Mexico city’s Oscura scene (MCOS) has become one of the strongest Mexican urban cultures due to the amount of musical, literary and artistic works produced every year. How does this came to be? As many cultural processes there is a consensus that establishes a date of birth, this one is settled in1994 with the first visit of London After Midnight to Mexico city. Back then it wasn’t called MCOS. As a matter of fact, it didn’t have a proper name. We endlessly and (maybe) uselessly discussed if the correct term we should use was “Dark” (yes, in English) or Gótica (yes, in Spanish). As years went by “Dark” became “Darks”, and “Gótica” turned into “Gothic” (yes, now in English) and finally into” Goth” (still in English), by then the discussion ended but suddenly Post Punk made an appearance. Perhaps we all were tired of trying to find a “pure”, “true”, “honest”, yada, yada, yada term and we all agreed on MCOS since it conveyed the many genres, terms, discourses and attitudes related with what we, in Mexico City, understood as our scene.
And before ’94?… Well, we haven’t agreed on that, but when I began chatting with Ken about MCOS he mentioned the term “proto-Goth”; I found it very imaginative and accurate so I decided to steal it from him (hehehe) and establish two proto Goth ages. The late one 1987-1993, and the early one 1979-1986. Of course, the “mascara traces” (paraphrasing Grail Marcus’ book) can be followed up to 1973, but of course they weren’t as “dark” as they became in ’93 nor in ’79.
Mexican rock history is a complex one, in the sense that there hasn’t been a direct line of development. Local bands haven’t been able to establish such a line therefore a proper domestic scene or genre is absent. As a matter of fact our rock has had many, many bumps, cracks and blurs among many other things. Most of Mexican rock and roll, twist, psychedelic rock, progressive rock, punk, new wave, techno-pop, grunge are derivative of what we knew, through mass media, of what was going on in England and the US whether we talk about mainstream or semi-mainstream musical expressions. We even had our Brit Pop scene!!! This is still happening.. Of course, It is common that most of the acts that jump on someone else’s train vanish once the trend passes, or others change style (according to the new musical fad); but sometimes, this acts generate a scene that remains and flourishes strongly. This was the case of MCOS.
It is fair to say that the first pulse of MCOS was known as “Dark”. It became a mainstream word and trend in Mexico City in the second half of the eighties, but it was just that: a trend, not a scene, not a movement, nothing like that. It didn’t had a discourse. People having fun (nothing wrong with that) following a fad. Of course, there were some people with the insight of what was happening in the US, England, and Germany, but those were the initiated ones. While they might have already known about Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Cure or Siouxie; and talked (years before the image broke into mainstream) about the Beggars Banquet or the 4AD labels; a more conservative audience, mainstream music consumers, might have had their first contact with the proto-goth look when they saw Alaska (the lead singer of the Spanish pop band Alaska y Dinarama) on Mexican TV. She appeared in Siempre en Domingo (a Tv show molded from The Ed Sullivan Show which became one of the most important platforms for mainstream music in Latinamerica) all dressed-up in “siniestro” style (“sinister”, that’s how they called Goth in Madrid in the first half of the eighties) generating a strong impact in the audience, some loved her and some loathed her. Her looks were very shocking for youth to imitate, moreover for regular teenager girls. Mexico was very conservative and since 1968 young cultivated culture (much more if it was rock related) represented something to be closely watched and reprehended by the state trough police or other authority agents, it was a common situation to see teenagers or young adults being frisked, beaten, picked up, detained only by wearing long hair or clothes out of the ordinary. Paradoxically, early 80’s Mexico began a process of modernization that contemplated its urban young population appearance, yet it should be a “friendly” and “healthy” appearance. An example of this friendly appearance was represented by the pop girl vocal group Flans which look were regarded as outlandish by media and massive audiences. Was it? Well, they were molded from Bananarama.
A second mainstream contact with proto Goth look might have occurred when Soda Stereo (considered by many people the most influential Argentinian band) reached Mexican hit parade (around 1986). By that time the band used to dress in black with colorful shirts, wore mascara and crepe hair; and such was its impact that many kids began to dress like them… upper-middle class kids, of course. It was with this look when the word “posmo” (short from postmodern) became the regular way to address people dressed like that.
