Rock en español arguably finds its most important roots in Argentina. In the 70s, musicians like Luis Alberto Spinetta, Charly García, and Patricio Rey y sus Redonditos de Ricota put the Rioplatense region on the map as hallowed ground for rock music, on par with the movements happening in the U.K. and the U.S. at the time – and just as monumental in scale. The founders of what would become Argentine rock—or rock nacional—cut their teeth against the backdrop of authoritarian governments and the long period of military dictatorships now called la última dictadura.
Rock and revolt ever hand-in-hand, the music continued to thrive despite a string of breakups, violence and censorship. It continued to hold good humor and a message of hope, a sentiment mirrored by now-legendary supergroup Soda Stereo and Bonaerense post-punk allfathers Sumo. Before the advent of the genre, Argentinean musicians in the local scene were emulating British rock music, later using these sounds and forging them in the fire of their own social problems and, of course, sung entirely in Spanish due to anti-British sentiment.
This same vigor, spirit, and sound leaks into the current iteration of the Argentine alternative rock scene. It can be heard and felt in the chugging bass and reflective lyrics of Velvet Underground-inspired indie rockers El Mató A Un Policía Motorizado, in the hypnotic psychedelia of Los Espiritus. The new guard of alternative rock in Argentina is as reflective of the globalized world it inhabits as audiences continue to broaden their scope past the tradition of “straight white men” that so overwhelmingly encompasses every rock scene. Younger musicians are also looking past local and well-worn classics of the genre for inspiration; listen to the trumpets and Eastern strings employed by Paula Trama’s Los Besos, the poetic hardcore à la Touché Amoré of archipielagos, or the rockabilly hues of Las Sombras and it’s clear this is a more vivid, colorful music scene.
The world has gotten so much bigger, and the latest wave of Argentine alternative rock honors that while maintaining and building upon everything that made the southernmost tip of Latin America a beacon for the genre.
Below, check out some of the artists defining the new wave of Argentine alt-rock.
Self-described as having “an air of jazz in their guitars and tango in their lyrics and melodies,” Las Sombras have slowly been making a name for themselves across their native Argentina and Latin America. The four-piece band made up of Manuel Fernández, Nicolas Lippoli, Julian Pico, and Mauro Lopez, caught the attention of legendary rock nacional producer Mario Breuer (Spinetta, Sumo, Charly Garcia), who would go on to produce their second album, last year’s Crudo. The album title couldn’t be a better description of the band itself—intensely hyperlocal and eschewing any glamour that could be associated with the “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” lifestyle, not unlike their legendary sonic forefathers.
Key Tracks: “Los chicos de tu barrio,” “Vos y yo,” & “Rocanrol del idiota”
This young duo from Buenos Aires—known mononymously as Mora and German—play the kind of dreamy indie rock that wouldn’t feel entirely out of place coming out of the dingy speakers of a DIY venue in Bushwick. Mora’s guitar strums and faded, distant vocals call to mind riot grrl groups with a floaty, poetic twist that’s all Riel. Keep an eye on this interesting, malleable duo, one that teeters between the true rapture of young emotion and the sepia-toned past.
Key tracks: “Geminis,” “Vertiginosamente,” & “Paseo Psicodelico”
A tender pop sensibility and an unabashed romanticism seeps through Amor Elefante’s particularly sunny blend of alternative rock. Don’t mistake this light-heartedness for throwaway emotional rock—Inés Copertino, Rocío Bernardiner, Rocío Fernández, and Andrés Merlo know how to layer and experiment with instruments like few other indie bands on the Argentine scene right now, dipping their toes into every kind of sound – from a synthesizer to a saxophone without losing their intimate, emotive flair.
Key tracks: “Es Amor,” “Recuerda,” “Nadar,” & “La Llamada (with Los Reyes del Falsete)”
Steeped in synths and psychedelic guitar, Telescopios— Rodrigo Molina, Bernardo Ferrón, Nicolás Moron, Alberto Ortíz—have their heads and ears in outer space and their sound planted firmly in a base of pure, unadulterated rock. One of those rare bands capable of creating an enviable, textured and imposing wall-of-sound, their blend of psychedelic guitar rock is built for festivals, arenas, the outer reaches of the stars, or any space large enough to hold music that feels this gargantuan.
Key tracks: “Tus Amigos de la CIA,” “Ninja,” & “Ciudad de Tampa”
Las Ligas Menores
Anabella Cartolano’s floaty, honest vocals ground this indie rock group from Buenos Aires. Well-defined by their chugging, smooth guitar, Las Ligas Menores built a name for themselves overseas, playing a well-received set at Coachella in 2017 and releasing last year’s romantic and colorful Fuego Artificial, a collection of songs that showed a young band easily able to balance the scales of lo-fi balladry and pop punk theatricality. They’ve made an impact in their local scene too, winning a fan in Santiago Motorizado, bassist of label mates El Mató A Un Policía Motorizado, who voted them a band to watch in 2011.
Key tracks: “A 1200 km,” “Casas Desiertas,” & “Peces en el Mar”
There’s a deep sense of poetry in the “emotional math rock” of archipiélagos. The in-between of heavy bass and screamo-esque litanies is one not usually populated with sparse trumpet samples, soft guitar strumming, or vulnerable spaciness – and yet that’s exactly what Brian Duffau, Diego Fraga, Facundo Fritzler, Sebastián Ayala, and Santiago Nerone bring to the table. Listen closely to latest EP guermantes and you’ll hear the dreamlike twinkling of a xylophone.
Key tracks: “parte I,” “minet,” & “furioso D”
Born as a smaller lo-fi project by guitarist and lead singer Facundo Romeo, Pyramides came together as a five piece band, releasing their first EP in 2014. Driven forward by the amplified warble of a guitar constantly on reverb, this band crafts soundscapes as informed by the post-punk they classify themselves in as they are by dream pop and loftier, more subdued melodies. Either way, the 90s influence can’t be denied, and this band is a refined master class in nostalgia.
Key tracks: “Continua,” “Cuadros en Blanco,” & “Ecos”
Paula Trama’s soft spoken project, Los Besos, trembles with a quiet strength, one that’s rooted in lyrics as tender and intimate as the arrangements they embody—it’s not strange to hear a harp floating over a track (“La Cascada de Tu Pelo Enredado”) or a trumpet ever-so-softly injecting itself into an otherwise calm soundscape (“Telon”). With their first full-length LP and several EPs under their belt, this group explores music in all its formats—and isn’t the very definition of the current zeitgeist to not be able to define a musician, to be able to dive into every possible permutation of sound?
Key tracks: “La Cascada de Tu Pelo Enredado,” “Destino,” & “En Mis Sueños”