Throbbing with idealism
With the festival ‘Tecnogeist’ and a new version of Love Parade, Arturo Saucedo has made a name for himself as an outstanding organiser of avant-garde musical events. He was born in 1960 and later studied the philosophy of Nietzsche, whose fondness for music he shares. For the last ten years he has been a journalist and curator drawn to new musical trends and old traditions and to potential links between them. He shared responsibility for the music in the Mexican Pavilion at EXPO 2000 and chose bands for the MEXartes-Festival in the House of World Cultures in 2002. He has kept his roots in the underground and is willing to risk his income for the sake of innovation.
‘It was in 1989 that our avant-garde radio, under the auspices of a popular transmitter, began transmitting,’ recalls Arturo Saucedo. ‘The aim was to move with and show present-day Mexican culture.’ The program was triggered off by a political trend in Mexico City but soon had a momentum of its own. Its scope grew to encompass more than the city, as its team got in touch with provincial capitals like Monterrey, Tijuana, Merida and Oaxaca. ‘In effect, I then began researching into progressive but also traditional music throughout the country and of course throughout the rest of the world.’
The music program of the MEXartes Festival in the House of World Cultures was a result of this ongoing research. ‘To me it’s obvious that artists with traditional or historical leanings like La Negra Graciana or Jaramar should be brought together with modern rock-groups like ‘Nine Rain’ or progressive electronic producers, dissolving present barriers between scenes.’
In the last thirteen years, Saucedo has lost nothing of his curiosity and taste for odd encounters, and as a journalist, organiser and curator, he cares little for mainstream. He rounded his study of philosophy off with a dissertation about Nietzsche and has since been prying beneath surfaces. Already in the mid-80s he launched the magazine ‘Atonal’, whose title extols free composition. This magazine was followed by a daily radio show whose modernity was no hindrance to its success. Indeed it served as a cornerstone for Saucedo’s later enterprises. Some of his ideas became so politically explosive as to affect even society in the huge capital.
His radio sponsored underground concerts, some of which attracted several thousand listeners. ‘At that time I grew more interested in devising and organising big events,’ says Saucedo about his new role in the pop-scene. On the one hand he wrote about the avant-garde and on the other hand put it onstage. In the renowned Palace of Fine Arts in 1995, he staged a concert featuring the foremost electronic band of the time - the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico - and three multi-media artists. With the help of the Goethe Institute his next coup was to persuade the group ‘Die einstürzenden Neubauten’ to play in Mexico. His events also offered new venues to many young DJs and party-makers. Non-commercial music is seldom aired in Mexico City and is played mostly in storerooms under derelict variety halls.
Arturo Saucedo came to feel at home in many scenes and meandered between punk and high art, gothic and committed Latin rock. ‘To many folk,’ he says, ‘who got to know me in one of those many scenes, my present activities are bewildering, but they have sprung from the same idea. It began with Stockhausen and moved on via ‘Die einstürzenden Neubauten’ to the fusion of folklore and techno as with Nortec Collective.’ He has seen many techno-DJs forget their past in the underground on rising to fame. ‘They demand business-class flight-tickets, four-star hotels and five-star fees.’ Naturally Saucedo is loath to encourage them. He prefers to link Mexican scenes with German rather than American ones.
In spring 2000 Arturo Saucedo landed his biggest catch so far. In the name of Tecnogeist, 36,000 listeners gathered in Mexico City’s central square to celebrate an open-air party. It was a milestone in the history of modern Mexico. Till then, all kinds of events had been subject to a curfew, and on the Zocalo between the houses of parliament and the daily honoured national flag, there had only been demonstrations and markets. To Saucedo, the festival signified a new approach to metropolitan life. ‘What we are after is not a city of pure folklore,’ he says, in distancing himself from both left- and right-wingers. ‘And certainly not a city in which life is a journey from church to church via corporations.’
Since getting off to an ear-splitting start, the Tecnogeist festival has been spawning new ideas. Conferences and workshops have forged links between folklore and techno, and Mexico and Germany, and have looked forward to Utopia, but Saucedo keeps an eye on the business-side of Utopia, too. ‘I always try to toss up a certain theme to be viewed and discussed from all angles. These range from aesthetic questions about creating and distributing modern music to the pros and cons of technologies.’
Even the liberal communal government was uneasy about the bacchanal on the Zocalo and tried to stop it from being repeated the following year. It banned it at short notice, but again with the help of the Goethe Institute, Saucedo and the spirit of techno prevailed. The festival had to move to another site, but this was nearly as central. In the spring of 2002 he had deepened his long-term contacts to the Berlin techno-scene and strengthened his position within Mexico. Hence, after tricky negotiations, he was able to launch a Love Parade in Mexico City.
Saucedo stays true to his visions. ‘We have a right to celebrate out on the streets and in public, and not only bottle in hand but also with DJs, PA-systems and so on.’ Behind the rigour of his ideology, one can scent the pleasure-principle. ‘The parade gives me the feeling of a Dionysian party. Everyone is high on the spirit of music and celebrates a shared spiritual identity. Philosophy is brought to life.’
‘The odd thing is not that I studied philosophy and Nietzsche,’ he adds with a grin, ‘but the fact that I then went out and tried to proselytise. Many students stay in their academic enclaves, but I always longed to share my ideas with the rest of the world.’ The risk of being unheard as a voice in the wilderness is less at a crossroads than in a desert, especially with techno backing, but Saucedo’s big events are risky nevertheless. In 2002 the sponsorship proved to be meagre. ‘After witnessing our wrangle with the government, no firm was keen to be associated with us. We were thought to be too subversive.’ Of course it is ‘not really fun to lose money for the sake of an ideal, but if you really love your job and have faith in what you are doing, you can’t throw the sponge in.’
(Translation: Phil Stanway)
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
The Mexico-festival in Berlin
(15 September 02 - 01 December 02)