Picks to Click

The SXSW Class of 2002

Picks to Click
Photo By John Anderson

Grupo Fantasma

Friday, March 15, the Vibe (1am)

One of the definitions of phantasm is "imaginative conception," and it's this term that best suits Austin big band Grupo Fantasma. Their creative conception successfully blends influences and imaginations into a cohesive, yet rump-rotating, whole. En Español, the tag of this 10-member Latin-flavored collective could be translated as "Group of Ghosts," fitting for an act that claims Wu-Tang hip-hopist Ghostface Killah as a primary influence. The way this spicy ensemble gleefully moves butts on the dance floor, however, a more accurate appellation might be Ghostface Thrillaz.

The band -- bassist Greg Gonzalez, skinbeaters Jeremy Bruch, Johnny Lopez, and Jose Galeano, lead vocalist Brian Ramos, horn players Joseph Serrato, Dave Wolfe, and Dave Lobel, and guitarists Beto Martinez and Adrian Quesada -- come from all over, but half hail from Laredo. Lest one think Grupo Fantasma is merely another Latin hip-hop tribute outfit, this grupo grande has as many influences as there are beads at Mardi Gras: War, the Police, Fela Kuti, Mark Rubin, Tito Puente, dancehall, Aniceto Molina, and Charles Mingus, to name a few. Anything and everything, basically, although the Colombian cumbia rhythm is a frequent foundation.

How does such a large band compose? Founding member and guitarist Quesada describes two methods. "Sometimes the composer brings in parts for everybody, and we each interpret them as we run the tune more and more, until it makes sense. Sometimes it's a collective process where stuff is made up at rehearsals, from jamming, playing with old ideas, and just hanging out listening to different kinds of music." These influences can become overt. "We like to quote music we love, too, for the gratitude, as well as for humor," boasts Quesada. "When we do, it's pretty off the wall, i.e. Ghostface Killah, Van Halen, Dr. Dre, Irakere, metal."

In addition to playing regional venues, Grupo Fantasma has self-released a debut full of punchy basslines, horn harmonies, slinky guitar runs, and dance beats, all couched in an experimental, but confidently produced package. Selling their CDs at shows, in shops, and on their Web site, the first pressing went fast, prompting the group to re-release it with tweaks and additions. With all this going on, what could a record company and SXSW offer? "Exposure would be ideal," explains Quesada, "because for a band this big, it's really hard to hit the road punk-rock style. We could use any help to tap into the national/international market." Regardless how SXSW plays out for the band, future plans are manifest.

In addition to the re-release of their debut, Grupo Fantasma is working on another release. "It might be a live album, it might double as a remix album as well," explains Quesada. "A few of us are working on remixes, and we've contacted a few of our favorite local hip-hop producers, as well as others, about working on it. It might be a half live/half remix album, we'll see." With a successful DIY debut, a SXSW showcase, and another release in the works, odds are this Group of Ghosts will be easy to spot in the future.

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