Being cool in Buenos Aires is no easy task. The independent music and art scenes are often described with terms like young, nascent, growing and budding. While it is exciting to watch all the creativity blossom (there is another one of those terms), that level of newness can also make these scenes frustrating, both for participants and observers.
In places like the United States, Europe and Japan, the notion of "independent culture" has developed to the point where people are complaining that being "indie" is passé. Arguments actually break out over the true meaning of the term "indie". In major cities, plugging into this culture is relatively easy, as people can go out nearly any night of the week and see independent bands or dance to "indie" music at nightclubs and parties specifically catering to their scene and lifestyle. Countless magazines, blogs and websites are devoted to independent music and culture. Some of these online media outlets have even become powerful players in the music industry - just ask any artist who has received negative review from the all-mighty Pitchfork.
Here in Buenos Aires, things are several steps behind. The 2004 Cromagnon nightclub fire resulted in the closure of numerous venues, leaving bands with few places to play and setting back the live music scene in the Capital. "Indie" music can occasionally be heard at bars and nightclubs, but the notion of an "indie" club night has really only taken hold this year with the launch of Compass, Inrocks Club and Music Is My Girlfriend. While there are plenty of independent record labels, finding a place to actually buy these releases (outside of the artists' intermittent live shows) is rather difficult, as the notion of independent distribution appears to be largely nonexistent.
Despite all the hurdles, Buenos Aires still has plenty of hipster types devoted to independent music and culture. The scene may be small, but finding people who support local artists and attend events off the beaten path is not difficult. Connecting largely through word of mouth and online via networking sites like Fotolog (Myspace has not really caught on in Argentina), local tastemakers put together events, promote local artists and basically manage to keep things interesting. Even more impressive is the fact that many of these people also manage to stay on top of trends happening abroad, cultivating fan bases for artists who have never even performed in Argentina and perhaps never will. Local DJs fill their sets with obscure Justice remixes alongside cumbia hybrids assembled in a friend's bedroom. Bands like The Evens draw 1000+ people in Buenos Aires despite the fact that their albums have never been released in Argentina.
A lot of this phenomenon can be attributed to the internet. While illegal downloading is a problem in the United States and Europe, it is practically a religion in South America. Bootlegged copies of just about anything are widely available and freely exchanged. Online tools like Limewire and Soulseek are not just an easy way to steal music, but lifelines to the outside world, often the only places that music fans can actually find the music they crave. The process is crude and unorganized, especially when it comes to independent music, as Argentina lacks many of the cultural media filters which have become commonplace in the world north of the equator. Sure there is MTV Latin America, Much Music Latin America and Rolling Stone Argentina, not to mention some better, locally produced music and culture magazines like Los Inrockuptibles (which is actually a spinoff of a French mag) and La Mano, but none of those is totally focused on independent music or "indie" culture.
While one might expect Porteños to fill the void with blogs and music websites of their own, the media landscape does not improve much online. The above-referenced outlets all have an online presence, but Argentina lacks purely online "indie" media outlets of their own. While plenty of blogs are based in Buenos Aires, the number of music blogs writing about artists and posting mp3s is relatively small. Two of the better ones are Zona Indie and Global-Art, both of which largely focus on the local music scene and primarily feature Argentinian artists. However, many Porteños looking for new music with a more global perspective actually consult music blogs based in the United States and Europe, piecing together what they can (often with a limited knowledge of English) and downloading songs, sometimes without even knowing what to expect. Blog aggregators like the Hype Machine are frequently cited as a good source for music, as local tastemakers can simply grab whatever tracks are popular in the blogosphere and hope for the best. Although the resourcefulness is impressive, the system is anything but efficient.
Obviously there exists a need for a locally-produced, spanish-language media outlet devoted to independent (or at least cutting-edge) music and culture. Perhaps Flowmi will fit the bill.
Currently in beta, the site appears to be in the "professional blog" model, along the lines of sites like Stereogum or Idolator. Casting a global eye, Flowmi still focuses on events and shows happening in Buenos Aires. The site could use some more content and regular features (interviews, reviews, music news, downloadable mp3s, something more focused than the current scattershot of posts), but it is certainly a step in the right direction. With a little more time and development, Flowmi could become an online destination for Argentinians hoping to find out more about what is new and cool in the world in their own language.
What a novel idea.