¡El Gran Espectáculo!
LOS SUPER ELEGANTES MADE THEIR musical debut in Los Angeles in September 1998 in a theatrically vibrant blur of thrash-mariachi, psychedelic distortion, histrionic vocals, performance art, punk rock, surrealism, Mexican telenovelas and five-dollar-store fashions. But they'd already been causing a stir around town, making grand entrances, impromptu nonmusical performances and sweeping exits at all manner of social gatherings.
The first time many scenesters laid eyes on Milena Muzquiz (vocals and trumpet) and Martiniano Lopez-Crozet (vocals and accordion) was last spring, at a late-night house party in Los Feliz. Milena -- tall, slender and cool, her thick, dark hair piled in a casually sloppy bun -- wore a '70s shirt and high-waisted, flowing Lucy Ricardo pants. Martiniano looked like a tough 1940s Latino prizefighter, with flashing eyes and a dazzling smile. Both of them were running around the room introducing themselves, telling everybody they were from Mexico City and in a band. There was some Eurotrash disco-pop blaring on the stereo, and, simultaneously, the pair came together and launched into an offhandedly elegant faux-Apache dance, with bits of jitterbug, tango and the Hustle mixed in. Though the crowd was grooving to the music, after a while they all stopped dancing and stared as Marti led Milena through dips and whirls that almost seemed choreographed.
Later that night, the duo drafted exExtra Fancy bassist D.A. Foster as their guitar player. Milena and Martiniano were just about to do a couple of acoustic shows, but they wanted a full band. They hooked up with two more highly esteemed Silver Lake musicians -- bassist Bill Tutton (of the Geraldine Fibbers and Glue, among others) and, through Tutton and Foster, Slim Evans, who'd most recently been playing with El Vez.
But that, too, is by no means the beginning of Los Super Elegantes' story. The pair hooked up in San Francisco in 1992, when Marti was studying filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute and Milena was attending California College of Arts and Crafts (she's currently a graduate student at Art Center). They collaborated on videos and began examining the possibilities of putting a group together, busking as a duo at BART stations, playing at parties with pickup groups of musicians who played everything from trombone to keyboards. Eventually, it turned into a band.
Early shows were more visually than musically oriented, with themes running from Japanese opera (complete with kimonos) to satires of GalaVision game shows. "We had concepts for shows, and we'd really stick to them --" Martiniano says as Milena finishes his sentence, "-- like one show, we played wild punk rock with all of us sitting down on a couch, looking completely bored!"
In search of greener pastures and a record deal, the band relocated to Mexico City, where they signed with BMG and released their CD Devoráme in 1997. "Mexico City was great for us," Martiniano says. "The aesthetics are really defined there, the uniforms of maids, soldiers, nurses . . . the colors, the architecture, the kitsch aspect of everything."
"And the music!" adds Milena. "The church music, of course, but also all the romantic music. It really is a huge influence to us." She describes with rapture the mutual obsession they share for the cheesy pop histrionics of artists like Juan Gabriel, Julio Iglesias and especially José José.
The deal with BMG, however, wasn't turning out to be so hot. "They didn't know what to do with us," Milena recalls. "Hip-hop and techno were just hitting Mexico at that time, and they didn't know how to handle us playing this hybrid of punk and traditional music."
Undaunted, Los Super Elegantes extricated themselves from the contract, continued making videos to their original songs, produced five segments of their own soap opera (portentously called Hollywood) for TV Azteca, then moved to Los Angeles. Before getting the band cooking in L.A., they toyed around with live theater, presenting a play called Pietro and Paolo, based on Fellini's Nights of Cabiria.
"It was great," Martiniano says, "taking an hour-and-a-half-long movie and condensing it into 30 minutes of action-packed stage show."
As the band got under way here, they rehearsed frequently and did well-received, wild shows at places like Spaceland, the Garage, the Silverlake Lounge and Al's Bar. But the pair was bursting with creative energy, and side projects abounded. At Steve Moramarco's Silver Lake studio, they recorded Casio-driven, cartoony tracks for a variety cable show they have in mind; kind of a cross between Super Sloppy Double Dare and Candid Camera, it'll be called Pompis and Bon Bon (Butts and Chocolate).
RIGHT NOW, LOS SUPER ELEGANTES ARE in the midst of recording a brand-new four-song demo and trying to get signed in America. They're doing video work, of course, planning a two-week tour of France for June, and working on a condensed stage version of Miss Saigon.
"But we need to find a really big space," Martiniano says, deadly serious.
"Yeah," says Milena, "because the helicopter scene is really important."
Los Super Elegantes appear at Mr. T's Bowl on Friday, April 23, and at Sucker at the Garage on Sunday, April 25.
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