Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Don't Live in Buenos Aires Anymore!

In case you haven't noticed, the posts around here have pretty much stopped ever since I left Buenos Aires. I apologize to all of my regular readers, but since this blog was almost entirely about Buenos Aires, it became pretty difficult to continue once I moved back to the other side of the equator.

I certainly do miss Buenos Aires, but for the time being I am living in San Francisco and have no immediate plans to come back. Once all the shock of moving from one continent to another wears off and I iron out small details like permanent employment, perhaps the blog will start up again, probably with a largely musical focus.

In the meantime, I am happy to report that my days are still being filled with cumbia-related activities. I have teamed up with fellow former expat Oro11 to create Bersa Discos, a new record label devoted to giving some of the experimental cumbia I have been writing about a proper release. Our first 12" is scheduled for release in February 2008. We have also launched a monthly party here in San Francisco called Tormenta Tropical to bring these sounds straight to gringo dance floors. What is even better is that people are already taking notice. Last week the SF Weekly ran this nice article about us.

Thanks for all the emails and support over the past year. The blog has been a lot of fun and it was nice to contribute a little something to the local discourse during my time in Buenos Aires. Please feel free to continue to contact me with questions, comments or whatever else.

Un abrazo grande.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Tormenta Tropical

According to the web stats, people still appear to be looking at this blog even though I have left Buenos Aires and cut down on the frequency of posts. Eventually I will get back to posting on a regular basis, but right now things like finding an apartment, visiting friends and family and eating as much Mexican food as possible are taking up way too much of my time.

I have also been busy working on this.



Some of you may have already noticed this party in the "Upcoming DJ Apperances" section of this blog, but allow me to elaborate. The short version is that Oro11 and I are starting up a new record label called Bersa Discos so we can begin giving some of the experimental cumbia sounds of Buenos Aires an official release. Now that we are both back in the United States, we also wanted to launch a monthly party to start sharing (imposing) these sounds on gringo dance floors. We have decided to call the party Tormenta Tropical and the first one is this Friday in San Francisco. All the information is on the above flyers but know that the night will feature a mix of cumbia, hip hop, electro, dancehall, baile funk and a smattering of other sounds, all of which will be highly danceable.

Those of you anywhere near San Francisco are highly encouraged to attend.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cumbia: Still Scaring Argentinians

My DJ pal Refusenik sent along this new Spanish-language interview he did with the Buenos Aires online magazine En San Telmo. It an interesting little read, but the part I found most enjoyable was how Refusenik's enthusiasm for cumbia caused such shock and dismay on the part on the interviewer. Here is one particularly telling excerpt (that I have translated to English):
Refusenik:
...All the DJs I am connecting with tell me that they want to hear cumbia and now is the moment to make it known.

Freaked Out Interviewer:
This electro-cumbia phenomenon is getting attention! Here in Argentina cumbia is associated with poor neighborhoods, the lower classes, ignorance, delinquency...
Oh no! The spread of cumbia is a sign of the apocalypse! Civilization as we know it is coming to an end!

Although this interviewer's ignorance is both sad and laughable, I must say that there is something oddly comforting in knowing that class-based and racially-motived fears are being irrationally applied to music genres on both sides of the border. Maybe Argentina's anti-cumbia zealots could join forces with the United States' anti-gansta rap crowd and put together some kind of International Musical Ignorance Conference.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Wendy Sulca Phenomenon



Back in May, I posted a little blurb about Wendy Sulca and her song "Papito", an ode to her dead father. I also put the above video on YouTube, which alternates heart-wrenching shots of a teary eyed Wendy singing at her father's grave with scenes of choreographed dance moves and an overly made-up Wendy sitting on the beach. The whole thing is bizarre to say the least and although Wendy's grief seems genuine, the video certainly raises questions of exploitation. After all, not too many little girls would come up with the idea to film a music video at their newly-dead father's grave.

Nevertheless, after a few days of obsessing about Wendy I filed this odd little slice of Latin America into my memory and figured that I probably wouldn't hear about Miss Sulca again.

I was wrong.

