Rock en Español

You would think that in a sprawling megatropolis like the Valley of the Sun, with its high concentration of Chicano residents, some elements of modern Chicano popular music — alternative, punk rock, metal — would filter into the public consciousness at least to a nominal degree. Doesn't seem to be so, despite the proximity to Mexico and Los Angeles, where such youth culture thrives en español.

For the past two years, Los Angeles has been home to the Aztlan Fest, the largest Chicano festival in the country, with a lineup of artists ranging from pop-punk to nu-metal to hip-hop. Now approaching its third installment, a smaller version of which will visit the Valley this weekend, the Los Angeles event spans two stages and a DJ lounge, with a Lollapalooza-like peppering of vendor booths and the Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) "El Super Pocho Loco Half Time Show," where masked marauders El Hijo del Santo and Misterioso will headline a fight card like few seen north of the border.

Aztlan Fest producer Mario Cobian hopes to expand the mega-spectacle, wrestling and all, to Phoenix and other cities in future years, but for now he's feeling out the viability of such an event by throwing a mini-festival featuring some of the bands performing at the Los Angeles event. "This is our first year in Phoenix and Tucson; we're just barely starting off," he explains apologetically when we express disappointment at the lack of Lucha Libre at the Phoenix festival. "We're just hoping we can get a good turnout and try to build next year."

Logic would seem to predict success for a Chicano-focused event like Aztlan Fest in Phoenix. The Valley's Spanish-speaking and bilingual youth should jump at the chance to embrace their own subcultures, and Anglo aficionados of punk rock and hard-core can broaden their perspectives at the same time. "We definitely cross the lines," Cobian says. "Most of the bands are multiracial; I think they will get a good cross-audience because we have bands like Audio Karate, which usually tends to draw about half-Anglo and half-Chicano crowds, then you have bands like Garrobos from Mexico who are going to draw the more recent immigrant type of crowd. . . . We have bands that sing in English, bands that sing in Spanish, and the genres are different — we've got from alternative to punk to metal."

Headlining the Phoenix date is Union 13, a hard-core outfit from East L.A. that's on über-punk rock label Epitaph Records and likely will draw a substantial gringo audience. Also confirmed on the bill are Garrobos, a thrash-metal band from Mexico City; Audio Karate, Californian pop-punkers who record for the Vandals' Kung Fu Records; and Epidemia, a Modesto outfit that kicks out sociopolitical nu-metal en español. Those frustrated that they can't attend the Los Angeles event, with its 25-plus bands, will have to await the Aztlan Fest 2002 Tour Compilation, soon out on L.A. indie label SourPOP Records.