La segunda vida de Interpol
On Aug. 27, the Dadax Club in Mexico City was preparing to welcome over 300 people to a party in celebration of the post-punk band Interpol. Called InterPDA, its meaning is in the name — a reference of Interpol's well-known song "PDA" and a pun on the word peda, Mexican slang for "party." Shirts were specially made for the club's bouncers, featuring the band's logo on the front and the word "STAFF" capitalized and bolded on the back. For a $3 cover fans listened to a set by tribute band The Bright Lights and took home bespoke merchandise made specifically for the event, including lighters plastered with images of sexy female figures donning the band's signature red and black outfits and illustrations of the band's lead singer, Paul Banks, smoking a cigarette.
"It's just this whole mini-market," Banks says. "The bootleg merch ... is very, very creative. Sometimes the designs are better than what we're actually selling."
Interpol ended up looming larger and lasting longer than many in the rapidly popular — and now oft-mythologized — scene of post-9/11, downtown New York, which saw the emergence of acts such as The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. As DJ and producer Sarah Lewittin recalls in Meet Me in the Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman's oral history of the city's thriving rock scene at the time: "My New York is Interpol." The band may have been central to the swirl of that New York scene, but it also might be considered one of the biggest Mexican rock acts of the last two decades.
"There are certain bands that, as Pope John Paul II said, 'Mexico, always faithful'," Andrés Velasco, co-founder of the Mexican arm of Arts & Crafts, a Canadian label originally founded by Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew, explained earlier this summer. "When you gain that cult status in Mexico, fans will stick with you forever." As observed by Ian Cohen, a long-time Pitchfork contributor, Interpol enjoys a "godlike" status in Mexico.
The band's first appearance in Mexico, in 2005, was a brief-but-legendary set: Taking place at a small venue normally used for business conferences, several people apparently had to hold the soundboard steady against a packed-in crowd and the only way to avoid getting physically hurt was to jump incessantly along with them, as Chris Lombardi, co-founder and head of Interpol's label, Matador Records, remembers. The band canceled much of the show and, two days later, played a much larger venue, one that could accommodate its surprisingly large fanbase.
"It was just nuts," Lombardi remembers.
Recently, drummer Sam Fogarino told the Dallas Observer that if it were up to him, Interpol would perform in Mexico and South America exclusively. "On the egotistical side of being a musician, everything would be met — nothing but adoration," he said.
That adoration seeps into Mexican fans' everyday lives. For them, Interpol has become the fulcrum to an aesthetic and sensibility — something solemn, elusive and poetic in the band's music that's collectively understood. Ivonne Reyes, a 32-year-old customer service representative, is a co-founder of the Interpoleros group and host of InterPDA in Mexico City. Reyes does not speak English, but that barely matters. "The songs are already quite obscure and metaphorical," she says.
Daniel Iyañez, the 34-year-old lead singerof InterPDA's band The Bright Lights, remembers the first time he fell in love with the band's music, which he describes as dark, depressing and debilitating. "It's as if I had melted and molded myself into Interpol's image," says Iyañez.
Tribute bands such as Iyañez's and others like The Rolands and El Pintor play for audiences around the country, from Mexico City to Monterrey and Tijuana. Facebook Groups like Interpoleros and Pace Is The Trick are unofficial fan clubs with over 20,000 members. There are memes, of course, replete with niche humor particular to Mexican and Latin American pop culture: "When 'Toni' starts to play at the town's party," reads the caption to a video of men in cowboy hats dancing the two-step, overlaid with the band's song. The cover of the band's fifth album, Marauder, next to a picture of Aventura and Don Omar's single "Ella y yo," with the phrase "SAME ENERGY" superimposed over them.
Mexico's love of Interpol is part of a larger history of the country's relationship to rock and alternative music. Jose Luis "Pacho" Paredes, a scholar and former member of the iconic Mexican rock band Maldita Vecindad, says Mexico's affinity for rock began in the '60s, when it presented a rupture from the country's traditional authoritarian and patriarchal structures. It remains beloved, and the market for English-language rock music is still the most sought after for a Mexican fanbase.
It's a stark contrast to how audiences consume rock in the U.S. these days. According to a CBS News Poll/YouGov survey from this year, its popularity is waning among young people in the U.S. Though it is still the most-listened-to genre overall, specifically for white Americans, rock has fallen out of favor for 18- to 29-year-olds, with hip-hop, R&B and pop taking the lead. But guitars still attract hundreds of thousands of listeners in Mexico from a variety of age groups, with alternative rock among the most popular in the country.
Earlier this year, Interpol sold out a 22,000 person show in Mexico City's Palacio de los Deportes. In 2019, Interpol headlined the Corona Capital Festival, with around 80,000 in the audience — tens of thousands who howled the lyrics to "Rest My Chemistry," chanting "In-ter-pol! In-ter-pol!" between songs. (By comparison, Interpol just played The Ritz, a venue in Raleigh, N.C., that accommodates around 1,400 people. They also played The Plaza Theater in El Paso, Texas, which holds a little over 2,000.)
"It was one of the more fun experiences I've had, in all my years watching Matador bands do their thing," Matador founder Lombardi remembers.
Just 20 years ago, the Mexican market was a "wild west" for foreign acts. With piracy decimating the music industry and shuttering international label offices in the country, few artists knew their true potential and reach. These days, the concert calendars in large Mexican cities look like those in New York, Los Angeles or London, from Iron Maiden playing the country's largest arena to newcomers like Wet Leg playing its small clubs.
"The largest festivals will always be headlined by a rock act. Rock is what still sells on this massive scale," says Guillermo Parra, CEO of OCESA, the largest concerts and events organizer in the country. To Parra, the bands that cultivate the largest fandoms there tend to have a dark, gothic quality — bands like Joy Division and The Cure, which both enjoy a cult status in the country. The most-cited example of this is probably Morrissey, who occupies an almost mythic place in the Mexican and, specifically, chicano imagination. One of the best-known Morrissey cover bands is Mexrrissey, a cover group led by some of the most important musicians in Mexico.
Interpol nurtured its relationship with Mexico early, probably encouraged by Paul Banks' personal ties to the country. Banks completed his last year of high school in Mexico City and talks about his time spent in Mexico as formative; he talks to fans in Spanish, which he speaks with a unique Mexican inflection.
"I'm sure it's the first place we ever went to where there's people at the airport," he says.
Reyes was one of them. "I once got Paul a pack of Marlboro Golds at the airport," she recalls, speaking to one of the several times she has waited for the band's flight to land, and/or outside of the band's hotel. As of early September, Reyes' InterPDA party is set to go global. Following the announcement that Interpol will play Lima, Peru, in mid-November, she has partnered with a Peruvian fan to host the first Andean InterPDA, on Nov. 17. Reyes, who is known in the Interpol fan circuit as Ivi Banks, appears prominently on the party's flier — far from home, she is set to be the guest of honor.
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