Mariachi El Bronx shouldn’t work.
Five hardcore punk rockers eschewing their riffs and power chords in favour of flamenco guitars and burbling brass while leading their fans through a cheery array of polkas and waltzes?
The thronging hordes crammed into The Boileroom on Tuesday night (February 17) would, however, suggest otherwise. It’s a sell-out, and with good reason.
Let’s spool back a bit. In 2002, The Bronx were founded by five like-minded guys in Los Angeles. Their sound was raw, punchy and abrasive.
Then, in 2007, they announced they were recording not one, but two new albums. The first, a straight up ballsy punk album; the second, a mariachi album entitled El Bronx. And thus, Mariachi El Bronx were born.
The band have since released three albums as their flamenco-inspired alter ego and on Tuesday, they made their bow at The Boileroom, ably supported by Pounded By The Surf, who entertained with their 50s-inspired surf rock stylings reminiscent of The Tornadoes and The Shadows.
Swelling to an eight-piece to accommodate a host of weird and wonderful new instruments, El Bronx barely have room to breathe on The Boileroom’s diminutive stage.
There is nothing diminutive about their performance, however.
Every song during the band’s more than hour-long set has room to develop, to progress and to meander without members treading on each other’s toes – musically as much as physically.
Empty beer bottles soon litter the stage as the band quickly grow into their performance, led by frontman Matt Caughthran, who is warmly greeted by hundreds of Guildfordians.
Suited and booted in traditional Mexican attire, albeit without a sombrero in sight, there is a slight of hand about El Bronx’s carefully constructed melodies and rhythms you might not necessarily associate with a group of musicians so firmly rooted in hardcore punk, an ethos rarely famed for subtlety.
Flicking between intricate time signatures in a stroke, the band lead their audience, almost involuntarily, on something of a merry jig, although decent trade at the bar doesn’t harm their cause.
Fan favourites such as 48 Roses and a triumphant rendition of Litigation litter the set, which draws heavily from both the band’s guises and, of course, plenty from El Bronx’s third eponymous album, released last year.
They even break out a brand new song which, says Caughthran, was penned just hours earlier at the George Abbot pub overlooking the River Wey. Cue hysteria, of course.
Make no bones about it, El Bronx are a band revered the world over by their hardcore fans – but it comes as something of a surprise the sheer affection with which they are held here in Guildford.
Who knew there was such a demand for something as relatively diverse and alien as mariachi music, let alone a twisted hybrid of mariachi and punk?
Mariachi El Bronx’s infectious grooves are as much a joyous antidote to dozens of rock and punk gigs as they are a tender homage to a style of music that clearly means a huge amount to every member of the band.
It is a rare delight, as is watching a band with the talent to switch so readily between two very different styles of music with ease. Olé amigos!
Pictures by Sophie Garrett.
Originally published on Get Surrey, 19/02/15