“… Here come Los Siquicos Litoraleños in their powered flying saucer low-fi technology, full of gauchos, aliens, cows and armadillo carts, like the ark of Noah and a lysergic apocalypse.”
This year, my label Sham Palace, together with Annihaya Records in Beirut, were finally able to issue the joint production we had discussed for some time – a full-length album from Argentinian underground mavericks, Los Siquicos Litoraleños. "Sonido Chipadelico" is the debut international release from Los Siquicos, and the collection represents some of the greatest moments from the group’s dense and damaged repertoire. Their music is a unique triumph of homegrown rural psychedelia, standing alone on the edge of an unchartered vanguard.
Here is the contemporary group you keep hoping exist, but can never find. Mind-melting tropical psych-rock, pitched-down cumbias soaked in dub brine, swirling solar instrumentals, and surrealist shamanic lyrics laid across guitars, drums, tapes and electronics – bringing together multi-fidelity electric and acoustic psychic sound-forms from the greater depths of sound and surprise.
“…These guys grew from Cucumelo spores on the humid underside of cow patties in Corrientes, Argentina. They make shamanic cumbia folklore with an energy that sprouts from whatever enters their bloodstream.””
—Julia Worley (nobodyslistening.blogspot.com)
The group hails from the town of Curuzú Cuatiá, in Corrientes, northeastern Argentina – in the area known as el Litoral. Inhabitants of this region are known as Litoraleños. Los Siquicos Litoraleños (The Psychics of el Litoral) aren’t running from their musical heritage, they are staring straight at it – spinning it around, refracting it, and transmuting it into something that is probably one of the most genuine things that has happened to folk, rock, experimental or psychedelic music in many years.
Strong allegations, but it’s not often you come across a band who dispel the notion that invention and sincerity in music has had its day. The ways we listen to, purchase, and believe in music have shifted significantly over the past decade or two. It’s a post-post-post-post world, and many music lovers – let down – have found themselves either celebrating derivative throwbacks or trying to forge excitement from redundancy and rehash – wading the shallow pools of nostalgia. It’s the major reason I started re-tuning my own musical and cultural interests so many years ago, and began searching for them in different parts of the world. In an increasingly globalized cluster-fuck of a planet, cultural difference, inspiration and intrigue are something more valuable than any tangible commodity. And just when you’re expecting the curtains to be drawn on originality, a band of Psychics descend…
“Los Siquicos are the most relevant modern-day link to the South American legacies of tropicalia, cumbia, chicha, and psychedelia. They eliminate all the menus, re-configure your eyesight, heat the skins on your eardrums, and dance atop that big rhinoceros in your living room. And wherever they choose to navigate from here, you will feel an urge to follow, but you will never catch them.”
—Alan Bishop (Sun City Girls / Sublime Frequencies)
I was first introduced to Los Siquicos in 2007, when Sascha Roth (curator and organizer of the venerable WORM venue in Rotterdam) began describing their sound to me, and turning me on to their MySpace page.
I asked Sascha about how he first got into Los Siquicos.
Sascha: It was Mr. Sebastian Pappalardo, a catalyst for the more interesting fractions of the Buenos Aires underground scene, who urged me to check out Los Siquicos' MySpace page circa 2007. During my next Buenos Aires visit, I managed to collect a pile of Argentine DIY releases – and the clear winner was an early edit of their 'A Pleno Ritmo Sideral!' – the inlay depicting the band's dumb pose in front of a photo backdrop of their hometown's scorched roadside welcome sign, was a fitting introduction to their music: a demented crossover of chamamé folk, meandering cumbia and distant shreds of dub/reggae; all hopped-up on too much mate, weed and Argentine beef(heart). I'd like to think that this was the odd rural psychedelica that I had dreamed up before even hearing them... the one I knew would exist below the equator. Los Siquicos –seemingly accidently – push the right combination of all the wrong buttons, spiritually re-connecting stuff that's somehow akin, like Billy Bond's 'Tontos (Operita)', Los Speakers' 'En El Maravilloso Mundo De Ingeson' and some Caroliner. The unknown stuff that’s crawling in the whole South American underground right now has yet to develop into something to rival this bands significance anno 2013.
