Los Rakas, all photos by the author
The last day of Chicago’s Ruido Fest was essentially a marathon of sun soaking, dancing and sweating (a lot). I was really excited to catch Maria Daniela y su Sonido Lasser’s set on the Santo Stage. Her distinctive voice and incredible stage presence made her a must see. Accompanied by talented producer Emilio Ecevedo, Maria Daniela put together a vigorously kitsch and youthful electronic dance party ideal for an afternoon context. My favorite moment was her covering Mexican pop singer Daniela Romo’s “Mentira” and the crowd belting out the chorus “Dime por qué me dices siempre solamente mentiras. Dime por qué no dices nunca la verdad.”
Spanish tropical postpunk gurus Triangulo de Amor Bizaro, who were visiting the US for the first time, followed shortly after on the Demon Stage, bringing together the grand majority of festivalgoers. The band’s thunderous energy was palpable all around (even from my slightly remote spot in the shade). Isabel Cea Álvarez led the vocals on the first couple of songs to sublime effect. TBA particularly excels at crafting epic love songs, taking advantage of the way that Isa and Rodrigo Caamaño’s voices intertwine and meet each other effortlessly. The band’s sound goes beyond the rock experience: It’s a metaphorical language, an expression of melancholy, nostalgia, mysticism and passion. Playing songs primarily from Año Santo and Victoria Mística, as well as some from their upcoming album, the adulated outfit made the entire crowd vibrate blissfully, offering an impeccable and emotional performance.
Triangulo de Amor Bizarro
Shortly afterward, wearing one of her signature outfits (tartan miniskirt, white boots and crop top with a rainbow zipper) Kali Uchis addressed the eager audience at the Santo Stage in Spanish, highlighting part of the distinct appeal of this festival in contrast to the broader spectrum of US festivals. The Colombian-American singer also had the weather and schedule in her favor: Her impeccable marriage of languorous 60s southern soul, early ska, and modern R&B was sending out some serious time-to-chill vibes
At the same time, the Panamanian via Oakland hip-hop act Los Rakas were performing, with their admirers nodding their heads and reciting every verse. The group, cousins DunDun and Rico, perform with the attitude of American hip-hop in Spanish and Spanglish, and they really know their shit. They dominated the stage, jumping up and down, connecting with the public readily and easily. Sporting their on merch (Soy Raka T-shirts and socks) and serving a collection of their best tracks—predominantly off of Chancletas y Camisetas Bordada and Raka Love—they exuded energy and swag. I left as everyone was intoning “Yo si soy Ra-ka, tengo mi pistola y me diente de oro.”
I had seen Porter, the beloved alt-rock band from Guadalajara, at Nrmal Festival in Mexico City earlier this year and fallen in love with the new formation. After frontman Juan Son left the band back in 2008, they chose, despite detractors, to recruit a new vocalist, David Velasco, an old friend of the band. Departing from their past aesthetic (androgynous, introspective, surreal pop) and venturing into epic rock territory, Porter reinvented themselves. The live result was great journey through a lost era, one of legends and native culture. Wearing white shirts with multicolored ribbons, the quintet succeeded in rallying former fans and new spectators, alternating between songs from their latest album, Moctezuma, and venerated classics Atemahawke and Donde los ponys pastan (which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year).
At the Santo Stage, Andres Nusser of the Chilean galactic pop act Astro was demonstrating undeniable stage presence and prodigious hair whipping, and it conquered me instantly. The band’s wicked polyrythmic approach takes on greater and greater levels of exuberance live. There was a swift moment of levitation throughout the crowd when they performed their 2010 hit,“Maestro Distorsión.” But sadly, Astro were literally unplugged before they could properly say goodbye and play their last song, “Ciervos” (I was so ready to sing “A-E-O, Tenemos ganas de corer…”!).
As I arrived at Sonido Gallo Negro’s performance, a large number of spectators had placed themselves behind one another, hands on each other’s shoulders, forming a grooving and winding little dance train. The vintage cumbia ensemble from Mexico City melded a somewhat psychedelic spaghetti-western-inspired feel to chicha-surf, backed with ghostly Theremin howls. They immediately made me think of 1960s and 1970s Peruvian bands like Juaneco y su Combo, Los Mirlos, and Los Shapis. The set progressively got better, and by the end the crowd had broken into a friendly cumbia dance-off as the sun was setting.
Sonido Gallo Negro
The marathon ended with the highly anticipated performance by the emblematic Café Tacvba. It was a great communal experience, despite the distressing sea of phones on monopods. The highlight was when lead singer Rubén Albarrán invited Mariel Mariel, who had performed the day before, to join him and the band for a special interpretation of “El Baile y el Salon,” a song about two men falling in love on the dance floor. Before saying goodbye, the band took the time to commemorate 43 students who have gone missing in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, Mexico.
Ruido Fest had promised three days filled with noise, and it delivered, leaving my ears buzzing long afterward. It was only the festival’s first year, but its strong vision, distinctive lineup, and solid organization made it instantly memorable, and I can’t wait for it to return.
Souad Martin-Saoudi is a writer living in Montreal.