Peter Holslin invented seapunk
Los Macuanos is probably the grooviest band I’ve ever heard that makes music about politics, corruption, narco violence and urban decay. Their Latin rhythms are murky and vaguely threatening, but their digitized hand drums bang plenty hard, too. Their horn samples are suffused in ghostly echo and reverb, but these ghouls sound good. Critics have written impassioned posts about this Tijuana trio, extracting a generation’s worth of spilled blood and bone-snapping frustration from their songs’ chilling textures. But at the same time, Los Macuanos’ live shows are so warm and soulful that, once, I saw a concertgoer pull a full conga set out of nowhere just to play along.
Originally from TJ and now based in Mexico City, Los Macuanos are best known as the pioneers—along with a handful of other Tijuana artists—of an electro-folk style called “ruidosón.” Emerging in Tijuana in the late ’00s, ruidosón isn’t your average micro-movement, breathlessly blogged about for a hot minute but passé by dinnertime. If chillwave was the result of a missed acid-dropping date and the general listlessness of unemployment (not to mention a sorta-hilarious joke by that blogger who runs Hipster Runoff), ruidosón came out of something much scarier, but also much more inspiring: A terrifying cartel war being fought on TJ’s streets, followed by a remarkable renaissance of the city’s downtown tourist corridor.
Los Macuanos’ new album, El Origen, compiles many of the tracks they’ve recorded over their four-year run, showing how they’ve evolved over the years. The album runs the gamut from “El Metralleta,” the opening track, which pays homage to old-school narco-corridos (norteño folk ballads about the drug trade) with madcap accordion loops, gunshots and wailing police sirens; to “Pasado y Presente” (featuring the singer Lucrecia Dalt), a deadly-cool piece of trip-hop augmented with shivering electronics and a bit of Latin percussion; to “Bandera,” a hefty hunk of pre-Hispanic coldwave that best represents what they sound like today.
The trio comes into its own on “El Fantasma / La Maquila” (a track they originally released three years ago on their fantastic El Fin mix). Doing their best musical interpretation of French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s theory of “hauntology” —which posits that the post-Cold War age is haunted by the outmoded ideas of the past—they paint a portrait of Tijuana as a free-market industrial wasteland, using the slow-motion scrape of the güiro to mimic the mechanized factory sounds of the city’s many maquiladoras (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maquiladora). The track rides on a cumbia groove that’s both eerie and exciting, but it ends on an unsettling note, with the banshee-like howl of a horn sampled from an age before NAFTA.
El Origen might be hard to entirely wrap your head around if you’re not up on Mexican politics and the latest developments in underground Mexican beat music. Don’t worry, though, because in the end, the beat will guide you. Los Macuanos are playing at the Echo in L.A. on Wednesday, Dec. 11, with Las Cafeteras, DJ Ethos, and Neon Indian (who’s doing a DJ set). Bring congas if you’ve got ’em.