Had the American presidential election gone differently two weeks ago, Corona Capital’s seventh edition in Mexico City would have looked and felt a lot differently. Visiting from America could have focused on the incredible booking, the differences between foreign and domestic audiences, and how the event uses vast corporate sponsorship to its advantage. All those are still interesting, but when the president elect has won the office on a platform that promised a wall between the US and Mexico and characterized the country’s people as largely criminals, a visit to its most populous and culturally rich city takes a different form.
It was obvious that the performers felt this. As some of the first post-election ambassadors from the US, artists ranging from Band of Horses to Eagles of Death Metal used their platform to preach a message of love and respect to their southern neighbors. There was no sense of deflecting responsibility for the election results or apologizing on behalf of Trump. Rather, many performers wanted the people to know that many Americans disagree with the rhetoric of Trump, and regardless of the administrations stance, will not stop being vocal in their dissent.
And whether the wall of Trump turns out to be a physical one or an ideological one, it’s important to remember that walls work both ways. While the idea may be to keep out people thought to be undesirable to certain Americans, it could also function to isolate the United States from a culture that is already so influential and an integral part of America. Likewise, the idea of a wall could function to keep Americans out of Mexico, with the American musicians that play an event like Corona Capital finding a more difficult time coming over. In truth, we don’t know how American/Mexican relations will change under Trump, but none of the Americans that performed or attended Corona Capital could have left the country with anything but the highest esteem.
No other Mexican festival draws the attention of foreigners like Corona Capital, primarily because the bill isn’t just appealing to locals. By lining up unique billings like Mark Ronson vs Kevin Parker and solid gets like Kraftwerk, Air, Pet Shop Boys, and Suede, the festival does what most festivals strive to: present a docket that is one of a kind and an identity that no other gathering replicates. In the US, this has become an increasing problem, and it might just speak to differing cultural tastes that the lineup of Corona Capital could look so different than domestic fests.
Namely, the people that want to see Suede and Pet Shop Boys in concert in the US don’t have a huge overlap with who festivals are designed for. But in Mexico, they are one in the same, creating an environment that sees the attendees passionate about the music. The fashion parade of American fests simply wasn’t present. Crowd members weren’t getting pulled out due to partying too hard. In broad comparison to comparable US festivals, Corona Capital made our audiences seem like amateurs, with the fans generally more engaged and more responsible.
And while Lollapalooza annually shows us the benefits of corporate sponsorships at festivals, Corona Capital takes that to another level. Be it in the form of games, viewing areas, or art installations, the vast majority of what there was to see and do at Corona Capital came with a Ray Ban or a Doritos or, obviously, a Corona logo prominently displayed. Some may find this distasteful, but when it gives the event the money to make people comfortable and more visual stimulation for the audience, maybe it is something more festivals should embrace. Every festival has some level of a corporate installation. But at least at Corona Capital, they were all huge and innovative. So many other festivals are happy just giving sponsors booths that offer little to the festival atmosphere. And by coupling the installations with a number of painted murals celebrating David Bowie and Prince, Corona Capital displayed just how vibrant a festival can look on someone else’s dime.
In all, Corona Capital achieved its goal at reaching beyond Mexico, earning its title as one of the world’s premiere events. Maybe it was the fact that a number of the artists on the bill were concluding their tour at the festival or maybe it’s that these artists don’t perform in Mexico as often as they perform stateside, but it was obvious that it wasn’t just another show for these acts. It made Corona Capital special, the hope for any event of this size.
Click ahead to check out our Top 10 performances from Corona Capital 2016.
While Lana Del Rey drew a large portion of Corona Capital’s audience to the other end of Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the chance to see Kraftwerk bring their 3D set to a festival was hard to pass up. Fortunately, Mexico City has not regulated synthesizer music like other countries. The Kraftwerk set was not without its share of hiccups, but after decades behind the boards, the band was well equipped to deal with the technical issues. “The robots need to be reprogrammed,” the band declared with German accents, later brushing off the slow start as “the robots needing time to warm up.” Once Kraftwerk got going, it was a joy to see a huge audience donning 3D glasses and grooving to one of the most influential bands of the electronic genre. And the festival showed them that due respect. Despite losing 10 minutes to tech issues, they were still given their full set time, meaning the event didn’t end til close to 2 am. Fortunately, Monday is a Mexican holiday. How’s that for some solid planning?
