In Ecuador, high in the Andes mountains, 52 International and National bands and intrepid festival goers made the spectacular 1.4km descent into the misty 4000-year-old dormant crater of the Pululahua volcano for a unique event in rock n' roll history: A 4-day international music festival in a sacred, mystical and inaccessible geo-botanical reserve.
At 3,000 meters above sea level, oxygen-starved rock fans adventured high along the barren Andean Mountain roads into the clouds reaching the summit of the Pululahua volcano. Clouds had descended into the crater, barely a sound could be heard from below. The steep zigzagging 1.4km path led fans into a fertile oasis of wildlife and vegetation in the geo-botanical reserve, a 30-minute walk through paramo grass, palms and laurel to the sound of humming birds, tanagers, churn owls and the company of wolves, armadillos and gazelles. The mist cleared, light rain fell, rock music hummed in the distance as the indigenous houses and the two giant concert stages came into view and the incredible idea of rock in a volcanic paradise became a reality.
For the festival organiser Ricardo Perotti, it was dream come true. Originally planned for October 1998, the festival had to be cancelled when the nearby Pinichincha active volcano went on red alert. According to Perotti, the Ecuadorian government, the police and the environmental group managing the reserve put up a number of barriers, attempting to prevent the festival from taking place. Uncertainty loomed up to the last minute, with the head of police finally giving the go-ahead just 9 hours before the festival was due to begin.
Security was high, with the army, national police, municipal police, civil defence and 15 horsed police present, not to mention the obligatory 30 undercover agents in the crowd. Fans were searched at the summit for drugs and strict limits on alcohol were imposed, but adventurous fans found the local magic mushrooms in the small valley and joints circulated under the noses of the surprisingly restrained police.
The turnout over the 4 days was disappointingly low. Having planned for 15000 people, the biggest day attracted just 2000 people, Abulón from Las Víctimas del Dr. Cerebro (the Victims of Dr. Brain) could not understand why so few people attended, when the setting and the music was so phenomenal. The reasons were bad weather, the date, which clashed with a traditional carnival weekend when most people leave for the coast and the price, $6 a day, thought to be too much for many people.
But on February 13th 1999, the weather, the police and the small crowd didn't stop the volcano from rocking as 100 decibels of sound, delicately engineered to respect the ecological balances of the protected zone sent Mexican indie-fusion into the enclosed 3383 hectare nature reserve.
Las Víctimas del Dr. Cerebro blew the crowd away on the first night with an explosive show. Devils, skeletons, monsters and pyromania invaded as an indie-fusion of heavy metal, funk and reggae thrashed into the gloomy, mist swelled night. Recently signed by EMI and promoting their third album "Boutique 2000", Las Victimas are continuing the wave of Mexican Rock bands creating alternative, punk, thrash and ska, started in the late 1980s and spearheaded by Maldita Vecindad, Caifanes and Café Tacuba. Abulón, the front man, talked of his lyrics, which deal with the everyday experiences of Mexico's youth, a generation largely ignored by society. He was flattered to be able to sing in a place of such great harmony between nature and art and he praised the organisers for the brilliance of the idea and the quality of the production.
Quito band Sal y Mileto opened the first day with a powerful rock fusion show. Bassist Franko Aguirre talked of the importance of the festival for Ecuadorian rock. "Being a musician in the 3rd world is a militia battle, the poverty and the expense of recording in South America means that it is a miracle that bands are succeeding." Sal y Mileto formed 5 years ago when Singer Paul Segovia got together with the writer Peki Andino in a project to fuse poetry and music, mixing social and political conscience with original rock. Releasing their first album this year, their success is a testament to the power of their song writing skills.
British band Vague hit the enthusiastic crowd with their own brand of Britpop. "Fantastic and inspirational," declared drummer Geoff Southall, when the clouds came down, he expected dinosaurs to come running out of the trees, "the feeling was that anything could happen." He found the Latin crowd totally different to the British, describing them as more excited, appreciative and open. Influenced by three continents of music, Geoff - British, Monti - Ecuadorian, Nick Lowther and Rob Bryon - Australian, their collective work incorporates diverse influences from the last 50 years, bringing rock, ethnic, electronic, soundtrack and Latin music together.
Inspired by the Bay of Dogs incident in Cuba, where the US paid off the local military to start a coup, the funky and subtle 'Peace and Love' poetically covers a confused gringo's arrival in South America. The mellow-cholic 'Sleepwalking' talks of going to a new city, looking for enlightenment and disappointingly realising that you could have found it where you were; disillusionment with a commercialised world where there is no room for spirit.
by Robert Greening © 1999.
Photography By Simon Stettner.