"El Ejecutivo” 7” (Lengua Armada, USA)
The history of Uruguayan rocknroll is divided into two periods, pre– and post–military dictatorship. In 1973, a neofascist coup installed a repressive government, which, of course, silenced the music of the 1960s, which largely consisted of knock-offs of the Beatles or Stones. This rocknroll interregnum gave rise to fascinating new forms of popular music that nurtured cultural memory as a strategy of opposition to the military regime’s enforced amnesia. However, the end of the dictatorship, in 1985, rendered this specific form of protest unnecessary. A new form, called rock del arrabal, or rock of the slums, took shape. And the cause? By 1985, neoliberalism was flying across the globe at full speed, and it had touched down in Uruguay too. The defining characteristic of the neoliberal economic program is structural adjustment, which entails deindustrialization, often due to removal of trade barriers, privatization of housing and education, and deregulation of agriculture and labor. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank lovingly insisted that this program would put debtor nations on the road to riches. Instead, the result has been a vast increase in the disparity between rich and poor. One of the predominant results of neoliberalism thus has been the creation of enormous slums across the global south. Over a billion people are estimated to live in slums around the world currently. The inhabitants of what are often chaotic, fetid, overcrowded shantytowns are generally forced to suckle at the poisoned teat of northern benevolence. Along with it comes trash, both literally and in the form of pop culture.
Just as the slumdwellers themselves must fashion a life out of the ruins and the waste pushed to the periphery of cities, rock del arrabal is music constructed of scraps of culture, repurposed against itself. Historian Abril Trigo, in an essay about Uruguayan rocknroll published in the collection Rockin’ Las Américas, writes, “When even the socially progressive of yesteryear are reborn as cynical neoliberals, youth, cornered by frustration, unemployment, migration, and anger, replies with the most corrosive strategy, rock del arrabal.” Trigo continues, “This ‘rock from the slums of the world’ radicalizes the neoliberal globalization of the periphery, flaunting its marginality, its acculturated culture, its sloppy, trashy, recycled production” (133). The informative liner notes to “El Ejecutivo,” a 4-song EP released on Lengua Armada, tell us that Los Invasores shared equipment, as well as the stage, with Los Estómagos, one of the more prominent slum rock bands. Thus, although Trigo does not mention Los Invasores and the notes do not mention rock del arrabal, I believe the term is useful for understanding and contextualizing this great punk band.
Trigo argues that the songs of rock del arrabal “produce a culture of consumers, an aesthetics of recycling, and a politics of bricolage” (130). Music from global South is forced to come to terms with its own marginality and its unique status as cultural production near the bottom of a chain of consumption/disposal. In a canny way, the musicians used these intrinsically postmodern, and historically punk, aesthetic strategies like bricolage or pastiche to satirize their own marginality and lack of resources and outlets. Los Invasores therefore, as a punk band, fit in with a larger trend of slum rock that occurred in Uruguay at the time, but also, with their lyrical vehemence and bile, realized a nearly decade-old manner of self-presentation more forcefully and concretely than the art-school punks who invented it in England. Indeed, the liner notes tell us that the representative of the preeminent Uruguayan rock label, Orfeo, walked out of a Los Invasores gig and complained, “I don’t want another Sex Pistols.” Of course, the band sounds nothing like the Pistols, but given the context, they were able to re-radicalize the methods of the Pistols, which were clearly stale by then in London or Los Angeles.
