Receipt: April 8, 2021
Acceptance: May 25, 2021
Break everything. The history of rock in Latin America
Picky Talarico, Nicolás Entel and Nicolás Gueilburt2020 Red Creek Productions, New York.
Rompan todo is a documentary series1 of the historical2, participatory3 and testimonial4 genre distributed by Netflix. It is made up of six chapters, each lasting approximately one hour. The chapters present chronologically the development of rock music in Latin America, each one covering a period of approximately 10 years.
The history of rock is developed through the voices of some of its protagonists/narrators/witnesses who tell their personal experience.5 Leaders of rock bands or record producers from different Spanish-speaking countries: Colombia, Chile, Uruguay and Spain, although the accounts of witnesses from Argentina and Mexico predominate. The narration unfolds in the narrators' private spaces: the living room of their home, their music studios or the garden. In addition, there is an abundance of medium shots of the interviewees facing the camera. In some cases, the members of the rock band appear on stage talking to each other. The images show the satisfactory and economically successful living conditions of the rockers interviewed. Most of the narrators, except in the last chapter, are over fifty years old.
The series is structured through the narration of singular experiences articulated around a common origin and purpose. Interspersed between the stories of the interlocutors are sequences of archival material, which give an account of the political and economic context in which rock developed in each country. The denouement of the series refers to the decline of rock in the second decade of the new century; however, it concludes with an expression of desire for a new resurgence of rock with the hope that "rock never dies".
In the first chapter, called "La rebelión", the documentary traces the origins of rock music in Latin America in the late 1950s and 1960s and concludes with the emergence of local rock bands that begin to make their own music and lyrics within the framework of patriarchal, authoritarian and repressive Latin American nation-states.
Mexico appears as the gateway for rock music coming from the United States and from where it spread to the rest of Latin America through the production and distribution of records and films, and artistic tours of the stars of the moment. The rock and roll groups in Mexico started doing covers with "free" translations of English songs into Spanish. Archival images show different groups playing and singing in tours, nightclubs and radio broadcasts, films and television programs. Rock, considered inoffensive up to that moment, emerges as merchandise of the cultural industries for the consumption of the new generations.
The arrival of The Beatles marks a new era. Beatlemania spreads among young Latin Americans who begin to form rock bands and play at parties, meetings, cafes and public spaces making their own music, outside the cultural industries.
In Argentina, in spite of living under Onganía's military regime, many rock bands emerged with a strong influence of hippies and existentialist ideas. Some experimented with substances and psychedelia, others with the renewed ideas of religion. The creation of the record label Mandioca: la madre de los chicos (Mandioca: the mother of the boys) gave birth to Argentine national rock.
The first chapter concludes with scenes from the 1968 student movement in Mexico. Conscious youth organized and demanded freedom and democracy, demands to which the government of President Díaz Ordaz responded violently with repression, the Tlatelolco massacre and the imprisonment of student leaders. The black and white archival images of the student demonstrations, the entry of the army into the University and the military firing on the student population in Tlatelolco square graphically show the state violence against the youth.
In the second chapter, "Represión", the interviewees narrate the adverse conditions that rock music went through in the context of the rise of authoritarianism in military and anti-democratic regimes during the 1970s, a decade of enormous political turbulence in Latin America. The chapter begins with the Avándaro rock festival, held on September 11, 1971, in which Mexican rock youth burst onto the public scene. Mexican youth expressed themselves and demanded freedom under the slogan sex, drugs and rock and roll. The images contrast scenes from the concert with newspaper headlines that described it as a "disgusting orgy" in which alcohol and marijuana "the devil's weed" had been circulating, and condemned the rocker youth as irresponsible and depraved. The response of the government of President Luis Echeverría was repression and the prohibition of rock in public spaces and the media.
Mexican rock took refuge, grew and developed in the funky holes, unhealthy and inadequate spaces for clandestine meetings of rockers stalked by police extortion. The voices of the State agents contrast with the joyful and festive scenes of the rock concerts in Avándaro and in the funky pits interrupted by police raids.
At the same time, in 1970, the Popular Unity government triumphed in Chile. Salvador Allende becomes president accompanied by the new Chilean song. In an archival interview, Víctor Jara declares that "enough of foreign music" and that the new song "seeks to promote the creation of the new man", in support of the educational policy of the Popular Unity government.
