Now Hear This 2004

by PopMatters Staff

1 January 2004

NOW HEAR THIS 2004   Can’t figure out what to listen to? Listen to us. Once again, PopMatters’ music team presents a highly opinionated, undoubtedly superlative but ultimately revelatory examination of 18 artists that demand your attention. NOW.
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:: The Best Indie Latin Band That Gets Hipsters Shaking Their Culos !

Austin, Texas isn’t known as a hotbed for Latin music, but over the last three years Grupo Fantasma has been changing that by creating a sound so divergent, music writers have a fucking hard time trying to render it in words. And no wonder: the twelve members have a dizzying range of musical influences, ranging from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tito Puente, Quincy Jones, and Fania All-Stars.

This fantastic dozen used to be two rock bands—the Laredo-border town band The Blimp and the Austin-based Blue Noise Band. These two groups realized they had chemistry when billed together, so when they merged in 2000, the band knew they were on to something rico, bonito, y sabroso -Ay, something definitely rich, beautiful, and quite delicious! That same November the band drew one hundred people onto the shoebox-sized club, the Empanada Parlour.

Since then, the band has been selling out venues in Austin, California, Chicago, New York City, and Monterrey, Mexico, while performing alongside Patti Smith, Los Lobos, Molotov, and Buena Vista Social Club. They’ve been featured on NPR and landed a spot on the soundtrack to John Sayles’ Casa De Los Babys . And they’ve done it by abiding to the DIY rule, selling over 7,000 copies of its self released debut and funds their tours. The music industry has taken notice and Grupo Fantasma has gotten bids from major and indie labels alike. But for their second full-length, Movimiento Popular , released this year, the band decided to do it themselves.

What has gotten them all this attention?

The answer is their live shows. There are very few bands that can gather a multi-cultural crowd under one language—and it isn’t English. And I know: I’ve been to their gigs since their Empanada Parlour days, where you’ll see Latino, Anglo, African-American, neo-hippie, hipsters, alterna-geeks gyrating hips, pirouetting, and flailing their arms. It doesn’t matter if you know how to dance traditional Latin music. Look in front of you and you’ll see two hipsters dancing meringue, salsa or cumbia. Look behind you and you’ll see a crowd of break-dancers popping. And right next to you, you’ll have a wacky Gap kid doing the robot dance. So you might as well start dancing because the way these twelve musicians-the horn section, percussion, guitars, and vocalists-interact with the crowd creates an energy that manifests itself in a grand danzon .

Grupo Fantasma best describes their sound as an exhilarating freight train, a twenty-four armed musical beast that roars to life on stage. You better be ready to for a massive influx of sound, energy, and ritmo baby, mucho rhythm.

— Cesar Diaz

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