Macha y el Bloque Depresivo
live in Berlin - featuring the Voice of Chico Trujillo in his new project!
There’s no simple formula to make or break a band. It’s the right mixture of song and energy, channeled through musicians who capture a moment in time, a feeling of a certain place. And sometimes, with the right amount of luck, those musicians just happen to do it so well that they become timeless — even if they never meant to be a real band in the first place.
Here is a band that never really tried to exist, a band formed for the sole purpose of intentionally killing the vibe at concerts, of actually trying to bring down the audience. Playing music intended to make happy people cry. A band that really has no name, just being called by a simple description of what they were — the depressive block of music in the middle of a chaos of cumbia.
But through the magic of the music, they came to define a moment. First in Santiago — and now in all of Chile — there has been a massive resurgence in the classic bolero (of all things), in the vals peruanos that you used to only hear at your grandma’s house, or with the vendors at the central market, but that now flow freely from the acoustic guitars of teenage punk rockers in the park. AM radio has seemingly taken hold of the youth, and it’s all because of the side-project of a side-project, a band that wasn’t supposed to exist, but that now sells out every single show it performs.
It was 2007 when el Macha (nom de guerra of Aldo Asenjo, lead singer of the Chilean punk-dub band La Floripondio and of the mega-popular cumbia group, Chico Trujillo) and his long-time friend Tocori Berrú (son of one of the founders of Inti-Illimani) were sitting around bored in the patio of the historic now-defunkt Berlin squat/venue „Tacheles“. The building was self-referred to as a cultural center, but in it’s truest sense, and far from the modern institutions of today. It was in fact an empty building, disgarded following the fall of the wall, and inhabited by the underground of Berlin in the years after. An „okupa“ as they would say in Chile, compete with some trucked in sand for a little outdoor beach in the summer, and incorporating various bars including Zapata, where Macha’s group Chico Trujillo would infamously perform for 40 nights straight in the venue’s final summer of 2009.
It was there that these two old friends would sit and jam in the downtime between Chico Trujillo’s shows in Europe, and they eventually started forming a small repetoire of some old Peruvian watlzes mixed with a few boleros that have forever been present in the collective mind … a sort of popular songbook, but in reality just singing to sing and pass the time. As the songs were quite classic, friends would sit in, join, jam, and laugh along with these old AM radio tunes. But eventually they began to laugh and cry, as their repertoire slowly developed to focus on true tear-jerkers, known in Chile as „musica cebolla“ (onion music), those guilty pleasures, intensely romantic love songs of pure suffering that they just don’t make anymore. Another very graphic term for this kind of music is „canciones cortavenas“, songs so sad and tragic they make you want to cut your veins.
They were songs that everyone knew, but that no one really paid attention to, love songs that were decades off the charts, but so poignant that when given a chance, they continued to connect with the new generation. And when Berrú happened to be at a Chico Trujillo show, they’d mix in one or two of these slow boleros at the end of the set, when the crowd was at it’s most frantic, to bring them down and jerk some tears from them before ending with a bang. It was the sad part of the show, or as it was written on the setlist, the „Bloque Depresivo“
The project was always just that — a project. Not a real band, there was no album or even thoughts of one, no press fotos, nada. They barely even played, as the lead singer had two other highly demanding bands to deal with. But this was fun, a jam with friends, and it wouldn’t be rare to see Macha perform with Chico Trujillo in front of 50,000+ fans at a huge festival in the afternoon, and then run out of the park to make it to a small 50 person club to continue into the night with his side-project. It was strangely pure joy to play these forgotten sad songs, and a welcome change of pace from the punk or cumbia madness of Macha’s other groups.
These small, unannounced shows were somehow always packed, as it wasn’t too hard to fill a couple dozen seats with friends and fanatics. Soon there were fan pages dedicated to the band that wasn’t a band, online bootleg videos appeared after each show, and an out-of-the-blue call to open the season at the Theatre de la Ville en Paris in 2012 generated a decent enough live video and audio which slowly racked up millions of views and downloads, becomming the defacto unofficial first record of the group, a bootleg that continues to trumph as the band still hasn’t produced a studio álbum.
The secret was seemingly out, and their 2014 three night stand at Santiago’s Teatro Cariola (cap. 1500) in Santiago was full to the rafters. With only a few shows a year, these Christmas day events became a yearly ritual, and by 2016 the 3 night stand became 5 straight sold-out concerts at the historic venue. And immediately after that, 6 more nights in a row at La Quinta de Los Nuñez (what has to be one of the greatest venues in the world) in the hills of neighboring port town Valparaiso.
With the scarcity of the shows and the relatively small venues, tickets started to become a problem, and each concert began to take on a mythical status of its own. And all of this with no real promotion for the shows, a simple Facebook post announcing the dates of a show and where to pick up tickets is suffice. By custom, they don’t sell the shows online, and by the early afternoon of the sell date, a huge line forms outside of the old record store which will have to sadly announce an hour or two later that the shows are all sold-out. Fans end up traveling from far and wide to be a part of what has turned into a karaoke style, 2-hour-plus sing-a-long. Youngsters bring their parents (and grandparents), and generations sway together with these Latino classics. And each night brings a different special guest, as the audiences freak when such stars as Alvario Henriquez (Los Tres), Joe Vasconcellos, Fernando Ubiergo, or the legendary old bolero singers from Valparaiso join the band.
As the audience grew, so did the band, and now they normally take the stage with eleven plus musicians, not counting the many many guest vocalists and musicians who always end up at each show. But the spirit at each sold-out theater is the exact same as it was in those first few years playing for 50 fans and friends. Macha was first known for his political punk-dub band that had him rocking out and stage diving amongst the madness of the 90’s Santiago post-dictatorship underground. Then we met his care-free cumbia band, where he bounced all through the audience and made generations of Chilenos dance. And although he’s now seated at the beginning of a Bloque Depresivo show, up front and playing acoustic guitar, he still brings the experience and energy of thousands of concerts to each song, belting the lyrics with such feeling that many in the audience are literally in tears with every sad bolero sung.
And those first 50 fans that blossomed to 1500 are now more than 10,000 strong, as seen this past June when they staged a two-night stand at the classic Santiago arena, Teatro Caupolican. The band was at first timid to bring their intimate show to a venue so big – would it translate? Well the 5000 strong each night proved it does, as the 3 ½ hour sets proved that the band had truly arrived on a massive level.
After dedicating all of their energy to the live show over the last 10 years, they have finally relented and given in to popular demad by recording their first studio album, due out in the spring of 2018, on the NYC-based cult label Barbes Records. With album in hand, they’ll embark on their first real international tour, and see if the magic made in Santiago can be replicated around the globe.
The group is composed of lead singer (and guitarist) Macha, everyone’s favorite Joselo on background vocals and keyboards, the greats Pezoa, Pájaro, and Pegafix handling the percussions, Carlitos slaying on the trumpet, Che Fede’s violin crying through the set, and Tocori Berrú, up-front and laying down the bass with his guitarròn. The soul-crushing guitars of Machi, Raul, and Arroz (who will also play a cuatro and charango) round-out the band of misfits who somehow have put together the most important orchestra in the Americas.
The live set spans the whole last century of the Americas, and flows easily between true classics from the 1920s, to José José and Sandro and Cartola, and even incorporating South American 80’s hits from Sumo and Sode Stereo. Sprinkled in are lost Chilean gems from Jorge Farias, Los Tres, Fernando Ubiergo and Congreso, as well as many originals from Macha’s other two bands, and some new songs written just for this project on tear-stained notebooks.