The Recipe for Disaster: one part Johnny Rotten, one part Rip Taylor, two Coronas, and a handful of jalapeños. Chop it all up and hurl it at a turntable. Congratulations, you’ve just made Silverio.
Kooky, foul, and a bonafide sex symbol, Su Majestad Imperial Silverio is the brainchild of Julián Lede, one of the original members of cult electronic rock band Titán and part of Mexican freak indie label Nuevos Ricos. Infamous for his onstage antics, Silverio has been wreaking havoc for nearly 20 years, with no signs of stopping. Though it’s easy to be blindsided by Silverio’s show, don’t be fooled by the kitsch; everything you’re hearing and seeing is carefully curated. He understands that many people at his shows will feel uncomfortable and will possibly not understand his process, but this doesn’t change his vision. His goal is simple: break down today’s jaded audiences, and inject novelty and fun back into the concertgoing experience.
Back in 2014, Silverio surprised the audience at Vive Latino by bringing iconic Mexican cumbia songstress Laura León (aka La Tesorito) on stage and performing rearranged versions of her biggest hits alongside her. He blew our minds again last summer when he stole the show at Chicago’s Ruido Fest, with his bonkers mix of sequins, dirty electronica, and a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush. Most recently, he made us gasp with delight at his latest EP, an official collaboration with La Tesorito herself. The EP, titled Silverio y La Tesorito, is comprised of two Laura León covers and a rework of his own track “Gorila,” featuring León on vocals. The mini album is brief but packs a punch, and with it, Silverio has reintroduced an entire generation to Laura León, reminding us that her bossness extends far beyond slaying a telenovela theme song. Admit it – you still know every word to “Dos Mujeres, Un Camino.”
It’s not much of a stretch to paint Silverio with a religious palette. The packaging is gaudy and the show is jarring, but there is release and salvation in his debauched spectacle. He is breaking down our learned behavior of silent observation and urging us to go primal and follow our musical instincts.
Silverio’s true contribution to the art of live performance lies in his connection to reality. Though character-driven, Silverio’s philosophy is one of back to basics, valuing his audience above all else, and urging young musicians to be interesting and shirk the normalized format of playing instruments and holding for applause.
Silverio gave us some insight on his performance philosophy, collaborating with an icon, and what the future of rock may hold.
Your Majesty, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation because I saw your set at Ruido Fest last summer, and it was a major highlight of the festival. In the past, I’ve described your show as Punk Sábado Gigante. Would you say that’s an apt description, and can you speak a bit about your performance style?
[laughs] I love it! I’ve never heard that before, but I think it’s an honest, true, and very accurate way to describe what I do. The point of the show is to shake up all these people walking around like mindless imbeciles. Live shows have very provocative energy, so I don’t want a passive audience. I hate nothing more than being applauded between songs. I’d much rather be insulted.
And that happens a lot! Your relationship with the audience is a bit…tumultuous. How did you establish that rapport?
To be honest, I think people can buy and listen to Silverio’s records all day long, but the real magic happens at the live shows. My shows are always heavy on improvisation, and by engaging the audience and getting them to participate, they become the show. I invite everyone to do whatever the hell they want. The show belongs to you, the audience. All I do is light the fuse.
“I hate nothing more than being applauded between songs. I’d much rather be insulted.”
Agreed. The audience tends to be a really underused resource.
Absolutely. It’s sad how many musicians ignore or involve the audience in the most passive way possible. The audience is a performer’s most valuable asset, and neglecting them just makes the show kind of boring. Here in the U.S., you guys have all these religious guys congregating hundreds of people and making a spectacle out of the whole thing. I’d go so far as to say those preachers are more intelligent than most rockers working today. It’s important to remember that what elevates a show to spectacle is the audience. I’ve been putting on this spectacle for 15 years, and it’s the crowd that keeps things fresh. When people come to my gigs, they think they’re paying to see me put on a show, when in reality they’re the ones putting on a show for me.
Disrobing has become a mainstay of your shows, down to your signature red skivvies. The audience eats it up. How do you feel the striptease adds to the overall show?
