According to nearly every Mexico City local I spoke with over the past few days, this year’s Corona Capital – the annual two-day festival held on the grounds of Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, the Mexican capital’s Formula 1 track – was the most disappointing among its six editions. Those who had attended the festival since 2010’s opening year said that it’s become increasingly corporate and the headliners were lackluster. Calvin Harris and Chromeo (Sunday), they said, make it a “ festival de chaviza” (“festival for the kiddos”) and Muse (Saturday) lacked the “get” factor because the British rock trio performed three nights – Nov. 17, 18, and 20 – preceding the event, a sign that they were likely tapped as a last-minute replacement headliner.
The Muse issue is understandable – that sort of follow-up to three nights at an arena would never occur in almost any other festival market for obvious reasons (including lower attendance, a definite issue this past weekend). But the lineup overall was stellar by typical fest standards. Before Muse, Saturday saw excellent Mexico City debuts from Chairlift, Father John Misty, and Run the Jewels (among others) plus rousing returns from Ryan Adams and the sole date in the Americas by the Libertines since the British quartet reunited last year. Sunday likewise finished strong with highly anticipated returns from Mew (six years away), Sleater-Kinney (10 years), Pixies, and Spoon (each five years).
The corporate squeeze of Corona, Doritos, Vans, Ocesa, and Tecel was real: the former two companies products overshadowed any presence of local food and drink, and advertisements trumped what little art there was – some graffiti here, a lonely installation there – at every turn. Yet each act seemed genuinely enthused to be there.
“This is a good festival, yeah?” said Spoon frontman Britt Daniel, grinning as he addressed Sunday evening’s throng. “We do love it here.”
It was tempting to join the locals in their almost universal shunning, but I was more inclined to agree with Daniel. It’s all about perspective, and to a first-timer, everything seemed to run exceedingly smooth: every band was on time, distances between stages were minimal so one could catch much more without a hike, and there was refreshing diversity among each day’s schedule (though Sunday leaned more heavily on EDM).
Still, regarding that last point, the biggest oversight was the exclusion of any Mexican artist. That is, officially – a few local bands played in a main-stage-adjacent cabana throughout each day, but that Corona-hosted space was reserved for VIPs (meaning there were only about 20-30 people watching, if that), and those bands weren’t even promoted before the festival. In effect, their presence was essentially swept under the rug.
That seems strange coming from an event that has advertised with the idea “La Ciudad de México tiene un sonido especial. Comencemos a escuchar cómo suena nuestra ciudad,” which translates to something like “Mexico city has a special sound. Let’s start listening to how our city sounds.” Given that not even one Mexican band was billed publically this year among a lineup that comprised roughly 50 percent US acts, 25 percent British, and 25 percent other nationalities, the notion felt completely masked. A festival of this caliber should reap the economic benefits of hosting major artists while in turn giving its residents a chance to gain exposure among them – ideally that fuels more local fandom in the long run, and therefore proliferates a symbiotically thriving, internationally known in-house scene. Until that happens, Corona Capital can’t really claim world-class status.
That’s meant to sound as critical as it does – this year’s festival, though packed with talent, was served up like an anglo-saxon-centric deluxe platter (by comparison, about a third of the acts were Mexican in 2010). Yet one significant aspect largely saved the weekend: the fact that almost every act, from the lesser knowns like Wild Nothing and Alvvays to the mammoth headliners, had super-fans. It was astounding – even in the smallest crowds, there were people holding custom-made signs, singing every word, screaming, and crying exultantly as if the experience was the most life-changing event possible (shout-out to that kid jumping three feet in the air while playing epic air guitar all by himself in the back during Muse, not giving a fuck about how ridiculous he looked). The bands felt that outpouring of love, I felt it deeply as an outsider, and ultimately that element – destined to be a constant in years to come because many acts tour here so sporadically – made it a mostly fulfilling festival.
The following reviews comprise 10 standout acts that contributed to that feeling.
