All I Can Provide Is the Bridge

Photo by Jeanne RiceDiego Rives' punk odyssey began, like so many others, with Fugazi.

“Their music . . . their music!” enthuses the 25-year-old construction worker about the DC straight-edge band. “I had always known about their potent sound. But it wasn't until I had to do a paper on Fugazi at Fullerton College that I learned about what they did regarding producing themselves and others. It was just amazing. More importantly, it got me to think.”

Before writing that essay three years ago, Rives had played in a crappy pseudo-Soda Stereo band and tried to manage a couple of forgettable groups, eventually immigrating to the United States from Argentina because of the economic maladies that ravage his country and its psyche every decade or so. But the more research Rives did on Fugazi, the more he figured their musical and label credo was what Argentine musicians needed to survive in a devastated land.

Soon after presenting the Fugazi paper—he got an A—Rives pooled what little savings he had to create GBA (Gran Buenos Aires) Records, producing Argentine punk and ska radicals. Basing the label out of his tidy Garden Grove home, thousands of miles away from Argentina, may seem foolish, but it functions perfectly in his grander scheme of creating an exchange program of sorts between the Argentine and Latino DIY punk/ska scenes.

“The underground in the United States doesn't know what's going on in Argentina and vice versa,” he says. “A bridge is needed to ensure that each group knows the other exists, and so that support on both sides is always within reach.”

Running an Argentine label from Garden Grove isn't easy, of course, especially since Rives hasn't visited the patria in almost two years. The full-time construction worker/part-time Golden West College student directs GBA mostly via e-mails checked on Tuesdays, his only day off. GBA's representatives in Argentina—really, just Rives' childhood pals—send him a biweekly care package of demos, proofs, mixes and rough album edits. Rives talks to the Argentine GBA-ers on the phone maybe once or twice a month, suggests changes, and sends back the final edits of upcoming albums.

“It's a really long process to finish an album and find new bands,” Rives admits, but he doesn't much care. Running the label from Garden Grove allows for the profitable promotion of GBA albums in the Southern California rockero market, and Rives' friendship with local Argentine sound engineers allows GBA to buy studio equipment at low, low prices. (The equipment discounts, in particular, allowed him to amass enough gear over the course of two years to open a Buenos Aires studio where bands can record free of charge.)

But, although the Argentine part of the plan is doing fine—they've released two decent-selling compilations of underground Buenos Aires groups, and recently signed anarcho straight-edgers Doble Gota, emo-punky Cucsifae and hardcore stalwarts Ni Idea—no U.S. Latino skankers or punkeros have taken up GBA's offer of traveling to Argentina free of charge.

“There are homes ready to put groups in, venues for performing, an entire infrastructure to plug into,” Rives sighs. “All I'm looking for are U.S.-based bands willing to give Argentine bands the same in return. But most Southern California Latin alternative bands only want to play in Hollywood and nowhere else. To them, Argentina doesn't exist.”

Rives thinks that what Latino bands stateside need to get rid of such a tunnel-vision-toward-success mindset is to experience the same horrific economic meltdown that Argentina faced in 2001. “Thanks to the catastrophe, it's much simpler to make music in Argentina than it's ever been,” Rives says. “No musician has the illusion that they're going to make millions or even thousands by playing music, so they just play what they want. The big labels don't have any money to invest in bands. They just go after the carita lindas (pretty little faces) who play mierda. But the public doesn't go for that. One of the beauties of globalization is that it sickened everyone to the influence of outside corporations, so now almost everyone looks to support independents.

“Look at it this way,” Rives continues. “Small bands have no money at all—no one has any money. So what's happened is that everyone has reduced prices and made it affordable to enjoy music again. Where the big labels sell their CDs for about 70 pesos [roughly $20-$25], most of the indie bands now go for $5 maximum. And everyone helps out everyone—we're all in bankruptcy together.”

This promise of impoverished solidarity hasn't attracted any Latino bands yet. But Rives is adamant in his quest, certain that Argentine and Latino groups will form the bonds that will ensure international markets and fans for both movements underneath the big-label radar.

“I sure as hell can't pay anybody anything to travel,” Rives says. “All I can provide is the bridge.”

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