Thursday, October 30, 2014

Minimalism: Las Ultrasónicas and "Quiero Ser Tu Perra"

In the mid- to late-70s, there was a revolution in rock music. Too bad I missed it.

Now, just a warning. I'm not a music critic of any kind, and chances are that I don't know what I'm writing about. These are just my own musings and not some kind of cultural dissection that fully explains causes and consequences in music. I'm just an average Joe. And here I'm writing about the punk movement or at least my experience of it. The fact is that up to that point, rock music had been getting more and more complex and more ambitious. I can remember listening to the almost orchestral movements of the progressive rock bands, and the operatic goals of bands like The Who. Much of that kind of music stirred me, and therefore I wandered down those paths. Of course, there were some spectacular failures. For every "concept album" that worked there seemed to be one that didn't. But given that rock music was coming into its middle age by the late 70s, like all anyone that ages it had become more thoughtful and introspective. The giants of rock were trying to make put their stamp on the new classical music of the time and cement its respectability. Gone were the days of simple guitar riffs and chord changes with vocals layered on top.

Yet they weren't. A small but growing and sizable group of musicians decided to go the other way. They stripped rock music of all the baggage that had been added on to it...the complex chord changes, the literary allusions, the flowery fluffery, the operatic pretensions. Instead, they went back to three chords and vocals and, even better, added in a significant dosage of rage. Rage against what rock had become, as well as rage against the conditions that had been one of the original underpinnings of rock - social injustice, economic stagnation and inequality. Rock had started as rebellious dance music with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, then had become a vehicle for protest in the 60s. When punk bands stripped off the ornamentation, they uncovered layers back to the original rebellion and they amped up the rage. In doing so, they made rock more minimalist but also truer to its roots in a way. Everything else was still there - dance (in free-for-alls at punk concerts), anger (in straight ahead, driving, distorted guitars and songs playing at intense speeds), rebellion (involving everything from style of music to style of clothes and hair), and protest. Punk became a music and a lifestyle, much as rock in the sixties had been music and lifestyle. It's just that punk hoped to save the essence of rock from itself.

It's only been lately, at a time when most people are well past their punk years, that I've taken initial forays into punk and I'm surprised that I like it. For one, I find that I can still touch on that rage I felt in the late 70s and early 80s and what I perceived were the injustices of the world - it's easy to take those things personally at a young age and I think punk, in its stripped down minimalism, must have felt pretty personal to young people who were into it. I also have discovered that punk was pretty egalitarian. Because it stripped rock to its essence, often three chords on a guitar, you didn't particularly have to be a good musician to play it. Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols supposedly was a very limited bassist. But he had charisma, which was important when you stripped down the music. Gender also didn't seem to matter so much, and I remember hearing of more women in punk than in other areas of rock - sure you had your Go-Gos and your Bangles, but you also had your Runaways and Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Plasmatics. And who can leave out Patti Smith, often called the godmother of punk? We found out from these bands that women could rage as much or even more than men, with a deeper well to dig from given gender inequalities.

I wish I hadn't missed it in its heyday, but I can appreciate it now looking back over the years. And all this is preamble to today's random tune from a girl-punk group out of Mexico City called Las Ultrasónicas. Formed by Jenny Bombo and Tere Farfissa in 1996, Las Ultrasónicas started out as a quintet playing in seedy Mexico City dives. They became a quartet in 1997 with the departure of Farfissa. They released their first album, Yo Fui Una Adolescente Terrosatánica, in 1999. The band broke up in 2000, but reformed in 2002 as a trio with the release of Ohh Síi, Más... Más!!! Besides Mexico, they have toured in the United States and Colombia. Quiero Ser Tu Perra is their cover of The Stooges' I Want To Be Your Dog and appeared on Yo Fui Una Adolescente Terrosatánica.