From the shitty dive bars of La Roma to becoming the new Mexican blue wave sensation, these teens prove that when it comes to music, hard work always pays off, no matter how old you are.
The first thing you need to know about this piece is that it’s reminiscent of the good old days of music journalism, when our old school colleagues hit the road to follow talent in hopes of catching a great story that would land them a cover feature. You know, back when emails and digital photography seemed quite impossible and phoners didn’t really nail it.
I’m not going to lie to you – I never intended for the piece to shape up this way. It was all the result of (nearly) perfect timing, a little luck, time capsuling, and having the patience and perseverance of an old-fashioned groupie.
This isn’t the kind of story that will change your life; rather, it’s the complete opposite. What makes this story unique is that it takes place in the millennial generation, where shit is pretty much still the same, but the pace of it all is much, much faster. We’re living in an era where Internet years last less than dog years. I had a vague hunch about this, but these Mexican youngins, who call themselves Hawaiian Gremlins, helped me prove it.
When I initially pitched this chronicle two years ago, the idea was to cover RVRB Music, a DF-based netlabel that was pushing stunning, unheard of bands like León, Guanajuato’s shoegaze post-rockers; Hexagrams, a Dutch nostalgic teenager who calls himself Yuko Yuko; and slacker rockers — who still hadn’t performed live at that point — Hawaiian Gremlins, among other interesting proposals, like the Interpol-influenced Candy Colors and the Tucson-based stoner/crooner post-punk Fernand.
I reached out to Hawaiian Gremlins’ underaged manager and asked her if our photographer Cuauhtémoc Suárez and I could follow the guys for a few gigs just to get to know them and take some cool pictures, and maybe, just maybe, get a hold of the RVRB Music team through them. Turns out, RVRB was Santi Padilla and Paco Sánchez, who play in Hawaiian Gremlins along with Elias Atroce Panique, better known as Mr. Jiuston Tecsas, “El Eli Clapton,” or just straight up “Elsa-Buezo.” We met up with the guys at a shitty dive bar near Mexico City’s Cuban spot par excellence: Mamá Rumba. It was their third gig ever. And lucky for us, Fernand was also there. He appeared to be the oldest among them and seemed less-than-surprised when we smoked weed outside of the venue during our first interview.
They were all obviously just a bunch of young hip dudes having fun in 2013. It was their motherfucking year, for sure. Actually, almost anybody young and remotely interesting had a chance that year, at least in Mexico. Back then, things were just boiling and everything was beginning to align perfectly. What the label crew didn’t know yet was that the first band to blow up would be Hawaiian Gremlins. Heck, I didn’t expect it either. I still think Hexagrams or Fernand were the heavyweights. You learn something new every day, right?
“RVRB Music used to be such a pretty cool thing. The first time we all gathered went really great; everybody played awesome, everybody was really excited and all of that, but it became so personal that when our band got bigger, all kinds of responsibilities came along with it, and it all started becoming less personal,” concludes Paco while sipping a sweaty Pacifico from the bottom of a black leather couch at our photographer’s old place. We’re all drinking and celebrating, since this cover story is practically done, so he’s just ranting and reminiscing. “Yeah, that was at the beginning, but we had to take it seriously right after,” reaffirms Paco. “Yes, because how do you benefit from that? I mean, would you not do anything about it if it happened to you?” asks Mr. Jiuston very seriously. Paco continues, “Say you have luck and somebody likes you. And then? Well, you have to prove yourself.” We all agreed and kept drinking.
“There are some people who, before having the musical idea of a band, have an idea of a band destined to be famous, to play at Vive Latino and shit. I never really cared about that and just concentrated on having a good time.” – Paco Sánchez
In case you were already wondering, allow me to confirm: Hawaiian Gremlins is the victim of the classic underdog haters syndrome. You know how it goes: A & B are different bands on the same DIY label, but when A begins to be recognized and followed by more people than B, well, B gets upset and starts to stir shit up. This is especially true in a country like Mexico, where many people act like crabs in a bucket, pulling each other down instead of helping each other out. But to be fair to my country, I’ve seen this change a bit over the last couple of years.
“There are some people who, before having the musical idea of a band, have an idea of a band destined to be famous, to play at Vive Latino and shit. I never really cared about that and just concentrated on having a good time.” It’s then that I understood that Paco is the most impartial and mature guy in Hawaiian Gremlins, but that’s probably just because he’s the oldest member at 22 [back then].
“Actually, I got to know Santi because of my solo project Klaus. I made a cover of Daniel Johnston and two other songs a while ago. Then I decided to send my stuff to Lorelle Meets The Obsolete and they surprisingly replied saying they loved my work and invited me to a gig they were going to have with Has A Shadow at the Monumento de la Revolución in downtown Mexico City. I said yeah, but I didn’t have a band. I thought about who could help me with this, and the only person I could think of was Santi, so I called him and asked him to play with me. I was worried because I had never done this before, but Santi was very chill and positive about it and told me to drop by his studio anytime. That’s how we came up with the first Hawaiian Gremlins songs. So it was luck, because if I hadn’t sent my song to them, they would have not invited me to play with them, and thus, Hawaiian Gremlins would have never met.” I took advantage of the brief, pensive moment of silence to light up a cigarette. Then, Santi added: “Yeah…It was like The Butterfly Effect.” We all laughed.