In recent weeks my inbox has been flooded with messages saying "Nuevo Comentario Sobre: Wendy Sulca - Papito". After months of virtually no one watching the video, it was apparently re-posted on a few websites, including this porn-ish site (I don't get it either - gross) and a Chilean blog called Por La Puta. The video is now up to around 20,000 views on YouTube, which is still relatively small but an exponential increase from just a couple of weeks ago. The comments section on the video's YouTube page has also exploded with people chiming in about everything from child exploitation to whether the music is folklorico or cumbia.

It is nice to know that I helped start such a lively debate, although I might just throw my laptop out the window if I keep receiving "Nuevo Comentario" e-mails.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Inaugural Disco Shawn Buenos Aires Awards - Music/Culture/Society/Etc.

In case you are just now tuning in, I am leaving Buenos Aires today. To celebrate I decided to start doling out meaningless awards. Go here to check out my thoughts on the world of food. Read on to see what I have to say about everything else.

BEST CLUB NIGHT: Zizek

If you don't know what Zizek is then you have not been reading this blog for very long. Wednesday nights at Niceto Club, it is simply the most forward-thinking party in town.

BEST CLUB: Cocoliche

The classic downtown dance spot reopened this year after having its door shuttered for awhile. The dance floor is basically a downstairs basement that just happens to be armed with the best soundsystem in the city. It's a great spot to get down and dirty. Bonus points for the retro LED lights that adorn the ceiling.

BIGGEST MUSICAL DISAPPOINTMENT: Buenos Aires Rock Scene

For being such a big "rock" town, Buenos Aires sure does have a weak crop of local bands. Maybe the "rocker" culture is the problem, as musicians here can't seem to break away from the whole classic rock and rock nacional mold. A night watching Porteño rock bands is almost sure to be filled with limp pop-rock that sounds more or less exactly like the commercial stuff on the radio, only not as good. While a few groups are attempting to do something a little more modern, their stuff usually involves woozy indie pop tunes with some sleepy electronics in the background. What is lacking is a true sense of independent spirit, the notion that it is okay to make music that will never be on the radio or MTV. Bands here need to get dirty, be noisy and start breaking down some boundaries rather than simply regurgitating what has already been done.

BEST DJ: Villa Diamante

Arguably the biggest "underground" DJ in Buenos Aires, Villa Diamante may be known for mashups but his repertoire has truly pushed the genre into new territory. Not content to simply recycle whatever songs trickle down from the other side of the border, he works to combine obscure Argentinian artists with beats and lyrics stripped from more widely known international acts. In the hands of many these efforts would result in little more than an interesting experiment in intercontinental cross-pollination, but Villa Diamante also manages to keep dance floors bumping to his music. Anytime people are dancing en masse to artists they have never heard of and quite possibly never will, you know the DJ is doing something right.

BEST PRODUCER: El Hijo de la Cumbia

El Hijo de la Cumbia is a mild-mannered guy from San Martín (in the provincia) who just happens to be the best experimental cumbia producer in Buenos Aires. By combining the best of cumbia with elements of hip hop, dancehall, dub and more (he recently discovered dubstep), El Hijo de la Cumbia crafts a complex cumbia sound that is so much more than riffs stolen from the local bailanta. His work has already caught international attention, as Mexican sonideros frequently hit him up for tracks and international tastemakers like Diplo and DJ /Rupture have begun to take notice.

Honorable Mention: Daleduro

WORST DANCE MUSIC: Punchi Punchi

Buenos Aires is often compared to the cities of Europe, and its clubs are no exception. Unfortunately, most of what has been brought over in terms of club culture should have never been copied in the first place. Massive clubs with ridiculous door prices and crowds full of would-be beautiful people are bad enough, but when terribly cheesy Eurodance music is added to the mix you have the makings of a full-scale disaster. Tiesto sucks. Please make a note of it.

BEST POPULAR ARGENTINE BAND: Miranda


How a band fronted by a flamboyantly gay man and a trendy hipster girl became one of Argentina's biggest pop acts is a true mystery. Although Miranda's music can be a tad silly and isn't exactly breaking new ground, the group crafts fun little pop gems that will make you long for your old Erasure albums.

