Whether or not you attended, it’s likely you’ve heard some of the ruckus around Chicago’s Ruido Fest. Ever since the festival’s massive and eclectic lineup of alterlatino music made its presence felt among the heavy-hitters of summertime Chi festivals like Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, we all knew we were about to witness history. That’s because Ruido is truly the first of its kind: a three-day outdoor festival in the U.S. showcasing the best in Latin alternative that recognizes veteran acts like Café Tacvba and Molotov, but also digs deeper by featuring new and experimental artists such as Kali Uchis, Silverio, and María y José, among many others. It’s the festival that Chicago absolutely deserves. Chicago is a city that is too often overlooked, despite having one of the country’s largest Latino populations. It’s a community that has repeatedly demonstrated a huge passion and interest in this music, based on the success of events like CumbiaSazo! and TusSoni2. For three days, Addams/Medill Park–located in the heart of Pilsen–played host to a watershed moment for Latin music, one that will likely shape the future of the genre as a whole. There was no way we were gonna miss out, so we made the trip out to Chicago and are now here to recap las festividades for you.
Day 1 kicked off with one of our highlights of the weekend, María y José (a.k.a Tony Gallardo II). He set the tone right off the bat, showing everyone just how weird Ruido could really get. As the crowd started to roll in, the Mexican producer and MC tore through his catalog of hypnotic raps, paired with dark but highly danceable dembow and 3Ball. His fierce and playful performance would have been better suited for a later time slot, but being one of the more experimental acts, this sort of thing is expected. But he didn’t go unnoticed, as we caught up with him after his set to chat about his uncompromising sound and unapologetic performance, about which he simply stated, “I couldn’t really have it any other way.” Never change, Tony.
The stacked schedule kept on rolling. Another favorite was Compass, the collaborative project formed by Mad Decent’s Toy Selectah and Camilo Lara’s Mexican Institute of Sound. On the same stage where María y José performed just a few hours earlier–now packed with a huge and energetic crowd–the large ensemble took everyone on a wild ride that swerved from reggae to electronic cumbia, and then to ska-punk to hip-hop and surf rock. As all the musicians traded rapid-fire riffs, melodies, and chants, they stirred up a melting pot of music and culture that felt like a truly global dance party. Another solid evening set came from the Chilean duo Dënver, who combined Latin pop with feel-good electronica for a delighted audience. After that, Enjambre and Zoé delivered for their dedicated fans, but the night was far from over. After all, this is Chicago, and no one knows how to afterparty better than the CumbiaSazo! crew.
In a mysterious yet infamous Chi-town basement-turned-nightclub that will go unnamed (you thought we were gonna blow up the spot?), the good people of CumbiaSazo! brought together the festival’s dance floor fiends for quite an affair. The afterparty featured live cumbia from Bay Area band Candelaria and some awesome guest DJ sets from the homie Tony Gallardo and Mariana Montenegro of Dënver, who couldn’t keep away from the fun that extended into the early morning. It may not have gone down in Addams/Medill Park as part of Ruido Fest officially, but as far as we’re concerned, if you weren’t there, you’re doing it wrong.
For reasons you can probably guess, we had a slightly later start on Day 2, which had another stacked lineup of artists, leading to some hard decisions. The ones that caught our attention seemed to share something in common–they all had a unique and left-field way of channeling punk rock. The first of these acts was Rebel Cats, who hail from the D.F. and dress up in flashy, purple 1950s-style suits and play rockabilly and rock & roll. It seemed all fine and dandy until they started taking off their clothes, revealing full body tattoos and igniting the weekend’s biggest mosh pit, despite the drizzle. Their wild and acrobatic performance featured some crazy stunts, perhaps none more impressive than when the drummer jumped on his bandmate’s upright bass, who fingered notes while the other hammered on the strings with his drumsticks. Too reckless? Maybe. Entertaining? Yes. Fully punk rock? Absolutely.
The punk vibes continued with a strong performance from Jessy Bulbo, who definitely identifies with the genre more. As Mexico’s very own riot grrrl, she’s no stranger to shredding and screaming her brains out. But she still infuses her music with a happy and whimsical energy, evident through her recent incorporation of rancheras into her material for quite a bold combo. She described her style of quirky garage pop as “something that just happens naturally for me. I don’t really think about it or judge it too much.” Her laidback demeanor differed wildly from our next festival favorite and interviewee, Silverio.
