Portrait — Camillo Lara, Mexican Institute of Sound, Mexico Ci

Playlist: Camilo Lara, Mexican Institute Of Sound, Mexico City

Being the big music fans that we are, we knew that it would be sacrilegious to stay in New York’s East Village and not take in some live music. Little did we know that a chance encounter at a local gig would take us down Mexico way…

Some of our favourite bands earned their live music credentials in Lower Manhattan. A few blocks away from our apartment the Talking Heads, The Ramones and Blondie plied their initially not-so accepted offerings at the long-lamented CBGB club – a fate that nearly awaited Cactus Café in Austin when we visited a couple of weeks later.

Given that we were visiting various destinations in Latin America on this year’s grand tour, we decided to take the opportunity to see a showcase gig of the Latin Alternative Music Conference, being held nearby at the Bowery Ballroom. The show was interesting, though not exactly sparkling, and after seeing a handful of bands we were thinking about calling it a night when the Mexican Institute of Sound hit the stage.

Fronted by the energetic, pork pie hat-wearing frontman Camilo Lara, and a clearly over-caffeinated Money Mark (who has made significant contributions to the Beastie Boys and Beck) the high energy set was a riot of cut up sounds, big beats, and Money Mark running around on stage like there was a dog chasing him. It was wild. We were hooked.

Lara spoke to Camilo after the gig, told him we loved their performance and that we would soon be in Mexico City. He gave her his email address and offered to give us some tips when we got there.

Four weeks later, Camilo opened the door to his lovely art deco home in the hip neighbourhood of Roma in Mexico City, and showed us up to his studio. Filled with keyboards of mind-blowing vintages and crammed with all kinds of kitschy-cool paraphernalia it reminded us of the home studio I once had.

We laughed about the New York gig – not only at Money Mark’s manic performance, but also at the sight of Camilo’s brother Marcelo in spandex (he’s in the successful Mexican glam rock parody band, Moderatto, who gave a hilarious performance that bewildered most of the audience) – and we chatted about music.

It didn’t take long before Camilo started plying me with questions about my musical tastes and we hit it off as obsessive fans of quirky English band XTC, a band beloved by critics and musicians.

Like most good musicians, Camilo is a total music geek. He has some 45,000 vinyl records in his house, for starters! It doesn’t take long to quickly appreciate that he’s a thoughtful guy who soaks up music and culture like a sponge and then recycles it through his own unique filter, creating sound collages that alternatively have your head spinning or nodding to the brilliant beats. The music of Mexican Institute of Sound is both cerebral and fun.

This would be enough to make any musician happy. Except Camilo has a pretty decent day job as well – he’s the president of EMI Mexico. And despite Camilo having met some of my favourite musicians and knowing the guys in Radiohead and the Beastie Boys, he’s still jealous that I once saw XTC live! If only all record company execs had the passion for music that this guy does.

So, given Camilo’s huge music geek credentials, who better to ask for a Mexico playlist. Here’s our friend Camilo Lara’s soundtrack to Mexico City.

Camilo Lara’s soundtrack to Mexico City

1. Café Tacuba – “I had to choose these guys because they really capture what Mexico is all about now in terms of communicating the flavour of the city. They’re actually not from Mexico City, but from the satellite city of Ciudad Satélite, which is typically middle class and is almost part of Mexico City but isn’t. They’re the most innovative of Mexico City’s bands. Their best album is Re, the second record. It’s a long album, a crazy explosion of Mexican music with punk and rock. These guys just smell of Mexico City!

2. La Sonora Santanera – “This is a band from the 1950s and 60s. They are still played but they used to be HUGE in the 60s and 70s. Now the music is underground and you hear it in the markets. Do you know the term ‘naco’? It means ‘tacky’, something people are ashamed of, and that’s how many people feel about this music but I love it. Most of the music is on compilations and anything is great.

3. Esquivel! – “This guy, Juan García Esquivel (generally just known as Esquivel!) was a pioneer of electronic music and had a huge career in the 1950s in big bands. Then he started experimenting with strange music. He left Mexico and went to Vegas, he was on Johnny Carson in the 1950s and 1960s. He had a huge orchestra so they stopped hiring him. In the 1980s he did a children’s album and it was very surreal, about a big frog and tree. It was very futuristic – the music was insane! It was my inspiration! In the 1980s people started discovering him again. Tarantino used him on the Four Rooms soundtrack. I loved the album Infinity in Sound, Vol 1. He recorded two orchestras to get these crazy sounds. I met him. He was like the grandfather I wished I had. He was a punk rocker trapped in an old man’s body!”

4. Maldita Vecindad “The rock en Espanol explosion of the 1980s was influenced by ska, punk, the Clash, Violent Femmes etc and it really created the identity of Mexican Rock. Il Circo is their best album. They’re still around. In fact, they’re huge. They played to 100,000 people recently in the Zocalo! That generation listened to The Ramones etc so they’re a bit more punk than ska – it was a different generation to us – my generation is more into electronica and the Happy Mondays etc – but I still appreciate those guys.”

5. Silverio or ‘Silver’. “Julián Lede (who goes under the moniker ‘Silverio’) was a pioneer of electronic music but this guy is an insane character! He undresses on stage, he curses at the audience. He has made two albums, and has a MySpace page and his own label called Nuevos Ricos (‘New Riches’). He’s ironic. His partner, Carlos Amorales is a successful artist so he designed their crazy record covers. I really like this guy!”

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