Kinky: A band less ordinary

A new spirit is abroad in Mexican music, and the fans are going wild with gratitude. Andy Gill goes on the road with Kinky, whose eclecticism is revitalising rock

Friday 23 April 2004 00:00
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It's 200 miles from Mexico City to Acapulco, most of them downhill, and with each merciful mile it becomes a little easier to breathe. One by one, the occupants of the bunks in the back of the bus come bleary-eyed and scratching to the front, hunting for a smoke, a snack or a beer. At one point a grey whippet comes sniffing around my feet, briefly curious, but soon disdaining my attentions. Clearly, there is a language difference between us. This is Juanito, Kinky's four-legged friend.

Kinky are a Mexican rock band with a difference - the difference being that people outside Mexico are getting interested in them. The Strokes are fans, and so is Paul Oakenfold. Kinky are even signed to a British label, Sonic360, and their new album Atlas is attracting the same kind of enthusiastic critical approval that greeted their Grammy-nominated debut. It's easy to see why there's such a buzz about Kinky. But for an up-and-coming band, rock'n'roll touring is a rough and ready existence. By the time I joined the bus in Mexico City, Kinky had already travelled overnight from their home town of Monterrey, 500 miles to the north; and after tonight's show in Acapulco, the Benidorm of the Pacific Coast, we're back on the bus at five in the morning for the six-hour trip to Puebla.

In between arriving in Acapulco and departing, there is barely a free moment for the band, with a competition-winners meet-and-greet at the local Hard Rock Café followed by an in-store signing session at a local cellphone sales shop crowded with (mostly female) teenage fans. Then a press conference and local TV and radio spots, before an early evening soundcheck, after which they nap before the show starts at around two in the morning. The arduous schedule is necessary if Kinky want to crack a Mexican music scene where innovation and eclecticism aren't highly-prized characteristics. "Mexican pop is dominated mostly by folk music," explains keyboardist Ulises Lozano. "Those are like our hip-hop guys, the guys that make a lot of money! We have a lot of weird stuff going on now," Ulises adds. "Like the people from the Big Brother reality shows tour around Mexico and fill arenas. And they don't even sing, they just talk and make jokes!"

Kinky came out of the Monterrey underground scene of the 1990s, where "every single band [was] very different from all the others," says Ulises. "The Monterrey underground scene was ignored for a long time, until finally in the mid-Nineties someone signed a hip-hop band which became very successful."

That spirit of eclecticism fed directly into Kinky, whose members came from entirely different musical fields. "Carlos [Chairez, guitarist] and I were in a kind of soft-rock band," explains singer and lyricist Gil Cerezo. "Ulises was in a progressive rock band, and [Cesar] Pliego, the bass-player, was in a cumbia clown hip-hop kind of band."

Cumbia clown?

"They made cumbia music, but they were kind of funny. At some point along the way we all met, because Ulises was doing some programming with Carlos, and Carlos invited me to add some vocals. And then I invited Pliego along after his band had shared a bill with our old band. Then Omar [Gongora, percussionist], who was studying music at North Harris University in Houston at the time, came back to Mexico on a December vacation, joined us, and stayed."

With the line-up settled, Kinky set about devising their own distinctive sound. Other elements were added as necessary: Gil taught himself to scratch and also learnt rudimentary trumpet skills. "We use a lot of ludic stuff," Gil says. "Is that the right word?" What, as in games? "Yes, games. For example, sometimes a phrase would suddenly come to mind and I would start to make games"

The sense of play reaches its finest bloom when Kinky gets onstage. The live shows are brimming over with an energy and good humour. The small, wiry Gongora plays drums standing up, half-hidden behind a kit incorporating timbales, congas, cowbells, shakers and a score of small instruments aa well as the usual trap drums and the shaven-headed Chairez brings the steel to Kinky's sound, wringing flinty riffs and restrained distortion from his effects-laden guitar. But the cowboy-hatted "cumbia clown" Pliego is the star of the show. His ebullience proves contagious, and soon the others are pinballing wildly about.

Kinky's sound is far removed from the purist formality of mainstream Mexican pop, and their audiences seem delighted to find something different and exciting and unarguably contemporary. As we settle back on to the bus in the wee small hours for the trip back to Mexico City, I ask how they came by the name "Kinky". They explain that early on in their career they found a flier already printed with the name. Somehow, it just seemed right for them. "It related well to what we were doing," reckons Carlos, "because musically it was kind of sexy." "Also," adds Ulises, "the name reflects the way we like to push boundaries. If you're kinky, you do stuff that people don't usually do, you push the boundary, and we're trying to do that. And also, we're pretty kinky."

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'Atlas' is out now on Sonic360 Records; Kinky appear at the Royal Festival Hall tomorrow as part of the La Linea Festival.

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