Courtney Barnett has slowed down after a massive couple of years touring behind her breakthrough debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, making Mexico City one of the last times to check her out before she returns with a new album. But what’s really remarkable about Barnett is how fresh her live show remains. Visuals for her sets are consistently refined and honed, while Barnett is always seeming more comfortable in her role as a rock star. She’s now commanding set times after dark, but even at her hardest hitting tunes “Pedestrian at Best” or “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party”, her smile doesn’t need the daylight to shine brightly. The looks she shares with her band as they jam out the songs are that of a trio that’s still having fun with this set, and at a festival so steeped in rock music, it went over perfectly.
Even though their long-awaited second album remains ahead of them, Haim has spent the second half of 2016 playing festivals and debuting new tunes, to the point that it feels like they are supporting something. It’s also to the point that if you’ve seen them a few times, you know the script. It’s plotted out more like a pop performance than a rock show, which works great for the band since they skirt that line. There’s Este’s spirited Prince cover and the way she shouts out whatever city she’s in at the peak of “Don’t Save Me”. But repeat viewings also allow for appreciation of the subtleties. Best on this night was when Danielle removed her leather jacket, to reveal a white top. Suddenly, when viewed in line with her sisters, it was clear that the three formed a Mexican flag, with Alana in green and Este in red. Every aspect of a Haim show is given careful consideration, offering hope that their sophomore effort will also be treated similarly.
Eagles of Death Metal
“We’ve seen a lot of weird shit over the last year,” Jesse Hughes proclaimed early into Eagles of Death Metal’s set on Sunday evening, making the understatement of his lifetime. And now that we’re a little more than a year past the incident at the Bataclan that saw 90 people lose their life, Hughes has alternated between sympathetic to questionable as his words and actions following the massacre have been controversial. But all of that aside, Hughes is still adored by fans, and that held particularly true in Mexico. Hughes sported a jacket that said “Mexico is the Shit” across the back and he promised his audience that he’d make his way out to see them at some point. By the end of the show, he fulfilled his word, delivering “Speaking in Tongues” from the guardrail. In an most astute observation, Hughes commented that the band have done nothing but walk around on the streets of Mexico City since they got into town. “We feel safer here than we have in a long time,” he said, laying to rest any unfair stigmas that get cast on the city. “And for a band that’s been through what we have, that means a lot to us.”
Pet Shop Boys
From the top to the bottom of Corona Capital’s lineup, there were acts that you just don’t see on American equivalents. Richard Ashcroft. Fischerspooner. Dashboard Confessional. But none were given quite the spotlight as Pet Shop Boys, locked in for an hour and 45 minutes right ahead of The Killers on Saturday night. While the duo appeals to a more mature audience statewide, it seems like Mexicans are issued their discography at birth. Even better, though, the pair proved deserving of a massive, devoted audience. From their robotic stage ensemble to an impressive stage show that included lasers, dramatic visuals, and even costume changes, it was a performance worthy of headlining status, encore included, in a place they could still command it. And for the uninitiated foreigners (ahem, me), cuts “West End Girls”, “The Pop Kids”, and “It’s a Sin” were a crash course in a wildly under-appreciated band.
Living in Los Angeles, it’s clear when certain bands appeal to the Latino population. And of the bands to emerge in the last several years, Warpaint fits that bill. So it’s not surprising that their audience in Mexico City was louder and more devoted than even their hometown crowds, making for a definitive set from the band. Although they’ve been as lively as ever touring behind this year’s Heads Up, this was something different. Maybe it was the decision to place co-leads Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman next to each other rather than across the stage like usual, but it made for more interplay and a greater chemistry.
Kokal rode this wave of good feeling to sing “Undertow” from the top of the front stage speakers. She got so wrapped up in the song that she fell off, only to wind up singing from the barricade, hardly missing a beat and making the maneuver seem like it was part of the script. She returned to the stage with a huge smile, with no scare going to sour the group’s good time. The amount of fun Warpaint have been having of late on stage is a wonderful foil for their evocative songs, and that’s what’s taken this run to the next level. In Mexico, the audience matched the band’s grand gestures, and it was marvelous to witness.
