Chile Goes North to South by Southwest

Five Chilean groups showcase the country’s diverse sound at the most important festival within the North American music industry.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Intimate Stranger

It’s late on a Wednesday night. The show, announced to start around 11 p.m., hasn’t even opened its doors by 11:30 p.m. — the usual for Santiago.

As fans pile into the place— a small bar with low, stucco ceilings and beat-up hardwood floors; a scruffy, honky-tonk look — it starts to feel like any other big-city bar, anywhere — shoegaze kids in jean jackets, beer glasses hanging above the bar, shaggy-haired musicians bringing back slow, psychedelic guitar riffs. English lyrics about churches on fire and forgotten lovers.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy The Ganjas

But when the music stops for a moment, small details hint at our location: a bandmate speaks into the mic, in Spanish; a guy dressed in plaid stands far stage left, playing a pair of maracas; the drink board advertises pisco sour. Hell, everyone inside is still smoking.

Chile’s music scene is as vibrant as ever; with bands finding their niche, from rockabilly, to electro, to hip-hop and psychedelic rock, such as The Ganjas, who are drawing the crowd at this December show at Santiago’s Club Mist.

After all, genres and trends within the current global music scene easily transcend borders.

But it’s the finer points that can make the difference —the strength and size of the country’s music industry, the geographical distance, the visas required to travel, the language.

“MySpace, the internet. That’s the only way,” says Samuel Maquieira, The Ganjas long-haired and soft-spoken vocalist and guitarist, outside an empanada take-out joint, back in December.

“We haven’t had a major label, or a press agent, or a website,” he says.

Despite that, The Ganjas, along with five other Chilean music acts, have pulled off a major coup within the worldwide industry. For the first time in the festival’s 24-year history, this weekend South by Southwest will feature a showcase dedicated solely to Chilean music.

Santiago Chile

The Ganjas, a neo-psychedelic rock group, rock group Casino, electro-rock band Intimate Stranger and hip-hop acts Funky C and Anita Tijoux are on the bill set for Saturday night at Maggie Mae’s in Austin, Texas.

The South by Southwest (SXSW) festival is by far the most important music industry festival in North America, some argue in fact that it takes the top spot globally. It takes place every year in Austin in March.

This year, across 88 stages in the city, nearly 2,000 bands will take part, a third of which are considered ‘international’ groups. Thousands of people within the industry, from fans to record labels, music journalists, distribution companies, radio programmers and others attend every year.

Some of the Chilean musicians attending this year have never travelled outside of Chile, or South America. Some don’t speak English. But they are all pretty excited; it’s the first time any Chilean band, let alone five, has made it into the official festival schedule.

“If you’re from London, well, 400 bands are from London. Being from Chile is a new thing,” says Intimate Stranger’s Lautaro Vera.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Anita Tijoux

The groups arrived in Austin earlier this week, and have been playing gigs around the city since. They will play their one show together, along with Spanish guest Capsula, on Saturday night.

Another show this Tuesday night at Austin’s well-known venue The Parish will be a fundraiser for Chile’s earthquake relief efforts (Ganjas bass player Rafael Astaburuaga, known as Pape, lost his home and much of his commercial mushroom business in the 8.8-magnitude quake which hit the country hard on February 27.)

And, over the next six weeks, Intimate Stranger, The Ganjas and Casino (although Pape and some of The Ganjas may need to head back to Chile early) will play 25 shows across the southern states — a first major tour for all of them.

Tijoux has a separate tour planned for the U.S. and Canada following the festival as well.

“It’s like a utopia to have an industry that is interested in independent music,” says Casino and Ganjas member Pablo Giadach, cautious of being overly optimistic. “It won’t happen.”

Maybe, it just hasn’t happened for them, yet.


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