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Friday, June 2, 2023

Costa Rica Rock n Roll History Lesson: The legacy of Anestesia Local

For anyone willing to listen, Costa Rica has enjoyed a dynamic history when it comes to its original pop/rock  bands and this subculture has been going strong since the 1970s. Some notable groups include Abracadabra, Via Libre, The Fabulous Vargas Brothers, Ghandi, Café con Leche and Suite Doble to name just a few.

Each of these groups left their mark on the Costa Rican pop/ rock scene and some of them are still active today in some form. Additionally,  small but vibrant heavy metal and punk scenes have been active in the country for many years.

International bands performing in Costa Rica have sometimes given local bands the chance to open for them and over the years many rock festivals have taken place with a mix of Costa Rican and international artists performing.The rock scene matured here and gained a higher profile over time but Costa Rican rock bands never really broke through to international stardom.

My connection with the Costa Rican rock scene was mostly through my involvement with the band Anestesia Local, a kind of garage band formed by a group of high school buddies from San Marcos de Tarrazu.  Coming from a region best known for its great coffee and beautiful mountain landscapes, the band’s claim to fame is that it was the first rock band ever formed in the  Zona de los Santos.

I joined the band in 1995 as its guitarist and lead singer of English songs, another singer Popocho sang the Spanish songs. We clicked immediately and I was attracted to the band’s musical style which combined original material and covers from bands like Midnight Oil and Pink Floyd.

I was happy to be jamming again as I had not been in a band since I left Canada in 1991 and my band of that time New Internationalists fell apart. Anestesia Local recorded its first single in 1997 called Nuclear Man which debuted on a Channel 7 Saturday afternoon variety show called Fantastico. It was lip synced performance which was a bit of fun, especially for our nervous drummer Gallina.

That TV show was a turning point for the band and a year later we signed a publishing deal with Sony Central America that did not go anywhere. Our songs would never be used in dog food commercials.

Another of our songs that had a receptive audience was Chupacabras, a Tex-Mex punk mashup about the bloodsucking monster that according to legend, ,stocked the countryside in the 1990s. After dealing with some internal disarray the band unsteadily rocked on as a trio until 2011 where at a fairly triumphant performance in San Pablo Leon Cortez it opened in for a then popular cover band Los Tortugas.

At that stage in the history of the band we had the audiences singing our original songs along with us which as I recall resulted in Los Tortugas forcing us to cut our set short. ( we were opening for them).

That was Anestesia Local’s last show until July 2022 when an acoustic version of the band was put together between myself and the principal  Spanish songwriter Juan Mora. Oddly,  that evening we performed on a bill that featured punk and goth bands. The other musicians were quite curious about seeing us dinosaurs performing at a gig where the average age of the spectator was probably 23.

Throughout Anestesia’s  heyday we performed hundreds of gigs throughout the countryside in the Zona de Los Santos, mostly in rustic dance salons, restaurants, town fairs, the odd beach gig ( the Manuel Antonio and Jaco ones were the most infamous) and sometimes on the backs of coffee trucks (with a portable power generator ) for migrant coffee workers.

We did our best to present ourselves as upstanding citizens in public as rock music and rock musicians in general were viewed with suspicion and unease by many people in Los Santos at that time. There was never any violence or riots at our gigs though the interpersonal relations within the band itself were quite volatile. Doing benefit gigs in the plaza for the San Marcos Catholic church helped us maintain our upstanding citizen image.

Anestesia Local did a few shows in theaters and bars in San Jose as well as some great beach gigs but our bread and butter was performing in the Zona de Los Santos. That’s where the identity of the band was and that’s where people cared about us. Some still do as I often experience when I wonder through the center of San Marcos hearing yells from cars and being greeted with phrases like, ” Que paso con Anestesia Local?” We are remembered by a surprising number of people in that region.

I split off from the band to pursue solo performing and recording and while the band was inactive we observed with interest how new generations of bands were coming up in Los Santos who had seen or heard about us and were inspired to create their own music. Anestesia’s  musical success was limited but its cultural impact resulted in new generations. of bands being formed in the region.

I was pleasantly surprised in our recent acoustic gig to be interviewed by a University of Costa Rica anthropology student who is doing his Masters project on the impact of rock music and our band in  the Zona de Los Santos.

Well, if you can’t make a band successful commercially there is always cultural impact.

This December a documentary film about the group will be released and we will get back together for another acoustic performance to mark the occasion.

Maybe it’s time for Anestesia Local to write a new chapter in its history. All of the members are still alive, so there is still hope. Unless we get killed by a Chupacabras.

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