Recently, Fernando A. Flores, a fellow Rio Grande Valley creative and the author of the acclaimed book ‘Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas,’ publicly suggested that we lifted concepts from his published work to create our musical album, Futuro Conjunto. While we consider Flores’s literary fiction a very important part of the contemporary Latino/a/x literary landscape, he and his writings were not direct inspirations for our music project.
Flores’s ‘Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas’ and ‘Futuro Conjunto’ both utilize the trope of local, “fake bands” — fictionalized musical artists from the RGV. For our album, though, the trope of “fictional musicians” comes not only from U.S. concept album, sci-fi, and hip-hop traditions (e.g. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Star Wars, and Prince Paul), but also specifically from a different RGV music source: the local RGV music scene giant Eric Fly.
Eric Fly (or, Eric López) was a veteran of dozens upon dozens of bands, many of whom Charlie began recording in the late 1990s and early 2000s as an RGV music producer. Eric famously got his RGV punk name, “Fly,” from a fake music review he wrote in the late 1990s about a band he fictionalized called “The Ret****d Flies.”
The story is a well-known piece of RGV music scene lore. As Eric retold the story to Charlie on video during the production of As I Walk Through the Valley, a documentary covering 40 years of the RGV’s underground music history, in the late 1990s, Eric thought it would be funny to make up a fake band, describe their music in writing, and see if other people would pretend to have heard of them — a mark of their (and everyone’s) “poseur” status. (The full interview segment is available online as part of a tribute video released after Eric suddenly passed away in 2019.)
Eric Fly and his memory were so deep an influence on Futuro Conjunto that his story is actually directly part of the album’s musical and narrative fabric: one of the sci-fi bands on the album is called “La Mosca No Muere” — “The Fly Never Dies” — and in the expanded materials on the album’s website, there is a faux diary that reveals one of “La Mosca No Muere”’s band members reflecting on a mixtape of Eric Fly’s music, rediscovered somewhere in the distant future.
The point of this story is to illustrate that our album readily acknowledges its multitude of inspirational sources, and that it’s rooted in them. As artists native to the RGV, just like Flores, we’re actively reinterpreting our formative experiences in the local music scene through our communal art — we all have a specific, shared background. On our album, layers upon layers of hyper-local references and details are intentionally and directly woven through the album, so that when people from the RGV sit down to listen, they’ll hear parts of their lived experience represented. We approached our compositional process this way to celebrate the region as we have experienced it on our personal journeys as musicians, historians, and documentarians.
For those who haven’t yet had direct experiences in and with the RGV’s music scenes, it’s thus understandable to assume causal connections between our sci-fi album and Flores’s literary works, particularly when the mainstream sample size of border-specific, border-produced art is so small. The fact is that there are thousands of unsung creatives who have no mainstream platforms, and that there are too few non-stereotypical representations of the border region’s musical and cultural diversity, let alone of Chicano/a/x and Latino/a/x people generally. This underrepresentation — as well as social media’s algorithmic rewarding of mutual escalation — creates the conditions to see direct, causal influences between artistic cultural representations where none exist. It’s less likely this would happen with artists in major metropoles like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago; artists working in those places are more often afforded room for subject overlap, as there are simply more stories about those major cities available.
We all live and work in a racial capitalist cultural ecosystem — a system largely based on a scarcity mindset that pits individuals and communities against one another, forcing us to compete for resources. In arts spheres, this often results in institutions expecting single individuals to bear the burden of becoming lone representatives of much broader communities and experiences. But again, there are thousands of creators in the South Texas borderlands unknown to those outside the community, with a well of talent and imaginative energy as deep, wide, and post-national as the river running through the region. We’ve been striving to create music-focused work in and primarily for this local context.
Futuro Conjunto was made possible in part because of a Community Engagement Grant ($2950) we received from Stanford University in 2019, when Jonathan was still a student. This ended up constituting the entire budget for the project, which was an indie production; the money from this small grant went to modest compensations for album collaborators and to purchasing a web domain. Since the album’s release on July 1, 2020, it has been available for free streaming, and all proceeds gathered have been publicly donated to charity — RAICES Tx, Black Lives Matter, GENTex (which benefits the trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming communities of the RGV), Switch RGV (which provides mutual aid to RGV sex workers), and SWOP (which provides sex worker advocacy). And, uncommonly, since most all of this project was done remotely, all aspects of the album’s creative and release process are fully documented — from the initial idea, to the small grant proposal, to the early drafts of the script, to the song demos, to the final mixes, to the receipts of donation to the aforementioned charities and organizations.
