During the 1980s, when Soda Stereo and Andrés Calamaro’s now ubiquitous stadium rock anthems were Argentina’s biggest cultural exports, an equally fertile electronic underground was brewing in dimly lit clubs around the country. Síntesis Moderna: An Alternative Vision Of Argentinian Music 1980-1990, the latest compilation from Soundway Records, captures a kaleidoscopic landscape of Italo disco, proto-techno, and loungy ambient sounds that flourished parallel—if less visible—to the era’s guitar-driven zeitgeist. Released on digital download and special edition triple vinyl, the compilation explores how the rise of the synthesizer and a new frontier of musical craft intersected with Argentina’s political and economic metamorphosis following the Falklands War and the fall of Jorge Rafael Videla’s brutal military dictatorship.
Ric Piccolo and Ariel Harari, the DJs and producers behind the exhaustively researched compilation, hone in on the theme of transition from the start. Síntesis Moderna opens with Carlos Cutaia‘s “Operativo,” a spectral, almost-industrial cut channeling the paranoid mind state of avant-garde artists creating under a repressive regime’s menacing eye. We then jump to El Signo’s “Dimensiones Ocultas,” emerging from the nightclub’s darkest crevices and onto the dance floor with layered blasts of synthesized bass and crashing percussion reminiscent of an Information Society B-side.
In fact, while few of these tracks directly reference external influences—with a notable exception in The Originals’ “Vamos A La Playa,” which reimagines Righeira’s Italo disco classic of the same name—here are unmistakable echoes of electronic pioneers from around the globe. The absurdist synths and “sexy lady” narration of Abaddon’s “No Es Computable” could be easily mistaken for a translated Devo single, while the elegant ambient meditations of Jorge Alfano’s “Fuego” immediately recall Vangelis’ soothing intergalactic journeys. The compilation also showcases popular Argentine stars moonlighting as sonic experimentalists, like actress and comedian Divina Gloria’s Latin-freestyle flavored “Mediterranée Club,” or pop rock icon Fito Paez dropping in on Los Músicos del Centro’s exploratory “Esquirlas.”
Historic and geographic significance reverberate through Síntesis Moderna. Look to Jorge López Ruiz’s “De Mamá Candombe” for a swirling collage of jazz fusion and Afro-diasporic percussive traditions absorbed from Brazil over centuries of cultural osmosis. Meanwhile, cuts like Toby’s “Ain’t That Better” and Delight’s “I Wanna Make You Mine” ground resilient defiance in the hedonistic spirit of disco, directly challenging the dictatorship’s ban on English-language entertainment imposed during the Falklands War. And this is just the tip of the obelisco: the compilation is stacked with 19 visionary deep cuts that invite the listener to consider time, place, and process as part of the listening experience, while others, like Gaita’s kraut-esque “Mueve Tu Cuerpo,” humbly ask that you surrender to dance.