Although he and his collaborator had spent plenty of time working on the songs that were to comprise their set on their first tour, Jess Sylvester says that he and Carlos Pesina—who together make up the experimental, electro duo Francisco y Madero—weren’t as prepared for their first show as they might have hoped.
“We never played in front of anyone before, yet we were the headliner. It was kind of like a scrambling to get it all together,” Sylvester says, recalling their first stop on the Vice magazine-sponsored tour at La Cita Bar in Los Angeles back in 2012.
After meeting on MySpace in 2010, the pair had worked mostly remotely on their kitschy, chilled-out and surreal electronic lounge jams—sending files back and forth between San Francisco, where Sylvester was living, and Pesina’s home in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“We’re not a traditional band where you practice twice a week and you hone your live set, and you just play as much as you can. Our music has gotten out there more through online.”
They performed the songs much like they recorded them. Pesina sat behind his laptop fading in samples, nostalgic electronic noises and laid-back drum machine beats, while Sylvester played guitar and sang lead vocals.
They also projected bizarre, cartoonish visuals in the background, giving the shows a David Lynch feel.
Indio Beer co-sponsored these shows, called “Free Beer Parties,” with the company’s products served gratis to anyone of legal age. To their surprise, Sylvester and Pesina found the crowd responsive to their offbeat music—and that some people had even come out to specifically see them, and not just to score free beer.
The following year they played another Vice/Indio beer party in San Francisco, plus a couple of music festivals in Mexico. This Tuesday they perform at Blackbird Tavern in one of the first dates on a two-week U.S. tour with with openers Dorotheo from Guadalajara. It’s the first typical band outing for Francisco y Madero since their inception.
“This is way more traditional; this is how people do it, driving around by themselves, crashing at people’s houses. We usually only play when we have the opportunity to play cool shows. It’s really rare,” says Sylvester, whose music career prior to Francisco y Madero was playing guitar in several different punk, hardcore and post-rock bands.
Pesina, on the other hand, is actually a well-known Mexican electronic artist. His prior project, Los Amparito, had gotten some attention in the experimental music scene. In fact, Vice reached out to him in 2012, but he suggested his new project, Francisco y Madero, should play the tour instead.
Los Amparito’s songs are a melding of modern electronics and salsa, and cumbia samples. Francisco y Madero has traces of Los Amparito’s electronic-folk sound, but it’s rooted in ’60s tongue-in-cheek lounge and is more playful. In fact, the name Francisco y Madero is a joke, as Francisco Madero is a well-known Mexican ex-president.
“It’s funny if you know anything about Mexican history, otherwise it’s just two names—a Mexican sounding Simon and Garfunkel,” Sylvester says.
The reason Pesina was asked to play the Indio free beer parties was to market to Chicanos, yet Francisco y Madero are an experimental band with only a semblance of anything anyone would associate with Latin music. Sylvester realized through playing these shows that even that didn’t matter.
“Experimental music that is happening here in the States is happening everywhere. People in other countries, because of the Internet, are into the same stuff,” Sylvester says.
The duo is in the process of working on newer material, which is a little less kitschy, though no less surreal and layered—and still mixes electronics, live instruments and samples. They are also continuing to refine their live performance, and whenever possible invite musician friends to contribute additional instruments and backing vocals in order to beef up the sound.
“There’s something about electronic music live that—it’s so convenient—but sometimes something gets lost, which is the live element, but if you can balance it out with live instruments, it’s a good blend,” Sylvester says. “Sometimes it can get boring for people. People don’t seem to be bored when we play.”
Francisco Y Madero
Blackbird Tavern, San Jose
Tue, 8pm, $7