Over the last five years of curating Viva! Pomona, one of the region’s most underrated music festivals, Rene Contreras has proven to be the best kind of music promoter.
A baby-faced Chicano with a penchant for the weird, wild and undiscovered, he spends every waking minute surrounded by a diverse spread of sounds by both emerging and established artists from across the Western hemisphere. Then, he figures out a way — regardless of the artist’s genre, festival experience or country of origin — to combine all these disparate acts into one multicultural lineup.
The two-day Viva! Pomona festival, happening this weekend, is more than just a manifestation of Contreras’ current playlist, though. It’s an ever-evolving, hard-to-define weekend of Latin, punk, hip-hop and more that’s come to reflect the street-level pulse of Southern California’s culturally diverse music scene.
This year’s lineup runs nearly 50 acts deep over two days and draws connections between up-and-coming local bands to similarly distorted punk, psych and electronic brethren that hail from places like Atlanta and Tijuana. From Mac DeMarco sound-alikes to vallenato stalwarts, here are the top acts not to miss at this year’s Viva! Pomona.
Raul and Paulina Sotomayor are an electronic sibling duo coming all the way from Mexico City to play their infectious, Latin-tinged version of global bass on day one of Viva! Pomona. Raul’s deconstructed cumbia and chicha beats buoy Paulina’s silky vocals on songs like “Morenita” and “Eléctrico,” the latter off the album Conquistador, which dropped last week. Uncontrollable hip movements are all but guaranteed.
If you want to get rowdy in a good old-fashioned punk pit, you’ll no doubt find the best one during The Coathangers’ Sunday headlining set, when the Atlanta-bred, all-female three-piece will shred and growl through their decade’s worth of foul-mouthed, fist-up anthems, which these days are addressing more adult subjects but with the same fuck-all attitude that made them modern-punk icons in the first place.
Policías y Ladrones
The music scene in Tijuana is exploding right now with its own wave of jangly guitar-pop bands who sound — like Rudy de Anda and Mac DeMarco before them — as if they’re writing carefree tunes for your summer garage party. Policías y Ladrones, playing Sunday, are on the top of that heap, experimenting with songs that are probably more familiar to frequent Smell-goers than the Tijuanenses who still thrive on more Latin sounds.
Very Be Careful
On a lineup full of genre-bending youngbloods, L.A.’s Very Be Careful stand out as longtime sticklers to a frenetic Colombian dance music called vallenato, itself a mezcla of native, European and African traditions. For the last 20 years, these L.A. transplants and Latin music veteranos have brought their raucous, hyper-speed dance parties to dive bars across the city; see them play day one of Viva! Pomona. (Yes, there will be cowbell.)
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Aww Cuco! This shy teenage romantic and former bedroom musician (born Omar Banos) only started performing (backyard shows!) last fall, but his dreamy vaporwave beats and sensitive, bilingual lyrics about love and longing already have his growing legion of young Latina fans in a tizzy. The Hawthorne native reps his Chicano roots hard by pulling from two great traditions of tenderness — Mexican balladas and American emo – creating a nuevo sonido all his own. He headlines Saturday night.
An eccentric poet full of pride for his adopted hometown of New York, Uruguayan-born Juan Wauters (he moved here at 17) is a singer-songwriter in the grand tradition of Jonathan Richman, strumming simple, slightly off melodies on his nylon string guitar and singing humorously insightful lyrics about life, love and growing the hell up. He calls his style “folk music” but not because it sounds folky. It’s music for the people, so expect lots of relatable material, and possibly a sing-along, at Wauters’ Saturday set.
If the experimental harmonies and haunting vocals of the contemporary R&B movement had an electronic-classical side, it might sound something like Sudan Archives, a solo project from L.A.-based violinist Brittney Parks. On Sudan Archives’ debut album, out now on Stones Throw, Parks loops surprising beats and textures culled from cultures around the world with her own self-taught violin melodies. She’ll re-create her songs live during her Saturday set.