thu 14/11/2019

The Mexican Institute of Sound, KOKO | reviews, news & interviews

The Mexican Institute of Sound, KOKO

The Mexican Institute of Sound, KOKO

Great beats but a lack of subtlety takes away the edge

Part of the problem was that what the crowd at KOKO got last night was not so much a band as a glorified PA. A drummer, a bassist/knob twiddler and a vocalist/knob twiddler can do all the jumping about and rabble-rousing they want, but the fact remains that only the vocals and the bass truly constituted a live performance. In the light of a recent M.I.S publicity photo depicting a cheerful-looking seven-piece band, this was a bit of a let-down. But let’s move on to the positives.

Camilo Lara is unquestionably a gifted magpie of a musician on record, raiding his 45,000 vinyl albums for choice riffs, sounds and grooves and – unlike many thousands of other “musicians” playing this same game – he generally comes up with something greater than the sum of its parts. What’s more – particularly on the most recent album, Soy Sauce - his songs really are self-sufficient songs; fresh, fun and catchy, rather than being tarnished by an awareness of the elements used to collage them together. At  times one is reminded of Manu Chao or Choc Quib Town, but really Lara is very much his own man. And in my ideal parallel universe, Soy Sauce would have spawned at least five Top 10 hits.

Some of these songs - knowing mixes of the kitsch and the art house, the vintage groove and the sci-fi synth riff - survived the transference to the stage last night. For example, the warped rockabilly pop of “Hiedra venenosa” and the quirky Frankenstein’s lab sing-along of “Yo digo baila”. The latter, powered along by its squelchy high-cholesterol bass line and cheeky horn riff was a particular crowd-pleaser. But the textural sophistication and wit of other tracks was sacrificed in the service of the more prosaic need to satisfy the appetites of the dance floor.

Lara’s excellent command of the English language communicated an understated sense of humour (“We come from a small village called Mexico City”) and a general likeability. And for the majority of the audience (in fact, quite possibly for all of them apart from me) this was enough, along with the heavy, heavy beats, for the floor was alive with jumping, swaying bodies. However, each time I saw Lara trigger a cowbell or a conga by pressing a button on his handheld consol, I imagined the percussionist, the guitarist, the sexy backing vocalists and the colourfully attired Mariachi horn section that would have made last night’s performance so much more satisfying to witness.

In fact, the support act were far more viscerally involving. Buenos Aires’s eccentric multi-instrumentalist Axel Krygier looked like a cross between a young(ish) Tom Waits and the comedian Lee Evans. And what’s more – at a stretch – you could say that his stage persona lay somewhere between these two unlikely poles. One minute he was somewhat self-indulgently over estimating the audience’s interest in his protracted games with a vocal pitch-shifter (Mickey Mouse high, diving down to Barry White low), and the next he was a completely captivating and charismatic front man leading a wonderfully tight and engaging band through a set that embraced cumbia, ska, gypsy swing and slapstick heavy rock. At times one of Brazil’s senior iconoclasts, Tom Ze, came to mind, which is never a bad thing. On balance, the serious (and seriously good) musician won the battle with the vaudevillian/surreal comedian, and so I’m hoping that the next CD to drop through the letterbox will be Mr Krygier's latest.

Watch a video of "El microfono" by M.I.S

Watch a delightfully weird animation created by Axel Krygier for his song "Pesebre"

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