How does one begin to talk about Silverio? I suppose you can start with his full name, Su Majestad Imperial Silverio, who comes directamente de Chilpancingo Guerrero in Mexico. A true punk rock frontman disguised as a producer/DJ and provocateur of everything vile and heinous, Silverio is a one-man show and an absolute wrecking ball of a performer. Dressed in a disco ball suit and sporting his signature wig and mustache, we got a chance to talk to him before his performance, which he forecasted would be “lluvia de mierda para todos.” That’s certainly what it felt like out there, as his outrageous performance was simply unlike anything you’ll ever see, especially in terms of his interaction with the audience. He DJed and MCed through his repertoire of new wave electronica while taunting the crowd with wild insults, constantly throwing things, dodging water bottles and beer cans, spitting on photographers, and stripping down to his Speedo. At one point, he was completely naked onstage, rode on a man in a luchador mask, teabagged a member of the press, and chugged beer from the boot straight off his foot. It’s easy to get caught up in the theatrics of the performance and forget how unique and infectious his music actually is, but perhaps that’s how he wants it. Like a man possessed, Silverio antagonized the crowd, threatened them with death, and complained about the terrible time he was having, channeling his inner Johnny Rotten before completely destroying his equipment to end the show. These antics are what Silverio’s diehard fans have come to expect. They relish his insults and fire them back at an equal pace. Even during Molotov’s set, which followed Silverio’s performance, the worshippers of Su Majestad Imperial were still fervently chanting his name. It’s not clear if the audience and performer are putting on a sarcastic ruse, or if either of the two really take it seriously as art. All we know is Silverio prompted the weekend’s largest dance party, and everyone certainly had a hell of a time (including him, even though he probably wouldn’t like to admit it). As far as we’re concerned, Day 2 of Ruido Fest belonged to Su Majestad.
The final day sported what was probably the most well-rounded lineup and the biggest turnout of the weekend, no doubt thanks to headliner and key cosigners of the festival Café Tacvba. One of our early favorites was María Daniela y su Sonido Lasser, whose hard, driving beats and vocal chants sounded like they were out of a euro rave circa 2001. Another great electronic fusion group that followed was Nortec Collective: Hiperboreal, who combine Norteño music with techno for unique results, like a tuba blaring over hypnotic grooves.
We already knew that our favorite act of Day 3 would be Kali Uchis when we first saw her on the Ruido Fest lineup. The Colombian singer has been on our radar as the next breakout star for a while now. She especially picked up some steam after the release of her EP Por Vida last year. With the sun burning strong, Kali delivered a sweet and sultry performance of her signature low-rider soul tunes and had the crowd in the palm of her hand. She swayed from side to side, shooby-doo-wopped with a hip-hop drawl, and looked at ease during her first-ever performance in Chicago. You wouldn’t have been able to tell based on her smooth set, but after the show she noted that she was burning up and had “never performed in that much sun.” She said, “I prefer a concert hall more than anything, because my music is slower and it fits that classic setting more.” She added, “but I still love performing outside. My new album is going to have bouncier and funner tracks that would be better suited for festivals.” Consider us one of many excited for this new material and Kali’s promising future, which will surely include many more stellar performances.
While the lovebirds of Ruido Fest vibed with Kali Uchis, those seeking the turn up weren’t disappointed by Los Rakas, who assembled an impressive and energetic crowd on the festival’s third stage. The Panamanian duo got everyone moving with their infectious reggaeton and dancehall, and kept the energy high for Kinky, who had their fans screaming along and busting moves during their instrumental breaks. Day 3 was representative of the festival as a whole; it truly had it all and ended the weekend on a high note.
Honestly, there isn’t much to complain about, as any gripes with the music were a matter of personal taste and could usually be solved by simply walking over to the next stage–the result of an extremely diverse lineup. It was a festival where older married couples reminisced about their favorite 90s bands and teens moshed to post-punk madness at the same time. Most of the acts were Mexican, and most of the crowd was too, which is understandable considering the neighborhood. The festival still succeeded in bringing together Chicago’s Latino population and will continue to do so in years to come. That’s right, Ruido Fest is here to stay–and it’s only going to improve with more diversity, representation, and unification of el pueblo. Considering the incredible success it achieved in its debut year, it’s clear that Ruido Fest will be leading the way for Latin music for many years to come. So go ahead and drink the Kool-Aid–we’ll see you there next year!