Rock music was first produced in Chile in the late 1950s by bands that imitated, and sometimes translated, international rock and roll hits from the U.S. This movement was known as the Nueva Ola (New Wave). During the second half of the 1960s, after the success of rock and roll music, the Fusión latinoamericana (Latin American fusion) and Nueva Canción (New Song) genres were born in Chile, bringing to fame artists like Violeta Parra and Victor Jara.
In the 1970s, however, there was a decline in the country's rock scene as a result of the military dictatorship imposed by the 1973 coup d'état. From 1973 to 1990, all forms of rock music were prohibited (along with an important part of the cultural life), causing stagnation in the music industry.
The 1980s saw the beginning of the revival of rock music in Chile, with several Chilean bands finding success on the international market in recent years and the growth of many rock sub-genres.
The advent of rock and roll
Rock and roll originated in the United States in the late 1940s and 1950s and expanded rapidly around the world. In the late 1950s, the first Chilean rock and roll bands emerged, largely imitating popular North American bands and performing rock and roll songs they were already hits in the U.S. Some of the first Chilean rock and roll bands included William Reb y sus Rock Kings, Harry Shaw, and Los Truenos (The Thunder), which performed versions of Elvis Presley tracks in 1956-57 and would later go on to record versions of Beatles songs. However, William Reb felt he never received the credit he deserved for his part in Chilean rock and roll.
Chile’s first solo rock and roll artists were Peter Rock, with his Elvis Presley cover Baby I Don’t Care/Something Happened (1959), and Nadia Milton, with her single, Scobidou/Un poco (1960).
The Twist was also very popular in the 50s, imported to Chile by the band Los Twisters with the singles Penas juveniles, Caprichitos, Me recordarás, Sueña and Mi secreto. In 1963, Los Twisters were voted the most popular band in Chile.
Growth of the Chilean Nueva Ola
What began in the 1950s with imitations of American rock and roll soon developed into original music. La Orquesta Huambaly, with roots in had its roots in tropical music and jazz, were the first Chilean rock and roll band to compose original songs, including Huambaly rock (1957) and Rock del mono (Monkey Rock, 1958).
However, the first real commercial success story of the Nueva Ola scene was Los Ramblers, with their El Rock del Mundial (World Cup Rock) album released in May 1962 for the 1962 FIFA World Cup in Chile.
Los Ramblers opened the door to many other successful Nueva Ola artists. Some of the most well-known were: Peter Rock, Alan y sus Bates, Los Rockets, Buddy Richard, Jose Alfredo Fuentes, Los Ramblers, Antonio Prieto, Antonio Zabaleta, Cecilia Pantoja, Germán Casas, Ginette Acevedo, Gloria Benavides, Jorge Pedreros, Luis Dimas, Maitén Montenegro, Marcelo, Mirella Gilbert, Osvaldo Díaz, Paolo Salvatore, Pat Henry, and Roberto Vicking Valdés. The Nueva Ola movement spread out of Santiago and throughout Chile, with bands like The New Demons forming in the northern city of Iquique, and The Blue Splendor, who formed - and still perform today - in Valparaíso.
The success of the Chilean Nueva Ola lasted until the mid-1960s, led by a second generation of musicians characterized by their original compositions, such as Buddy Richard, Patricio Renán, José Alfredo Fuentes and Cecilia, considered by some critics as the greatest teen star of the mid-1960s.
The Nueva Ola has been criticized for foreignizing Chilean music because the style, lyrics and even names were heavily lifted from American and British culture. For some, the Nueva Ola movement is not considered the true origin of Chilean rock. They point instead to groups like Los Mac's, Los Jockers and Los Vidrios Quebrados, who modelled themselves more on bands like The Rolling Stones and “were the first groupings who can really be identified as ‘rock made in Chile’, going further than the pop figures of the Nueva Ola.”
La Nueva Canción Chilena
During the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s, after the strong American and British influences of the Nueva Ola, the Chilean rock movement began to return to the country’s indigenous and Latin American sounds. A neo-folk movement developed with the aim of recovering traditional Chilean folk music and merging it with Latin American rhythms. This would have its fullest expression in the Nueva Canción Chilena (the New Chilean Song), which grew up in parallel to other nueva canción movements across Latin America.
The Nueva Canción Chilena was characterized by a rediscovery of the instruments and sounds of historic Latin American traditions, and in particular the work of the artists Violeta Parra and Victor Jara. Both Parra and Jara were extremely influential in the development of a new, socially aware folk culture which looked beyond traditional pastoral themes and drew in contemporary issues from across Chile and Latin America. They tried to represent the reality of life for working-class people, instead of the idealised portrait traditionally seen in older folk music.
