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From Guadalajara to Glastonbury, Troker keep on truckin’

September 3, 2013

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Every year, in the last week of June, 175,000 music lovers are drawn to a remote farm in southwest England, just down the road from the mysterious ancient monument of Stonehenge. 

Loaded to breaking point with camping gear and copious amounts of alcohol, they navigate the narrow and traffic-saturated country lanes and pitch up before a pyramid-shaped stage to witness performances by some of the greatest artists in the world.

This year, Troker, a six-piece jazz-fusion band from Guadalajara, also made the pilgrimage, becoming only the sixth Mexican act and the first from Jalisco to ever play at the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.

Formed in 2003, the band consists of Frankie Mares on drums, Samo Gonzalez on bass, Gil Cervantes on trumpet, Christian Jimenez on piano, Arturo “Tiburon” Santillanes on saxophone and DJ Zero on the turntables. Although only Santillanes and Jimenez are true Guadalajara natives (DJ Zero hails from Baja California, Gonzalez from Guanajuato, Mares from Michoacan and Gil from Zacatecas), the others “have been here for so long that we’re practically Tapatios,” Gonzalez tells the Reporter.

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A decade into their career, and almost two years after first being invited to perform at Glastonbury, Troker’s big day finally rolled around on Saturday, June 29. As The Rolling Stones were gearing up to perform before a record crowd on the more mainstream Pyramid Stage, Troker opened the West Holts Stage, Glastonbury’s fourth biggest venue, which typically hosts hip-hop, jazz, reggae, dub, soul and world music acts.

“The nerves kick in five minutes before you start playing and last for the first two or three songs,” Mares says, “but after that it’s ecstatic and exciting.”

This writer was there in the front row as Troker gave a lively and energetic performance, instantly winning the affection of those in attendance with their infectious instrumentals. The festival organizers almost never book acts to appear in consecutive years, but Troker made such an impression that the West Holts promoters immediately asked them to play another gig in the nearby city of Bristol, and then decided to break protocol by inviting them to perform again at Glastonbury 2014.

“It was always a dream to play at such an important festival like this,” Mares says. “It was a great achievement and a really important moment in our career.”

Such is Glastonbury’s appeal that tickets, priced at almost 350 dollars, always sell out nine months in advance, within an hour of going on sale – before the lineup has even been announced. Once the wait is over, those fortunate enough to have acquired tickets must endure five days of camping, without showers – unless you count the downpours that routinely transform the entire site into a giant mud bath.

Why bother with all the hassle? Because for those five days, Glastonbury is the greatest place on earth. Founded in 1970, the festival has gradually morphed over the years into the largest of its type in all the world.

With hundreds of diverse acts performing on over 100 stages, there is always something for everyone, from live music, theater and comedy to hardcore raves and even a giant mechanical spider that shoots lasers and huge balls of fire into the night sky. Recent headliners include stellar British bands such as Radiohead, Blur and Arctic Monkeys, plus past and contemporary greats from the United States like Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Jay-Z.

Following their triumphant Glastonbury debut, Troker played a second secret set at the Rabbit Hole, a smaller, canvas-covered stage on a hillside overlooking the festival site. They also played two backstage gigs and even befriended legendary Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, who had also been performing on the West Holts Stage.

“We enjoyed it to the maximum,” Mares and Gonzalez affirm, citing performances by The Rolling Stones, Public Enemy and Portishead as some of their festival highlights.

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That they should enjoy such diverse acts comes as no surprise, as Troker’s sound encompasses a blend of jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop, psychedelia and even a hint of mariachi. Among their main influences they count Frank Zappa, British prog-rock group King Crimson, Chicano hip-hop outfit Cypress Hill and the genre-defying Screaming Headless Torsos.

“It’s not conventional, not what you hear on the radio,” Gonzalez says of Troker’s sound. It was very “fresh and different” from the many local rock bands and the few traditional jazz artists playing in Guadalajara when the band first started gigging, he explains.

Despite having made considerable progress in their career, Troker remain an independent band with no formal relationship with any record company. Instead, they enjoy a strong but contract-less relationship with Mexico City’s Intolerancia record label, which handles production and distribution of their records.

Troker now have one E.P. and three albums under their belt. Their debut album “Jazz Vinil” was released in 2007, followed by 2010 breakthrough “El Rey del Camino” and the “Pueblo de Brujos” E.P. in 2011. Their latest record, “1919: Musica Para Cine,” was inspired by the “Automovil Gris,” a classic silent movie from 1919 which tells the true story of a gang of vandals who terrorized high society in post-revolutionary Mexico City.

