A Soundtrack for the Morning After a Massacre

How to go on living when violence has become ordinary: Nexos reviews the first album from Mexico City’s Verano Peligroso.

The new government [of President Enrique Pena Nieto]is going to have to find a way to explain the country’s security crisis, and define what is going to be done about it. This will be a difficult task, given that the previous administration spent years militarizing much of the country but never came up with a narrative of what was happening in Mexico that corresponded to reality.

Toward the second half of his administration, [former president]Felipe Calderon and his cabinet began to worry about how the security crisis was being discussed in the public sphere. They called on the media to deprioritize the coverage of episodes of violence, and to speak well of Mexico. The problem, they appeared to think, was one of perception, and the coverage was affecting the country’s image, both domestically and internationally. Better to show the bright side of things.

Well, Verano Peligroso joyously shows the dark side. In their careers, their habits, and their affectations, Verano Peligroso are a very ‘modern’ duo. The band’s members: Gilberto Hernandez and Paulina Garcia, both under thirty, and both Chilangos [from Mexico City]. He is a musician, member of the indie band Furland, recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for Culture and the Arts, and a producer. She is a sort of curator of musical taste for the young ‘scenesters’ of Mexico City-a radio presenter on Ibero 90.9, editor at Filter, and a prolific presence on social networks.

The media they use in their creative process and their distribution channels are modern too. The songs on Culpable, their first EP, are played on guitars and laptops. The disc was recorded in the living room of their house, the first video filmed on Iphones. They launched their company, Mexitas, to distribute the EP (which does not exist physically) on their web page, on iTunes, and via download codes printed on postcards designed by various local artists.

But more than all that, Verano Peligroso is modern because they play music to soothe the hangover that comes after a massacre. Their songs are about how to go on living when violence has become ordinary. The narrators, criminals or victims, know their stories to be part of something larger than themselves, though something unstated: the erosion of the ‘rule of law’ perhaps, or the tearing of the ‘social fabric.’ On the title track of ‘Culpable‘, the female narrator falls in love with a boy who ‘turns out to be a killer,’ he says, because nothing else was left for him. Heroes or villains, confused. In the song that gives the band its name, the sound of gunshots makes up a good part of the melody, and the singer knows he is not going to make it, (though the danger is vague: from someone else, or the narrator himself?) and he will be no good for anyone else. But life goes on, youth wants to hook up, to dance together. And this must be celebrated.

Telling these ‘hyperlocal’ stories meant making music that sounded so. Gilberto says that the music scene here had already shown that “Sounding like other bands, in other styles, in other countries, was something we could do. And now we wanted to return to something of our own. I wanted a tropical sound, but without being kitsch.” So Verano Peligroso sounds Andino or Banda, depending on the song, but without sounding ironic.

Something must be said, here, about the fact that Verano Peligroso’s stories are told by two university students who live in Mexico City’s [wealthy]Colonia Roma. Their performance of violence is in the end imagined, constructed from what they hear on the electronic media and read in the headlines of the newspapers. But perhaps because of this their interpretation is interesting: It fills in certain gaps in the political discussion of what we call our crisis of insecurity. In their songs, for example, there is no doing or selling of drugs. Here instead, the central theme is the vulnerability of the young; the songs instead reenact the forgotten tragedies at the margins of the bloody displays of violence staged by the combatants in this struggle (the heroes and the villains that Calderon imagined).

After one hundred days in government, [President] Enrique Pena Nieto has never mentioned this war, or drugs, not even hinted at them. I do not know if by this silence he is right or wrong. What is certain is that there is a story which is still not being told. If those who wrote the presidential speeches listened to albums like Culpable, perhaps it might occur to them, even without going into what the last six years have cost us, to think for a moment about the fragility of the young, these youths who fill the lists of the dead and the disappeared, and the songs of Verano Peligroso. This would indeed be a new side of Mexico.

Alina Hernandez Aguilar