For almost two decades now, Buh Records has been shining a spotlight on the margins of Latin American music both past and present. Label runner Luis Alvarado has worked indefatigably to excavate and release a wealth of experimental music in danger of being lost to time—a project which grew organically out of his ongoing commitment to contemporary scenes in Lima and beyond. The Peru-focused Sounds Essentials collection is a robust example of Buh’s archival mission: ranging from the work of electroacoustic pioneers in the ’60s and ’70s to the gritty punk and noise of ’80s and ’90s underground movements, the scope of the series shows that Buh isn’t just filling holes in the history of Peruvian experimental music, but is actively participating in the creation of such a history.
Síntomas de techno, the latest Sounds Essentials volume, covers a period of transition between Peru’s rock subterráneo (underground rock) of the mid-’80s and the various local electronic music scenes that consolidated during the ’90s. The shadow of rock and punk looms large over this compilation, just as it did over many synth-pop and industrial groups in Europe at the time; in the Peru scene’s early days, the post-punk kids and the synth tinkerers all played the same shows. “La Gran Masa” is a hardcore scorcher arranged for synthesizer and drum machine—it even has breakdowns with rapid drum fills that pop off, despite technical limitation. The motorik beat, stilted guitar, and sustained synths that open “A dónde” place it firmly in post-punk territory, but the song’s bridge has an infectious bounce that foregrounds the rudimentary electronics at play. Notably, both tracks are by projects of ex-members of Narcosis, a seminal rock subterráneo band.
Of course, the growth of “techno-pop” in Peru was as much a matter of new music as of new technology. People danced to new wave, post-punk, and EBM in Lima’s alternative clubs; they traded tapes with others from around the world, and fanzines covered acts like Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, The Human League, and D.A.F. “Martillo,” the opening track on Síntomas de techno, stands out as an industrial tour de force, grafting found metal percussion à la Einstürzende Neubauten onto a relentless mechanical rhythm as dictated by a Casiotone. It’s also easy to hear Nitzer Ebb and Front 242 in “No Nunca,” with its terse, shouted vocals and a groove grounded by an overdriven bassline, but the simple drum pattern manages to keep it punk. Only on the last few songs, with their sequenced synths and wider range of electronic timbres, do we get a glimpse of the dancefloor to come: “Y de aquí no me voy” is a bona fide synth-pop gem with delightful counterpoint between pulsing streams of sixteenth notes and a succession of synth lines, generating effortless forward movement, and the tempo and four-on-the-floor kick of “Primera secuencia” make it the most suggestive of techno proper out of all the tracks here. The stylistic diversity present on this album illustrates a scene in the process of finding itself—a scene that hadn’t yet fixed internal divisions or external boundaries. It’s why Síntomas de techno isn’t really a genre compilation, but rather, a document of people searching for genre.