Documentary filmmaker Nicolas Entel joined us to discuss his ground-breaking new Netflix docuseries Rompan Todo, in which he aims to construct a regional narrative behind the proliferation of rock music in Latin America.
“Going to a concert in Argentina is as much about experiencing the band as it is experiencing the fans.”
In December 2020, a docuseries of incredible scope was released on Netflix. Break It All, translated from the Spanish title Rompan Todo, charts the extraordinary evolution of rock across Latin America. When producer and showrunner, Nicolas Entel, was approached by Netflix for a foreign language documentary series, his idea for something that would “capture the conscience of the entire region” immediately came to mind due to his early love of the rock genre.
As a child growing up in Buenos Aires, Entel found himself impacted by older siblings of his friends who were listening to a lot of Anglophone rock. He cites KISS, The Clash and Talking Heads, as early influences, with the latter two having “deep Latin American connections”. Though his first Anglo-rock concert was to see Eric Clapton, he previously saw Los Fabulosos Cadillacs live at the age of 11. Little did he know that decades later he would be featuring his childhood heroes in this vast project.
Entel’s tastes were nonetheless broad as a child, and found himself observing people around him who would obsess over one aspect of music in a rather stereotypically fanatical way. “In Latin America, rock fans, we are a little bit like soccer fans, like football fans, fuck soccer!... meaning that in many, many cases, fans in Latin America they don’t like rock and roll, they only like one subgenre, and even more, sometimes they only like one band, and they have a relationship with their band that is very similar to a relationship with a soccer team.” He continued, “If you [went] to a Soda Stereo concert back in the day, or a Redonditos De Ricota concert in Argentina, people would be singing soccer stadium style songs, cheering in between the music insulting the other bands, which is insane! It doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
In a country that has built a reputation for its fanaticism, whether it is about political movements, religious identity, or football fandom, one might believe that the traditionally Argentine method of supporting a band is unique to that nation. However, Entel’s discovery on this journey seems to show that whilst Argentina may be a special case, they do also have a lot in common with their Latin brethren across the continent as can be seen in the documentary. He says: “Latin fans are very fanatical in general, but when it comes to almost anything Argentina has the most hardcore fans in the world. Even Jorge Valdano the soccer player [and] manager who used to play for Real Madrid used to say that one Argentine barra brava armed with one fork can probably chase away 30 English hooligans armed with guns. That’s also why so many live concerts have been recorded in Argentina.”
The likes of The Rolling Stones, U2 and AC/DC have famously recorded live DVDs at Estadio Monumental (River Plate’s stadium). The documentary features similar scenes of such carnage in the same stadium, most notably El Último Concierto which was the legendary Argentine outfit Soda Stereo’s last concert, as well as others across the continent, such as at the Avándaro Festival in Sinaloa state, Mexico.
Entel’s interest in telling stories about music in Latin America has been harnessed on previous projects such as his 2005 documentary Orquesta Típica (for the Anglophone market it is known as Tango or Death) in which he follows the fortunes of an Argentine tango band comprised of young people aiming to revive the cultural movement behind the genre after tango was suppressed by Argentine fascist juntas. Whilst rock is clearly Entel’s first musical love, his fascination with the politics behind music is also what forms a part of his understanding of Latin musical identity.
ABOVE: Entel behind the camera
Having lived in New York for 23 years, Entel demonstrated a keen interest in the prospect of one day telling the story of the Fania record label and came very close to doing so. He compares the Fania story in terms of importance to that of The Velvet Underground due to its avant-garde popularity: “To me, Fania it’s more than just Latin music, to me, Fania is… a great New York story. I consider Fania the most interesting Latino-US East Coast story. Like, in the West Coast they have César Chávez, in the East Coast we have Fania.”
Despite having the BBC on board, part of the reason the story never came to life was due to his claim that “the morons that had the rights for Fania back then were very hesitant”, something that he has not had to struggle with too much this time around. With Netflix’s backing, Entel was able to garner an unprecedented amount of music from Sony who helped him coordinate with other record labels. Entel proudly reflected on their achievements, saying: “Nobody, not even probably in the UK or the US has anybody attempted to do a documentary in which it utilises over 100 songs from so many different bands.”