Muse’s Saturday night set came at the tail end of three (almost) consecutive dates in Mexico City, which made the festival’s run feel like a last-minute headliner replacement (much like the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ rather irrelevant appearance at Coachella 2013 when rumors swirled that the Rolling Stones – or someone equally major – pulled out late in the game). Unfortunately, the fest setup also meant that Muse lacked its massive, center-stage arena production for the Drones tour. At first, it appeared that the band was willing to give something extra to ensure the fourth show in five days was special: frontman Matt Bellamy launched his guitar like a javelin into his Marshall amp stack at the end of blazing one-two-punch openers “Pyscho” and “Reapers”. That was pretty fucking punk rock. But for the remainder of the show, though staples “Hysteria”, “Stockholm Syndrome”, and “Knights of Cydonia” still sounded epic with their snippets of AC/DC and Rage Against the Machine worked into extended outros, Bellamy played the remainder looking mostly lackadaisical. He made those insanely fast, hammer-on-heavy solos look like a cake a walk, but it would’ve better served this show – the Mexico City gig that needed it most – if he spent less time too-cool still, back turned to the audience during those furious flurries.
Twenty One Pilots
For anyone who’s seen Twenty One Pilots, you know their performance, though wildly acrobatic, is formulaic: you get some high-jumps from vocalist Tyler Joseph, a back flip from drummer Josh Dun off the piano, and a crowd-surf drum-off atop small platforms late in the show. The Mexico City fans are no strangers either as the duo was just here a year ago, but to Joseph and Dun’s credit, they made their Sunday show feel like a once-in-a-lifetime event. Every move seemed imbued with slightly more visceral intention, and when Joseph disappeared then reappeared to wade into the crowd wearing a Mexican soccer jersey during “Holding on to You”, it was clear that genuine adoration for this city of voracious music fans was the impetus behind the extra oomph.
Sonically, DIIV was the strongest among a shoegaze- and dream pop-heavy Saturday that was clearly curated for millennial hipsters (they were preceded by the uplifting, often floaty inflections of Alvvays and Wild Nothing). Frontman Zachary Cole Smith didn’t appear as energized as he has at past shows, but a healthy sampling from upcoming sophomore release, Is the Is Are, sounded peppier than ever. Tunes like “Bent (Roi’s Song)”, “Under the Sun”, and “Mire (Grant’s Song)” harnessed booming drum sounds and layer upon layer of reverb-heavy guitar waves laced with jangly riffs that sparked the first major “dance” (happy bounce?) party of the weekend.
Run the Jewels
There isn’t much of a hip-hop scene in Mexico City, but one wouldn’t have guessed it surveying the sea of fists and guns raised Sunday night in reaction to Run the Jewels’ intro dictated eloquently by Killer Mike: “We want to officially start the show by saying, ‘Fuck Donald Trump.’” Wild cheers abounded again when the duo dedicated “Lie, Cheat, Steal” to the republican presidential candidate, but the real highlight was a slightly altered rendition of “Blockbuster Night, Part 1”, with the first verse delivered in Spanglish. Mike and El-P continue to spearhead the most politically topical and sonically innovative sector of American hip-hop, and now they’ve most assuredly got a foothold in Mexico.
In between Sunday main stage sets from Sohn and Twenty One Pilots, tucked away in the adjacent, VIP-only Corona lounge, local cumbia outfit Agrupación Cariño delivered one of the most spirited performances (and best dressed – those matching blue blazers were hella sharp) of the weekend … to no more than 25 people. “Estamos muy agradecidos por estar aquí, aunque sea un festival de chaviza. Sólo conocemos a los Pixies, pero aquí estamos,” said frontman Marc Monster, which translates to: “It is great playing here in a festival of kids. We only know the Pixies, but here we are.” There was a note of positivity to that statement, even though the 10-piece band – complete with full brass section – knew as well as any local that they deserved to play on a bigger, public stage (they performed at Glastonbury last year, for crying out loud). Though cumbia at the core, their music drew from classic rock, glam, and hip-hop, making them the best representatives of Mexico City’s true culturally diverse music scene – a missed opportunity on the festival’s part by secluding them to a stage where barely anyone could enjoy them.
