Neon Desert Music Festival 2012
Yes, we know it’s been over a couple of weeks since the second annual Neon Desert Music Festival in my hometown of El Paso, but sometimes life gets in the way. C=T correspondent, Uncle Harry, took in multiple shows and endured the triple digit heat to give us the low-down on what went down in San Jacinto Plaza.
Neon Desert 2012
Colors of neon pink, black and green only helped to foreshadow the highly energized and spiritedly eclectic crowed that came together for the 2012 Neon Desert Musical Festival. Held during Memorial Day weekend, this raucous celebration of diverse music, local artists and restaurants is a pinnacle point of pride not only for festival organizers Brian Chavez, Zach Paul and Gina Martinez, but for the El Paso/Juarez region as a whole. While music aficionados converged upon downtown El Paso’s San Jacinto Plaza for what proved to be a highly organized and seamless production, the background work to assemble the festival should not go unnoticed. Festival volunteers like Richard Nassar and Gilbert Martinez not only galvanized financial and community support for the festival, but laboriously tended to a number of logistics that provided audience members a safe and efficiently constructed space to enjoy the day.
The festival itself was an outstanding culmination of diverse musical talent from across the globe that focused on the bi-national culture El Paso/Juarez cherishes and celebrates. With acts ranging from New York and Los Angles to Guadalajara Mexico, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Montreal Canada and even Madrid, Spain audience member and organizers alike were treated to heart stopping DJ sets, crowd surfing indie bands and a ton of local talent from El Paso and Juarez.
The music was not the only piece celebrating the cities vibrant bi-national culture. From street vendors, local artists and local businesses and restaurants, it was a celebration of all things bi-national. The variety of local restaurants that brought food stands and trucks to the festival was another point of local pride. El Pasoans cheered as they recognized local favorites like the pizzeria Crust and gastro delight Crave to this El Pasoans shout out for his love for local Italian eatery The Italian Kitchen and Philly Cheese Steak house, Kipps Cheesesteak. While this avid fan could not attend all the acts, here is a quick recount of some of my favorites:
Ligre- Hailing from Juarez, Mexico, it is difficult to pin point their sound as I could have been listening to VHS or Beta, Franz Ferdinand or The Bravery, but what made this band’s sound incredibly distinctive is their techno pop disco beat that was absolutely enthralling. The Neon Desert crowed cared not for the 3:30 pm afternoon El Paso heat as they furiously danced and allowed these musical Pided Pipers to captivate the crowd with intoxicating rhythm and beats. Mostly instrumental during their set, one feels like they could open for Cut Copy and get the crowd as exhilarated and the main act themselves. An emphasized bass ala New Order in perfect fusion with their synth pop instrumental composition is the next generation of their 1980’s new wave predecessors. The synthesizer is certainly the tail mark of Ligre, but it is so melodically combined and orchestrated with the rest of the instruments that each sounds gives to the other and creates of feeling of carefully orchestrated musical delight.
Brining their signature dream synth dubbed “goth-prep” or “Noir-pop Melodrama” to El Paso, lead singer Elizabeth Harper has a magnetic and alluring state presence that, at times, can distract from her flawless vocals and the hypnotic flow of the groups DIY produced dance beats. Clad in black and white with designer heels, her hipster/goth/preppy look is quite fitting for the eclectic and energetic crowed gathered around the Rudolph Mazda stage at the sweltering 4:00 pm hour. Starting with songs from their sophomore album, Rapproacher, to warm things up in the already 85 degree plus weather, the crowd erupts as they launch into Careful What you Say from their breakout debut album, Journal of Ardency. Mixing drums into their set, absolutely brought the sound to life that leaves one wondering why they left them absent in previous shows. While Harper’s presence, sultry moves, beauty and Siren like voice can galvanize most of the audience’s attention, one should pay special note to the incredible talent of Class Actress producer Mark Richardson and instrumental phenom and engineer Scott Rosenthal that help compose sounds that give credence to 80’s synth pop Godfathers while evolving the sound into something new and genre creating. Closing with a personal favorite Let Me Take You Out, the crowd danced and screamed for more as the Sun City become much better acquainted with the sinful pleasure that is Class Actress. We hope they join us again soon.