BEST ARTIST: Pum Pum

The Buenos Aires street art scene has been popping over the past couple years, and Pum Pum is leading the way. Whether painting a mural or helping to decorate the inside of a local restuarant or bar, Pum Pum and her art stand out from the usual graffiti nonsense. Her work often contains oddball characters, from wild-haired little girls to devilish little animals, all of whom maintain a precarious balance between surface-level innocence and something darker just underneath. As I overheard my waitress at Providencia say last night, "Pum Pum es lo más."

BEST ARGENTINIAN SLANG: Careta

Want to impress your Porteño pals? Drop the word careta into one of your sentences. The word is sort of the local equivalent of "snob", a pejorative term used to define people and places that perceive themselves as "better". Better than what? That's not exactly clear, but being called careta is not compliment despite the word's implied ties to Buenos Aires' upper crust. And apparently there is something utterly delightful about hearing careta slip out of a gringo mouth, because it gets a smile for me every time.

BEST BASTARDIZED SPELLING: Chau

I am not exactly sure where in Latin America people stop saying "adios" and start saying "ciao", but Buenos Aires is definitely a "ciao" city. With all of the city's European aspirations and influences, not to mention the large Italian population, that really comes as no surprise. What is interesting is that many Porteños spell the word as "chau", which still works phonetically but certainly looks pretty odd.

BEST PERK OF LIVING IN BUENOS AIRES: Delivery

One of the best parts about living in Buenos Aires is delivery. People can literally get almost anything delivered, often around the clock. From the basic pizza and empanadas to sushi and pasta, it is absolutely possible to eat well without leaving your house for days at a time. But delivery does not end with the usual lunch and dinner options. Want some ice cream at 11pm? It can be delivered. Want some coffee in the morning? It can be delivered. Need a bunch of alcohol for your party? It can be delivered. Want to rent some movies? They can be delivered. Want your laundry done? It can be picked up AND delivered. This city is a lazy person's dream come true.

Honorable Mention: Cheap Public Transportation

BIGGEST HASSLE: Getting change

I'm complained about this extensively. Why do ATMs give out 100 peso bills by default when few everyday items cost anything approaching 100 pesos? Why doesn't the government put more small bills and coins into circulation? The situation is simply maddening, especially because many transactions are played out like a game of chicken, with customers and cashiers staring each other down until someone breaks and admits that they have some smaller denominations.

WORST AIRLINE: Aerolineas Argentinas

Regular readers of the blog know that I am no fan of this awful, awful airline. Frequent delays and cancellations, subpar customer service and a poorly functioning website all equal disaster for travelers. If the Disco Shawn awards are ever expanded to a global level, Aerolineas Argentinas might still get tagged as the worst airline.

BEST FERÍA MOST PORTEÑOS WILL THINK YOU'RE CRAZY TO GO TO: Bolivian Fair, Bajo Flores

Every Sunday in Bajo Flores, the local Bolivian community holds a fair on Colonel Esteban Bonorino, a street that literally divides a villa (shanty town) in two. The street is loaded with vendors selling knockoff soccer jerseys, tacky jeans, produce, spices and lots of bootlegged music, movies and video games. There's plenty of Bolivian food too - fresh juices, chicharrones, fried chicken, soups and of course anticuchos, which are beef hearts roasted over a grill. (The grills are often constructed over shopping carts.) A day at the Bolivian fair is undeniably different from the average stroll through Buenos Aires and is something quite likely to shock your Porteño friends and neighbors, most of whom would never dream of going there.

WORST BEACH RESORT TOWN: Mar Del Plata

Mar del Plata is basically the worst beach I have ever visited. Have you seen those photos of Coney Island from the early 20th century where the beaches are just ridiculously packed with people? That is what Mar del Plata looks like during the summer. Throw in the fact that the water is cold and the town is an awful tourist vortex and going there is basically anything but fun. As a Californian maybe I am just a little spoiled...is this what going to the Jersey shore is like? Yikes.

NICEST NEIGHBORHOOD NO ONE TALKS ABOUT: Colegiales


Colegiales is like Palermo without all the funky shops and tourist-clogged streets. Although it may not be the most exciting spot in town, with its tree-lined streets, open spaces, cool old houses and generally tranquil atmosphere, Colegiales is as good for a mellow afternoon stroll as it is for settling down and raising and family.