Though they had problems licensing Mexican rockers Caifanes’ original music, in general they were able to obtain an immense quantity of songs, as well as archive footage that meant the documentary could cover an extraordinary scope. Sourcing archive footage of this magnitude was made even more challenging by the fact that Latin American TV stations used to reuse tapes to save money; the fact that their team managed to do so was described by Entel as a “miracle”. However, what was perhaps most impressive was not only the number of interviewees they sourced in such a short period, but also the fact they managed to speak to some of the biggest names in Latin rock. One of the key players who made this incredible feat possible was legendary producer and musician Gustavo Santaolalla’s involvement in the project as executive producer.
Entel told us that this achievement was seen as so admirable by colleagues in the music media industry due to the fact that rock stars are notoriously unreliable, with many big name radio hosts struggling to even interview one a week. Entel outlined his selection process by putting artists who had regional importance in the spotlight rather than solely national importance. This meant that artists from Central America fell to the wayside, with the greatest emphasis placed on the rock scenes in Mexico and Argentina, with some other sections featuring stories from comparatively smaller nations such as Chile and Colombia.
Entel, of course, had to cut artists if they failed to fit into the narrative of “[constructing] a Latin rock identity”. He had to be brutal in his choices, and as such, this is why heavy metal stars Riff, which featured virtuoso guitarist Pappo, had to be cut, as it simply did not fit into the timeline of the story, when around him the rock scene was predominantly focused on new wave artists. Conversely, he found himself adding people based on the responses of interviewees. For example, Miguel Mateos’ importance was laid out to him by Mexican musicians featured in the series and as such was included. Perhaps the stars of the show hailed from Mexico – Álex Lora and Javier Bátiz. Entel affectionately describes the pair as his “two favourite muppets”. He shared the sentiments of many viewers, saying: “They are amazing, you want to snuggle with them. They are so sweet.”
The Mexican rock scene was somewhat unknown to Entel before this project, but his admiration of it grew as time went along, perhaps breaking down the walls of mindless patriotism that exists in the modern era. He even stated that he finds the mix between trap and regional Mexican music that is popular today “fascinating”. Not only did Break It All provide its audience with an array of incredible music that they may not previously have known about, it also provided deep insight into the politics of a continent. One such story that illustrates this was the tale of Victor Jara amidst the backdrop of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.
Politics is at the heart of the documentary, which comes as no surprise when one considers that Entel was attracted to the world of politics during his adolescence. He was involved in activism and protests as a youngster which is commonplace amongst the youth of many Latin countries due to the more radical nature of their politics. Entel shared his hypothesis with us that bad governance in Latin America has much graver consequences for the population than it does in the United States or Western Europe. He contemplated that, “while in a third world country, if the prime minister farts, we all get diarrhoea.”
The documentary features an interview with singer Celeste Carballo who shared with the audience her view as to why countries like Argentina are not famed for their great vocalists but rather for their lyricists. Entel mused: “She thinks that’s something we inherited from tango, because tango had a lot of great poets, and rock n’ roll in Argentina fed off that in terms of the lyrics being important to our audiences.” He went on to ponder: “The relationship that we were talking about with that kind of fandom is because we sing those lyrics aloud at a volume that is not seen in the [States]… If I was singing at Madison Square Garden in New York at the same volume I would be singing at a Redonditos De Ricota concert in Buenos Aires, those sitting next to me would be really pissed off and they would ask me to shut up, because they feel like I am ruining their experience. While in Argentina, singing along is part of the experience.”
The documentary has received a widely positive reaction in both Latin America and the rest of the world. That said, the reaction in those markets included some differing appraisals and criticisms that Entel responded to. Viewers outside Latin America were amazed to discover the wealth of musical talent in the Latin rock scene that they had never previously heard before. However, there was a slightly unique reaction from audiences from Spain due to the fact that they felt like they were in a special position to critique the documentary due to their pride over a perceived influence in Latin American culture. Yet, Entel was quick to point out that the influence of their former colonisers on the region is merely a linguistic one these days, and that actually there is perhaps a greater influence that exists in the reverse direction from Latin America.
There are Latin musicians featured in the documentary who had a vast influence on the Spanish rock scene, first seen with Mexican rockers Los Teen Tops, who remained uncensored under Franco’s dictatorship due to the fact they were singing in Spanish, and then Moris in the 1970s. “It is often said that it was the Argentines who taught the Spaniards how to sing rock in Spanish.” However, Entel recognises that there was a “beautiful boomerang of influences” as Spanish bands such as Mecano, Nacha Pop, and Radio Futura were an integral part of the Latin rock story, as they revived rock, particularly in Mexico, at a time when their dictatorship would not allow the genre to flourish.
