A talk with Jane Penny, TOPS’s vocalist, at her home back in Montreal
Always been curious about the music scene in other cities outside your own little cocoon? We assumed you were! So we feed your hunger for insights and secrets in the Scene Report. This month we talked with Noelia Cabrera, a musician currently living in Lima, capital of Perú. As well as playing in the dark psych band The Underground Parties, she’s also a member of all-girl band Kusama, who recently released their debut album, An Encounter with a Dark Flowering Season.
Words by Laura Ramos
Photos shot Noelia Cabrera & Laura Ramos
In the last couple of years Peru has become an incredibly popular tourist destination, taking a well-deserved spot on almost everyone’s bucket list. Lima, its capital, is the second largest city of the Americas, characterised by disastrous traffic, an endless maze of streets and uninspired architecture. That’s right: it’s a classic South American metropolis. But it’s also more than that. It’s not just a city where people from from all over Peru congregate; it’s also a vibrant melting pot of American, Latin, European and African influences. This diverse background gives room for interesting scenes and artists to emerge.
To breakthrough as an artist in Lima is incredibly difficult. Most people are into pop music, cumbia or reggaeton – which is all you’ll hear on the radio. Interest in rock music is minimal, and it’s mostly classic rock. There’s not so much of an alternative music scene. And at the big festivals it’s always the same bands that take the stage. You’ll rarely see a small, independent band’s name on the posters.
There are a few Peruvian pop/indie bands that have found their way into the mainstream, and they’re usually heard on Studio 92, a radio station aimed at 18-25 year olds. However, the reason they were able to make it into the mainstream is because in the end, their music is extremely accessible and not wildly different to what’s already being played. There’s no radio station or lesser-known genres, only online.
Those who want to tick Peru off their bucket list, though, should definitely visit Lima. Peru is a very centralised country and Lima is the centre of pretty much everything – economically, politically and also musically. However, all those newly settled artists make it easier to connect with the music scenes of other big cities like Trujillo and Arequipa.
Noelia mostly hangs out in Hensley Bar, which started off as a skater/punk hangout. Back then, the walls were filled with skateboards and an enormous ramp filled the room. Today, there are two Hensleys in Lima. One in the Barranco area, where punk and skater sounds still rage on, and another one in Monterrico, where most of the skater vibes had to cede room for other genres like psych, stoner, post-punk, grindcore, and so on. The owner of the Monterrico outpost is Chino Burga, an important musician of the Peruvian underground and basically a walking music encyclopedia. In Hensley they’ll play just about any song you want; just bring your favourite vinyl and they’ll put it on. At the weekend there are always some new, upcoming bands playing, and Hensley is one of the only (if not the only) place in Lima where the music is always varied and innovative.
If your tastes run in a more electro direction, Jabberwocky club and New Kitsch in Barranco are definite must-gos. They host some of the best parties that never end before the sun comes up. Not too long ago Jumi Lee played, a female DJ from South Korea who currently resides in the city and is globally acclaimed for her hypnotising techno. Another great place for electro is Victoria. Their attic is a little club with a focus on electro and techno music.
But making a living as an artist in Lima is hard. There is no support and a lot of barriers to overcome. Noelia’s bands are not signed to a label, nor do they have management, which means they have to do everything on their own. It becomes even harder when you’re a female artist. Peru is strongly marked by machismo, and there will always be an idiot who catcalls you on stage. But to be a female musician also means to be constantly underestimated by the industry until you are able to show them that music isn’t really a matter of gender. ‘But in the end,’ Noelia says, ‘These difficulties make the experience of being a musician a big challenge. We have to learn how to do things by ourselves, which has created a strong DIY culture. But being able to achieve my goals while fighting against all these adversities make me feel like a proud, strong and grateful woman.’
Essential venues: Hensley Bar, Jabberwocky club, New Kitsch and Victoria
Essential bands: The Underground Parties and Kusama