We went there: 8 things we learned at Festival NRMAL Costa Rica 2015

Text by Pierre Lestruhaut 
Photos by Carolina Vargas

And so it happened… Unexpectedly, Festival NRMAL expanded all the way to the capital of the small Central American nation that’s been trying to place itself as the musical bridge between contemporary North American and South American musicians with the recent efforts of Epicentro. Hosted in a single day at Centro de Eventos de Pedregal, in a typical November afternoon of rain, umbrellas, fashionable ponchos, a lot of booze and some very good music, we experienced the first edition of Festival NRMAL outside of Mexican territories. Here’s what we learned from it.

1. NRMAL lineups are never disappointing 

At least if you’re musical sensibilities are similar to our own. But it’s not only the fact that the line-ups are usually stacked with bands that we’ve constantly praised over the last few years, it’s also the ballsy decisions to avoid cash-grabbing headliners, give way to very disparate styles in a single stage, and showcase acts with barely any material released. Thus, this edition was not devoid of very-well respected independent acts (Gepe, Helado Negro, Algodón Egipcio), pioneering legends (The Sonics, aUTOPerro), and up-and-coming electronic musicians (Raido, AAAA, The Wiesengrund Project).

2. Respect your elders…

Though NRMAL and Epicentro have let it clear that they are big supporters of young and emerging Latin American artists, this festival also outlined just how much NRMAL acknowledges artists who have been keeping it real for decades. Local noise duo aUTOPerro (who were making avant-garde sonic experimentation right around the time Throbbing Gristle were experiencing their creative apex), took the main stage early in the afternoon and despite stylistically contrasting with the rest of the acts performing there, managed to get a furious roar and applause from the crowd following the climactic ending of their set. Much in the same way that 60’s pioneering garage rock band The Sonics attracted the biggest crowd of the whole afternoon, which was predictable, given the Costa Rican indie scene's still overwhelming preference for good ol' rock music over anything else.

 3. …and give credit to those who were there before you 

As expected, Buscabulla put out a very pleasant show that induced the movement of loins and played her hits from her debut EP with a few unreleased tracks and covers. If you’re not aware that Raquel Berrios started making rounds in the NYC scene as a DJ, one listen to some of her mixtapes will let you know of the deep-knowledge she has of Latin American dance music. Of course, she wasn’t shy of handing out her respects to some of her beloved artists from the past, especially when performing her tribute to Frankie Ruiz, and it’s precisely this constant awareness of the greatness of past musicians that make her music so appealing in the first place.

4. Hijos might be deserving of some pre-debut album hype and high expectations

They’ve already been praised elsewhere, and it’s about time they got praised here as well. Hijos, the solo project of Costa Rican Pablo Rojas (Monte, Florian Droids) is a solid candidate to become the next great act to come out of the small nation. There are have been couple of pop-hued tracks circling around the internet these last few months, and “La Playa,” where vocal duties are taken by Kumari Sawyers, is deserving of superlatives such as “excellent,” “blissed-out,” and other adjectives like “tropical” and “heartwarming”. Hijos put out a solid early afternoon set where their already known pop melodies stood seamlessly and successfully side-by-side with the more proggish oriented soundscapes that Rojas’ other bands were more accustomed too.

 5. Gepe is getting closer to Latino pop stardom with every album 

A strange statement to make about an artist headlining what has been one of the most underground-promoting festivals in Latin America, NRMAL Costa Rica wasn't really the platform or the audience for him to feel like a pop star yet. But it’s Gepe’s conflation of Latino pop and folk motives, his undeniable charisma, irresistible dance moves, and catchy pop idioms that make him more suitable for grand arena Latin pop. And we wouldn’t be surprised if he got there rather soon.

 6. … and “En la naturaleza” is still the greatest latino song of the last few years

Even though Estilo Libre is Gepe’s biggest effort at exploring some of Latin folk’s most danceable patterns, “En la naturaleza” is still his most accomplished effort in fusing modern dance music and Latin folk. Despite dembow being a Latin club staple for more than 10 years, Gepe’s “experimental conquest” still feels fresh, unmatched, and absolutely drives the crowd insane. As DJ deMentira, who was wearing a Discos Pegaos shirt, took over PedroPiedra’s duties as Gepe’s sideshow rapper, the realization came forward that Gepe is all the things we’ve usually admired from a musician: crowd-pleasing enough to want to be a continental star, ballsy enough to explore territories no one else in his niche would dare to, and self-conscious enough to always be aware of his indie origins.

