Lo Maximo

The mariachi-punk of Los Super Elegantes

When Los Super Elegantes played the Kilowatt a few months back, the bloodcurdling screams of frontwoman Milena Muzquiz could be heard halfway down the block. Inside, a capacity crowd was moshing wildly as Muzquiz did a perverted hat dance while the band played frenzied, punk-rock versions of traditional Mexican music. As trumpets and trombones blared, co-vocalist/accordionist/guitarist Martiniano Crozet shook a pair of maracas wildly, he and Muzquiz voguing poses right out of a spaghetti western. Muzquiz stripped down to a polka-dot bikini top and fired imaginary guns into the air. “Los Super Elegantes!” Crozet barked. “Ai-yi-yi-yi-yi!”

Muzquiz and Crozet are the masterminds behind Los Super Elegantes, who fuse Latin music and rock attitude into a truly original hybrid they call mariachi-punk. A promising addition to the local Spanish-language rock scene, the fledgling band won an unexpected nomination for an SF Weekly WAMMIE for best Latin band in 1995. The buzz around Los Super Elegantes was almost instant, traceable to their opening slot for American Music Club at the Great American Music Hall last year.

“We met Mark Eitzel of AMC,” recalls Muzquiz, “who was telling us about a concert they were going to do there. As a goof we told him we had this great band that was super-wow. He asked the name and out of nowhere we pulled out Los Super Elegantes. So he says he needs a band to open for them and what about us? 'Of course,' we said!”

With the show only a week away, they mustered a bassist, drummer, guitarist, violinist, and horn section and wrote five songs. In a delirious performance best described as Frida Kahlo meets Lou Reed, they knocked the place out with some art-damaged mayhem. Two weeks later, the band had shows at both the Kilowatt and the Chameleon.

“Mariachi music is based on bass rhythms just like banda music is,” Muzquiz explains. “That's also the base for punk music, so it's easy to transform a mariachi tune to a punk style. The rhythms lend themselves to it.”

“It's about the spontaneity of the show also,” Crozet adds, “like mariachis with their instruments on the street playing a song for someone. The band was born out of desperation. The attitude of super elegance may be pathetic, but we say there is something elegant in being ordinary.”

Originally from Mexico, Muzquiz became a go-go dancer at 13 with border-rockers Tijuana No. Rooted in the ranchera country music of Mexico, she's just as likely to do thrash versions of classics like “Mal Hombre” by Tejano music queen Lydia Mendoza as a screamer by mariachi kingpin Vincente Fernandez. Crozet is a native of Buenos Aires, and currently studies at the SF Art Institute. He says he is heavily influenced by Sando, the Argentine Elvis.

“It's like Las Vegas,” he says. “It's theater and music like a revue with a fashion show. It's not parody. If we look ridiculous with our clothes, so what? We're being ourselves.”

“We design and sew our own costumes,” adds Muzquiz. “We believe we're looking lo maximo — to the max — and imagine ourselves as superstars. In Mexico there's still a tradition for the 'show.' Take Banda Machos; they're super dressed with the look and attitude to go with it. In this country, alternative music doesn't care about presentation. Muy grunge.”

A quick description of their originals gives a ready sense of their placa. “La Reina” is about Muzquiz, the queen of la mala vida (“I don't eat and I get drunk too much,” she explains). “Race Car Driver” details a constipated Spaniard driving like a maniac in search of a bathroom, but going nowhere. “La Hija del Diable” is described as “muy Black Sabbath” with Muzquiz praising Ozzy Osbourne as “super-watchy-wow.”

“We also have a whole bunch of nasty songs that are very perverted and pornographic,” she says. “At our show at the Kilowatt recently we mixed a photo exhibit with fashion and porn. It was a giant circus.”

With a defiant brand of glamour and outrageous shtick, Los Super Elegantes simultaneously play up and shake down the stereotypes of Latin music and musicians. As “Rock-en-Espa–ol” grows in the Bay Area, the band represents a new wave of artists who seek to break down borders of any nature. “It's a trip to be at a place like the Kilowatt,” Crozet says, “with a lot of American people listening to you. Not segregating you, but trying to understand and looking for commonality.”

Los Super Elegantes play Sun, Feb. 4, at the Kilowatt in S.F.; call 861-2595.

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