LEFT: Legend of Argentine rock Charly Garcia
RIGHT: Alternative Mexican stars Café Tacvba
Some criticism levelled at the show felt unfair in Entel’s eyes; he tells the story of one journalist from El País who criticised the documentary makers for not including artists who had little to do with the Latin rock narrative. He joked “the thing with a lots of journalists is I feel like they masturbate in front of the mirror, so when they write reviews about our documentary, they are not trying to review our documentary, they are trying to prove that they know more about the body of acknowledgement and research, combining many, many brains, journalists, filmmakers, musicians that went into our work”.
Perhaps the most troubling critical voice for Entel were those both inside and outside of the continent who were frustrated by the lack of female representation in the series. He responded to these dissenting voices by saying that “there was no way we would have won that battle because you have two choices, you tell the truth and you put very few, or you lie and you give more importance than they had to a bunch of people that were not important, in order to balance it”. As such, the unfortunate lack of women in the documentary was a reflection of a male-dominated and sexist scene, which Entel remains unsure as to whether it mirrored Latin American machismo or if rock was particularly chauvinistic. In the documentary, Andrea Echeverri from the Colombian outfit Aterciopelados recounts a story of being on site at a gig with about a hundred men working onstage and backstage, with her and a “gringa” stage manager as the only women. She not only stated that this was "the story of [her] life" for a long time, she also said that she would lock herself in her bedroom upon seeing the men becoming animalistic, implying that she was afraid of being assaulted or raped.
The final episode of Break It All does attempt to reflect the role of women in the modern era, featuring female artists such as Julieta Venegas, Ely Guerra and Bomba Estereo vocalist Li Saumet. Whilst the documentary does try to address the hopeful zest that exists among Latin women today, it does feel slightly undermined by the flurry of rock stars who go on to make the point that rock is either dead or hibernating. Whilst it might be true to say that the era of rock that many of the featured male artists participated in may no longer be mainstream, the suggestion that rock as a genre is dead is in some respects preposterous. For rock to be convincing, rockers often need to have an honest, anti-establishment narrative that they really believe in. Therefore, we perceive the future of rock to be with women who can tap into that vein more authentically, a view also shared by some of Break It All's younger interviewees.
Latin America is undergoing a huge wave of modernisation in many parts, however, due to the continent’s strong links to the Catholic Church there are significant opposing voices to a growing feminist movement. Whilst female representation within the Latin music industry has been on the rise, particularly in genres such as cumbia, there is debate to suggest that they still remain sexist genres like rock. Entel says: “In reggaeton, they're still singing about the size of somebody's ass, and how they shake it, so I don't have a right answer for you.” Nevertheless, Entel is buoyed by the recent decision to decriminalise abortion in Argentina, as well as other equal rights legislation that has come into play, such as the law that enforces 50% female representation in their congress.
Moreover, Entel has definitely achieved his task to make a smart and popular project that the masses can appreciate and learn from. In a year of much global misery, there are some silver linings. One of which is that a project like this would never have been possible in a previous era. This is partially due to the Netflix backing who emphasise the importance of appealing to an international market, but also the age of the artists featured. Entel joyfully reflected: “One of the reasons why I wanted to do this documentary now is because 95% of Latin American rock stars are still alive and that's not going to be the case ten years from now.”
“The other thing that was great is that they're already at a point in their lives in which they are no longer as annoying as rock stars and they're not so jealous about each other; they're not fighting over who is going to play last and they are finally in a place in their lives where they can talk about each other with such generosity, which gives me great pleasure to hear that.” Entel laughed to himself, “I mean, when these guys were in their 20s or 30s it would have been such a miserable experience as a filmmaker to be with a hundred of them.” Overall, the programme must be viewed as a barnstorming success as the first documentary of its kind. It intricately weaves politics, music and social struggle to tell the story of a region in a manner that is both accessible to newcomers and avid fanatics of Latin rock. It succeeds in celebrating the difference between the rock scenes in Latin American nations as well as the commonalities, educating the world about this joyous tale.