BEST FOLKLORE HERO: Gauchito Gil

Gauchito Gil is a sort of Argentinian Robin Hood, a 19th century outlaw who was eventually killed after deserting the army because he refused to fight in an Argentinian Civil War. According to legend, just before his death he foresaw that his executioner's son was ill and told the executioner (a policeman) that his son could be saved if he prayed to Gauchito Gil. Apparently the policeman went home, prayed to Gauchito Gil and his son was miraculously healed. Nowadays Gauchito Gil is regarded as a sort of unofficial saint, a figure to whom many people pray and ask for protection. Gauchito Gil merchandise is readily available and can often be spotted in local taxis, which is not surprising considering how dangerous it is to be driving around in Buenos Aires for 8 to 10 hours a day.

BEST MOVIE THEATER: Showcase Cinemas Belgrano (Monroe 1655, Belgrano)


Situated in a sort of family fun center that is probably an absolute nightmare on the weekend, during the week the Showcase Cinemas Belgrano is a virtual ghost town and a great place to go see a movie. The selection is varied, matinee prices are super cheap, the seats are comfortable and the theater doesn't have the assigned seating found at many theaters here in the Argentine capital. Even better, if you are hungry afterwards you can relive your junior high days and grab a snack in the food court, or simply walk to down to the Barrio Chino, which is only a few blocks away.

Honorable Mention: Hoyt's General Cinema Abasto, Almagro

WORST MOVIE THEATER: Monumental (Lavalle 780, Centro)

Besides being located in the middle of the Lavalle shopping nightmare in downtown Buenos Aires, this rundown place has oddly-shaped theaters, sound and picture problems and a lobby that leaks during the rainy season. Even worse, it is always crowded. Do yourself a favor and see your movies elsewhere.

BEST AMERICAN SHOW I WOULD NEVER WATCH AT HOME BUT WATCHED ALL THE TIME HERE: Girls Next Door

In Latin America the show is called Girls of the Playboy Mansion, and it chronicles the lives of Hugh Hefner's three live-in girlfriends. Besides the creepy idea that an 80 year-old man has three girlfriends, all of whom he is presumably sleeping with, the show is oddly compelling and easy to follow since it airs every night on the E! network. I think my girlfriend Rachel wants to be best friends with Holly Madison.

Honorable Mention: Miami Ink

BIGGEST EXPAT BLOGGER CLICHÉ: *No winner*

There are just too many strong candidates in this field to pick the single biggest cliché, especially because so many Buenos Aires expat blogs are loaded with them. Can we please call for a moratorium on posts about meat, tango, crazy cab drivers and dog shit on the street? Please? No one needs to read about any of those topics ever again. And yes, I realize it's cliché to complain about blogger clichés on a blog.

The Inaugural Disco Shawn Buenos Aires Awards - Food

Tonight I am hopping on a plane and heading back to my native California. The past year in Buenos Aires has been an amazing experience and it is definitely sad to leave it all behind. But rather than getting all weepy over my keyboard or trying to compose some kind of profound goodbye, I would rather have some fun and hand out some utterly meaningless awards on my last day in town. Let's start with food.

BEST FOOD: Helado!!!

That's ice cream for you gringos out there. Buenos Aires has the best ice cream in the world. It's everywhere, it's delicious and I have no idea why the government hasn't launched some "Argentina: Ice Cream Capital of the World" campaign. Parrilla might get all the hype but helado is always going to leave your tummy happy.

Honorable Mention
: Parrilla, Pasta, Empanadas Salteñas

BEST CUT OF CARNE: Bife de Chorizo

This is a tough call, but bife de chorizo is a classic, something that can vary wildly in quality but is usually quite delicious. It also comes with a giant swath of fat on the side, injecting a healthy dose of artery-clogging flavor into the steak even if you don't eat the fat itself. (I usually don't.)

Honorable Mention
: Entraña

BEST PARRILLA ITEM (Non-Beef Division): Chorizo

Grilled sausage packed full of yummy italian spices = delicious. A wonderful way to warm up the pallet before dumping a kilo of beef into your gullet.