“This is the last show of the tour,” James Murphy announced early into LCD Soundsystem‘s festival closing set. And damn, what a tour it has been. About a year ago, news surfaced that the reunion was imminent, and throughout 2016, venues both big and small have reveled in the return of one of our best institutions. Who cares why they came back. The music world is better with them around. And though their own Mexican music festival, Beach Vibes, slotted for this January had to be cancelled, Murphy assured the audience that they hadn’t seen the last of them. “We’ll be back next year or something, it’s no big deal,” he said, releasing the end of the tour of any greater significance.
Otherwise, the set was notable for a couple quirks. Murphy entered the stage wearing an oxygen mask, which he’d use between songs, likely counteracting the effects of the elevation (Mexico City sits over 7,000 feet above sea level, more than 2,000 feet higher than Denver). Murphy was also delighted to be sharing the grounds with Kraftwerk, a band he noted is very important to the LCD sound. But maybe coolest was just watching the Mexican audience dance their hearts out. Sure, there have been some enthusiastic American crowds, but from the front to the back, the Corona Capital fans moved with purpose. When you can feel the concrete shaking, you know something is right.
Band of Horses
It feels true to say that the artists smile bigger in Mexico, but that is even amplified in the case of Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell, who is just about the happiest person on the planet when he’s performing. “There’s so fucking many of you,” he exclaimed after opener “Casual Party”, reciprocating the love by learning how to say “is there a ghost in my house” in Spanish.
“You know most of us in America love the hell out of you guys, don’t listen to what that motherfucker says,” Bridwell passionately informed the audience. “We sure as hell won’t.”
Bridwell rocked so hard it knocked off his truckers cap, his performance matching the passion of his words and his big grinning face. No other performer at Corona Capital wanted the Mexican audience to feel love from America like Bridwell, and when he dedicated “No One’s Gonna Love You” to the audience, the crowd had to feel the affection.
Tegan and Sara
Some things don’t get lost in translation, and the charms of Tegan and Sara could top that list. Visiting Mexico City for their third time, Tegan was quickly amazed by some of Corona Capital’s quirks, like the vendors with trays of drinks making their way through the audience or the brisk weather.
But the music of the band went over just as well as their personality. Opener “Back in Your Head” was remarkable in how many people sang along, while even newbie “Stop Desire” was received like the pop hit it’s destined to be. Bras and hats flew on stage, while a sign proudly asked the pair to come back to Mexico soon.
Sara even used the appearance to appeal to the Mexican crowd on a political level: “I know you’re Mexican and we’re Canadian, but this goes out to anyone who is mortified and scared that Donald Trump was just elected the American president.” It earned a sturdy sign of approval, a reminder of just how impactful the actions of our country are on the world.
Mark Ronson vs Kevin Parker
Everyone wants festivals to get more creative with their booking, so when Corona Capital offered up a billing of Mark Ronson vs Kevin Parker, hearts leaped with joy. No one even knew exactly what it would be, it just sounded cool. And fortunately, it did not disappoint. Sure, it played like a goofy DJ set, but when do you get to see two of music’s most distinct craftsmen have a blast and showcase what they dig? It’s something genuinely special.
Selections bounced from their own originals (“The Less I Know the Better”) to earnest party starters (“King Kunta”), but even better than the dance tunes was watching the pair grapple with their new duties. Ronson embraced his roll as hypeman, taking the mic to bellow his most earnest “are you ready to party Mexico City” and, I swear to god, “let me see your Wu Tang W’s.” It’s good that Ronson handled crowd work because Parker could never pull that shit off. When a giant blue balloon landed on stage, he tried to fashionably kick it off, and the damn thing popped, which was just about the most Kevin Parker thing that could have happened.
When so many sets at festivals feel scripted to some extent, this was the opposite. It was a couple music luminaries having a blast and hoping that was enough to make the crowd do the same. And, it was.
Click ahead for our complete photo gallery…
Photographer: Philip Cosores