The Fierce Women of Alt-Rock

Chicago’s Ruido Fest Celebrates its Second Edition

25 JULY 2016,
Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes at Ruido Fest 2016. Photo: Catalina Maria Johnson
Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes at Ruido Fest 2016. Photo: Catalina Maria Johnson

With the imposing Willis Tower in the background and the scent of huitlacoche tacos and pambazos permeating the air of hot Chicago days and amidst Lucha Libre for kids and a fully-operational Rockstar Barber providing haircuts amongst other attractions, for three days, 35,000 rocanrol enthusiasts encompassing several generations displayed tattoos, piercings and an abundance of multi-colored hair as they rocked out in Pilsen’s Adams-Medill Park. The second annual edition of Ruido Fest was on!

The fest headliners were arguably a collection of the who’s who of classic rock-en-español bands bands that several attendees enthusiastically declared they’d come to see because “it’s the music I grew up with!” Veteran roqueros such as Fabulosos Cadillacs, Panteón Rococó and Aterciopelados showed that many, many years after being founded, they are still immensely capable of provoking massive singalongs.

Perhaps it’s mainly because we adore Andrea Echeverri, but of the most beloved artists, Aterciopelados’ music seems to have aged particularly well. Their classic tunes are still as fresh as was when we first heard them - unpredictable and with melodic and rhythmic lilts with touches of roots Colombian sounds that still surprise the ear, after all these years.

Nevertheless, some of the most intriguing acts were not the super veteranos, but a middle layer of beyond-emerging bands who are not yet not firmly established, especially in the U.S.A - a veritable musical sweet spot of discovery. These were bands with a well-articulated musical vision who are nevertheless open to experimenting, and we and they still happily are realizing how far they can push the envelope. This included, for example, Chicago’s own psych-pop rockers Divino Niño, garage-rock trio Las Robertas from Costa Rica, and the punk-pop surf-rockers of Mexico’s Los Blenders.

Besides depending on fairly mainstream rock-en-español classics, Ruido Fest like most festivals these days (unfortunately) was dude-heavy in terms of lineup. So in the spirit of Andrea Echeverri’s self-love anthem that declares ”I love my butt” (and goes on to express love for other body parts), we’d like to share our love in particular for the ruidosas, the women of Ruido Fest. Although often ably backed up and supported by their male counterparts, their spirit shone fierce and clear in Ruido Fest 2016.

Starting with the maestra herself, Andrea Echeverri, Colombia’s premier pioneer alt-rocker, who wore large heart-shaped glasses and clouds-and-rainbow wig-hat that visually enunciated the quirky positivity of Aterciopelado’s life-affirming rocanrol. Their magical realism-tinged songs, laden with hallmark humorous touches have been integral to the soundtracks of our lives since Aterciopelados was born in 1990. These extremely accomplished artists took a break for a few years from performing, so it was a treat and a relief to have them back in their best form ever.

Also mixing roots and rock but of a more Mexican and pan-Latino kind, La Marisoul, Los Angeles’ La Santa Cecilia’s vocalist never lets her audience down. There’s something poignant and personal in the music La Santa Cecilia creates, which references traditional Latin music such as the bolero, the rancheras and the cumbia, with a contemporary edge and activist lyrics. The immense power of La Marisoul’s vocals are enhanced in the interplay between her and José ‘Pepe’ Carlos, a masterful accordionist with major chops, an interplay that was born when they were youngsters accompanying musicianl relatives as they played in Los Angeles’ famous downtown Mexican plaza on Olvera Street.

On the other end of the spectrum - nothing traditional about them - Las Robertas from Costa Rica, led in a trio by co-founder Mercedes Oller and bassist Sonya Carmona, put a driving edge on lo-fi-ish fuzzy garage pop rock with psych touches that had the audience easily swaying along to the groove. The sound created by Las Robertas (whose name was inspired by combining 60s girl groups and The Ramones) had another unique quality: the lightly swirling ethereal vocals they layer onto the other textures they create. This results in a wonderful paradox: The body moves, and the head trances: Dance and trance, always a win-win situation.

Similarly of a completely contemporary bent , Marineros from Chile is a duo composed of Constanza Espina and Soledad Puente who craft songs of “love and existentialism,” which intertwine Espina’s intensely lovely vocals, Puentes’ dazzling guitar work and programmed beats. Although in the large open space of the park it was at times hard to make out the complex and poetic lyrics of Marineros’ songs, the sentiments never failed to come through: a sweet vulnerability and exquisite yearning for intimacy that are the highlight of tunes like “Secret” that state much as the audience at Ruido must have felt: “Your mystery becomes more intense, the closer I get.”

Last but certainly not least, one of our sheroes, Teri-Gender Bender, dressed in killer red with pumps to match, strode onto the stage, took control of said stage and never released it for a moment. Gender-Bender’s high-voltage performance goes from wailing to striding to squatting to practically physically giving birth to the music on stage never feels forced or purely theatrical. It shares an emotion that emerges from very deep and a current of forceful anger that somehow never reeks toxic. Finally, Gender-Bender’s accomplished guitar and keyboard playing and vocals make her performances uniquely captivating.

Check out Beat Latino's roundup of Ruido Fest 2016 music.

See you at Ruido 2017!