Energy, rock, punk and funk mash up into one another to form into a sound and movement that you certainly want to be a part of. Bringing back the fire of Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix into a newly crafted sound that is as unique as it is fiery; this predominately female led garage punk band could easily be touted as one of the best performances of the day. The crowd is engulfed in the performance as they cling to every word, note, beat and riff this Guadalajara band dishes out. The raucous audience presses for more and the ladies of Le Butcherettes respond with higher energy and absolute rock pandemonium lighting up the Miller Lite state with revolutionary presence that even Zapata would commend. As the dynamic energy of concert goers and the band melded together, the wild and beautiful ladies on stage launched themselves, head first, into an anticipatory group of fans as the crowd gasped with abated breathe at their heaven like landing. Backed up on guitar/bass by famed El Pasoan and Mars Volta duo lead, Omar Rodriguez, its evident that Le Butcherettes will not only land themselves into the hearts and minds of El Pasoans, but as an indie cult favorite globally.
La Vida Boheme
These Venezuelan gifts to the festival came correct with heart thumping rock dance songs that started mass jumping and total party rock among a delighted audience. Passionate and incredibly dynamic on state, their presence is part of the party that is celebrated in the crowd that seems to only stop for seconds in-between songs. With sweat dripping down the faces of band and audience members alike, an intensity and love for their art is poured out onto the floor, stage and atmosphere that brought mass attention from festival goers ensuring a wave of new fans.
Mexican Institute of Sound- Quoted as “Tito Puente had a day party with the Chemical Brothers,” it was impressive to hear Latin salsa and rumba beats spliced with electronica and rap. Judging by the enormous crowd-fare for this show, their diverse sound is a favorite among attendees and many a Neon Desert party rocker were already familiar with these DF (Districo Federal) natives. Led by lead singer Camilo Lara, who was sporting an MIS (Mexican Institute of Sound) t-shirt adorned and painted in the familiar Mexican political PRI party logo, the sound is as meaningful, political and groundbreaking as are the lyrics. MIS seemed like symphony conductors orchestrating the mass organized chaos in the crowd as multiple inflatable balls, beers and water were splashed into the air celebrating the fun and musically existential experience MIS brought into the Sun City.
As night shadowed San Jacinto Plaza, the anticipation for this Austin, Texas band was palpable. Easily the most attended show of the night, the crowd was as electrified as they were mesmerized at the band’s signature blend of ground swelling beats coupled with a self created light show that made one feel like they were in the middle of Star Wars intergalactic warfare. Adding to the pageantry was synth extraordinaire Thomas Ross Turner, who carefully crafted addictive sounds all the while adorned with a Texas flag as an indie superhero cape. Lead vocalist and front man, Aaron Behrens, was at his best breaking into a tribal dance as he and Turner joined to inspire the streets with their originality. As lasers of green and purple adorned the downtown Cortez building with luminary art, the lights transfixed audience members as it appeared that purple droplets of luminescent rain dropped from the trees of San Jacinto Plaza. The music, adventurous and experimental, swelled the crowd into a virtual frenzy as they jumped and lifted their arms in euphoric celebration forgetting life and transcending into a meditative dance trance that seemed to not only set the bar of excellence for the festival, but proved difficult for electro Godfather Moby to follow.
You know those movies where the carefree teenagers are in some sort of convertible or sunroof laden vehicle and they’re driving on the perfect day and everything seems right with the world? Odds are if that situation was occurring in El Paso or Juarez then the soundtrack to that moment would surely include, if not dominated by the beloved Guadalajara band Belanova. Their mix of dream synth pop and melodic dance can persuade even the most reclusive individuals to start singing along and bouncing to the beat. With airy vocals and the most beautifully quirky stage presence (think a princess blowing kisses to her fans meets the fun and smarts of Willy Wonka) lead singer, Denisse Guerrero, seems to command the crowd at her whim and both deescalate and elevate the level of dance, energy and enthusiasm of the crowd. To say their songs are infectious are an understatement and if you hear one, you’ll probably put it on your cell phone subsequently thereafter. I know many an audience member did during their show. Their presence at Neon Desert seemed effortless as crowds of fans already familiar with their music were singing their songs echoing across downtown well into midnight.
Word and photos by Uncle Harry