Let’s give a little leap to the end of the decade: Disintegration came out and put The Cure everywhere, of course they were already known but when I said everywhere I’m not talking about the usual mainstream music channels, you could even hear some songs of the album as background on some soup operas or in a Mexican Navy tv advertisements, another thing to notice is that the word “posmo” was substituted by “dark” . How? Why? It is a mystery, but many people associated the look exclusively with The Cure, and above all, with Robert Smith. It didn’t matter that many other bands wore the same clothing style or the same palm tree haircut. Caifanes, one of the most important Mexican bands, which members wore a trad goth style have been called a Cure’s rip off by people with this narrow view. Caifanes has become a cornerstone for Mexican rock due to many initiatives the band has had in its career. Among many important things they generated was the fact that they made a crossover from mainstream rock and pop audience to the banda and grupero audience (banda and grupero are Regional Mexican music genres), the real Mexican mainstream. They did this by including a cumbia (a rhythm originated in Colombia that has a huge penetration in Mexico) in their repertoire. Little did they imagined that this song, ”La negra Tomasa”, was to became a milestone in Mexican music and audience, and they did it while they were still dressed in black. So, it is fair to say that they made the style reach to the most far regions of the country. Before that, many people who wore spiky hair were referred by mainstream observers as punks, because that was the only reference they had. After “La negra Tomasa” the term Dark displace Punk and even became part of our language. Mexicanisms Dictionary includes the word, not with its original morphology but with one which formerly used to be a pejorative term: Darketo. According to this Dictionary “Darketo(ta) refers to someone who dresses in black, is melancholic, with a depressive and solitaire attitude”. And that’s it, two lines to define a cultural scene. Well, they are not to blame, of course. We are talking about a massive point of view.
By the beginning of the following decade, Dark as a trend was fading away from mainstream which was ready to receive the next fad, the so called alternative music. Still, many people clinged to the remains of the trend; a few promoters and radio dj’s who were deeply in love with the bands associated with the genre and its discourse kept promoting and broadcasting classical as well as new bands productions. For us, Mexico City’s fandom, the classic bands were The Cure, Bauhaus, Siouxie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, Fields of the Nephilim, Christian Death and Dead Can Dance (among others); whereas the new bands were Love Is Colder Than Dead, In The Nursery, Attrition, Stoa, Human Drama, The Last Dance and London after Midnight (among others). What I’m trying to say is that the classic bands were listened by an audience which most of its members were not particularly related to the discourse of a proto-goth scene; most of these people also listened to Talking Heads, ABC, U2, Pink Floyd, Sting, etc. The audience that became interested in the new bands was very into them and anxious for what would come next; moreover because all those bands gave concerts in Mexico City within the first half of the decade. This audience was to establish the solid ground for what, four years latter, would became Mexico City Goth Scene. And what about Mexican obscura bands? As I mentioned at the beginning of this text, the development of the scene was not lineal and it can be traced to 1973 to some experimental rock bands like Decibel, El Queso Sagrado or Como México No Hay Dos. Many of their musical atmospheres, performance and part of their discourse had motives that years later would be recurring in the Dark Scene’; but most important, when this groups disbanded some of their members formed New Wave and Techno pop acts, such as: Size, Syntoma, Pijamas a go go, El Escuadrón del Ritmo, Silueta Pálida, Década 2 and Casino Shanghai. Bands that are now considered the seed of the MCOS. On an important note; they NEVER referred themselves as Postpunk or Synthpop. On the second half of the eighties came some other bands that flirted with the influence of the classic acts mentioned above, among them were La muerte de Euridice, Alquimia, Las Ánimas del Cuarto Oscuro and of course Caifanes. However, as I mentioned on the first lines, the hard core proto-goth bands were born by the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties. Santa Sabina, Ansia, La Concepción de la Luna and El Clan were the first line followed behind by the likes of El Cuerpo de Cristina, La Divina Comedia, Hélicon or Los Olvidados. Some of them, like Santa Sabina, La Concepción de la Luna, and above all El Clan would become landmarks of the Mexican Goth Scene once it became solidly established in ’94. Still, the acts that would represent a breakthrough for the development of the scene and its consolidation as MCOS would see the light (or should I say; the darkness) around the last five years of the past millennium.