Los Siquicos remained outsiders to the Argentinian rock circuit for quite a while, though their unpredictable live performances in Buenos Aires caused a stir amongst the local scene. Their shows often feature extended line-ups, with members cloaked in surreal gaucho costumes, playing segments of free-music and altered versions of regional tunes influenced by the myriad regional gaucho dance bands. All the while, projections of cows, fractals, UFOs and their beloved countryside play out in the background. At home, they’re affectionately referred to as "El Pink Floyd de los pobres" – the poor man’s Pink Floyd. Over time, the group has gained underground acclaim both nationally and abroad after sending their signals out in the form of self-released CDs, internet presence, and a handful of European tours.
Dick el Demasiado is a half-Dutch, half-Argentinian musician and artist – often described as the "godfather of experimental cumbia." Back in 2000, he was busy laying the mythological groundwork for what would later be known as "digital cumbia." In 2005 he received an email from Nico of Los Siquicos, inviting him to their town.
Dick: Nico (the Alfajor De Corrientes) promised I could perform a concert with merely cows as the audience – and that sounded attractive. I traveled 1500 kilometers into the heat, and there they were – rehearsing in front of the local police station – loud and off-tune. A long run of tereré followed, for years. Thus, now we are an incestuous club – continuously exchanging and displacing each other’s musicians like long distance rental cars. Some of the members of my band went to play with the Siquicos, and some of the Siquicos play in mine – The group: Dick El Demasiado y Sus Exagerados. We are a secret sect … a childlike version of the Charles Manson community – without the ugliness, weapons, or evil looks.
I asked Dick how he would describe Los Siquicos:
Dick: With utmost sincerity: Cucu plays the guitar with scorpion-stings. He is the sweetest, no doubt. He’s the one you have to look for when you’re walking in a swamp, because he is ready to caress yacarés. Germán, the coherent drummer, the man with the permanent tear, is the cowboy. He is not a boy and not a cow, but he knows how to barbwire the Patagonian plains, which he does to survive. Diego is the poet – the Shelley, the Macedonio Fernández, and he walks in sandals. By now he’s in Tierra del Fuego. He plays wonderful, honeywise, and he writes. Pedro is the pastor: a shepherd in Spain. He can play flute, stones and harmonies. He reads. Finally, Nico is the seller of laughing gas and scattered vapor trails – you name it. He will even rent your own passport out to you, and your C.V. with it. He can attack a subject with the tightness of a plectrum and the vagueness of a wah-wah pedal. I don’t think I forgot any of them. They are all wonderful, and hell to herd on a tour. If I left anything undescribed, it would probably be that they are sincere in the utmost, and in spite of their sunglasses, no folky bullshit act.
I was able to discuss the histories and philosophies of Los Siquicos with core-member and visionary Nico Kokote in September, 2013.
Nico: We started in 2004, I think. Cucu and Germáncho
were playing in a local hard rock band when I first met them. Rock bands were a very unusual thing in Curuzú Cuatiá then. Most of the music you’d hear was chamamé, cumbia or some cover band making ugly Latino pop. At that time I was playing with a friend from my high school years who was into garage and punk rock, had lots of instruments, amplifiers and a rehearsal space at home. It was mainly for fun, and the intention wasn’t to be involved in a serious project. I just screamed and sang in fake English to his '60s riffs. Los Siquicos Litoraleños were actually thought of as a side project from another band that never had a name. I first came up with the name as a parody of the classical chamamé bands with names such as "Los Amigos Del Litoral" (The Litoral Friends) or "Los Trovadores Chaqueños" (The Troubadours From Chaco) and things like that. It wasn’t really clear if this new band would be a folk band, a cumbia band or a total experimental improv band. The only thing that was certain was that playing rock was not as fun as trying to do something different. That was when Cucu, Germán and I began to make music at Germán’s house in the barrio (later dubbed Rancho Rocha).
