Thousands of others all over Latin America and (especially) in the Spanish-speaking US who came of age during or right after the ’80s see that sort of golden age of Argentine rock as the foundation of a genre. But how exactly did Argentine rock became so prevalent and influential all over the continent, you wonder? Well, it all started exactly 30 years ago today.
Always down to emulate the latest trends in European culture and fashion, Argentine kids had an early start in the adoption of rock and pop music, particularly the British kind of it. Since the late ’60s and during the whole following decade, Buenos Aires had a vibrant underground scene of local young rockeros creating their original songs in “castellano.” But as an underground phenomenon, it enjoyed limited success among few selective fans, while the vast majority of the country were still tuned in to Julio Iglesias, Los Wawancó and Raffaella Carra. Nobody even dreamed of taking that locally-brewed rock music beyond the frontiers and into other Latin American countries, yet.
Then in April 2nd, 1982, everything changed when a drunken military dictator ordered the sudden invasion of the Falkand Islands (perdón, Islas Malvinas) starting a ridiculous three month armed conflict with the United Kingdom. The war was a total disaster from pretty much every single point of view, wasting in vain the lives of hundreds of under-trained young soldiers, but it had two beneficial, unintentional, effects: one, it was the first step into the dissolution of the military junta’s power (which led to the eventual return to democracy), and two, it launched a whole new wave of Argentine rock that would soon become mainstream locally and later gain the hearts and the ears of the Spanish-speaking youth across the continent.
How did this exactly happened?
SOME GENERAL…PASSED A NEW LAW THAT INSTRUCTED
RADIO STATIONS TO PLAY NO MUSIC WITH ENGLISH WORDS AT ALL.
An anti-British sentiment dominated the country during those days, and some general had the great idea of passing a new law that instructed radio stations to play no music with English words at all. Quite a challenge indeed for many radio DJs in Buenos Aires who were forced to dig deep into local music crates, and started playing Argentine rock and pop during prime-time programming, for the first time ever. TV stations, under heavy censorship from the government, followed suit. In a matter of weeks, Argentine rock jumped from the obscurity of an elitist underground to the mainstream masses and the generals in office saw the opportunity and even organized rock festivals trying to get the naturally rebellious youth on their side.
This, in its turn, had another unexpected effect. Up to that point, local record labels (some of them branches of multinationals) included only a handful of Argentine rock records in their catalogs, but with the new law, the demand was so high that they went out on a signing spree and gave many upcoming artists the chance of a premature debut album. That was the birth of this whole new wave of local rockeros who dominated the ’80s and it started with Virus and Los Abuelos De La Nada setting the aesthetic standards of the decade. In Argentina they called them modernos to distinguish them from the previous generation of pretentious progressive rock auteurs and hippies; their music was way more accessible, optimistic (democracy is back, yay!), with unapologetically dance-floor friendly beats, and catchy choruses, and these were all key factors in helping them become the most successful cultural export from Argentina to the world… since tango!
Everywhere from Lima to Mexico City these Argentine rockstars were embraced like godlike figures by the Latin American youth eager for new sounds “en su idioma” and they were widely regarded as pioneers, planting the seeds for an emerging transcontinental scene.
Now here’s the paradox: that anglophobic law of the war period unwillingly gave birth to that whole second wave of Argentine rockers who were predominantly influenced by… English rock, you guessed it! If you don’t believe it, just look at some of the most successful bands that came out from Argentina during the ’80s: Soda Stereo started emulating The Police first, The Cure later; Los Fabulosos Cadillacs‘ main inspiration were The Specials and Madness first, The Clash right after that; Sumo, arguably the most influential band of that era (from a local perspective), started as pretty much a tribute band of Joy Division and the list goes on…
That of course, in opposition to the previous generation of long-haired rockeros who followed the steps of The Beatles, Genesis, Pink Floyd, etc. Add Argentina’s national obsession for The Rolling Stones (that peaked in the mid ’90s) to the equation and what you get is the most preposterous cultural oxymoron ever conceivable: somehow kids in Latin America owe (in part at least) that fact that they have rock in their language to the anachronistic imperialistic ways of the United Kingdom and a bunch of Eurocentric Argentine musicians… and the very complex love-hate relationship between those two.