While psychedelia came to Chile in the 1970s as it did elsewhere, influencing bands like Aguaturbia, a new sub-genre was being explored by Los Jaivas. Forming in 1963 in Viña del Mar, Los Jaivas mixed rock with South American ancestral music to form what became known as folk progressive rock. Other prominent early 70s rock bands included Escombros (Debris) and Sacros (Sacreds). Escombros contained former members of The Mac's and The Jockers and sung in English, producing covers of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin among others. Sacros have been compared to The Byrds and Bob Dylan, with traces of Fusión latinoamericana, and released their first album, Sacros, days before the 1973 military coup. The album is now a collector’s item.
Piedra Roja Festival
The famous Woodstock Festival in the U.S. inspired a similar event in Santiago, the Piedra Roja Festival of October 1970. The festival attracted many followers of the hippie movement and included performances by Los Blop’s and Los Jaivas, but poor organization led to a chaotic event which included sound problems and the presence of drugs and crime. Some artists, like Aguaturbia and Eduardo Gatti, pulled out of their scheduled performances. The festival was, according to the National Digital Library of Chile, “the moment in which the youth subculture, represented by rock, became a public issue and was reported in the media as a latent social problem. Young people were shown as liberal, drug-taking, long-haired rebels who were affecting mainstream society.”
Late 1970s and 1980s
Underground in the dictatorship years
The proliferation of Chilean rock bands in the early 70s ended with the military coup of September 11, 1973. The repressive military regime prohibited all manifestations of rock music, along with many other forms of culture (see Military government of Chile (1973-1990): cultural life). This brought about a decline of the music industry in Chile and a deterioration of the Chilean rock scene. Some Latin American fusion bands broke up, like Los Blop's, while others fled abroad, like Los Jaivas, who emigrated to Argentina. Others, like Congreso, were forced to radically change their music.
One of the most well-known and influential bands from this period was Los Prisioneros, who were especially known for their outspoken song-writer and lead vocalist, Jorge González. Jorge Leiva of Musica Popular describes Los Prisioneros as “by far the most representative Chilean rock group. Their stripped-down rock, free from virtuoso pretensions, and their lyrics, full of acute social observation, were the voice of youth disenchantment during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.”
Others groups of this decade were heavily influenced by electronic music and Argentine rock, such as Aparato Raro, Upa! and Electrodomésticos.
Punk in Chile
Chile’s first contribution to punk rock can be found abroad. In the mid-1970s Alvaro Peña, better known as “The Chilean With The Singing Nose”, joined Joe Strummer in the band The 101'ers, one of the world’s first punk bands and a precursor to the legendary band The Clash.
From 1985, the first local punk bands began to play in union headquarters around Santiago, such as El Trolley, named after the trolleybus workers’ union, and a cab-drivers’ union in El Aguilucho in Ñuñoa, Santiago. These saw performances from punk bands the Pinochet Boys, Zapatilla Rota, and Dadá, among others. The first Chilean punk festival took place in El Garage Internacional de Matucana with Fiskales Ad-Hok, Ocho Bolas, Politikos Muertos and Vandalik among others. Jordi Berenguer writes: “they were clandestine and illegal spaces. It was the last years of the dictatorship. If there was now less to fear, the death and repression still continued.”
Heavy Metal and Thrasher scene
In the later 1970s and 1980s, a heavy metal scene developed that was highly clandestine despite having no overt political affiliation or outward opposition to General Augusto Pinochet and his ongoing military regime. Bands of this generation included Pentagram, Dorso, Massakre, Necrosis, Panzer and Rust.
During the late 80s, with the dictatorship coming to an end, bands such as Squad, Massakre, Necrosis, Pentagram and Criminal become well known in Chile and even at an international level. In contrast to punk, trash metal had its origin in Santiago's upper-class neighborhoods and was less involved with politics, although the lyrics of bands like Necrosis showed an interest in the political situation.
At the turn of the decade, and as the dictatorship came to an end, more Chilean metal bands emerged, including Six Magics, Slavery, Torturer, Alejandro Silva power cuarteto, Coprofago, Criminal, Bismarck, Dracma and Inquisición among others.
In the 90s, Chilean rock was characterized by a diversification of styles derived from rock and pop, as well as a greater exposure to the international market. This was due in part to the return of democracy and an end to the repression of cultural activities, as well as an increase in contact between the Chilean population and the rest of the world as a result of economic liberalization.
