Voz Not-So-Populi

If Voz de Mano had grown up in Monterrey, KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic host Nic Harcourt would have a constant on-air hard-on for them, not for Kinky. If the quintet—Tony Estrada playing a demented rhythm guitar and belting out raise-the-dead vocals, Luis Barbosa on lead guitar and keyboards, Javier Ceja with dangerous bass, Jorge Ortiz banging various percussive instruments, and Bobby Amaro keeping beat on drums—started their career in Miami, Latin music labels would be engaging in mudslinging battles for the privilege to market Voz to non-Latino audiences, like they're doing with Volumen Cero. Hell, if the guys were from Orange County, I'd work in a Voz de Mano reference into all my articles, like I do with the local Chicano punk scene. Voz de Mano kicks that much ass.

But, alas, Voz de Mano originates from Los Angeles, the second-largest city in Latin America. Therefore, they are doomed to remain in obscurity.

Ironic, no? Los Angeles is supposed to be the rocanrol capital of the world, a metropolis that the best Latin alternative bands visit whenever they want guaranteed sellouts. This is the region in which a plethora of homegrown talent keep otherwise-destitute clubs profitable. In this vibrant scene, Voz de Mano has perhaps the most fanatic following, a motley group of techno androids, industrial ghouls, and plain ol' admirers of great music.

But Voz de Mano's hometown media doesn't do shit to guide people toward the hometown heroes. Stupid Spanish radio stations such as Super Estrella are too simple-minded to play Voz de Mano's tremendous music, a mixture of hide-the-children guitar riffing and electronic beats so alluring Moby's probably brokering them into a car commercial right now. The Los Angeles Times Latin music coverage prefers to highlight Columbian artists, Basque artists, Cuban artists—anyone except local artists—in grand Hilburnian tradition. Even our mother paper, LA Weekly, drops the ball, devoting exactly one article to a Latin alternative band so far this year and disappearing the only local press ally Voz de Mano had, the New Times LA.

Why? Maybe they're too wimpy for Voz's music, a barrage of electronica/industrial/flat-out weirdness so overwhelming your ears virtually implode as they try to gather and categorize exactly what the fuck they're receiving. Many of Voz de Mano's songs are based on new wave-y aesthetics—booming, echoing guitar riffs mixed with a heavy dose of electronic swirls. But into this already-complex foundation they introduce domineering keyboard work and Estrada's distinctive voice, which ricochets off the deep end of Morrissey and touches down somewhere in Bowieland. And underneath it all is a trance-inducing techno beat that brings out the hotties and leaves the rockeros scratching their heads—but shaking their booties nonetheless. Oh, and then there's Voz de Mano's lyrics, brooding odes that would get an A on your Philosophy 101 final.

These guys have been around forever—since 1994, to be exact. While that might not seem like much, longevity like that qualifies them for Stones-like status in the turbulent Latin alternative scene. And they've achieved a reputation for performances so intense someone on the premises always has 9 and 1 dialed in advance.

But they'd like national exposure, too. Two years ago, Voz de Mano blasted out a scintillating set at the South by Southwest Festival. Last year, they won $5,000 and their names in the papers after taking Terra.com's Battle of the Bands, which pitted the best Southern California groups against one another. This year, it has been a nonstop tour across the U.S., Latin America and even Puerto Rico in support of Polen, released to much acclaim, including that of this reporter, who said it “sounds like a Stratocaster smashing onto a turntable.” And that was one of two English-language reviews done on the band. So you LA folks want to ignore this? Pues, bueno. Voz de Mano continues to secure its standing as the region's best hope for a true Latin alternative success story by doing the only thing they can do—play their fucking brains out.


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