CHILE: Pateando Piedras - Los Prisioneros
Updated: Apr 23
Los Prisioneros' synth-heavy rhythms are a whole lot of fun and show themselves off as phenomenal lyricists, together earning them status as legends of the Latin new wave scene
The music of Chile that I have been exposed to is somewhat unique when compared to that of most nations. Within much Chilean music, there appears to be a great reverence for both free artistic expression and the use cutting lyrics, with both of these facets seemingly predicated on Chile’s proud literary past as well as their challenging recent political history. In this sense it comes as no surprise that a band like Los Prisioneros are almost emblematic of Chilean music culture, as they marry their predecessors with the artsy experimentalism of bands like Los Jaivas with the lyrical gallantry of Victor Jara as they call out the wrongdoing they saw in society, all the while their nation was under the thumb of dictator General Augusto Pinochet.
“...it really feels like an indication that Chile was not left behind the cultural revolution that was sweeping across the British music scene in the 80s.”
Their second album, Pateando Piedras, was one which I was excited to listen to, having previously fallen in love with their riveting single We Are Sudamerican Rockers, actually released a decade after the 1986 record. I thought it would be impossible to be quite so enamoured by another Los Prisioneros track quite as much as I did the aforementioned song, but little did I know that Los Prisioneros had plenty more bangers hiding in their armoury. As such, I was totally surprised to come across songs such as Por Qué No Se Van, my favourite track, an incredibly catchy tune with a synthetic drum beat to absolutely die for. Yet, it is not only the song’s punchy ska rhythm that is to enjoy but also the lyrics inviting of Pinochet and his cronies to leave the country if they felt that the culture was not rich enough for their liking.
The potent poetry of the band is on display throughout the album, and due to the political context within which the album was produced they had to often be careful, singing in metaphors and double entendre. A good example is actually the simplicity of Exijo Ser Un Héroe, a synth-pop tune with a surf guitar riff. The unbelievable amounts of repetition of the title (which translates to ‘I need to be a hero’) in the chorus, encourages the listener to search for a deeper interpretation other than simply wanting to be famous. Perhaps the fact that singer Jorge González repeats the line so often, he is indicating to the audience that there is so much more he wants to say but feels censored by the political establishment? Perhaps becoming a hero means overthrowing the brutal regime?
Arguably the album’s magnum opus, El Baile De Los Que Sobran, is yet another belter of a tune. Another new wave inspired tune, it’s fun synth-heavy style alongside punching lyrics that lament the social inequality that existed in Chile, meant that it became an obvious anthem for the marginalised social lower classes, acting as a symbol of opposition to the establishment of the day. On the album, the band seem to have two main styles that they dip in and out of: synth-pop and new wave, however, the album is characterised less by which genre the band lean into but rather by the varying pace and beat of their songs, as well as the manipulation of González’ voice.
Though, I really adore much of this album, I must confess that I don’t really love the lead singer’s voice. The album peaks when the band sing in harmony, which fortunately for me they do often. My enjoyment sky-rockets on choruses in which the band come together and take the focus away from González for example on Independencia Cultural. There is a certain darkness that I am not fond of, not only his voice, but even sometimes within the beat. For this reason, I struggle a bit more with tracks like Estar Solo and Por Favor. However, I do not begrudge the group of this too much, as what González somewhat lacks in vocal ability he makes up for in vigour and a deft touch within his lyrics.
If there as an artist that Los Prisioneros often remind me of on Pateando Piedras, it is of course Depeche Mode. Their melodies on numerous occasions have great similarity with the trio and it really feels like an indication that Chile was not left behind the cultural revolution that was sweeping across the British music scene in the 80s. Songs like Quieren Dinero exemplify this similarity, but do so with the added bonus of the rawness of their protest sound, making their music not only entertaining but also revolutionary. A feat that even greats like Depeche Mode never quite reached.