During his Saturday night main stage set, Ryan Adams was reliably snarky. “Hi we’re Muse,” he said, drawing laughter from the modest-sized audience and his band mates alike. “No, no, no, we’re mews,” he insisted, “like the sound of several kittens at the same time. Yeah, we’re like Muse without the batteries.” He was selling himself short with that last statement – the alt-country hat-trick of “Gimme Something Good”, “Let It Ride”, and “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” kicked off the show at a rollicking pace, and unlike Muse’s too-cool-for-school frontman, Adams wasn’t shy about baring his teeth and flailing his mop top during his more furious fretwork. And even when he took it down a notch for the more ballad-y sounds of “Dirty Rain” and “This House Is Not for Sale”, he didn’t lose the wind in his sail. The way he belted out each tune, eyes closed and chin thrust defiantly upward, Adams was a beacon of intense intonation at every turn – a perfect pair for his equally emotional audience (see: screaming like it was fuggin’ Beatlemania).
Though the Libertines’ Saturday night performance was touted as one of Corona Capital’s most anticipated, it was vastly under-attended: they played the same stage and time slot as Pixies and had been absent from Mexico City for twice as long, and their audience was a third the size. That, however, was likely due more to poor ticket sales overall than the band’s popularity – the fans in attendance were going bonkers during the entire set, which largely avoided new record Anthems for Doomed Youth. The two exceptions were “Fame and Fortune” and “Gunga Din”, which didn’t come off half as mighty as older staples like “Can’t Stand Me Now” and “Music When the Lights Go Out”, to explosive end to a six-song encore. The influential outfit’s cocksure showmanship, which reminded how they successfully bridged the gap between British rock titans the Smiths and Arctic Monkeys, deserved better placement than an opening slot for the at-this-point-repetitive Muse.
Sleater-Kinney’s set on the Doritos stage was important for two reasons: it was their first Mexico City show in a decade (and first since reuniting last year), and it was virtually the only female-fronted rock outfit of the weekend (RAC featured Liz Anjos aka Pink Feathers, but she’s more of a rotating frontwoman). They blazed through a few jangly, punk-influenced cuts off new album No Cities to Love (the title track plus “Bury Our Friends”, “Fangless”, and “A New Wave”), but digging up older gems – though not too old, most off 2006 disc The Woods – was clearly the focus. That was for the better. Millennial fans sang along most faithfully to those decade-old tunes, and their exuberance amped up the band in turn. Carrie Brownstein in particular was a whirlwind, eventually throwing herself onto her back to revel in the surf-y, spiraling riffs of the aptly titled “Entertain”.
“This is our first time playing in Mexico City, and we’ve waited a long time to come here,” said Caroline Polacheck, singer for Brooklyn duo Chairlift. She then said her thanks literally, but also figuratively by serving up a short but commanding smattering to the main stage crowd of mostly new material off upcoming third album Moth (set for January release). Just before – across the way on the smaller Corona Light stage – Halsey played the part of tough-and-sporty pop star. Polachek was similarly alluring, but moved with the grace of a ballerina, weaving, swirling, and flinging her braids about while jazzy saxophone and polyrhythmic percussion elevated new tunes like “Crying in Public” and “Ch-Ching” well above the mode of simple synth-pop.
Ultimately, Muse and Calvin Harris (untz, untz, boring, boring, drugs, untz) garnered the largest audiences, but that was likely by default as they were the final acts closing the main stage against almost nothing else. The Pixies though, back after headlining the inaugural Corona Capital in 2010, drew the largest on any of the side stages all weekend. Their show opened intensely with loud-quiet-loud classic “Gouge Away”, the fast punk of “Something Against You” and Black Francis’ fiery Spanish screaming on “Isla de Encanta”. From then on, the set read like an ode to the massive showing of loyalty – they didn’t bust out a post-90s tune until 20 tracks or so in. Looking around, it was obvious that this audience represented the ranks the Pixies’ most old-school Mexico City fans – barely a lyric was left unsung or shouted even when they busted out rarities “Um Chagga Lagga”, “The Sad Punk”, and “Motorway to Roswell”.
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