Honorable Mention
: Bondiola de Cerdo

BEST ETHNIC CUISINE: Peruvian

Buenos Aires has a small Peruvian community, much of which seems to be centered in the Almagro neighborhood with its string of Peruvian restaurants along Corrientes. While many Porteños dismiss Peruvian cuisine as "too spicy", the food is a welcome respite from the somewhat bland world of Argentine cuisine. Peruvians actually use spices in their food! (To be fair, Argentines do use a ton of salt, but that's about it.) Delicious soups, ceviches, sautee dishes and surprisingly tasty Asian offerings like fried rice and chow mein are all staple of the Peruvian menu. Many restaurants also offer ridiculously cheap multi-course lunches for around 6 pesos. Although it is situated away from the Peruvian corridor on Corrientes, Sabor Criollo in Villa Crespo is not to be missed.

Honorable Mention: Armenian


WORST ETHNIC CUISINE: Mexican

Mexican food in Buenos Aires sucks. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about it. They use the wrong cheeses. Tomato sauce is substituted for salsa. Meat that should be grilled is boiled. The tortillas are terrible. And of course, nothing is spicy. Just avoid all Mexican food at all costs. Your stomach will thank you.

Honorable Mention: Chinese

BEST ON-THE-GO SNACK: Miga Sandwiches

Cheap, simple, fast and delicious. It is hard to go wrong with simple sandwich combinations on soft bread with no crusts. Ham and cheese is the classic, but many places have a variety to choose from. For days when you have the time to sit down and eat, these things can be toasted up and transformed into tostados, which contain the additional tastiness of melted cheese and the crunch of toasted bread.

BEST ALFAJOR: Jorgito Negro

Those outside Argentina probably don't know that alfajores are these little cookie sandwiches usually stuffed with dulce de leche in the middle. They are basically the official Argentine snack, at least when it comes to sweets. Local shops and stores are loaded with all kinds of alfajores - different brands, different flavors, different concoctions - and after a year I have settled on Jorgito Negro as the best. The cookies are crumbly and sweet, the dulce de leche is tasty and the whole thing is covered in chocolate. Yum.

BEST HELADERÍA: Scannapieco (Córdoba 4826, Palermo/Villa Crespo)

This old-fashioned shop on the edge of Palermo has been serving ice cream since 1938. A family business, the shop is run by a group of old Italian brothers who give the place lots of extra charm with their white coats and friendly demeanor. The ice cream also happens to be outstanding. Don't miss the lemon pie or super dulce de leche flavors.

BEST PARRILLA: La Cabrera Norte (Cabrera 5127, Palermo)

This place is a little touristy but the steaks are massive, delicious and always come with an unusual yet tasty assortment of side dishes. Although La Cabrera Norte hasn't been around as long as the original (which is situated only a block away), its kitchy interior and slightly more spacious environment puts it over the top.

BEST PIZZA: Angelín (Córdoba 5270, Palermo)

This classic Porteño spot that has been serving up pizza since 1938. The crust is thick by Buenos Aires standards, giving each piece a real heft that is usually lacking in other pizza offerings. For best results, go eat in their low-key back room and enjoy the pies fresh out of the oven.

BEST ETHNIC RESTAURANT: Sudestada (Guatemala 5602, Palermo)

The vast majority of Asian cuisine in Buenos Aires is subpar at best, probably due to the relatively small amount of Asians actually living here. There is a Chinatown in Belgrano, but its two blocks of shops don't really compare to the massive Asian neighborhoods found in many major U.S. cities. Even worse, many Asian restaurants have tailored their menu for Argentinian tastebuds, sapping dishes of their flavor. Thankfully, Sudestada bucks that trend and serves up high-end Southeast Asian cuisine packed with authentic flavors and actual spiciness. (In the interest of protecting the delicate Porteño palette, at Sudestada waiters actually warn diners about the spiciness during the ordering process.) The menu covers all the major bases, from noodles and dumplings to curries and sautee dishes.

