing for her English. No apologies needed! As Europop synths invaded the air, the pair broke in a simple yet sublime choreography, making the crowd raise their hands in praise. Mariana and Milton later offered another enchanting dance moment, while performing their hit "Profundidad de Campo," a symphonious disco number that showcased their ever-youthful spirit, mystifying lyrics and sublime melodies. By the end of their set, the Chilean pop wizards had much of the audience side stepping and rocking its shoulders.
I left the festival grounds shortly after Dënver’s perfomance (no Zoé for me) and hung out with María y José at a friend’s house in Pilsen, discussing our mutual disdain for dip dish pizza and his recent aspirations. We then made our way out to a special after party in Little Village (one of many off Ruido Fest events) where he was to perform a DJ Set as Tony Gallardo (one of his many artistic personas) alongside a performance by Oakland-based cumbia outfit Candelaria and another surprise DJ set. Candelaria skillfully brought the dance floor to boiling point, while Tony made the anonymous bodies mingle, merging Yeezus to Dembow and Bachata. The night ended with a selection of 90s dance and R&B gems curated by Mariana. I left around 4 am, head full of sounds, belly full of liquor and pizza.
Souad Martin-Saoudi is not on Twitter.