Los Furios play at Victoria Ska Fest in 2023 (left to right Mat LeBlond, Corrine Kessel, Jimmy Sax, Sean Kight (on drums), Kyle Fury, Jethro Dethro, Gonazalo Almendrades, Steffen Peter). Photo by James Younger.

How a B.C. Ska Band Went Big⁠—In Mexico

When it comes to rock ’n’ roll, there’s truth to the biblical observation that the prophet is honoured everywhere but in his hometown. Plenty of B.C. bands get enthusiastic receptions overseas but are taken for granted here. That’s why it took Japanese audiences to bring the Pointed Sticks out of retirement back in 2006; why the ongoing Black Halos reunion began with shows in Madrid; why the label that recently reissued Victoria power pop trio BUM’s 1993 LP Wanna Smash Sensation! on vinyl is Italian and not Canadian; and why the title of Nomeansno’s final LP, All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt, puns on the German word for “exit.”

But if that’s the rule, there’s a worthy exception: when the audience themselves are from somewhere else. Case in point, Maple Ridge ska-punk stalwarts Los Furios.

Your humble author has seen Los Furios three or four times, performing to a polite middle-class family crowd at the Caribbean Festival in Maple Ridge, on Punkstravaganza bills at the Rickshaw Theatre, and opening for polka punks the Dreadnoughts. But those shows were nothing compared to seeing the band play the Commodore Ballroom ahead of Japanese swing-meets-ska ensemble the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, back in 2004.

The room buzzed with anticipation. The majority of the audience that night—I would guess at least 70 per cent were international students, some of whom I recognized from the Japanese-run ESL college where I worked—had likely never been to a concert at the Commodore before. They were thrilled to see what would have been a big-ticket event in Japan at a discounted Vancouver price.

From Los Furios’ opening chords⁠—bassist Jethro Swierd, the band’s de facto archivist, thinks it was probably “Ghostown”—the packed dance floor began to bounce and skank and cheer, 10 times more expressive and appreciative than any audience I’d seen Los Furios draw before. The response electrified the band, who played their hearts out.

Maybe I myself had been guilty of taking Los Furios for granted up to that point, because it was only that night I realized how terrific they were. But is that typical? Are international audiences more receptive to what they do?

“Fundamentally, Canadian and American audiences are similar, in that they can either be super fun or super jaded,“ Los Furios founder and frontman Kyle Fury observes on a Zoom call from a sailboat moored at Marsden Point, New Zealand (he doesn’t sail; the rent’s cheap). “That’s just the punk rock world. You go to one city and they’re all standing there, arms folded, watching you, and in the next they’re drinking beer and having fun. That’s kind of the nature of the beast. The Tokyo Ska show for me was hilarious, because—I mean no disrespect in this—I walked onstage and, ‘Oh, it’s a sea of black hair!’ And Tokyo Ska is one of the greatest ska bands of all time, or forget ska, one of the greatest bands of all time, so we were really fortunate to play that.”

A high point that evening was Los Furios’ cover of the Clash’s “Revolution Rock,” which is still a regular feature of the band’s set. “It really is a hybrid of a song,” Fury explains. “There’s a band from Argentina called Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and they did a version in Spanish, and then we kind of stole this and that and hybridized it with the Clash’s, for our own Spanglish version.”

Chiming in on the Zoom call from White Rock, Steffen Peter—the band’s on-and-off lead guitarist—also points to the contribution of conga player, percussionist, and backup vocalist Gonzalo Almendrades. Raised in Mexico City, permanently based in Squamish, but presently working on a recording in Mexico, Almendrades will fly in to rejoin the band for their upcoming Rickshaw show. “He’ll rap whatever he wants in Spanish,” Peter says. “And Kyle can sing in Spanish, too!”

“But not as good as Gonzalo,” Fury quips back.

“Originally, we were just a bunch of white guys from Maple Ridge,” Fury says. A fan of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Catch 22, he put out an ad for horn players. After finding none in Maple Ridge, he ran into a trombonist named Pedro, from El Salvador, in Vancouver as a student, who schooled the band in Latin rhythms and culture.

“He was a super-talented dude,” Fury says. “So we put together a really good horn section for the initial stages of the band. And because he’s Latino, all of a sudden there’s a bunch of Latino guys coming to see us play, enough so that we actually changed the name from The Furios to Los Furios, because it just sort of suited that vibe.”

The international connections continued to pile up. A band from Mexico City named Mamá Pulpa—Mother Octopus—visited Vancouver through YucaStereo Radio, a group of SFU-based Mexican Canadians who promote Latin alternative music. That collaboration led to an invitation to Mexico, which led to another collaboration with Mexican band Maskatesta⁠—“Big Balls,” Fury roughly translates. “They stayed with me, like, six Mexican guys sleeping on my couch and on my floor for a month. And that became a thing, building this bridge between Mexico and Vancouver.”

The band particularly enthuses about the 2016 Mexico tour, where they played “non-stop” for 10 days, sharing bills with everyone from Richie Ramone to the Out of the Control Army—fronted by the former sax player of Maskatesta. They even played a festival that featured legendary Jamaican ska progenitors the Skatalites and New York’s the Toasters.

It’s just “a different ballgame down there,” Fury muses. “We go to shows there and we have to have security. We have to have people helping us, because there are lineups of kids wanting to get autographs, photographs, and selfies; you come off stage and there’s kids rushing at you. They have such enthusiasm about music, it reminds me of the early punk shows I used to play” (with bands like Ten Feet Tall, for example, one of the few punk bands to rise from that sleepy suburb).

Mexican audiences were particularly taken with Corinne Kessell, the band’s charismatic, long-standing trombone player, Fury says. “That was something unique to a lot of the girls down there. They’d never seen that before, or not as much as you’d think: ‘Wow, this is really cool representation!’”

The band now works with “a hell of a commute” after Fury married a woman from New Zealand and relocated. There was a moment when Fury feared, between the move and the pandemic, that Los Furios was finished. But the band’s new album, Old Ghosts, created largely remotely, will be Los Furios’ first vinyl release and will feature Fury writing more in a punk rock vein, while Peter keeps the ska spirit alive with songs like “Drifting” and “Weight of the World.”

The Rickshaw show on February 18 will feature a Latino surf-punk band called Cawama, and their friends, Kelowna rockabilly unit the Dragstrip Devils, with added burlesque dancers Melody Mangler and Justin Sane, who will dance while the bands are playing.

“Is there anything else we should say?” I ask Fury.

“Just that we’re still alive! A lot of people think we’ve broken up, but we haven’t!”

Los Furios play the Rickshaw Theatre on February 18. Read more stories about the arts.


Post Date:

February 14, 2024