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The House of Blues was howling the night Los Lobos played. A packed and eager crowd--from young Latino college couples to middle-aged Anglo hipsters--had come to see the legendary Chicano roots-rock band perform last month at the West Hollywood club. But for one unexpected moment before the band took the stage, fans got a rare glimpse of the percolating promise of the Latin alternative music scene in Southern California. Quetzal, the fine Chicano fusion band from East L. The correct year was Many fans might have missed the meaning of the moment.

But for L. These three bands--Los Lobos, Quetzal and Ozomatli--today represent the best of a new wave of Latin alternative bands working throughout Southern California. It has taken two generations to put this kind of Latino talent on stage here simultaneously. But for the few bands that have made a name in the business, there are dozens of other unheralded outfits practicing in their garages, from Oxnard to Anaheim. They save money to make their own recordings and pay for their own tours. They have no managers and no record deals.

But what they have in abundance is energy and the drive to have their music heard. Southern California has witnessed an explosion of bands in the Latin alternative genre in the past decade. It reminds him of the s heyday of the L. The bands are everywhere, yet they are invisible to the mainstream record business.

They get no radio play and little publicity. They are rarely offered a chance to open for the big-name alternative bands from Latin America they idolize. To find the local bands, you have to search them out. They play in barrio bars next to trash-strewn lots in El Sereno, and in a low-rent mini-mall in Westchester. Today, L. They are bilingual and monolingual, all-male and all-female, recent immigrants and longtime residents, politically active and apathetic. Their art can be as course as cursing or as refined as classic poetry. They play everything from folk-rock-salsa fusions to raw punk, thrash metal, rap, reggae and ska.

Their names are as varied as their sounds. The band Las 15 Letras is named after a bar where Pancho Villa killed a traitor. Quinto Sol, a multicultural reggae group, takes its name from the doomsday Aztec myth of the Fifth Sun. Aztec Underground and Arkestra Clandestina. The Blues Experiment and Burning Star.

Most of the bands admire Los Lobos, but few come close to that level of composing and playing--not yet. The majority of local bands lack experience and an original identity. Their sound can be raw, their presentation unpolished. Their events can be a little flaky. Sometimes, there are almost more bands than fans. At the recent Aztlan Fest, an annual, daylong marathon of local Latin rock held in the large parking lot of the Grand Olympic Auditorium, just a few hundred die-hard fans came and went during the day. Yet band after band played punk and thrash as if they were stars of arena rock.

A small group of young men dressed in gothic black started a mosh pit at one point, but they were too few and too scattered to create the critical mass required. They just marched around in a circle, occasionally speeding up to push and shove one another, as if they were driving bumper cars, without the cars. Nearby, only scattered customers approached booths selling CDs and T-shirts with the clashing images of Zapata and Iron Maiden.

That pearl of subversive rock wisdom was delivered with such conviction you could imagine the missing roar of the masses. Los Angeles has always enjoyed the lively presence of some forms of Latin music--from the Afro-Cuban dance bands of the mambo era to the excellent mariachi ensembles of today. But this region has lagged in the pop and rock arena. In fact, Los Lobos, which next year celebrates 30 years as a group, is the only major band to emerge from L. Skeptics say that predictions about the potential of L. The so-called East L. But it all went nowhere. And it is now home to two of the most important figures in rock en espanol: famed Argentine-born producer Gustavo Santaolalla and talent manager Tomas Cookman, who co-organizes the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York, where he was raised.

Neither of these heavy hitters expresses much faith in L. The singer-bandleader-VJ was 12 when he first saw Los Lobos on a cable network in the Dominican Republic, where he was born and raised. Blanco recalls one early show at a swap meet in West Covina, attended by only fans. Because of the competitive jostling for position in the lineup, Viva Malpache kept getting bumped. They finally went on at midnight, the last band of the evening.

Then they were told to keep their set short. So the singer jumped into the crowd of some 50 stragglers, who then stormed the stage and started overturning speakers. A year later, Viva Malpache opened for the legendary Maldita Vecindad --and the same soundman remained silent. Blanco, 31, has struggled to keep the band together. And second, we need to get out of here. The members of Pastilla, another veteran L. But first, they had to raise the funds for the tour. Everybody thought it was the big breakthrough that would finally put L.

Listeners turned the balance dial to avoid stereo babble. Still with three of its original members, the quartet headlined a show at the Westchester Sports Grill on one recent Friday night. The place is far from glamorous, with its white rock walls on the outside and fake wood paneling inside. A big eight ball adorns its retro out front, dominating the coin laundry and tortilla factory next door. The crowd is young, 16 to 25, tops. Smokers casually linger outside within a roped-off area in the parking lot.

Inside near the bar, young men shoot pool, using cue sticks occasionally to play air guitar. A small, resealable sandwich bag served as a kitty for the collection. By midnight, it contained just a couple of dollars and some coins. With no label support, touring becomes too expensive.

So to help send Pastilla to Mexico, the three other bands on the bill--Fanatic, Uztar and Curanderos--have agreed to play for free. The concept of creating a circuit between L. Recently, the newspaper also sponsored a series of workshops at two coffeehouses that also feature local acts, Cafe Bolivar in Santa Monica and Angeles Bohemios on Sunset Boulevard. The topics included how to produce your own record and how to copyright your work, a protection local musicians virtually ignore, though songwriting is often their greatest strength.

Pastilla has 45 new songs in the can for its next album. One of the original marketing plans was unwittingly started by two close friends, with only a stack of index cards and a lonely passion for the music. Recordings were almost impossible to find in those days. They figured there must be other fans like them in Southern California. But there was no way to connect. Until one day, a story about the girls appeared in a local magazine, along with their home phone as a club contact.

They were flooded with calls. They soon had 3, names and addresses of fans on those index cards, and the major labels latched onto them as the only marketing tool in town for alternative music, Gomez recalls. Hard-core devotees also braved muggings and police raids to attend underground shows at an empty warehouse in South-Central, a place fans nicknamed La Bodega.

But by far the hottest spot for the nascent scene was Hong Kong Low, a now-closed restaurant on Broadway in Chinatown that once featured punk bands. Every Friday night, the Chinatown shows became like a family gathering of musicians and their fans. We were all just roqueros. He was 20 at the time, still single. Estrada, a guitarist and songwriter, still has the band, which has released three independent albums, attracting critical praise but few sales.

So he calls home and hums the melody into his message machine. All Sections. About Us. B2B Publishing. Business Visionaries. Hot Property. Times Events. Times Store. Facebook Twitter Show more sharing options Share Close extra sharing options. For the record: a.

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