Latin America doesn’t usually feature in the myriad histories, myths and origin stories told about rock n’ roll. It rarely (if ever) crops up in the timelines that trace rock from its birth in the American South, to its massive popularity all over the U.S., to its migration across the Atlantic. But in the late 1950s and 60s, the sounds and burgeoning counter-culture movement associated with rock music weren’t just making an impact in the U.S. and Europe – they were also trickling down to Peru, where they were filtered and reinterpreted into an unprecedented sound.
Inspired by artists like Elvis and Buddy Holly, Lima bands like Los Yorks, Los Saicos, Telegraph Avenue, and Los Shains created what has since been described as the precursor to punk – a fusion of fuzz guitar, wind instruments and studio effects layered with influences from Peruvian shamanism and pagan folklore. The resulting psychedelic/garage rock sound was wholly original, and its raw, subversive energy burned up Peru’s radio waves.This history – a history often left out of mainstream narratives on rock – is at the heart of Gonzalo Benavente‘s new film Rocanrol 68 which just wrapped up it’s third day at the Festival de Lima, Peru’s most prominent film festival.
As its title suggests, Rocanrol 68 takes place in 1968, at the twilight of Peru’s democracy (shortly before the leftist military coup that led to a 12 year dictatorship). Depicting three friends in their last summer before senior year of high school, the film is a comedic, coming-of-age look at what happens when a free-spirited, music-loving girl moves into their neighborhood, disrupts their status quo, and leads them into the world of Peru’s subversive, nascent rock scene.
The film is notable for being one of only three Peruvian films competing in the Festival de Lima this year. But perhaps most interesting, it is the first feature film to really tell the story of what Benavente calls “una de las escenas más importantes de Latinoamérica en ese entonces y una de las más desconocidas a la vez” (“one of the most important, but least known music scenes in Latin America.”). In fact, Benavente was able to secure the collaboration of many of the biggest rock bands from that time, including Los Saicos, Los York’s, Traffic Sound, The (St. Thomas) Pepper Smelter and Black Sugar 2013, whose music features both in the film and on the sountrack. In addition to these classics of rock peruano, the film includes 14 original tracks that were written and produced here in NYC by bilingual indie rock band Paracutá.
With a strong debut in Peru this past weekend, Rocanrol 68 is just beginning its trajectory, and there’s no word yet on when the film will hit us stateside. But in the meantime, you can check out the trailer below and keep your ears and eyes peeled for the soundtrack!