The album, which will be released later this month, came about when Troker were invited by Cineteca Nacional, the film division of the National Council of Arts and Culture (Conaculta), to participate in a project in which contemporary Mexican bands write and perform new scores for silent movies.

“It was very difficult. We’d never taken on a task of this magnitude. It took us half a year to complete the composition because the film lasts nearly two hours and it’s not easy to match the excitement of the film and keep the viewers interested in the film.” Gonzalez says. “But we’re very satisfied with our work and we’ve performed the soundtrack here in the Teatro Degollado, in Mexico City, in Colombia, in England and in Spain.”

More live performances of the piece are planned across Mexico in the fall. Such tours are often accompanied by free concerts in venues such as orphanages and juvenile detention and rehabilitation centers, Gonzalez says, revealing the band’s sense of social responsibility.

“We’re a very multifaceted group,” he adds. “We play our records in some concerts, in others we play the soundtrack, we also have a kids show and give talks encouraging young people to get involved with music.”

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After playing Glastonbury, Troker embarked on a short tour across Europe, taking in several cities across England, Germany and Spain. England was the highlight of the tour for Mares and Gonzalez, partly due to the rich musical heritage of cities such as Liverpool. “You can smell the Beatlemania there,” Mares says. “It was great to able to play in a city where such an important band was born, and for the people of Liverpool to like our music too.”

The band were able to fund the jaunt thanks to a grant from Conaculta to promote Mexican culture in the European Union – not that they needed any encouragement to act as ambassadors for their country. Troker always play with the Mexican flag onstage and at Glastonbury they led shouts of “Viva Mexico!” and proudly proclaimed that they were from “Guadalajara, Jalisco, the land of tequila.”

“We feel really proud to be Mexican. We like to show people that not everything in Mexico is violence and extortion, we also have art, culture and music,” Gonzalez explains.

One place in Mexico that holds special significance for the band is Lake Chapala, the inspiration for one of their most popular songs, “Chapala Blues.”

 “When we started recording ‘El Rey del Camino’ we went to a house on the southern shore of Lake Chapala in San Luis Soyatlan. We often lock ourselves in there with no cell phones, no internet, nothing. That way we really concentrate well,” Mares says. “One afternoon nothing was coming to us, but the view at sunset was beautiful so we just started to play. It was a really inspiring moment to be composing music beside the lake and it went really well. It was one of the quickest songs we’ve done together and we soon had it finished. It’s a song that we love playing and it really seems to have caught people’s attention.”

“Lake Chapala is really important to us and we play ‘Chapala Blues’ at every show,” Gonzalez adds. “Wherever we play, we always introduce that song by saying a little about this magical lake near out city.”

Another song that formed a staple of Troker’s setlist on the European tour was new single “Principe Charro.” A powerful slice of free jazz with funky keys, frantic scratching and rousing mariachi horns, “Principe Charro” is the first taste of the new album Troker are currently working on, which is due for release next spring.

“We really like playing this song live. It was surprising how well it went down in Europe. We always closed our shows with this song,” Santillanes said at a press conference held in Mexico City and broadcast live over the internet on Monday.

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After their European adventure and another tour in Colombia, Troker made a triumphant return last month at the Expo Guadalajara during Tonica GDL, a week-long International Jazz Festival supported by the state government. Tonica is a non-profit civil association founded by Troker’s trumpet player Cervantes and another friend of the band, Gonzalez explains.

“Tonica brings great musicians from the world of jazz to give free classes to kids across Jalisco,” he says. “I think few cities are lucky enough to have a program like this.”

Next up for the band is the 212 RMX Festival, a free event to be held on Avenida Chapultepec on Saturday, September 7. Troker will play an hour-long set on the main stage at 6:15 p.m., while other artists scheduled to appear include acclaimed Chilean rockers Los Tres and popular Venezuelan group Los Amigos Invisibles.

Away from Troker, many of the band members also have their own side projects. While Cervantes works with Tonica, Jimenez plays blues at many local venues and DJ Zero gives DJ sets.

For 10 years, Gonzalez, Mares and Santillanes have also been performing instrumental covers as a trio at cafes and restaurants across Guadalajara. When they are not on tour, the three can often be found playing popular rock, jazz, cumbia and even mambo songs at Cafe Candela (Javier Mina 183 in central Zapopan) on Tuesday nights, at renowned Italian/Thai fusion restaurant I Latina (Avenida Inglaterra 3128) on Thursday nights and at Sotano 2 in Plaza Andares on Fridays and Saturdays.

Troker’s new single “Principe Charro” is available here as a free download for a limited time only. For all the latest Troker news, visit www.troker.com.mx, like Troker Oficial on Facebook and follow @TrokerOficial on Twitter.

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