If Salvador Dali ever made a heist movie, then Mexico’s Troker would have been the soundtrack. Their sound careens between the sublime and the dangerous, turning on a dime to switch from precise and complex to wild and free.
To do that, the six-piece group has created a blend of the composed and the improvised, where metal riffage merges with powerhouse funk drumming and DJ scratching, and horn lines pull from jazz and the mariachi tradition of the band’s homeland. The heady mix is in full effect on their new album, “Crimen Sonoro.”
“We wrote this music to be played live. The tunes connect with the audiences,” explains bassist Samo González. “Concerts are about the energy flow, taking the waves from low to high, and that ride is what we tried to capture on the album.”
“We try to make it fresh, but never obvious,” says trumpeter Gil. “Elaborate, but still simple enough to make people dance. We put odd things together and see what happens.”
After 10 years of juxtaposing pulp fiction-esque vamps and high-stakes musicianship, Troker knows what it takes to move a crowd. They began as a bar band in their hometown of Guadalajara, they learned how to get an audience on its feet, finding their voice and developing a personal, unique sound in the process.
“We’ve learned how to say what we want,” Gil observes. “We’ve played rock, we’ve played jazz. We’ve discovered who we are. We’re happy in our own skins.”
Troker got down to plotting their perfect sonic crime when they took a break at Lake Chapala, Mexico’s biggest lake, well away from Guadalajara. “It’s a very special place to us,” notes Gil. “We go there to think and write, just to get away. There’s nature all around, even if you can’t hear it when you’re playing.”
And it gave them to space to experiment, to put together different ideas to see how they worked. That’s what gave rise to Crimen Sonoro’s opening track, “Stranger,” where vicious, pinpoint metal bass riffs rub up against mambo horns.
The result is a powerhouse explosion that sucks the listener down the rabbit hole into Troker’s deliciously surreal world of “Tequila Death” and “Arsenic Lips,” all of it grounded by some very funky, in-the-pocket drumming. But, it turns out, they can play just as well without the kit.
“We performed at a festival in Los Angeles,” recalls Gil, “and we had a chance to play for some kids in Compton. When we got there, they didn’t have any drums, so we used whatever we could find – chairs, boxes, buckets, anything. And it turned out to be great. The kids saw it as doing what you could with the resources available. After that, we decided to do this kind of thing wherever we traveled and at home.”
It’s a promise they’ve kept, continuing to do workshops on the road and work with charities in their hometown. They’ve grown far beyond their bar band roots to become one of Mexico’s cultural forces. Recently Mexico’s National Arts Council asked the band to write a score for a silent film, and they selected El Automóvil Gris, made in 1919 and one of the seminal pieces of Mexican cinema.
Over the last decade, Troker has expanded from hard-gigging beginnings to shows all across Mexico, the United States, and Europe. But the band’s biggest moment came last year, when they played the legendary Glastonbury Festival in England, and it proved pivotal to “Crimen Sonoro.”
“We performed ‘Principe Charro’ for the very first time there,” recalls González. “We’d written it for the new album, and it seemed perfect. It captures what we are, but it also sound like Mexico. There’s that mariachi energy in the horns. The audience just got it, it was the best song of the show.”
“Playing there changed our lives,” Gil adds. “It was the biggest exam we could ever have had. It’s psyched us up and made us think. We learned about ourselves and everything we do.”
Troker was so successful that the festival broke its own rules and invited them back this year. “We knew we had to go higher the second time,” notes Gil. “Back home we were rushing around to complete the album. The show had to be something special, something with a twist, and we gave them ‘Crimen Sonoro!’”
They’ll try to repeat the twist at their upcoming showcase at WOMEX in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. It’s a major milestone in the bands career and the members intend to make the most of it.
“We’re playing on the last night, so we’ll have a chance to meet everyone beforehand,” says González. “We have headphones that play mp3s of our music, they don’t need to be plugged in, and we’ll give those out. We also have 150 small bottles of tequila to give to people, too. And when we get on stage, we’ll put all our energy into that 30-minute slot.”
And when Troker plays, it’s impossible not to listen.
“It’s about challenges,” muses Gil. “How do you keep people interested in what you’re doing? We’re all from very small towns, we’ve grown into music, and we’re still growing. We want everyone to listen, we want people to relate to it. To feel it. We have something to say.”
— World Music Wire