On September 11, 1973, the Chilean army, under the command of Augusto Pinochet, perpetrated the coup d'état against the government of Salvador Allende. The documentary presents archival footage of the army in the streets and the Casa de la Moneda amidst the smoke of shrapnel. The voice of President Salvador Allende is heard off-screen, addressing his last words to the Chilean people: "I will not resign. I will pay with my life for the loyalty of the people". Jorge González, from the group Prisioneros, tells how Víctor Jara was arrested, tortured and murdered in the soccer stadium that same day. Los Jaibas, one of the canto nuevo groups, tell how they had to emigrate, first to Argentina and then to Mexico to continue making their music.
While democracy fell in Chile, democracy returned in Argentina for a short period, with the arrival of Perón to the presidency. Perón's death the following year (1974) meant the return of repression and the military coup in 1976. The military governments of the Southern Cone and authoritarian governments (such as Mexico's) justified state violence, forced disappearances and the repression of rock and university youth under the pretext of "reestablishing social peace" and putting an end to "subversive delinquency", expressions used by General Videla in his speech when he took power in front of the nation, as shown in the film material presented.
Despite the State's violence against youth, rockers (creators and spectators) developed resistance strategies to continue creating, composing, playing, singing and dancing, according to those interviewed. However, faced with the danger of repression and the threat of being arrested and disappeared, many rockers had to leave the country. Santaolalla emigrated to the United States and Charly García to Brazil.
The third chapter, “Música en color”, refers to the flowering of rock and psychedelia. The context of repression in the 1980s was a favorable environment for the development of punk; some rock groups formed by women also flourished with contentious themes such as abortion and machismo.
The Malvinas war meant the end of the dictatorship and a favorable situation for local rock. With the defeat of the Argentine army by the British army, the military junta banned rock in English and the television and radio stations were forced to promote rock groups in Spanish.
In the eighties in Mexico, rock survived through the exchange of music in the Chopo market, the rockers themselves opened live music venues and the first Spanish-language rock label was created: ComRock. The 1985 earthquake was a milestone for Mexican rock; rock bands showed their solidarity with the victims and played in camps, high schools and universities. Javier Batis, Sergio Arau and Rocco remember Rockdrigo, his music and his tragic death due to the collapse of the building in which he lived.
In the eighties, show businessmen recognized the economic potential of rock and began to organize festivals and concerts in Latin American capitals with Spanish-language rock bands. Large venues such as the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City, the Viña del Mar festival in Chile, the Luna Park in Buenos Aires presented Spanish and Latin American groups with great success. The transnational record industry decided to promote rock in Spanish.
The fourth chapter, "Rock en tu idioma", shows how the end of the 80's was marked by the rise of neoliberalism, the arrival of Menem to the presidency of Argentina and Carlos Salinas de Gortari to the presidency of Mexico, as a result of a notorious electoral fraud. Rock in Spanish showed its capacity to fill stadiums and sell millions of records in all Spanish-speaking countries. In this context, the Argentine music producer Oscar López arrived in Mexico in search of Spanish rock groups to promote them. The chapter concludes with the arrival of Carlos Salinas de Gortari to the presidency in 1988, documented with scenes of the massive demonstration in support of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in the capital's Zócalo.
Chapter five, "Un continente" (A continent), argues that the creation of the cable television channel mtv meant the expansion of rock in Spanish on a continental scale and the creation of a Latin American rock community. The first part of the 1990s heralded Mexico's entry into the first world, while Argentina was experiencing the first ravages of the neoliberal model imposed by Menem. The opening of markets and globalization meant an economic boom in Mexico and Argentina and the fall of the Pinochet regime in Chile.
Despite the economic crisis and inequality caused by neoliberal policies, Latin American rock becomes big business and transitions from alternative spaces to large auditoriums, massive festivals and commercial promotion on an international scale.
“Una Nueva era” is the title of the sixth and last chapter. The stage narrated in this episode of the series was characterized by the political crisis in Mexico: the emergence of Zapatismo, the assassination of Colosio as a presidential candidate and the economic crisis with the change of government. Rock is in solidarity with the Zapatista movement and support for indigenous communities.
The economic crisis in Argentina ended with the bankruptcy of the banks, the people taking to the streets and the resignation of President De la Rúa on December 21, 2001. The decomposition of bureaucracy and government corruption materialized in the Cromañón tragedy, a massive concert held in an inadequate space that left 200 young people burned to death. The documentary presents Cerati's last concert and the emotional farewell of the Argentine people on the day of his death, a harbinger of the end of an era of rock as a mass spectacle and industrial record production.
The expansion of digital technology, the internet and social networks transformed the music scene. Access to new technologies and the creation of social networks such as My Space, Napster and mp3 allowed rock bands to produce, disseminate and market their own music, a transformation that meant the breakdown of the transnational music industry.
