There are 1,000 screaming fans in a small warehouse that fits maybe only half the people. Everyone is singing every song like a huge creature with many voices. The place is so packed that you can see sweat drops condensing and dripping of the old rusted metal ceiling.
The combination of the colored lights, the screaming girls, the howling boys, the drinks, and the music, creates an atmosphere that’s frightening, chaotic and exhilarating. You can hear the crowd from miles away and you can feel the energy from the streets outside. It’s not London………..it’s not Sunset Strip…………it’s downtown Guatemala City, and the walls at an abandoned warehouse are shaking to the sound of Viernes Verde, a local rock band playing that night.
At a first glimpse of the concert, one would think that Guatemala has a prolific music movement and industry that is capable of sustaining many rock bands and allowing these artists to live off their music. The thought actually can’t be farther from the truth. The country has more than a thousand bands playing everywhere around the city, but maybe only three or four can honestly say they live off their music.
This is mainly because Guatemala, although it is a beautiful country, it is plagued with corruption, violence and poverty like every other third world country. This means that no one is investing or creating a music industry, no one is buying or downloading Guatemalan music and therefore, kids starting a band can only do this if they come from wealthy families who can pay for their instruments and support the hobby of a rock band.
However, this trend has helped create a generation of musicians and rock bands in Guatemala that have been able to capture an audience, develop a market and live off their music in an inhospitable country for artists.
Anyone can start a rock band in a big city and make it with a record deal or hitting the radios or being discovered by a talent scout. Not in Guatemala. There is no such thing as a record label, a management agency or a rock radio station. This has forced bands to promote themselves via concerts, the internet and all sorts of underground media.
The result is the spawn of an entire generation of fans that follow a few rock bands to the end of the world, because their love for those bands comes from a different place, a genuine place, a place without a radio station or heavy promotion and commercialization.
These kids don’t love the band because they’re forced to listen to them on the radio or because they see them on MTV. This is a cult following that grows because the bands they follow are talented, different and speak the reality of this generation of kids. It does so like only essential rock n roll is able to reach an audience.
The band’s popularity grows mouth to mouth, email to email, friend to friend, or through social web communities like myspace, facebook or hi5 simply because they’re awesome. These bands don’t need a music industry, a radio station or a record label. They just grow by pure love of the music, talent, and hard work.
However, all growth comes slowly, and many bands while starting strong fade into oblivion when their band members reach the crucial age of 21-25, and daddy can’t afford to maintain the hobby, and the kids grow up and life starts to crawl up their backs with responsibility.
Many bands struggle and disappear during this period anywhere in the world, but in a place like Guatemala, where being a musician is frowned upon, where people are thinking more in how to survive rather than spend money on a concert, and where a musician doesn’t stand a big chance of prosperity; band members simply fade into a huge mass of bodies that walk around the city in a big hurry to get nowhere. It is easier to become a hired hand than a dream pursuing artist.
In the end, making it as a rock band in a place like Guatemala is harder than making it anywhere else. Despite all this, the few bands that make it have something going for them different than any other band in the world. Guatemalan bands have triumphed where no one else is supposed to triumph.
They are heard where no one wants to listen, and therefore the fans they make along the way are hardcore fans. They are cult followers that understand and back up the band under any circumstance. That is why even though Guatemala is a third world country, Guatemalan rock music is one of the most important creative expressions in Central America.