Although it can be easy to forget in our media echo chamber, North America is only a small part of the global music world. When Ryan Walsh went on tour through South America with his band, Neg-Fi, he came across a booming post-punk, noise and experimental scene full of voices he had never heard before. The experience was eye-opening to say the least, inciting in Walsh a desire to share these bands with a broader audience.
The result is South America is Part of the Problem, a twenty-five track compilation of original sounds coming from South American artists who Walsh met and was introduced to on the tour, assembled in collaboration with the bands themselves. Tracks range from post-punk infused with traditional marimba and xylophone tones, and drum-heavy bossa nova themes to some of the most envelope-pushing phase-infused electronics and industrial noise being put out today. It’s a very interesting listen, each artist bringing something new to the table.
The compilation is out on double CD or double 140 gram vinyl and currently streaming on Bandcamp.
How did you discover all these bands? Did they all play shows with Neg-Fi, or did you venture out to seek new music too? What was the process of gathering the songs like?
The story of how this all started began with us playing at Primavera Sound Fest in Barcelona as part of the Glenn Branca Ensemble. Whenever we played a big gig like that with Glenn, somehow, random people would kind of find us on social media. One of these people was in Buenos Aires and she posted a link to download an EP from a sludgey bass-and-drums duo called Cuzcos. I was into it, and shared it or whatever.
The bass player for that band, Monga, saw that some random guy in Brooklyn had shared his stuff, and put two and two together that I was the bass player for Glenn at that time. So he wrote to me to say hello, and I mentioned a curiosity about Buenos Aires and what was going on there. I had always wanted to try a DIY tour down there, someplace other bands our size didn’t usually go. He then introduced us to basically half the bands on the record.
So the tour went through and we’ve hosted some folks up at our place as well. And we started talking with all these cool folks about doing a little comp to help out with recognition, etc. From there it grew.
There were a lot of reasons why I decided to do it. Mainly a car wreck that slowly robbed me of my ability to play, and wanting to kind of keep active with music and particularly these friends. Most of them were my friends by that point, either through gigs or mutual friends. A few were suggestions from others also. I basically wrote everyone and told them the idea, told them I don’t have any money to pay you (except in product and an equal share of any profits), and asked if they could do it. I think i only got one “no thanks”. Everyone else said yes. Actually it was pretty easy that way.
Why do you think, especially with modern social media and the internet in general, these bands have gone unnoticed by the rest of the world? The music media seems to love bands from Iceland or Sweden but rarely covers bands from South America.
I think there’s a good amount of cultural hubris here. We think of Latin America and we hear a lot of great music- cumbia, chicha, salsa, etc. But that’s kind of leaving out the possibility of ‘underground’ sounds. People also don’t realize that for instance Buenos Aires is bigger than Chicago or LA. I means it’s a HUGE city. So of course all genres you can think of will be there, somewhere…
What inspired you to go ahead and press this compilation? How do you envision distributing it and what are your plans for putting it out there in general?
I was looking for something musically involved I could do once playing kind of became impossible. And I felt like I owed a lot of these friends some favors after all they did for us. I guess I kind of remember when I was a kid and those Kill Rock Stars comps came out – it was right at the time of Nirvana an all that, but it definitely kind of showed that the Pacific Northwest had a real scene (as opposed to the glut of major label grunge blah) in a really nice warm light. That was kind of the ideal outcome for me.
We have direct store distro in the UK and EU, modest but a start. In South America it will all be done through bands and a handful of stores and friendly labels. It’s hard to import things down there, 30%+ taxes on incoming commercial goods. So small and spread out is the best approach. In the US I’m hoping to expand a network of direct store sales and there’s Bandcamp, which works really well for me. I’d be over the moon if Revolver or someone was interested, but it isn’t always easy to get it picked up by a larger independent distro group. I think it’s going to speak for itself when they hear it. I have high hopes of wide distro for the double vinyl. (CDs mainly sell at shows, not so much at stores.)
How is US visibility helpful to South American bands? Is US visibility viewed as a desirable thing?
Visibility in the US and EU is important for bands here that want to tour or get their music out to a wider audience. But even a little international attention can be a huge help to these artists when they apply for grant money and artist assistance that is available to them through their governments. So an invite letter from a small festival with a small guarantee can mean government subsidized plane tickets, which open up great opportunities for larger touring possibilities. And those gigs turn into future invites, etc. It snowballs pretty fast from there. It’s getting that initial interest that is the bigger barrier.
It isnt the dream of every artist I am sure, but I don’t know too many musicians who don’t want to expand their horizons, expand their audience.
Why did you choose this name for the project? What problem is South America a part of?
The title was the idea of Leandro Barzabel from Enjambre de Guitarras and Coso- an homage to R Stevie Moore and kind of a wink that “hey…. We’re here!”
The IndieGoGo campaign fundraised 25% of its goal. Has that changed the scope of how you’re able to release this?
Oh if we had hit 100% on that thing i dont know what i would have done! It raised just shy of $2000 which i was psyched for. Nothing has changed except it is more $ out of my pockets up front… Maybe a little delayed. We’re not cutting any corners though.
Has this been getting momentum in South America? What has the response been like?
So far the response has been amazing! We’ve had press in major newspapers and magazines down here- the events… Take it with a fisftful of salt but they look like they’re going to be packed. It’s a great endorsement of the project.