7. 10 pm is a very early time to end a one-day music festival 

The best music festivals we’ve been are obviously the ones that extend the partying well past midnight and allow dance music lovers to keep on dancing through the night. This first edition of NRMAL Costa Rica had a very well-crafted and conceived electronic music dome stage, much in the vein of Primavera Sound’s Boiler Room tent where sets could extend for those looking for non-stop dance action. In between main stage performances, we managed to catch a small portion of each of the acts playing the dome: The Wiesengrund Project’s drone-oriented and politically charged beats and visuals, Raido’s more introspective synth-driven hip-hop, and AAAA acid and Chicago oriented sounds. The only downside: 10 pm was a very early time to shut down an overheating dome that reeked of sweat and weed, hypnotized its crowd with warping beats, and should've kept the party going longer.

8. Enrique Coyotzi is an insensitive prick 

Promises were made. Expectations were raised. But our dear dear Enrique Coyotzi was nowhere to be seen at NRMAL Costa Rica, despite those very promises that were made, those expectations that were so highly raised. We will still hold on to those memories of NRMAL 2013, of seeing him arrive midset to Fakuta’s performance at Gómez, watching him leave after hearing 10 seconds of Dustin Wong at Panamérika Stage, and swinging like a lost child amidst the hip crowd of Monterrey. Your presence was missed.

Mahmundi - "Eterno Verão"

Marcela Vale aka Mahmundi is back. For anyone unfamiliar, the Brazilian artist first became to known us in 2013 as a rising talent with a promising, eclectic career. She returns now with a striking pose against a sky blue backdrop. The image is an LP sleeve waiting to happen. It also suggests a new level of craftsmanship that favors cleaner, bigger sounds to the more condensed production found on her Setembro EP.

On "Eterno Verão", we hear real instruments (pianos, guitars) matched perfectly to Mahmundi's disarming voice. There is a call to find an ideal ("Nesse verão que nunca tem fim"), but knows that pure nostalgia is not the way. Mahmundi wants to hone in on more affecting melodies. Her vocalizing signals a shift between the feel-good pianos to nighttime passion. In any language or season, it still translates as a beautiful track.

Video: MINT FIELD - "Petty Box"

Tijuana's MINT FIELD come with very few words on "Petty Box." Their brief observations sound ripped from a teen movie to which the song’s sinister, psychedelic riffing could easily fit the score. As one of the darker tracks from their Primeras Salidas EP, the trio faithfully present themselves in this light for the accompanying video. In it, we see background beauty queens and home movie shots chock-full of dream symbolism (bathtubs, bananas, credit to Noisey for the introduction and that dissection). The last shot frames the band looking straight on and extra moody in a way that only an emerging group could get away with. These are eyes that give us chills, but more importantly also signal the future.


Pesi The Mixtape, PESI
Independiente, Spain
Rating: 75
by Giovanni Guillén

Recently our blogger friends at Tacón De Oro have jokingly (but kind of seriously) become ambassadors for Spain’s influx of rappers, producers, reggaetoneros and trap artists (the biggest being PXXR GVNG along with all associated acts). Our own coverage has been limited to the party anthems, distancing ourselves from the flow of single after single from their expanding repertoire. As we approach the end of the year that output has become daunting. We don’t even know where to start.

PESI is not a singular project but a collective effort. Leading the brand is El Mini aka Moisturisin Mini aka Boyito K.R.E.A.M. (there might be more, we’ve lost count). 2015 has been a bit of a breakout year for El Mini thanks to his features and standalone singles. The most notable contribution from the Spanish artist came this summer with “Tacón de oro”, the glittery highlight from the Joseo De Oro compilation sponsored by the aforementioned Mexican blog. In seizing the titular inspo, El Mini imagined himself as a nini caught in a classic scenario of falling for a girl out of his league. It was this move that instantly helped us place him as a main character behind the PESI brand.

PESI THE MIXTAPE opens with an insane vocaloid performance from female MC Zowie. The production from Steve Lean charges with aggressive bass, which Zowie exploits to a full degree as she stunts over her own sexual prowess. The bars are nothing special, but Zowie comes in as an opener ready to rile up an impatient crowd. Especially those wanting to fight everyone before the actual show starts. Next we hear “No tengo nada”, a straightforward but stellar exercise in trap. The song is credited to Los Zafiro$, a Madrid-based duo of Dominican and Cuban origins who’ve carved out their own lane both as rappers (see: “Los Santos Me Acompañan”) and reggaetón artists (see: Gipsy Lovers).

