This week, New York City hosts the Latin Alternative Music Conference, the annual festival of Spanish-language rock, hip-hop, and electronic music that connects artists and managers to likeminded members of the music industry and future fans.
Venues from Bowery Ballroom and Le Poisson Rouge to Central Park Summerstage and Celebrate Brooklyn will be presenting LAMC concerts.
The conference was founded eleven years ago by Los Angeles-based record label Nacional Records to bring exposure to their artists, who didn’t fit into easily definable genres – neither rock, nor Latin, nor World. The term “Latin Alternative” was invented as a catch-all that could equally apply to bands like Catalan synth rockers The Pinker Tones and Chilean rap diva Ana Tijoux.
“As the U.S. Latino population grows and assimilates, it's only natural to expect that a genre like this is going to resonate,” says Nacional Records co-founder Josh Norek. “Whereas their parents might listen to merengue or salsa, they want to listen to something that reflects their generation.”
Many Latin Alternative artists mix traditional Latin sounds with contemporary beats. The Tijuana-based Nortec Collective, for example, takes the sounds of Northern Mexico’s banda and ranchera music and gives it a synth-driven, electronic edge.
However, growth in Latin Alternative’s market is not limited to the bilingual, cosmopolitan young Latinos that make up the genre’s main audience. Artists such as Colombia’s Bomba Estereo and Venezuela’s Los Amigos Invisibles are popping up on stages of major American music festivals, including Lalapalooza and Coachella. This year at Bonaroo, there was a dedicated Latin stage throughout the festival.
“If you look at any of the photos you’ll see 3000, 4000 mostly gringo kids jumping around and having a great time, and I think we’re getting past the point now where the concept of Latin Music is salsa or Ricky Martin,” says Norek.
“These are festivals that are catering to audiences that are hungry for new sounds, and receptive to music that, maybe, isn’t in their first language, says Michel Vega, head of the Latin division of William Morris, a major talent agency. Vega is speaking on an LAMC panel titled “From Colombia to Coachella: Latin Alternative‘s Global Rise in the Touring Market”
Latin Alternative has increasingly been licensed for use in film, television, and video games, making appearances in shows such as Entourage. The Pinker Tones, who are performing at Summerstage on Saturday, had a song in the opening of Beverly Hills Chihuahua, inarguably mainstream fare.
“It’s only a matter of time before we hear the Pinker Tones on Z100,” says Ron Moss, head of publishing of Rondor Music.
According to Josh Norek, this may be an exaggeration. With few exceptions, Latin Alternative bands are solidly on the indie side of the music spectrum.
“It’s not necessarily something where we are expecting a Nirvana-like breakthrough where these bands were suddenly getting on mainstream commercial English radio,” says Norek. “But what we have seen is a lot more mainstream general acceptance to, I think, a more English-speaking audience.”