While hanging out with these guys, I couldn’t help but think about the good old MySpace days. Back then, a couple of nice songs would easily get you shows, tours, or even record label deals, and thanks to that, a lot of bands had the opportunity to prove themselves to the public outside of the blogosphere, while a lot of other bands just didn’t succeed.
Turns out things haven’t changed that much. We now have SoundCloud and Bandcamp helping a bunch of artists be heard out there in the world, and Hawaiian Gremlins is no exception. They became very popular thanks to the cyber success of their songs “Lonely Gizzy” and “Mogwai Love,” along with their hard work and diligence. Even while working on this feature, I’ve had the opportunity to witness their fanbase grow from an audience made up entirely of our photographer, their former RVRB buddies, my ex, and me, at a creepy dive bar to a packed stage at DF’s Festival Marvin. They’re big enough now that a group of kids asked to have their picture taken with them after their show at Red Bull’s stage during Monterrey’s Nrmal Festival. And the list goes on, Festival Antes, Raymondstock, WAMF 14, Ceremonia, and Vive Latino, you name it. They actually managed to open for Dinosaur Jr. at Converse’s Mexican Rubber Tracks too. And got to meet their hero, Mac DeMarco.
“Yeah, I think we were the only attendees at our first show,” recalls Santi with a mischievous smile. I remember how an infinite list of international media and even brands also love them madly now and are currently after their millennial magic.
What’s the secret? “Nobody knows. That is the greatest mystery of Hawaiian Gremlins,” answers Paco. He continues, “There was a time when Sicario Music approached us and conversations began. They put some opportunities on the table for us, so we went on and told the other RVRB bands this happened, because we were always transparent with them. We told them we were considering signing with Sicario because they could take us to places RVRB just couldn’t yet, and everybody reacted in such terrible way, man.”
Yeah, this is the part where the band “sells out” and all of their really cool badass underground friends diss them and everything suddenly turns into deception. But this time at least, I was there to see what really happened with my own eyes. “That was the end of everything. And a lot of things lost their virtue only because we had talked with Sicario. It wasn’t even necessary to sign anything,” says Elías. And our way of lamenting was to say nothing else at all.
Despite being only 19 years old back when we did this interview, Santiago Padilla is no newbie to Distrito Federal. He has an electronic music project called Volga Beach that garnered Sicario Music’s attention way before Hawaiian Gremlins. But things got a bit out of hand and he decided to focus on the Gremlins, for now.
Right, but what about Volga Beach? “I started DJing at Rhodesia [DF’s Condesa-Roma most popular millennial night club] when I was 16. I’ve always loved music. I moved to Cancun when I was 9, and my neighbor upstairs used to make trance music. We became really good friends and he taught me how to make music on Fruity Loops. I started making my own songs and one day, La Royale sent me a message. I will always be grateful to him. He sent me a message telling me my stuff was cool and asked everything about me, saying he wanted me to be part of Electrique Music. I’ve always been a fan of his music; I still am. So seeing his message was really exciting for me. We talked for a while and he told me to make an EP, then I moved back to DF. And when I got there, he showed me how to use Ableton Live and gave me sample banks, etc. He adopted me, and in exchange, he told me I just had to return the favor to somebody like me in the future. Pay it forward. I will always be thankful to him. He’s awesome. Then, André VII sent me a message inviting me to Sicario Music, and I’m grateful for all the opportunities they’ve given to me.”
See what I mean? It all adds up to networking with the right people – and by right people, I don’t mean influential people, or big connects. Hawaiian Gremlins were merely in the right place at the right time, and are an example of how doing something for the fun of it without giving a shit about recognition actually works.
These guys did nothing but follow their naive hunches and fickle ideals. “Elías is actually a [now 22-year-old] genius. He has like 60 different projects. He didn’t even know he was making shoegaze music when we met him,” says Santiago. “RVRB’s motto was just the typical collective spirit kind of crew, you know? Just a bunch of young bands supporting each other and having a good time. That was my idea originally, anyways.” Then Paco adds, “We wanted to have something to support our band, and eventually start bringing along other bands with us.”
By then, we were all tired of this Rolling Stone music journalism bullshit and were ready to call it a day when Elías broke it down for us: ”You know, RVRB Music was going to exist with or without other bands anyways. The fact that other bands got interested in being part of RVRB was just mere luck.” Santi’s phone had been ringing for a while by now, so by the time Elías commented, Santiago just stood up and walked outside of our photographer’s apartment to answer his pending Gremlins calls. When I was about to turn off my voice recorder, Paco hugged Elías and turned to me, and said right in my eyes: “The truth is, they didn’t even really give a shit about RVRB Music to begin with.”