Boyito K.R.E.A.M.’s “Blue” blends a Kingdom Hearts sample for a Sad Boy moment. While not necessarily a bad track, it still gets an eye-roll for being as unremarkable as a Tumblr feed full of Yung Lean and Arizona Tea gifs. In a mixtape bursting with fresh talent and energy, slow songs feel extra. This misstep does little to dispel the other highlights featuring Boyito. He assists with Zowie’s return on “No Money Makes Money” where both shine as if blessed with the chrome Midas touch of BFlecha. Interpolating the line “De lunes a lunes, ganja y autotune...” the pair already sound past a mere meteoric season. They’re ready to get higher, You know you at the top when only heaven's right above it-higher. In the end, this mood is what gives value to PESI THE MIXTAPE. Here we find a group of artists on the eve of something huge, and even these initial efforts are worth paying attention to.

Club FonoGRAMMYS - Best Alternative Song

A photo posted by JAVIERA �� (@javieramena) on

Finally, after years of twisting Carlos's arm, Club Fonograma presents it's First Annual Latin Grammy coverage! Join a few of the crew as we give our thoughts on various categories. And, if you're catching this early, hang around our Twitter account during showtime as Andrew Casillas provides real-time analysis of presenters' hairstyles and identifies which performers sweat more than Patrick Ewing. So without further ado, let's kick off the 2015 Club FonoGRAMMYS!

Category 1: Best Alternative Song

  • Famasloop — "Allí Estás"
  • Astro — "Caribbean"
  • Natalia Lafourcade — "Hasta la Raíz"
  • El Cuarteto de Nos — "No Llora"
  • Javiera Mena — "Otra Era"

  • Zé Garcia: The Alt Record of the Year category shows the expanding spectrum of the Academy's considerations. On the (as expected) terrible end, we have Venezuela's Famasloop with "Allí Estás." Clearly, we can think of dozens of recordings more deserving than what sounds like background music for a Comcast commercial.  El Cuarteto de Nos is not as terrible as the Febreeze pop of "Allí Estás" but "No Llora" is still pretty annoying. Visually, "No Llora" channels the work of Kraft Mac & Cheese commercials complete with cute (read: obnoxious) child. The "Gloria Estefan-but-on-acid" bros of Astro also land a nomination with the pretty cool "Caribbean," but clearly one of our girls is taking home that prize and it's probably the recording industry's darling, Natalia Lafourcade. Yes, "Hasta La Raiz" is clearly one of the finest recordings of the last year, a song whose poetry and strings measure up to the word "epic." But it's going up against "Otra Era," one of the best songs of this young century. "Otra Era," our pick for 2014's best song, would probably land the top stop in a Club Fonograma mid-decade's best list. And why shouldn't it? "Otra Era" is sublime. It contemplates empires--a time-space pop gem composed of an ulterior reggaeton beat, the urge of a disco house piano, and a final climax that sounds like a doomsday siren. Mena's vocals get pitch shifted into a malformed future in the song's final moments and the effects are both terrifying and exhilarating. The transcendent quality of "Otra Era" has the ability to drive a perceptive listener to tears- a recording to match a beautiful & tragic existential crisis.

    Andrew Casillas: I legit lol'd at your comment that "Allí Estás" sounding like a Comcast ad. I mean, you can't be mad at El Cuarteto de Nos sneaking in here--I mean, there are way worse dinosaur bands getting Latin Grammy nods. By the way, when did "Caribbean" become Astro's breakthrough? DID NO ONE LISTEN TO "DIMENSIÓN SUPREMA?!" That song's got bars, son. So yeah, it comes down to the CF darlings Natalia and Javiera. I think we can agree that "Otra Era's" mere presence is a legitimate win for the 21st century Chilean pop monolith. And it's certainly the most innovative song in the category. But I'm not 100% certain that "Hasta la Raiz" isn't the better song. I may prefer "Otra Era" as a whole, but Natalia Lafourcade's spent an entire career working her craft to make something as instant and delicate as "Hasta la Raiz." And let's take a minute to understand how difficult it probably was to craft something like that. Is it her best song? No. But is it something worth giving an award to? Damn right.

    WHO SHOULD WIN: Javiera Mena, "Otra Era"
    WHO WILL WIN: Natalia Lafourcade, "Hasta la Raíz"