In Colombia, there has been a recent influx of big-scale concerts that has taken us by surprise. After being considered pariahs of the music scene, this country is slowly building up a reputation as a good stage both financially and audience wise to foreign bands. So good that this second semester alone Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Slipknot, Iggy Pop, The Offspring, Dead Kennedys, Volbeat are going to play in Colombia in a three months period. A very short span if you consider that in previous years if we had a big concert once a year it was a random stroke of luck. It is great for us, fans, that have developed our musical taste with these greats, but what happens to the local events?
The Colombian scene has grown over the years. Not only are there are more rock and metal bands starting up, but also there are more events in which they can play beside their own initiatives. Bars seem more open to having live bands as part of the entertainment, and people are also getting used to having them play live as they have their drinks. But this prosperity has been put to a test, this year in particular, with the explosion of foreign band shows besides those invited to Festival Rock al Parque. In recent years there has been an exponential increase in the number of international bands coming into play, and perhaps in a healthy scene that should not be a problem as there are bands for everyone’s taste. But that is not the case for a developing scene such as the Colombian one.
A week ago, I went to watch a couple of bands that are participating in the VIII Monsters del Rock Subterranica Colombia. Said contest has the aim to promote emerging bands of Bogotá through different bars. Because it is oriented to newcomers, the variety of genres and interpretation is wide, however, promotion of said event lands on the participating bands, which contradicts the very purpose of the contest as a promotional tool. BBar, the bar to which I attended to, was a well-known establishment, with a stage that is not equipped for bands greater than five members; somehow I do not think any band feels comfortable playing in there but, a concert is a concert.
That day I saw three bands in total (Kariwa, Aerostato, and Hidalgo Brothers Band) and during their performance, not many people came in. In fact, I could say that there were more musicians waiting to play that actual audience. This was a shame because out of the three bands that I saw, two of them were very professional despite the small space. One of them, Kariwa, even took their performance out of the stage as all the members except the drummer walked around the bar while playing their set. The other band, Hidalgo Brothers Band, was exceptional as they incorporated wind elements and a jazz approach to their interpretation.
But all seven bands that were participating (Kariwa, Aerostato, Hidalgo Brothers Band, Darani, Saiclosombi, Q’Al Blues, and Faces of the Enemy), even those I did not see playing, have something in common: they want to play their music to a greater audience. Some may make it because they have a greater commitment or they are just lucky, some others will succumb to the responsibilities of adulthood. It seems that perseverance is the key for many bands in Colombia, perhaps even bands worldwide as it takes time to get the scoop of larger audiences. But does it work?
In years where there had not been a lot of concerts from international bands, national acts had more of a fighting chance. In Colombia, in the last couple of years, there was a resurgence of festivals oriented to national bands with a special appearance of one or two international acts. The formula was working out, as in most of those festivals, such as Festival Bogothrash, Festival Rock Eco Sabana, Festival del Diablo, people that were not into the local cuisine had the chance to check bands they never heard of, in some cases, it works like a charm. Most importantly, slowly Colombian fans were getting used to paying to see their local bands on a bigger stage.
As audience’s expectations grow, so does the work put up by bands. By work, I mean that bands that take themselves seriously and who are using promotional tools more keenly to acts that are living out of the music. Release parties for videos, albums or other artistic endeavours are being made more frequently than before. Bands are also getting managing teams, making professional productions for both the material to be released and the press activities behind it. Recently, we were invited to the release party of Perros de Reserva graphic novel, it was so well organised it left us impressed and proved that Colombian bands are willing to go farther to achieve their goals.
But this year is different as fans are left with tough choices to make as international acts are getting promoted to come to Colombia, which means a significant hit to their pockets. Sure, I would like to say that most fans, including me, will pick to go to local events to support our still developing scene. But in reality, mainly with bands that are part of our life’s soundtrack, the decision is far too complex. For the hardcore fans, those that grew into music by following local bands, the decision is simple: keep supporting national events. For those fans that have developed their taste with a combination of mainstream radio and local events, the decision is more ambivalent as many of them have grown with acts like Guns N’ Roses or Aerosmith rooted to key moments of their lives. It is hard to say no to watch Iggy Pop, one of your personal heroes, perform live for the first time and may be only chance in your life.
Some of the rising festivals like Festival del Diablo and Festival Rock Eco Sabana that were aiming to promote the “pay your dues to your local scene” are struggling hard to compete in such unfair contest for the attention of fans. One may say that each promoter has a niche; nonetheless, fans can be more diverse in their taste with an overlapping effect regarding events. What will happen in the near future with those festivals? I honestly do not know, but I hope for the best as it really gives a different perspective and a well-earned reward to those bands that work hard as professionals.
Colombia is seeing a phenomenon that never happened before. I hope for the sake of our bands that we as an audience evolve as well as our bands have. We are still miles away from being a strong scene, able to support both national and international bands without sacrificing much in the process. As concert goers, do you think it is possible to support both foreign and national bands?