The first thing I did upon returning from my semester in Buenos Aires was make a playlist. Songs have a way of becoming embedded in experiences, and over the course of the five months I was there, many a canción became attached to my specific memories, be they of places, people, or events. Although Argentina is famous for its tangos, the country also has a thriving and historically important tradition of Rock Nacional. This scene has supplied the soundtrack to my memories.
Some of these recuerdos are explicitly musical. Hearing the opening rumble of “Navidad en Los Santos” is enough to make me feel all over again the mosh pit that (entirely unexpectedly) broke out around me at the start of the Él Mató A Un Policía Motorizado concert. As the drums and distortion kick in, the joyful jumping and pushing of the crowd becomes more and more frenzied, matching the build-up of the song. I can’t help but smile and laugh as I get swept to the back by the underground band’s devoted followers. So that’s why there was so much empty space in front of the stage, I think. People know to get out of the way or get kicked in the ribs. The pace of the crowd’s movement starts to outstrip that of the song during the verse, but ends up perfectly synched once the chorus surges forward. Whenever I listen to the song, I know it’s going to be a good night.
Even outside of specifically musical settings, Rock Nacional was everywhere I went in Buenos Aires. I’d be walking down Avenida Santa Fe and hear spilling out of a storefront the angular rhythms of “Nos siguen pegando abajo (pecado mortal),” the song that kicks off Charly García’s celebrated album Clics modernos. Or I’d be eating at a falafel restaurant in Recoleta and recognize the quiet sound emitting from the ceiling as Patricio Rey y sus Redonditos de Ricota’s icy cool Oktubre. One of my favorite memories is singing along to “Profecías”—truly one of the best musical interpretations of the Book of Ecclesiastes—with a new Argentine friend at 3 in the morning on the roof of a bar. I had mentioned to him how enthralled I was with Vox Dei’s epic concept album La Biblia, he burst into the first verse of its crowning song, and I didn’t hesitate to join in.
I spent a lot of free time exploring Rock Nacional, and my knowledge of it paid dividends for my experience of Argentina. Knowing the music clued me in to a big part of the city’s cultural life. Whenever I saw someone wearing a “Luca Not Dead” t-shirt, I’d know it was a reference to one of my bandas preferidas, Sumo. Better still, I could engage that person in a conversation: about how awesome the song “Hola Frank” is, how fascinating frontman Luca Prodan was, how I saw offshoot band Divididos play at Luna Park…. Through some of these conversations, I wound up making my closest Argentine friends. One such friendship began with chatting on a bench in Parque Las Heras and agreeing that folk rocker Tanguito’s “Amor de primavera” is “muy hermoso.” Sixth months later, Martín and I still chat every week (and he keeps me updated on the scene).
Coming from a cultural behemoth like the United States, it was easy for me to grow up only partaking in American cultural products. Rock Nacional reminded me that every nation has its own traditions and trends, and we open ourselves up to a literal world of possibilities by trying some of them. Music, literature, film—all are windows into another culture and facilitate interactions between cultures. I could never have gotten a hold on Buenos Aires without Rock Nacional’s assistance.
And when I think of the city, it’s a song that comes to mind: “En la ciudad de la furia” by Soda Stereo. “Fury,” with its connotations of passion and energy, is the perfect word to describe a city where people allow themselves to feel passionately and to be as furiously enthusiastic about their favorite band as about their favorite soccer team. The song is evocative of so many memories that originally had nothing to do with it—or even music in general: walking up Avenida 9 de Julio at night, the gleaming heart of the city with headlights flashing past on all sides; riding a crosstown bus with the window open to the cool midnight air, catching glimpses of the lovely purple jacaranda trees; slipping into my apartment in the nick of time as torrential rains begin to pound the city. The song captures these moments. “Me verás volar por la ciudad de la furia,” sings Gustavo Cerati. I feel like I did fly through the city of fury—with the help of Rock Nacional.