I think morbidity is an integral part of art and performance and I always want to see how far I can push the boundaries. I don’t think of it as a striptease, but more [as] a bare bones way of working. I’m not a fan of the rock ‘n’ roll circus – packing the stage with mega screens and fireworks. I think it’s distracting. I like to work with as few elements as possible, like the body God gave me, or the language I use with the audience, which boils the show down to a strong and concise experience.
“I’m not a fan of the rock ‘n’ roll circus – packing the stage with mega screens and fireworks.”
Tribute albums aren’t uncommon, but it’s unusual to directly involve the artist being celebrated. Can you tell us a bit about how you became involved with Laura León and the process of making this record with her?
When I was booked to perform at Vive Latino, I had this idea of bringing someone [onstage] to perform two songs with me, and my first thought was Laura León. To my surprise, she graciously accepted my invitation, which speaks highly of her character, because to many other singers on that level this would have been small potatoes. I always knew she’d be up for the task, because even though her music is really guapachosa, her attitude is full-on punk. She never doubted or questioned our direction…With the first single, “Suavecito,” my intention was to make it a bit rougher, which is a quality the song already had – I just enhanced it.
The video for “Suavecito” is nothing short of amazing.
The video is definitely full of glamour, but it’s a rotted glamour, which is very much my aesthetic. I improvise a lot, so the process is usually finding a location I like, getting there, and seeing what happens. What’s surprising is that Laura never came to me asking what we were going to be doing. She understood that we were getting on set and going for it. And in my eyes, the video for “Suavecito” is like a guide to disaster. The video was shot at a ballroom in Colonia Narvarte, in Mexico City. I put a lot more emphasis on location than concept when shooting videos. I’d much rather film in a real, functional place, since I believe reality will always be more interesting than fiction.
Do you have any locations in mind where you’d still like to shoot?
I have a specific one in mind that I can’t reveal yet because it’s a real showstopper! Right now in Mexico, narco culture and government corruption are everywhere, and it’s a topic I plan to touch on very soon.
“Rock is shapeless and ever evolving. It’s the only way it can survive and continue to surprise the audience.”
Would this be a video for your current record or for your next album?
The concept I just described is for the next record, which will be coming out early this year. This [project] with Laura León is a parenthesis in my career. I’ve never collaborated with anyone else because I think one person is more than enough to deliver a good show. In the case of La Tesorito, I was more than happy to make an exception because a woman of her caliber really takes the stage head on. We had to have a press conference because people were very curious about why she was performing with me. She kept getting asked if she knew who I was and what I did, because they were so surprised she would even accept, and she didn’t even verbalize her response, she just climbed on the table and began to take her clothes off! That should tell you why I moved forward with this collaboration. She is a true diva and has more balls than most rockers.
I’d like to go back to Ruido Fest for a moment, where your Nuevos Ricos labelmates María Daniela y Su Sonido Lasser and Jessy Bulbo also performed. After all these years, what do you think is the legacy of Nuevos Ricos?
I think Nuevos Ricos was really important in creating a place for projects that didn’t quite fit in, particularly in Mexico’s rock scene, which tends to be rather conservative. We were all just a group of artists struggling to find an audience. Take someone like Miki Guadamur, who’d been making music for years, but didn’t get the exposure we really believed he deserved. We ended up taking all these unique elements and creating a very peculiar scene, which broadened the spectrum of possibilities for what music and a show could be. All these people think that to make rock ‘n’ roll, you’ve got to have a four-piece band with a drummer and guitarist, and it’s just too conventional now. It’s become very wooden. Rock is shapeless and ever evolving. It’s the only way it can survive and continue to surprise the audience.
Do you have any advice for the new generation of musicians coming up the ranks?
Do whatever you want! If you want to start a four-piece band, go ahead, but don’t be trapped in it. Bring something new to the table! If you don’t learn and change, the audience is going to get bored fast, and honestly, I think they have been bored for quite some time. Rock ‘n’ roll was a really novel concept when it first happened, but it’s been 60 years, so a lot of it has gotten redundant…You are being given these powerful tools of stage and audience, so you need to make an impact. If you treat your audience like idiots, that’s exactly what they’ll become.