Mark: What was the original vibe of the group in those early days?
Nico: We only had a drum set, an amp and a couple guitars. More than anything, it was really good that we could play for hours and hours with no rules at all. Soon, we began to mutate into a really open band with no fixed members. We would do free-form space cumbia jams – filled with long segments (sometimes hours) of pure noise and cacophony. Friends from town would come around and play on whatever instrument they’d find lying on the floor, make some noise, or just hang around. Around that time, our friend Pedro lent us his old PC and some mics so we could try recording something. The result was 'A Pleno Ritmo Sideral!' (At Full Sidereal Rhythm!) – our first record.
Mark: Was the band always actively mutating local musical traditions into your own sound?
Nico: Around 2004/2005, we began to develop a curiosity for the rustic chamamé of the country. On one occasion, Germán and I went to visit the local chamamé musician Pablo "Machaque" Esquivel, and recorded him and his brother Nico Esquivel on a Walkman. It was something that would prove to be very inspirational for us in more than one way. "Chamamé maceta" was the real thing – not the more refined variety found at boring musical festivals. Actually, we had no idea how to play chamamé, but that didn’t matter at all. We didn’t know how to play cumbia, either. We didn't get into cumbia listening or buying cumbia records. Chicha, rebajadas, cumbiambas – we learned about all those things a lot later. We actually liked the sound of the popular cumbia radio tunes as listened to from a distance of two blocks, at least. That sound (as well as the sound of chamamé tunes) was omnipresent in Curuzú houses, and you could hear it coming from the windows as you’d ride on your bike –all the way to the barrio. At a certain distance, you could hear the bass lines very well, while the rest of the song became somehow left to your imagination. We got a lot of ideas connected to that feeling – a cumbia beat coming from the distance on a hot and deserted dirt road.
Mark: Your live shows now are legendary. When did Los Siquicos become a performing entity?
Nico: In 2005 we did our first show under the Los Siquicos name. It was at a biker's festival in Curuzú Cuatiá, and there were lots of Harley Davidson characters in the audience. When we started to play, they began to make noise with their motorcycles. Our sound wasn’t so loud, so the music was overwhelmed by the noise. They were all decked out in black leather jackets – we were wearing funny homemade helmets and ragged tunics. We played the classic festivals, like one for the anniversary of the city, and other such events – organized by the local council. At one, "Festival de los Derechos Humanos" (Human Rights Festival), they presented us as "Los Psicoticos del Litoral" (The Litoral Psychotics). I came on screaming into the mic, "We all have the right to be humans!" while the band played an introductory two-note hypnotic tantric chamamé.
Getting a proper gig in town proved to be a very difficult thing to attain. When Dick El Demasiado visited us, we went to the clubs and played his music to see if we could organize some shows but they weren’t interested at all. Small town mentality – very conservative, you know. Our first "official" show was outside Corrientes, in Buenos Aires in December 2005, at Dick's FESTICUMEX festival (Festival de Cumbia Experimental). We played with Dick and some other bands. It was very different from your typical rock concert, and there was a real sense of risk and freshness.
The live shows eventually mutated legendary elaborate performances, with characters such as “El Entraterrestre” (The Intraterrestrial) dressed in a robe with an E.T. mask throwing tarot cards at the audience’s heads. Strange videos were emerging of the group playing outdoors in full regalia. People began catching wind of Los Siquicos via the internet and word of mouth. Their locally-released CD-Rs were difficult to come by abroad, but occasionally a few new tracks would go up on their MySpace page, sustaining the belief that something very strange was continuing to disrupt the Argentinian countryside.
