Photos: Costa Rica’s Festival Epicentro 2015

Do Not

It’s April 2014 and I am standing on a sidewalk next to a Tony Roma’s in Escazú, San José, waiting for my then-coworker David to pick me up. He’s come from the airport with Joel Moya from Remezcla and we’re about to take him to the same restaurant where many of our guests have already tasted the local “chifrijo” with a beer.

Joel seems really excited and wants to know everything about what is happening in Costa Rica – I mean, he’s not just being nice, he’s actually interested. After this, I get the feeling that Epicentro is going to work.

For us Costa Ricans who keep an eye on the local music movement, Epicentro is a really special time on our calendars. These are the days we stop reading the news and immerse ourselves in a world that just three years ago seemed really far away. We go to gigs, we talk about new bands, we share our favorites, we buy merch, we dream of many more Latin emerging acts coming to town.

Sure, we do these things throughout the rest of the year too, but Epicentro is different. There’s also all this non-aggressive networking happening every day with those who come from abroad, and get to know our city and its scene. A tangible sense of community is created.

Epicentro debuted in April of 2014 and for its second edition the festival expanded its offering. With the Ministry of Culture and Youth as its ally, and Sound Diplomacy once by its side, the organization created a summer market, featuring a pop-up shop where many Costa Rican bands (including ones not on the festival lineup) were able to sell their merch. They named it Mercado de Verano and also hosted a showcase at SXSW.

The opening day of Epicentro’s 2015 Summer Edition in San José, I saw Jordi Puy from Sound Diplomacy. He was here to host three conferences, but the night before he was helping add last minute details and decorations at Casa del Cuño, because that’s the kind of guy he is. He greeted me with a big smile on his face, as he did every day (if I ever ran to him not smiling, I’d probably worry).

Moni Saldaña from Nrmal was also there and sat down with Roberto Montero (Epicentro’s head and founder), Jordi, and Joe Daniel from the Independent Label Market (ILM). Those appearances were to drop some big news: this year, Epicentro will host the first ILM in Latin America, and Mexico’s Festival Nrmal will expand to include a Costa Rican edition. The news still shock me as I write this.

Days 2 and 3 also held conferences. Those were focused on the needs of the local scene and provoked some interesting discussions about the status quo, and the ways to change it. Talking to some of the attendees, I got the feeling many of them left the room believing the lack of a formal industry is actually an opportunity to build all sorts of projects, and that is a conclusion full of empowerment.

Most of the showcases didn’t disappoint. In the afternoon we saw underground legends Seka and Los Cuchillos playing to an audience of old fans and youngsters holding their skateboards (or recently acquired merch from the pop-up shop).

At night we got to see Frikstailers for the first time ever in Costa Rica and it was a crazy party. Their cumbia set only gets freakier when they use rock instruments live or let loose digital gunfire with their Wii remotes. But the real gem was Tijuana’s own María y José (aka Tony Gallardo) who really enjoyed coming back to the country and debuted his live set with success.

Tony showed us some real frontman skills in his performance. At one point he even organized a quick dance-off and, um, some guy from Remezcla joined it out of peer pressure and well, he may or may not have won it. In any case, it was a demonstration of the festive and action-packed days we had coming.

The next night, rock acts Zopilot and Balancer stole the show. Zopilot were known for many years as “those guys who rock the place but don’t sing,” but recently they’ve changed that perception by releasing “Sornaca,” their first single with vocals. Their live show is still better than their recorded material though, as it’s always been. Three of their members are now singing and one of them is also playing keyboards and live sampling — they’re looking at new ways of expression, it seems, and they’re doing great.

Balancer was nice and energetic. They also brought some toys to their set up (i.e. a Moog, a drum pad) but those weren’t just for showing off — they felt like a solid force both sonically and spiritually. They have their own thing going and it’s starting to show. One guy standing next to me sang almost all the songs and I felt happy that all of this was happening for him and for the rest of us.

On day 3, dark trip hop duo Saturno Devorando had a very solemn yet memorable set in front of an audience of impatient teenagers who wanted to see the follow-up act. Saturno looked great in couture outfits made by local fashion designers, and sounded perfect. Their dark, strained aura earned them some new fans among the audience waiting to see Cocofunka, one of Costa Rica’s biggest tropical acts. Needless to say, Cocofunka later came and rocked place out.

Day 3 at night was especially fun considering local rockers Ave Negra, Spanish rockers The Parrots and the lovely Marineros from Chile were on the lineup.

Ave Negra, playing at their second home El Steinvorth, brought a boogie board to the bar to promote crowdsurfing and that sole fact made it a show for the books. After them, The Parrots continued the garage rock streak and had a great time with the violent yet friendly crowd in front of them.

Marineros were definitely more downbeat than the previous acts that night, but they captured the attention of everyone in the room with their pure pop songs. Constanza’s vocals and Soledad’s The xx-ish guitar work were on point, and many attendees sang along with the duo. This was not a display of potential but rather of the actual results of their talent and hard work – they’re a band that could easily be playing bigger venues. They instantly became the biggest surprise of the festival.

There was not a single act that I was willing to skip on the last day, but as the hours went by, full four days of concerts was starting to ache. I almost arrived late to Casa del Cuño to catch one of my favorite Costa Rican acts, Timber of Trees. Luckily I got there and really enjoyed their dark indie rock sound. They were followed by other local favorites Los Waldners and both sets were almost at full capacity.

Prog rockers Florian Droids opened the final concert with their 11-minute long “Antes de la Muerte del Sigilo” and when it was over people were already jumping and screaming from excitement (I believe they’re almost a cult act in the local circuit). Raido also played and while people had a hard time understanding the visuals and some of the sampling that was occurring live, other just danced along and even sang along to some of his hip hop tracks.

Then came El Mató a un Policía Motorizado, the Argentinian rock band that can go from melodic to the most noisy,shoegaze-y type of rock from song to song. It was a dream come true to many of us — singing “Más o Menos Bien” or “Mujeres Bellas y Fuertes” at home was the nicest. I only cought the beginning of electronic act Do Not but having already watched them twice live, I can only assume it went great.

Overall, I left home that night tired, but next morning I woke up feeling like something was missing. The sum of all of these days eating, talking, dancing with different people from here or there, made the festival a creature of its own, the place for exchange Roberto once envisioned. It’s hard to describe, but quoting 424’s Felipe Pérez, it makes us feel like we have very interesting things going on, and I’d add we feel like we’re in on them together. The last two days, some scenes from the festival have appeared in my dreams and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings for Epicentro.