Big in Chile: The Magic Red Pants of Sweet Sweet Moon

Two years ago a YouTube video of the then basically unknown Austrian indy-duo Sweet Sweet Moon went viral. Especially in Latin America. Having never played or released anything there before, the sudden success was as puzzling as it was intriguing. Following the request of these newfound fans at the other end of the world, Sweet Sweet Moon hopped over the pond and toured Argentina and Chile. On Sunday, March 24 they stopped in Santiago for a magical concert at the cultural center Sala Prove.

 Sweet Sweet Moon's South American tour will result in the music documentary 'Fuck the Atlantic Ocean' (photo by Nicolas Berenz)
Sweet Sweet Moon's South American tour will result in the music documentary 'Fuck the Atlantic Ocean' (photo by Nicolas Berenz)

It is one of those Sundays that jog the memory of how a proper Sunday actually works. You need a mellow bunch of music enthusiasts, chorizos sizzling on the grill, cold beer in the fridge and light from the setting sun seeping through the treetops and lighting up people's faces in a way that is almost a little cheesy. Amidst all this Sunday afternoon bliss stands Matthias Frey, singer and violinist of Sweet Sweet Moon, chatting away as he awaits his time to perform. He's clad in very short and very red pants - the ones football players used to wear in times when mullets were at their peak of fashionability and Diego Maradona discovered his hand of god.

Matthias and his bandmate Lukas Pöchhacker are here in Providencia on the green patio of Sala Prove, and not back home in Austria, for a reason that is as simple as it is brilliant. Someone just asked them to. Well, sort of. In summer 2011 the Viennese music video blog They Shoot Music posted a YouTube video session of the band playing in the streets of their hometown. A couple of short months later, the number of views skyrocketed and heaps of comments in various languages started pouring in.

 An impromtu session in Providencia (courtesy of They Shoot Music)
An impromtu session in Providencia (courtesy of They Shoot Music)

Sarah Brugner from They Shoot Music remembers vividly, "The number of Spanish comments was disproportionally large and we noticed that most of the clicks came from countries in Latin America." Comments expressed desire to see the band live and disdain for the ten thousand kilometers lying between the two continents and their mutual taste in music.

One comment in particular cut right to the chase, venting anger about this geographical injustice. "Fuck the Atlantic Ocean," the User wrote and ever so simply planted an idea into the heads of Sweet Sweet Moon and the crew of They Shoot Music. The group decided to embark on a three week tour through Argentina and Chile. The film crew decided to follow, capture the craziness on camera and produce a documentary carrying that very comment as its title, "Fuck The Atlantic Ocean."

"At first we talked about all of this rather jokingly. But once we found a way to finance everything we said, 'let’s do it! Let's conquer the Atlantic and go see the fans in Latin America!' So we did." Sarah explains. The money was partly raised through a crowd funding campaign and partly through a funding of the Austrian Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture.

 Quick stop at the gas station (courtesy of They Shoot Music)
Quick stop at the gas station (courtesy of They Shoot Music)

When the red pants finally walk up the little stage on the patio of Sala Prove they seem so out of place, screaming in contrast to the green trees that surround them. But then Matthias raises his voice, Lukas hits the strings of his cello and not many reasons are left to be distracted by the shameless red of this garment.

It is not much to be honest. It's a cello, a violin, a loop machine and a raspy voice. Yet it's enough for Sweet Sweet Moon to spin a cocoon filled with a harmonic deliciousness that simultaneously clouds your head and vision, rendering you oblivious to anything else be it ever so garish and blatant. It just so happens that the red pants, earlier glued to your gaze, magically disappear.

Maybe it's the way Matthias relentlessly milks melody out of open vowels, the way his voice cracks when he screams his words over the heads of the audience or the way he sometimes opts for playing the violin with his knees rather than his hands. Or, maybe it's the way their songs start with warm velvetiness from the strings and end in an adventurous cacophony usually reserved for the 3 a.m. radio program when some weird dude presents experimental jazz. Whatever it is, the red pants are gone.

Performing at Sala Prove (photo by Simon Brunger)
Performing at Sala Prove (photo by Simon Brunger)

During the three weeks between Buenos Aires and Valparaíso, Sweet Sweet Moon stopped their tour bus – a rental van that almost broke down while crossing the Andes – in Mar del Plata, Tucumán, Córdoba, Mendoza and Santiago, playing gigs in concert halls, at private parties, in the streets and even in the middle of the dessert. Some concerts were organized by those same fans who initially begged them to come. "Sometimes it was a bit surreal, in the positive sense of the word," Lukas remembers. "You travel to another continent and people walk up to you and say they know you from the video. At the concert in Mar del Plata people were chanting our names and singing along to the songs. It was crazy."

But why is Sweet Sweet Moon's music so popular here? That's of course the big question. And, until now, the answer is still up in the air. “We have no clue on why people seem to like our music here. Maybe it’s because it is kind of radical. Radical in how we use the instruments or how I use my voice," Lukas muses. On that note Sarah adds, "In Buenos Aires we have been told that Sweet Sweet Moon's music reflects Latin American lifestyle in a way that, yes, there are rules, but they are overstepped very easily. Just as easily as Sweet Sweet Moon oversteps the rules of playing classic cello or violin."

 Encounter in Argentina (courtesy of They Shoot Music)
Encounter in Argentina (courtesy of They Shoot Music)

When the show has finished and the red pants have popped back into perspective, Matthias walks over to the barbecue grill to treat himself to a choripán. A new-found fan stops and showers him with compliments in Spanish.

"Inglés, por favor?" Matthias smiles.
"I am your fan now!" the girl says. "I really enjoyed the concert. Thank you so much."
"Oh, thank you! What’s your name?"
"Pilar? Like Caterpillar?"
"Yes," she chuckles "Kind of."

"I think the people here like their music because it combines different styles," Pilar says later. "They mix traditional music with modern sounds and that is, at least for me, very appealing. I think in Latin America we still love folklore very much. Violeta Parra is one example. When these sounds are mixed with contemporary music it’s even better.”

While shooting the documentary, the film crew tried to capture as many voices as possible. "We interviewed fans after every concert," Sarah explains. "And we will see if, in the end, we can find some sort of canon that reveals the secret of Sweet Sweet Moon's success." The film, planned to premier in Vienna at the end of this year, will be a full-length mix of a road-movie and a tour diary. Until then, the band will work on their first studio album.

On Tuesday, March 26 Sweet Sweet Moon played their final concert in Valparaíso and arrived back in Vienna on Thursday to an unusually cold spring. Those short, red, magic pants might just have wait in the closet for a while.

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