Honorable Mention: Sarkis (Thames 1101, Villa Crespo)

BEST SANDWICHES/SALADS: Oui Oui (Nicaragua 6068, Palermo)

This funky little French café as the edge of Palermo Hollywood is a great spot to grab a low-key meal with actual greens on your plate. Fresh salads and sandwiches make up the bulk of the menu, but Oui Oui also offers tasty breakfast options and fresh-baked French pastries. The young and hip staff adds a bohemian feel to a place that is a welcome respite from the usual parrilla circuit.

MOST OVERRATED EATERY: Mark's (El Salvador 4701, Palermo)

Stop the Mark's propaganda! It is all lies! They do not, I repeat DO NOT have great sandwiches. Just because they claim to be inspired by American deli does not mean that they make great food or anything resembling a delicious sandwich. The bread is wrong. The flavors are off. Don't fall for it. Even worse, this place is expensive and always packed and someone needs to STOP THE MADNESS!

WORST SERVICE: Miranda (Costa Rica 5602, Palermo)

With its modern decor and fashionable staff, Miranda is a sort of "hipster parrilla". While the food is quite good, the waiters like to spend more time talking about their asymmetrical haircuts and oddly-placed tattoos than they do actually paying attention to the customers.

BEST PLACE TO EAT LUNCH WITH RANDOM BUSINESSMEN AND SENIORS: Rodi Bar (Vicente López 1900, Recoleta)

This little restaurant sits just a stone's throw from the Recoleta Cemetery and has an interesting sort of old-school upper crust Porteño charm. The menu is traditional, as are the waiters and the clientele, but it is fun to settle in for a well-priced menú del día with an assortment of businessmen and local retirees.

BEST VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT: Providencia (Cabrera 5995, Palermo)

I am not a vegetarian and I usually hate vegetarian restaurants, but I love Providencia. Honestly, it is one of the best restaurants in Buenos Aires. While the idea of vegetarian cuisine conjures unpleasant notions of tofu and other meat substitutes, Providencia keeps it simple by relying on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Plates come loaded with vegetables that haven't been pureed or fried (a novelty in Buenos Aires) and the food is not only healthy, but delicious. The menu is small but changes frequently, and the restaurant itself is situated in a converted warehouse space (with no sign outside other than a small note that says "Golpee Fuerte" - Knock Hard) that feels more like a co-op than a fancy eating establishment.

BEST MENU DEL DÍA: La Dorita (Humboldt 1892, Palermo)

This parrilla is a Porteño favorite which unfortunately becomes an absolute nightmare of boisterous families and screaming kids at night and on the weekends. Thankfully, the place is a relatively mellow and adult place during the week, perhaps because everyone is so busy stuffing their face with the menú del día. Although the price has started to creep up slightly with inflation, for something like 24 pesos a person can get a very full lunch that includes an appetizer, main course, side dish, beverage, coffee and dessert. What is even more incredible is that each of those categories features several choices, leaving the diner with an astounding number of combinations for their midday meal.

BEST EMPANADAS: Rincón Salteño - R.I.P. (Carranza 1996, Palermo)

A few weeks ago I tried calling Rincón Salteño but no one answered. After several failed attempts I eventually walked by the restaurant and found it closed down. For the sake of empanada lovers everywhere, I can only hope this is temporary because Rincón Salteño had the best empanadas in the city. The Salta region in northern Argentina is renowned for its empanadas, and Rincón Salteño executed them perfectly. With perfect oven-baked dough and delicious fillings that were thankfully onion-free (many places stuff their empanadas with way too many onions), each empanada was a tasty little pocket of heaven. At least I got to enjoy it while it lasted.

Honorable Mention: Cümen-Cümen (Borges 2055, Palermo)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

DJ Despedida


Tonight is my last night in Buenos Aires and I figured there would be no better way to say goodbye than doing one final DJ set at the best party in town, Zizek.

(I will pause right here so everyone reading this can sarcastically say to themselves, "Oh, you like Zizek? Really? I had no idea. YOU ONLY MENTION IT LIKE EVERY OTHER DAY!")

Also spinning/performing tonight are BR1, Ali Gua Gua (Mexico) and of course, Zizek residents Villa Diamante, Nim and G-Love. Go here for a full rundown of all the artists and festivities.

Come on down and let's do this despedida right.