Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting OXFORD NEWS to 80360 or email us
Rodrigo y Gabriela to take Wilderness festival by storm
Acoustic guitars and smouldering Mexican good looks belie an unexpected musical phenomenon as TIM HUGHES finds out from Rodrigo y Gabriela
STRIDING on to the stage, acoustic guitars slung over their shoulders, Mexicans Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero are the very image of Latin cool.
Good-looking and serious, they sit down, and tune up, their faces etched with concentration. What comes next, however, can only be described as unexpected.
Instead of plaintive melodies and gentle Spanish flourishes, they blast into a pounding assault of what can only be described as acoustic metal.
Meeting in Mexico City, where they played with thrash band Tierra Acida, the two rockers have redefined what it means to be an acoustic guitarist.
“Our first love is classic rock and thrash metal,” says Rodrigo. “We found a way to express this great music on two acoustic guitars, and give it our own interpretation.
“We play instrumental acoustic rock; it’s a blend of rock, metal, jazz and other influences and it comes out sounding like us”.
They honed their sound on the rainy streets of Dublin, after leaving their sun-kissed homeland in search of adventure and an appreciative audience.
“The band in Mexico split and we decided to go travelling,” he says. “We chose Ireland because we knew nothing about it. A friend said it was a good place for musicians, and that was enough. It was important to give ourselves a challenge and to get out of our comfort zone.”
They soon found themselves playing festivals and touring – leaving audiences breathless at their frantic blend of Latin guitar and hard rock. Their eponymous debut (produced by John Leckie, who has worked with everyone from John Lennon and George Harrison to Radiohead and The Stone Roses), includes high-octane covers of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and Metallica’s Orion – which pretty much sets the scene for everything else.
Since then they have released a further two studio albums (and three live LPs), have appeared on the soundtrack to the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie and Puss in Boots, and gone on to play Jools Holland’s show in Britain, and the Late Show and Jay Leno’s Tonight Show in the US – which have helped forge their global reputation.
“In three minutes it puts you into millions of homes that you could never hope to reach through a lifetime of touring,” he says.
But their hearts remain in Mexico, where they live in Ixtapa on the Pacific coast (“The weather is fantastic; much better than Dublin!” he smiles).
“I think a lot of people used to think we did some kind of guitar recital concert, which isn’t what we are about at all.
“We like to play high-energy, up-tempo music and get the live audience involved. Our approach is to play acoustic instruments, but the set up and presentation has more in common with a rock concert.
“Rock is part of our musical DNA. It shapes a significant amount of how we approach what we do when we play and record.”
So who are the big influences on your sound?
The list is long, admits Rodrigo: “From classic rock: The Beatles, Led Zep and Santana. From thrash: with Metallica, Megadeth, Testament and Anthrax. And then people like Al Di Meola, Paco De Lucia and Shakti from the jazz and guitar worlds.”
And what do their countrymen think of their achievements? “All they want to know is what David Letterman and Jay Leno are like,” he laughs.
“We didn’t play there much in the early days, as getting well known overseas seemed more important to us. We do have a good following at home now, though”.
A week tomorrow the pair join thousands of like-minded music-lovers in the woods at Wilderness Festival, near Charlbury. The headline set will see them play an exclusive show with their band C.U.B.A.
“We’ve just done a run in Europe with our Cuban band,” he says. “The band is hot and we are looking forward to coming to the UK.”
“We can’t wait to get there, We’ve been to Oxford a couple of times, and our manager tells us Wilderness is a bit like Secret Garden Party, which we’ve played before”.
The festival, famed for its masked balls, banquets and love of the great outdoors, is fabulously eccentric, but the pair will take it all in their stride. It can’t be any stranger, after all, than what they have already been through – such as playing a gig to a certain Barack Obama, two years ago.
“The weirdest thing that has happened to us was The President of The United States Of America explaining to the President and First Lady of Mexico who we were – while we stood there!
“the best moments, though, are where the audience is really up for it and is clapping and singing along. You get great energy back off the crowd and it inspires you. I think Glastonbury in 2007 was a turning point for us in the UK. I like to look forward to the next thing ahead of us.
“I don’t think to focus on the negative things, but if you look on YouTube there is footage of me smashing a guitar at Guilford a few years ago!
“I’m aware, and very thankful, though, that we’ve been blessed to enjoy the level of success we’ve had to date.”
So, in conclusion, what is Rodrigo y Gabriela’s secret of success?
“Veganism and live for the moment”, he laughs, adding his own survival tip for Wilderness festival-goers: “And don’t forget the tofu and baby wipes!”
Rodrigo y Gabriela play the Wilderness festival.
- Go to wildernessfestival.com