The series concludes with a question: what will be the future of rock, and glimpses some encouraging possibilities with the growing participation of women in the rock scene and the hope that rock never dies.
The first part of the title of the series Rompan Todo. La historia del rock en Latinoamérica refers to a "call" for violence from the audience at a massive concert at Luna Park in Argentina in 1973. The shout is attributed to Billy Bond, rocker and promoter of rock groups and one of the interlocutors in the dialogue. This expression metaphorically describes the disruptive nature of rock as a musical and sociocultural phenomenon of the second half of the 20th century.
Despite the pretension of universality announced in the subtitle of the series, the particular point of view of its producer, main speaker of the documentary and one of the participants in the dialogue, prevails. The documentary is an ode to Gustavo Santaolalla, who made a career in the music industry and promoted multiple rock groups in which he discovered aesthetic values, original proposals and an economic potential as a product of popular consumption. A point of view shared by the rockers who participated in the series, in which the internal disputes and controversies of the Latin American rock scene are diluted, or directly excluded, resulting in a linear and evolutionary history of rock.6
The soundtrack of the documentary synthesizes the soundtrack of two generations of young people from the Mexican, Argentine and Latin American middle class, those who grew up in the 60s and 70s and their children born in the 80s and 90s, who are the target audience of Netflix series.
The series has aroused a strong and even angry reaction in the different Mexican and Argentine rock media, some in favor, others against, an irrefutable sign of the collective interest and the relevance of the subject. The excessive reaction and the exorbitant demand of exhaustiveness towards the documentary series, although understandable, is in itself impossible to fulfill, according to the objectives, scope and possibilities of a television series. The reasons are multiple, but the most important is the proliferation of rock bands among the youth of different countries and generations in the last 70 years. Thousands of groups were born, grew and disappeared throughout the continent, of which only a few survived and achieved sufficient permanence, public visibility and economic success to transcend beyond the group of friends, the neighborhood, the city, the country and the continent.
The definition of what rock is and what it is not is another impossible demand to fulfill. Every classification is based on the point of view from which the phenomenon is defined: whether strictly musical, as a cultural, political or social phenomenon; as a product of the cultural industries or according to the way in which the actors themselves (musicians and spectators) define themselves and, finally, as the result of the complex interaction of all the points of view mentioned above.
The principle of classification and the way in which the series is classified is geographical, cultural and economic; it coincides with that used by the cultural industries in the 1980s and is crystallized in the slogan "rock in your language", a market niche that included rock produced in Spain and excluded rock manifestations in the Portuguese language from Brazil and Portugal, and rock produced in indigenous languages. The boundaries of the rock phenomenon are shifting and blurred not only as a musical genre, social, cultural or political phenomenon, but also in terms of its spatial and temporal location.
A virtue that makes the series an important historical document is the permanent reference to the political and economic conditions in which rock emerges as a form of expression of the new generations.7 The documentary juxtaposes the history of rock and the political history of different countries as a backdrop, showing how the socio-political, economic and technological context influenced the development of rock as a privileged space for aesthetic creation and political intervention by young rockers. The documentary makes visible and accounts for the repressive acts of governments and the different forms of state violence and exclusion against youth, as well as some strategies of resistance, denunciation, subversion and political participation deployed by young people through music, most of the time beyond their own conscience and without any premeditation.
The performing arts and Latin American rock are spaces of aesthetic creation and public manifestation in which the voice of the new generations emerges, intervening publicly and producing significant changes in the expansion of the rights and freedoms of women, lgbti people, etc. Rock is a privileged space for public deliberation and concerted political action.
The archival images serve as testimony and denunciation of the violence of state power against the younger population and of the creative and contesting force of the new generations, not from violence but from aesthetic creation, political organization and the expression of ideas and values in the public space.
Jelin, Elisabeth (2002). Los trabajos de la memoria. Buenos Aires: Siglo xxi.
Nichols, Bill (2013). Introducción al documental. México: unam.
Ma. del Carmen de la Peza Casares has a degree in Information Sciences and Techniques from the Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico), PhD in Philosophy from Loughborough University (UK) in the Department of Social Sciences and in the area of Communication and Cultural Studies. Distinguished Professor at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco since 2013; member of the National System of Researchers since 1998, currently level iii. Founding member of amic (Mexican Association of Communication Researchers) since 1979. Her publications are summarized in three self-authored books, 40 book chapters, 30 articles in specialized journals and coordinator of six collective works. She was Deputy Director of Scientific Development at Conacyt 2018-2020. She is currently working on issues of music, culture and politics, language policies in Mexico, and qualitative research methodologies and discourse analysis.