A lot can change in a decade. Today’s Latin American indie scenes are practically unrecognizable from where they were back in 2010. Once indie darlings with crossover potential, Bomba Estéreo have grown into chart-topping, festival-headlining superstars with blockbuster albums, collaborations with Will Smith and Soffie Tucker and even a tour with Arcade Fire.
Over in Tijuana, the Ruidosón scene was too explosive to last, thrusting angry and exceedingly talented producers like María y José, Los Macuanos, Santos and Siete Catorce into a volatile spotlight where some imploded and others transcended. Meanwhile, Arca—the mysterious, faceless Internet entity reserved for the most diligent of electronic music connoisseurs—has blossomed into one of the industry’s most coveted producers, helming landmark albums for Björk, FKA Twigs and Kanye West, not to mention her own thriving solo career.
Chile’s indie pop boom was another massively influential wave of the 2010s, when a new generation of artists rose to prominence, combining deeply personal songwriting with bouncy musical canvases that invited moody hipsters to find catharsis on a dance floor. Prismatic expressions of synthpop dominated this beloved moment in time, although Chilean sounds have gradually evolved in the direction of reggaeton, trap and R&B. We’ve always given props to the legends and rising voices of the Chilean scene; now, we take a closer look at some of the albums that ushered a nostalgic yet innovative new chapter for Latin American indie.
While this list focuses on albums celebrating their tenth anniversaries, make sure to check out other foundational releases of the time, which include Ana Tijoux’s 1977, Fakuta’s Al Vuelo, Adrianigual’s Éxito Mundial, Alex Anwandter’s Rebeldes and Astro’s self-titled LP.
Javiera Mena's 'Mena'
Javiera Mena burst into our lives with clammy-handed earnestness in her debut album Esquemas Juveniles but it was her follow up, Mena, that heralded a new dawn for Latin American synthpop. Co-produced with visionary hitmaker Cristián Heyne and released in September 2010, Mena opens on the slow-burning hesitance of “Ahondar en Tí,” a musical bridge between Javiera’s previous singer-songwriter work and a new chapter as nightlife pied piper kicking off with “Hasta La Verdad.” Lush disco strings, warbling synths and unrelenting drum machines take over from here on out, fleshing out Javiera’s hedonistic new worldview across “Primera Estrella” and “El Amanecer.” Halfway through the album, the pleading ballad “No Te Cuesta Nada” offers the listener a welcome respite before diving into the second half of Javiera’s body-rolling manifesto. The back-to-back onslaught of “Luz de Piedra de Luna,” “Sufrir” and “Acá Entera” is one few artists are able to achieve, let alone maintain. Most satisfying of all is how Javiera Mena was able to spin a wild and jubilant dance floor epic, all while retaining the intimate storytelling that made her an icon.
Throughout his extensive catalogue, Gepe has undoubtedly carved himself the legacy of a forward thinking folk revivalist. However, Daniel Riveros is first and foremost a curious and voracious musical experimentalist who infused early releases with the vibrant sonic palette of Chilean folklore, before taking his search outwards and becoming enamored with reggaeton and bachata on later records. Arriving just a week after Mena, Audiovisión was Gepe’s third studio album and the purest intersection of his roots inspirations and avant-garde ambitions. Audiovisión opens on the minimalist piano and claps combo of “Amigos Vecinos,” followed by the effervescent hip-hop hybridity of “Por La Ventana;” gleefully defying classification with every new cut. Flashes of pan flute and ambient shine on “Budapest,” while “Lienza” emanates atmospheric trip-hop, also reuniting Gepe with longtime collaborator Javiera Mena. Charango and the unmistakable drumming style of Chilean chinchineros made “Alfabeto” an anthem of Andean futurism, sourcing the iconic bass drums again for “La Bajada” and unleashing a tidal wave of horns and percussion on “12 Minerales.” Over the years Gepe has also gained notoriety as a crooning pop heartthrob, the first tinges of which you can hear on the album’s breakout hit “Un Día Ayer,” triggering the mandatory sweetheart single for every subsequent album.
Dënver's 'Música, Gramática, Gimnasia'
In October 2010, hyper twee duo Dënver reimagined the possibilities of Chilean indie rock with their sophomore album Música, Gramática, Gimnasia. Their collisions of chamber music, synthpop and driving guitar riffs paired perfectly with cinematic lyrics about mercurial romances, suicide pacts and Woody Allen muse Diane Keaton; translating and subverting the esoteric appeal of English-language indie contemporaries like Arcade Fire and Belle & Sebastian. From the twangy disco of “Mi Primer Oro” into the earthshaking wall of synths on “Olas Gigantes,” followed by the magnificent orchestral heights of “Lo Que Quieras,” our introduction to this glorious new Dënver era kept us guessing at every turn. The hypnotic power of Mariana Montenegro’s innocent cooing could infuse a jagged cut like “Litoral Central” with mountains of heart, while on instant classic “Los Adolescentes” she miraculously transformed teenage indecisiveness into the most charming of character traits. Never far behind, Milton Mahan quietly became the king of the minor key unspooling vivid trauma on “Los Bikers” and setting a yet unsurpassed benchmark for heart-bursting romantic songwriting with criminally underrated album closer “En Medio De Una Fiesta.”
While most Alex Anwandter fans regard 2011’s Rebeldes as the pop chameleon’s first solo outing following the dissolution of his beloved pop-rock band Teleradio Donoso, a mysterious release under the alias of Odisea in August of 2010 actually claims that honor. An experimental collision of electropop, retro-funk and dystopian lyrics made the cheekily gender-flipped LP a favorite among diehard fans, delivering future Anwandter staples like “Casa Latina” and “Cabros.” But dive into asymmetrical deep cuts like “Una Nueva Vida” and “Los Gatitos Hermanos Se Reconocen Después de Años?” and you’ll discover a musical genius grappling with his newfound soloist freedom, eager to camp out in a studio tinkering with synthesizers and soundboards for days on end.
While Anwandter’s affinity for socially aware lyrics was present while in Teleradio Donoso, Odisea was the first time he took on the cutting, confrontational style we know and love him for today. “Nuestra Casa de Violencia” and “Batalla de Santiago” cast Chile as a society in trauma, still reeling from a history of violent oppression even after returning to democracy decades prior. Odisea is an album where Alex Anwandter told us he could see through the veneer of neoliberal progress, and in 2020 our vision is as clear as his.