This album is also part of a local music continuum: As I Walk Through the Valley documents the underground musical past of this border region, and Jonathan and Charlie’s collaborations extend and outline visions of the music scene’s present and future. Wild Tongue (2018) was a compilation album that highlighted nine different RGV bands of nine different genres who wrote and recorded new songs based on their experiences coming of age in the border region; and Futuro Conjunto offered a community-driven vision of a possible future for the scene, delivered via music and storytelling, per the local corrido tradition.
During one of the recording sessions for Wild Tongue in early 2018, well before either of us were aware of Flores’s Tears of the Trufflepig (2019), Charlie and Jonathan discussed a speculative fiction course that Jonathan had co-taught in 2016–2017: “After the Apocalypse.” Tapping into many key concerns of the moment, including climate change, bioethics, race relations, and gender inequity, the course encouraged students from across the humanities and sciences to investigate what apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic scenarios reveal about our world. Later, in October 2018, after completing Wild Tongue and listening through a collection of local conjunto records, Charlie wrote Jonathan an email:
We then began drafting materials that bridged the gap between speculative poetics, genre fiction, and the corrido tradition. We each brought musical and narrative expertise, working out narratives for different musical directions and vice versa. (i.e. Are these corridos about the future sung in the present by prophets? Or are they sung from some point in the future about events in the past? Who is singing these songs, what genres are they in, and what’s the occasion for listening?) We went through a number of sketches and drafts to arrive at the narrative frame for the music: a future, triumphant concert atop the ruins of a Space-X rocket facility, and a far-future narrative about an individual looking for clues about an ancestor’s life and listening to an old, archived recording. This is an allegory, essentially, for much of the recuperative history and cultural archeology that’s taken place in the long aftermath of the colonial encounter. It’s also a futurist combination of As I Walk Through the Valley and Wild Tongue.
Again, we sincerely wish Flores every possible success with his literary artistry; we admire the passion of his many readers; and we encourage that others check out and appreciate his books. His writings, though, were not part of our compositional process; the history of and our personal experiences in the RGV music scene were. For our part, we will continue creating communal, RGV-focused projects that we believe in, and we hope that many others who are currently coming of age in the RGV ultimately create work that far exceeds all of ours — projects that teach all of us new things about our homeland and present us with even stronger visions of what communities of care and resistance can look like.
In case anyone might be interested in reviewing materials we actively consulted as we wrote this album:
Narcisso Martinez (“El Huracán del Valle”); Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid (sonic, feminist Afrofuturism); Jorge Luis Borges (the infinite “Library of Babel”); Gabriel García Márquez (‘Cien años de soledad’); Prince Paul’s ‘A Prince Among Thieves’ (hip-hop concept album with fictional characters and story arcs); Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (regimagined history via the hip-hop musical); James Joyce, Ulysses (a modernist approach to layered local detail); Miguel O’Hara in Spider-Man 2099 (Latino superhero in the futuristic Marvel Comics universe); Octavia Butler, The Parable Series (the post-apocalyptic development of new religions); Rolando Hinojosa’s ‘Klail City Death Trip’ (fictionalized RGV cosmos rendered across decades of writing, ala William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha county); Gloria Anzaldúa’s ‘Borderlands/La Frontera’ (decolonial approach to RGV-specific border poetics); This Bridge Called My Back; Esteban Jordan, Los Campecinos (futurist accordion playing); Americo Paredes, ‘With His Pistol in His Hand’ (on border corridos); Blade Runner (dystopian futurities); the local RGV work of Las Imaginistas; At the Drive-In’s music; Ted Chiang’s Arrival; Italo Calvino’s metafiction, particularly If on a winter’s night a traveler and Invisible Cities; The Matrix and the Animatrix; the many RGV musicians and bands we worked with on previous projects; the music and memory of Eric Fly López.