The leading Chilean rock bands of the 90s were Los Tres, who mixed styles like rock, jazz and cueca (Chile’s folkloric national dance) and became particularly successful in Mexico, and La Ley (Spanish for "The Law"), who also had a very successful career in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries and won a Grammy Award, two Latin Grammy Awards and an MTV Video Music Award. Other key 90s bands included: Lucybell, whose popularity expanded during the decade throughout Chile and the rest of the continent, and Nicole, who started her career in the late 80s but did not become well-known until the 90s.
In the second half of the 90s a new wave of Chilean bands appeared, influenced mainly by the alternative rock and Britpop scenes that spread around the world. These included bands like Glup!, Canal Magdalena, Solar, and Santos Dumont, all of whom became popular with Chilean Britpop fans.
The first band to create a purely funk album in Chile was Los Morton, who formed in 1990 and released their debut album, “Santo Remedio”, in 1993. Their funk sometimes incorporated other styles such as rap and Hardcore, with other bands like La Floripondio and Supersordo sharing this kind of sound. In 1995 Los Tetas, one of the most popular Chilean funk bands, released their album “Mama Funk”, combining soul and hip hop. Los Tetas’ first single, "Corazón de Sandía" (Watermelon Heart), was a summer hit on the local radio stations and their albums “Mama Funk” and “Medicina” went on to be released and performed in several other Latin American countries. Other funk bands emerging in this decade included Pánico (with some funk influences) and Elso Tumbay.
In 1995, the successful band Chancho en Piedra emerged with their album “Peor es mascar lauchas” (It’s Worse To Chew Mice). Their style has been compared to the Red Hot Chili Peppers but they are also known for their unique funk/rock sound, goofy style, and their socially and politically aware lyrics.
As in the rest of the world, the grunge bands of Seattle had a great impact on Chilean youth in the beginning of the 90s, and the decade saw the emergence of Chilean grunge bands like Ius Solis, Los Ex, Blu Toi and Duna. These last two produced their first albums independently, though Blu Toi’s album was distributed by Warner Bros.
One of the first bands to play reggae in Chile, despite reggae not being their main influence, was Sol y Lluvia, founded in 1976 and still active today. Sol y Lluvia also had strong ties to the Nueva Canción Chilena and later to alternative rock. Gondwana, founded in 1987, are today considered the most successful Chilean reggae band. Produced by the well-knownDoctor Dread of RAS Records, Gondwana found success in Chile and abroad and performed in both Jamaica and the United States. Another exponent of Chilean reggae in the 1990s was La Floripondio, who mixed reggae with cumbia, ska, and rock.
During the first half of this decade, several bands who had formed in the 90s became more widely popular. These included Javiera y Los Imposibles, whose 2001 album AM was performed at the prestigious Viña del Mar International Song Festival in 2002, and Los Pettinellis, made up of Álvaro Enriquez and other ex members of Los Tres, who had a short but successful career from 2001 to 2004 before splitting up, not long after also performing in the Viña del Mar International Song Festival. Saiko also formed in the late 90s (1999) and, made up of former members of La Ley and the singer Denisse Malebrán, found recognition during the first half of the 2000s.
In the second half of the 2000s, one of the best-known Chilean rock bands was Los Bunkers, an alternative rock group from Concepción, Chile, who formed in 1999. With their contemporary rock sound, influenced by 1960s rock and folk sounds, the band has achieved international success with the album Vida de perros (Dog’s Life) and performed at the Vive Latino festival in Mexico City in 2006 and 2007. Also from Concepción are the band De Saloon, forming in 2003, who will be part of the line-up for the third edition of Lollapalooza Chile taking place in Santiago in April 2013.
This decade has seen a consolidation of the previous successes of Chilean rock and pop in the international market. Several Chilean artists - including Francisca Valenzuela, Gepe, Javiera Mena, Adrianigual and Dënver, among others - began to gain international praise and recognition, especially in the Spanish press, with El País calling Chile a “new pop paradise”.
In the 2010 “Festival El Abrazo” (The Hug Festival), held in Santiago to celebrate 200 years of independence for both Chile and Argentina, Chilean heavyweights Los Jaivas and Los Tres were joined by well-known Argentinean artists like Charly García and Fito Páez, among others. Meanwhile Los Bunkers were, in 2011, the first Chilean band to play Coachella in the United States.
In April 2011, Chile hosted Lollapalooza Chile, the first of the famous Lollapalooza festivals to be held outside the United States. Its success was such that it returned again in 2012 and 2013 and has attracted international artists like The Killers, Kanye West, Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys and many other big names. Chilean acts like Los Bunkers, Chico Trujillo and Anita Tijoux have also performed at the Chicago version of Lollapalooza.
In 2012, and again in 2013, a new festival called Metal Fest has launched in Chile, bringing together renowned local metal bands with top international artists such as Anthrax, The Misfits and Blind Guardian.
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