The Limbo laboratory

Before his second Limbo Fest started, which is actually tonight, Fer Isella decided to take last weekend off with his wife and two children in Cariló. And it’s surely a well-deserved break — he’s been hard at work booking 18 acts, including jazz and folk musicians, instrumentalists and DJs, who will play throughout September. The producer, who is also a singer, pianist and artist, has been organizing the independent music festival for the past five months, which took place over four nights in 2008 but will be on for 12 this time round, meaning every weekend this month has a bit of Limbo about it.

It’s been a fruitful 2009 for Isella, who was named one of the best music entrepreneurs in Latin America by the British Council. Three weeks ago he recorded his latest album in just two days with his self-named quintet which will be released on his own jazz label, and mid-fest Isella will dash off to Bogotá to speak at a music conference.

A week before Limbo begins, he has time for a cooling beer on a sticky afternoon to explain his baby. Isella says: “Limbo is a compilation of all the artists I’ve been working with, but I was wondering what unites the whole thing? It’s hard to define because it isn’t a jazz or rock festival, the music is experimental and not very mainstream but the way we’re organising is also very independent. I think it’s like being bringing people to a lab, and it’s original because we’re presenting it like it’s a frame.”

A MEETING OF TWO MINDS. The advantage of holding Limbo every Thursday, Friday and Saturday across a whole month means the artists and venues receive much-needed exposure, as Isella explains.

“During the course of a year venues suffer from poor audience numbers, places close down, the artists also suffer in trying to book shows and bring people in, but the interesting thing with Limbo is that we’re giving it a frame and bringing artists together who wouldn’t normally appear on the same bill. The independent music scene in Argentina is huge, with a lot of exciting things going on. For example, there’s a guy called Mono Fontana, an amazing keyboard player and composer who played for Spinetta from the very beginning who’s very well-known on the jazz scene. At the same time there’s a guy called Mariano Otero and he’s got the biggest and brightest big band here, which is playing really exciting modern jazz. You know what, these two guys never met and I was like ‘how come they don’t know each other?’ We’re all on the same scene, we’re all friends together so they’re going to meet and play on stage for the first time. Mariano, who’s an acoustic double bass player, was so excited by all this that he said ‘I’m going to do all the things I can’t throughout the year — I’m going to experiment.’ So he’s decided to play his cello and also sing for a change. He’s never been exposed to a place where he could use his voice, something he does really well and loves to do. So why not?”

Although Limbo focuses on independent music, Isella hopes his musician friends do have the opportunity to become more mainstream at times — but not a higher cost for their audiences. Admission to Ultra, Cafe Vinilo and the Thelonious Club is a maximum of $25 which is reasonable when artists such as techno folk musician Gaby Kerpel, Puente Celeste’s Santiago Vázquez and Guillermo Klein from Los Guachos are coming together. And as Isella says, if you spend $20 on cinema tickets you’ll probably then spend another $15 on a drink. “It’s just 20 bucks!” he laughs. “But seriously, I really want to take everyone to a different level but not so that tickets cost a mainstream price. No one wants to pay such a high price and we don’t want that either, being artists and producers of such events. I’m involved with most of the artists in different ways, perhaps I played keyboards with someone I produced or I digitally released their album. But it’s not about me, because at the end of the day I’m just curating this and I want it to be valuable. What gets us musicians happy is playing live so I’m really excited about all this!”

Although he won’t reveal who he is most looking forward to seeing — “oh it’s too hard, because they’re all my friends!” — Isella does say that the Vázquez-Kerpel combo tomorrow evening will be interesting “as they search to discover the new Argentine folk. It’s folk with a different vision — they are friends who have never collaborated so, wow man, I am excited about that!”

YOU CAN FEEL IT COMING. If you feel a rumbling beneath your feet, that may be because electro-folk band Tremor, led by Leonardo Martinelli, is starting the ceremony this evening. Main man Martinelli explains their roots and what they’re about. “I started the Tremor project around 10 years ago but the first album only came out in 2004. I then met Camilo (Carabajal, who plays bombo legüero) and Gerardo (Farez, who plays keyboards and melodica) two years later and we’ve been playing ever since.”

Camilo adds: “Apart from us three playing live on stage, we have a VJ as well as sound and lighting technicians. Other people are hard at work as well as us!”

What is an unusual coincidence with regards to this trio is that they are all drummers, so when they originally met, “we had a connection, not only with regards to being percussionists but we also all the play bombo legüero,” says Camilo. “We’re all passionate about rhythms but what is funny is that we all have other musical collaborations going on in which we play drums, but none of us does in Tremor!” says Leo.

Knocking back coffees on a miserable cloudy Monday behind the National Library in Recoleta, the trio laugh and joke their way through the interview. Their connection is obvious so it seems likely this dynamic will transmit to their live show. Although Leo and Camilo do most of the talking, Gerardo is in sync with them, given the guffaws he produces.

Leo explains “Tremor is a super independent project which I started out doing on my own — I used to do everything, such as write and send out press releases — but over the years other people have joined the team, for example, we work with the VJ Matapixels. I call what we do electronic music really but with folk elements to it, such as the instruments we play, but we don’t write folklore songs.” This last phrase Leo and Camilo say in unison. “This musical search is about taking parts of folk out of context. It’s transitory and we like to try and take these old familiar elements and see what else we can do with them. We can give them a whole new meaning.”

Although raised in Buenos Aires, the trio has roots originating from different parts of Argentina, which explains what has led them to these sounds. “My family is from Santiago del Estero, the home of chacarera, and although I’ve was brought up here and also lived in Germany, it ‘s really great to participate in the folklore tradition,” says Camilo.

Tremor, and the sounds the band creates, has certainly taken a transitory path. “The project changes as time goes by,” says Leo, “and the other guys’ influences is important too. The first album was more folklore andino influenced by the north of the country. When Camilo joined, Tremor took on a more chacarera, malambo feeling. I always had that idea but with his collaboration we could go more deeply into it.” On hearing his name, the bombo legüero player adds: “And we’re experimenting more and more.”

And that’s what Limbo is about: new alternatives offered up by passionate musicians taken out of their regular context, and tonight it’s electro-folk band Tremor who welcomes you into Fer Isella’s musical lab.

First published in the Buenos Aires Herald, August 2009

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