It’s 1:30 in the morning and my friend from the Mexico City-based music service Bobo.com and I walked up to the entrance to our hotel in the Lafayette District of Guadalajara. Outside the lobby we were met by the members of a band we had heard earlier that day, well lubricated, very happy and ready to party on. They wanted us to go out and party with them since the night was still young, at least in their terms. We declined, having been conferencing, speed meeting, paneling, rocking to fabulous music (including theirs), dancing, drinking and eating Mexican food for three days straight. In fact, this would be the first time I made it to bed before 2 am since arriving in Guadalajara. I saw the band later the next day and they apparently partied all they wanted to and were none the worse for wear.
All of this took place at FIMPRO2018, the annual International Music Fair and music business convention held at the Universidad de Guadalajara in Mexico. It was a huge celebration of Latino bands and music – which ranges from alt rock to blues to grunge to synth-pop to you- name-it. Latin music also comes from Canada (who knew?), which had a delegation headed by a diplomat, several red hot bands, and its own showcase night. Other bands hailed from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, Brazil, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Columbia, Guatemala and Spain (not exactly Latin America, but definitely Latin). In all, 25 bands were scheduled, chosen from 600 who applied.
FIMPRO2018 is not a Mexican version of NAMM, the big music industry convention produced every year in Anaheim with music companies, instrument manufactures, guitar makers and other more industrial parts of the music industry. FIMPRO is more a celebration of Latino music combined with supercharged networking opportunities and the presence of many music executives, labels, agencies, distributors and bands, bands, bands. Its missions are showcasing great music and partying/networking.
And for both missions, it is in exactly the right place, Guadalajara, which the New York Times has called “Mexico’s party city”. It is that, which is saying a whole lot because Latin America in general and Mexico in particular knows how to party. This sprawling, rich, high tech, highly educated city rocks and FIMPRO added to that vibe with music, food, alcohol, and dancing – along with its world class music industry networking.
We started each morning with presentations and panels featuring music industry heavy weights from CD Baby, The Orchard, Lollapalooza (Chile), Stubhub, Altafonte Music Distribution, Stingray, Canadian Music Week, Bud Light (music marketing and a sponsor), Rock Mexico, UFI (Spanish organization of independent music labels), and many others. One of the most sought after participants was Gwen Bethel Riley, Supervisor of Music for Disney. Also mobbed were the scouts from many music management agencies who themselves were looking for the next big band to sign. Networking was facilitated by speed meetings every morning that put together people who had registered online in advance and got 15 minutes across the table with their desired contacts. Presentations were mostly onstage interviews or panel discussions in the Universidad’s absolutely gorgeous new theater in the new and still under construction campus for the Conjunto de Artes Escénicas (Department of Performing Arts). Simultaneous translation was available for all presentations in both English and Spanish and audience questions were always accommodated.
I enjoyed and learned a lot from the presentations and the networking in the halls and lobbies and music venues, but for me the heart of FIMPRO began around lunchtime when we all wandered to the covered plaza, ordered from the food trucks (hot dogs or Mexican food, smoothies, aqua fresca or coffees) and sat down while bands plugged in for the afternoon showcases. Soon mimosas and beer were handed out, the bands kicked in and we rocked until 5 pm, eating drinking and absorbing a continual stream of totally 5-star music on a spacious outdoor stage equipped with a superb sound system. Whether it was Yangos from Brazil, Esteman from Columbia or Cala Vento from Spain, every band in the afternoon showcases was Coachella-level. And the night showcases got even better.
After a few hours of “rest” in our hotels, we went to more showcases in three nightclubs in the Zona Minerva, a district stuffed with clubs, restaurants, bars, music venues, a night market and a music/dancing scene in the tree-lined median down the middle of the spacious avenidas. The night showcases started at the Via Libertad, an eight story tower housing creative offices, a center of design for new entrepreneurs, a gastronomic market, exhibition hall, restaurants, bars and terraces for events and many, many hipsters and millennials. On one of those terraces was Vinylmania, an open-air market for records with a pair of hot DJ’s keeping the beat going. On another, larger terrace a few stories up and overlooking the city, FIMPRO set up a stage, sound system and lights, an open bar, and tables. Three bands played each night at Via Libertad, usually a set of five or six songs each.
After the sets at Via Libertad, the party (four or five hundred people – total FIMPROattendance was around 800) moved a few blocks away to the Garden Chapultepec or the C3 Rooftop, both large public bars/venues packed with young revelers who lucked into a space where FIMPRO was showing off some of the best bands in the hemisphere. The music ranged from hip hop by Random Recipe from Canada, to hard indie rock by Niños Mutantes from Spain, to a mix of tango, bolero, and pop delivered with cutting humor in a lucha libre mask by Sophia Viola from Argentina.
I came away from FIMPRO with a new understanding of the term “international music”, too many CD’s to stuff into my carry-on, and several pocketsful of business cards.
I also came away with an appreciation for the FIMPRO organizers in Mexico who made everything work almost perfectly while keeping the whole event feel relaxed and fun. The buses from the hotels arrived and left on time, the food selection was just right, the quality of speakers and the opportunities to talk personally with them was first rate, the translation was very welcome, and the open bars made it all that much better.
Best of all, the music and artists FIMPRO brought together were unforgettable. Three days of bands with no duds and no slow spots is a testament to the judgement and skill of the Mexican team.
But most of all , the best part was the people I met and the friends I made that will stay with me, even the Canadians. I’ll be back next year.