Photo: Viniloversus

Nostalgia for a Broken City

Venezuelan rock band Viniloversus just released a live album that took me to the brief, precious time when Caracas had a true alternative music scene, just before the collapse

 

I came along from a broken city, you will know it if you see one 
Viniloversus, “Broken Cities”

 

Next month will mark two years since I moved from Caracas to Madrid. A lot has happened in Spain, in Venezuela, in the world and in my life since then. A pandemic, a couple of elections, and of course Venezuela had one of its largest rock festivals in years. One of the bands that played at the now-famous Cúsica Fest, in December 2019, was Viniloversus, and part of that presentation is recorded in their new live album, simply titled: “En vivo”.

This isn’t meant to be a review of the album, although it’s a great live record and a great introduction to the band’s work. For me, what’s more interesting in that live album is that it transmits the feeling of being back at the Alfredo Sadel Sq. listening to their music, or one of their contemporaries, like La Vida Boheme, Los Mesoneros, Charliepapa or Rawayana. 

Various writers, including Alejandro Fernández Riera, former editor of Cochino Pop, have talked about Venezuela’s alternative music Golden Lustrum, a period that goes roughly from 2009 to 2014. It was the time when records like La Vida Boheme’s Nuestra, Viniloversus’ own Si no nos mata and Americana’s La fiesta del rey drama were released. When festivals like Por el medio de la calle and the Union Rock Show Cycles got alternative bands to play for free in many public squares. There were also a myriad of live music bars in Las Mercedes and Chacao, like El Teatro Bar, La Quinta and Discovery Bar. 

Venezuelan rock became part of our diaspora, and while you can catch a show by many groups at your local bar, and a few of them have even made it to the lineup of international festivals, it’s not the same as being in la Sadel screaming your heart out.

Sure, it was mostly a middle-class thing. A quote usually attributed to Reinaldo Goitía, better known as Boston Rex, the iconic frontman of the band Tomates Fritos, goes: “El rock no sube a los barrios.” But at the same time there were a bunch of kids, like me, who found their place in a country that was already dealing with an economic crisis and at that point the most dangerous city in South America. When Henry D’Arthenay from La Vida Boheme sang “Esta es nuestra fiesta”, it meant a lot. 

Sadly, like most good things that happen in Venezuela, the eternal crisis and chavismo made it come to an end. Most of the bands have left the country, Viniloversus is divided between Mexico and Miami, and others have broken apart. Venezuelan rock became part of our diaspora, and while you can catch a show by many groups at your local bar, and a few of them have even made it to the lineup of international festivals, it’s not the same as being in la Sadel screaming your heart out.

Considering that, it’s amazing how the live record from Viniloversus captures all those emotions. Most of it was recorded at Alfredo Sadel Sq. in 2016 but some tracks were recorded during other shows, including Cúsica Fest in 2019, all of them after they had moved away. But when they go back home, you can feel the same electricity, and that’s the most surprising part.

I think the most impressive song in the live album is “Broken Cities”, a song about trying to explain to someone outside of Venezuela what being from there feels like. It’s not just that everyone sings it, it’s that Rodrigo Gonsalves, the band’s singer, sounds like he’s finally singing that song in a place that “gets it”.

Listening to it from Madrid, the record feels different, it hurts a little. It sends you back to a time and place that isn’t going to exist again. It’s nostalgia for a moment in Caracas and Venezuela where poverty and violence were already impossible to ignore, but at the same time some of us found our own cultural movement, and it’s hard not to miss that.