Countdown to Lollapalooza, Chile’s biggest international festival

The two day event held on April 2 and 3 in the capital’s Parque O’Higgins is expected to attract between 30,000 and 50,000 spectators.

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In 2005 José Manuel de la Barra and Maximiliano del Río of Lotus Productions staged their first concert in the Parque Intercomunal in the eastern Santiago suburb of La Reina. This Wednesday March 16, only six years after that first venture, de la Barra and del Río joined Mauricio Duran from Chilean band Los Bunkers and singer-songwriter Javiera Mena at the offices of Fundación Imagen de Chile to talk about their largest project to date: the first international edition of North America’s Lollapalooza.

“Three years ago you practically couldn’t see anything in Santiago,” says de la Barra, while in 2010 alone, over 200 major international bands played concerts in Chile. Last October 2010, the Maquinaria Festival in Santiago – also produced by Lotus – drew a crowd of 25,000 to hear bands like Pixies, Yo La Tengo and Queens of the Stone Age. Clearly the music scene has changed.

Bringing Lollapalooza to Chile

The recent rise of the Chilean music scene was one of several factors that contributed to the selection of Santiago to host the first international edition of Lollapalooza. Parque O’Higgins, with its several pre-existing performance spaces, made an ideal venue, while Santiago’s strong record of safety and security made it a clear choice over some of Latin America’s other major urban centers. Like Chicago, home of the original Lollapalooza for the last 20 years, Santiago may not be the region’s largest or most famous city, but it has a rich and constantly evolving cultural life.

Ultimately, though, de la Barra and del Río themselves were instrumental in bringing Lollapalooza to Chile. The team behind Lotus Productions met Perry Farrell, front man of Jane’s Addiction and founder of the festival, at 2010’s Coachella Music Festival in southern California and began discussing the idea of bringing Lollapalooza to Santiago. According to de la Barra, “He [Farrell] thought, ‘well you’re young and we were young when we did it.’ ”

Santiago was not the only city competing for the honor of hosting Lollapalooza. Cities as large and diverse as Sao Paolo, Barcelona, Tokyo and Buenos Aires were also considered, but having met de la Barra and del Río, Farrell thought they were the right men for the job. The team jumped at the opportunity and set to planning.

Two major festival seasons in Santiago were the obvious choices for Lollapalooza, one in April-May, the other October-November. Lotus Productions set their date in April leaving only four months for planning. “We didn’t want to leave extra time and have the show jump to one of the other places they had been considering,” de la Barra said. In those four months, Lotus has managed to sign such major international acts as The Flaming Lips, Kanye West and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But Lollapalooza in Santiago will be as much about the sounds of Chile as those from abroad.

A Fresh Sound

One of the most prominent Chilean bands to play Lollapalooza will be Los Bunkers, who later this year will be the first-ever Chilean band to play Coachella. Formed originally in the 1990s in Concepción, Los Bunkers have been an important force in the development of an independent music scene here. “In the last few years there have been some great songs coming out of Chile, especially from young artists like Javiera Mena,” said the band’s front man Duran at the Imagen de Chile conference.

Mena is but one of a new generation of young Chilean songwriters that have helped to create a newly vibrant scene in Chile, which has begun to see the early flashes of international success in Spain, Mexico and Argentina. According to Mena, the “fresher sound” of Chilean music explains its success. “Chileans are more introverted than most of Latin America,” she said, “and our music reflects that difference.”

For Mena and other participating Chilean artists like songwriter Francisca Valenzuela, cumbia stars Chico Trujillo, and Grammy-nominated hip-hop sensation Ana Tijoux, Lollapalooza represents an exciting opportunity for further international exposure. “Lollapalooza is a name I’ve been hearing since the 90s and it’s great to have it here in Chile,” Mena said.

Working alongside the producers of Lollapalooza Chicago, del Río and de la Barra envision this year’s event as a launching pad for Chilean artists abroad as well as for Santiago as a growing destination for international music. The festival, which is expected to attract between 30 and 50,000 spectators over its two days, is the first stage of a musical exchange, de la Barra said, with 2012’s Chicago festival expected to feature several of the participating Chilean bands.

“This is a great opportunity for someone to hear Chilean bands and say, ‘Hey, I want them in my festival in Barcelona or Tokyo,’ ” de la Barra said.

For Mena, Lollapalooza is nothing less than a chance “to open the eyes of the world to Chilean artists.”

Lollapalooza will run from noon to 11pm on April 2 and 3 in downtown Santiago’s Parque O’Higgins. Visit  www.lollapalooza.cl for more information on the line up or to purchase tickets. Second presale prices for the full two days cost CP$68,000, general tickets CP$76,000, and single-day passes CP$42,000.