South By Sound: Exploring Central America’s Indie Rock Scene

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By Jennifer Hamilton

Trying to find new musical inspiration? Maybe the best place to start is the last place you would expect. Step outside of the United States, and head south towards the secret beaches loved by surfers in Central America. Head to Guatemala and El Salvador, where you’ll stumble across an indie music scene growing in spite of social barriers, producing a sound influenced by urban surroundings. The scene is centered around Indie Collective, a group based out of San Salvador, El Salvador. Completely self-financed and supported, Indie Collective was founded in 2009, a movement of bands, designers, and artists who, with the help of Guatemala City’s independent music label Bajo Presion Records, are creating a space for independent music where there once was none.

The music that’s being made by this assembly of artists has blossomed despite a consistently volatile political climate stemming from a brutal civil war in El Salvador and political upheaval in Guatemala spanning the 1980s and 1990s. The new generation has grown up hearing hushed stories of those who disappeared, or attending colleges plagued by dark pasts.

Music has provided the perfect blank canvas to start over. These bands don’t dwell on old wounds or expressing a painful past. Instead, these musicians comprise the first generation writing songs about what inspires them, from philosophy to heartbreak, without feeling as if they have to make political statements or respond directly to a violent, uncertain reality. Bands such as Cóctel and Cartas a Felice are shaping a culture by embracing their roots and adding their own twists. All of this creation and inspiration would be impossible without the support of Indie Collective. A true support system, bands in the Collective promote each other, members help with concert marketing and setup; everyone shares resources. The goal is growth, and the movement is gaining traction.

The majority of the members of Indie Collective maintain day jobs, coming together when possible to support the scene they love. Some are economists, engineers, graphic artists; everyone has earned their experience promoting shows and bands through their time in the movement.

For the anniversary of El Salvador’s independence from Spain on September 15, 2013, Indie Collective held a music festival that was the first of its kind in San Salvador, naming it “Indie.pendencia.” The event pulled bands, artists, and individuals from all over Central America. During the event we spoke with the movement’s go-to girl, Luciana Fortis, about the direction of Indie Collective. Of the event, Fortis says, “We were like, 'holy shit this is original stuff which is being made here.' I’ve gotten to meet a range of people that I would not have met before, this is a space where your background doesn’t matter, what matters is that you are a part of the movement.”

A graduate from Bentley University in Boston, MA, she described what led her to down an unexpected path: “Music has been in my head ever since I can remember, trying to sing and work with music has always been a dream, a hard one to have, especially when you're from El Salvador.” She splits her days between booking shows, organizing resources for bands, and working as an economist at the family business.

The Indie Collective is doing things the right way—with a focus on organic growth and the artists as individuals—and within the movement there are a few bands that stand out. If you're looking to experience something new, to listen to some music coming from a different place to normal, check out these five bands from Guatemala and El Salvador.

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