Los Invasores sing about “nuestro”—ours—with the hope of creating something new. (Though the Pistols did create something new, it is impossible to imagine Johnny Rotten singing earnestly about anything.) Whereas the folky protest music that existed under the Uruguayan dictatorship explicitly attempted to construct a national identity and memory as well as a means of sharing this memory within the system’s repressive confines, after democratization, the music industry apparently resumed its pre-dictatorship methods of crafting musical groups that took their cues from famous American or British acts. Los Invasores opposed the falsification inherent in this method, and their name must be seen as an ironic commentary on it. One might see hints of nationalism in Los Invasores’ effort to avoid external cultural hegemony, but this resistance was not nostalgic, for example, like the resistance to internal repression during the dictatorship. Rather, it was, “a critique of everyday life, a negative politics, an excremental politics, a politicization along the edge of politics: an anti-politics” (Trigo 132). In essence, it was nonideological and composed of pure energetic protest, as one can hear in the punchy music. Implicit in the music is the rejection of the narrative of authenticity and oppositionality that rock imported from elsewhere carries with it or that local rock manufactured to imitate northern bands appropriates. Their best song, “Nuestro,” explicitly condemns imported music and its emptiness, its inability to speak to the youth living under the conditions of poverty and exclusion from the dreams imported music represents. Trigo writes that the ideological tendency of assigning oppositionality and authenticity to northern rock, meaning the traditional notion of the rocker as the true rebel or outlaw, “should be even more pertinent in the periperhies of global capitalism, where rock’s class and generational tensions are magnified under acute conditions of social inequality, uneven and dependent modernization, and the clash with local and national cultural traditions” (116). Clearly, Los Invasores’ lyrics shine light upon those acute conditions of social inequality. “El Ejecutivo” is a poppy song with a walking bassline and lyrics about the way a businessman in Uruguay fetishizes imported luxuries at the same time that his work has required him to “cut off many heads to get into his position.” The lyrics speak of this executive’s romance with a secretary, like a storyline from Dallas or Dynasty. Not even the executive’s intimate life, such as it is, can be considered homegrown; everything is exploitative and imported.
On the music, one last quote. Trigo explains rock del arrabal: “Its uglifying aesthetic (melodic minimalism, frenetic and syncopated beat, conceptual lyrics, monotonous and shouted vocals drowned out by the instruments’ volume) is a praxis of clash scorning any ideological discourse; a trash-heap aesthetic for semi-marginal youths, blue-collar workers, and students from impoverished middle classes” (131). Frenetic, syncopated, and with monotonous (yet passionate), shouted vocals is exactly how I would describe Los Invasores’ sound. Their sound cannot be easily compared to any other bands’, but it is clearly punk rock, with energy and volume to match contemporaneous hardcore bands from neighboring countries. Whereas Brazilian hardcore in ‘85 had its noticeably British and Finnish influences, and even Argentina not long after had a host of bands playing different styles descended from various imported musical subcultures, Los Invasores had a unique sound to match the unique position they occupied as a band attempting to highlight their own marginality. They sat atop a garbage heap and hurled the rot back. Ironically, the production values, unlike those of a band such as Ulster from Brazil, do not scream “marginal.” Perhaps to the Uruguayan rock establishment, which desired a return to the soft British Invasion–style melodies of ‘60s bands like the inaccurately named Los Iracundos (The Angry Men), the sound of Los Invasores was brash and hopelessly noncommercial, but to a listener today, the music actually sounds fresh, well- but not over-produced, and powerful. It is shit-fi in approach but not sound.
My complaints about this reissue are small. First, the liner notes do not tell us where these four tracks originated, which is annoying to anyone who might want to seek out an original. (I have discovered that they are from an unreleased tape, so there is no original to find.) Also, though I do not read Spanish, it is clear the English translations of the lyrics are not idiomatic and even incorrect in a few cases. Somewhat more disconcertingly, there are a few minor skips on the vinyl. I should emphasize that they are not terribly noticeable, but they are a bit annoying nonetheless and detract from the otherwise good sound. Finally, it is unfortunate that there are only 600 copies of this record available. It’s great that a reissue made this music available to a new audience because I doubt many people outside Uruguay had ever even heard of this band before this release, but it would be a shame if potential members of this new audience have trouble tracking down this record.
Trigo, Abril. “The Politics and Anti-Politics of Uruguayan Rock.” Deborah Pacini Hernandez, Héctor Fernández-L’Hoeste, Eric Zolov, eds. Rockin’ Las Américas. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004:115-140.