Nico: In 2007, we began to film our shows and concentrate more on playing live than on trying to finish another record. We did more shows in Buenos Aries, in our own town, and other remote places in the country. When trying to get gigs at the clubs was a lost cause, we’d just end up connecting our amps to an electric generator and playing for nature – sometimes to film it, or to play for our friends. That year we had a humid and hot summer. The house was full of mushrooms, and we were playing intensely. On weekends it could go all day long – with just a siesta break, mate, tereré and then music again. During that summer, we lost our guitars on a trip to the country. We were traveling in two trucks, and apparently they fell from the back. We never found them. Some of the more experimental recordings of the period derived from that simple fact – without our main guitars, we began playing our acoustic instruments again – combined with things like the broken washing machine, the freezer, toy keyboards and the radio with delay/looper. The end of 2007 was also the end of the Curuzú Cuatiá chapter in the history of the band. At the beginning of 2008, I relocated to Buenos Aires with the intention of getting gigs and doing logistics for the band. I also needed money to buy instruments. Buenos Aires is not a good city to live the kind of life a Siquico deserves. It is the predator dream come true, – the caffeine, coke, nerve-city of lobbyists, velociraptors and cheetahs – running or jogging as they search for the next check beneath the downstairs spiral of boredom, but you know, somebody had to do it.
Artist and musician Raed Yassin, a long-time friend and collaborator from Beirut makes up 1/3 of the Annihaya Records label. We had both been in touch with Los Siquicos over the internet since the late-2000s. Even before we started our respective labels, we had discussed wanting to release something from the group. Raed was able to catch the band in the Netherlands on one of their European tours in 2009. I asked what his thoughts were about the performance, and how he thought Los Siquicos fit into the scheme of an Annihaya production.
Raed: I had several different impressions. It was a mix between folk, funny, avant-garde, comedy, black humor, noise, rock, and ethnic music. The originality of it is that it’s unclassifiable. Los Siquicos is a perfect candidate for Annihaya because we usually produce albums that work between the lines and between genres; multi-layered experiences, such as revisited soundscapes, cover songs, and wannabe-sounding mixes that feel like something that has existed before.
"Sonido Chipadelico" has been compiled from recordings made by the group between 2005 and 2010.
I asked Nico how he felt about the group having an international release with a potentially wider audience.
Nico: It‘s great for this music to be heard overseas. I’m curious about what the reactions will be. What I like about the "Sonido Chipadelico material, is that some of the tracks were done under very limited conditions with very cheap equipment. Everything was trial and error then, and we had to get clever with our limitations.
Mark: I’m always struck by the many levels of fidelity in your music. 'Multi-fi' – and perhaps some of the strangest songs ever committed to tape in any hemisphere.
Nico: Yes, Multi-Fi, like multidimensional worlds and psychic portals in every track. We always like to work along those lines. In 2010, we released "Abduccion Nacional y Popular", an album that features the group with different line-ups. Some of the material was from the Curuzu years, and some of it was newer. The idea was to combine different fidelities, as the new recordings sounded far too "clear" and one-dimensional for our ears, so we inserted some Walkman and other lo-fi action between the main tracks. Some of my friends still complain about those kinds of decisions. They wanted us to sound more as we sound live – which isn’t possible, because I don’t think we have a fixed sound – it keeps on changing and changing...
Mark: Yes – and when I hear a track like “Necesita Ecualizacion” (It Needs More EQ), I feel like I’m listening to a wire recording made during a fire inside a bankrupt self-help clinic somewhere. Am I?
Nico: I think that "equalization" is more an accurate metaphor than "tuning in" or "cleaning up," especially when referring to radical change – and changing rapidly from the present state of things to an improved and more complex and flexible state. Our music is not just comedy, it is also equalizational demolition therapy – using sound to change people’s perceptions, and words to produce cognitive dissonance in order to free the masses from the prison of fixed ideas and prejudices. But more than anything we want to make friends. Song, wine…you know…
"Sonido Chipadelico" is available on vinyl LP via Sham Palace (SHAM004-LP), and as a limited-edition CD on Annihaya Records (END09-CD).