Taut-muscled soccer players sprinted across the television screen at Cocina Poblana Mexican restaurant, as Brazil prepared to trounce its North Korean foe. Bandmates Juan Manuel Caipo and Dave Lopez were thrilled. Both had followed the World Cup assiduously since the June 11 opener — a frustrating tie between Mexico and South Africa. Caipo only clocked three hours of sleep on the eve of the opening game. Lopez monitored the FIFA stats the way an economist might scrutinize the Dow. He arrived to Cocina Poblana wearing an Adidas soccer jacket, and said he planned to wake up at 4:30 a.m. the following morning to watch Honduras battle his Chilean homeland. "Of course I'm following the World Cup," said Lopez. "Every Latino is."
Every Latino except for Nicaraguan rapper Deuce Eclipse, the third member of Caipo and Lopez' bilingual rap-rock outfit, Bang Data. Deuce (aka Jorge Guerrero) nibbled a vegetarian taco and looked bemused. He said he prefers baseball.
That's not the only difference between the three musicians. While Lopez and Caipo spawned from a rock tradition — they met at the long-defunct Berkeley Square venue in the mid-Nineties — Deuce is firmly rooted in hip-hop. He grew up in San Francisco's outer Mission District, spoke Spanish at home, and formed his first rap group in sixth grade. Lopez is a metal head and self-taught guitarist, who could nail anything from blues riffs to intricate Jason Becker licks. Caipo played drums in the local rock en español group, Orixa. In real life, they occupy three separate worlds. On records, they're arresting.
Deuce and Lopez sat side by side at the restaurant table, both looking a little bleary-eyed and grousing that 11:30 a.m. was awfully early to start the work day. Lopez ordered a latte, speaking to the waiter in rapid Spanish. Deuce usually wears his hair in two long braids, but he hadn't had time to fix it that day. It hung down in long, sausage-curl ringlets below his black beanie. He had a labret piercing and two black bands tattooed around his right wrist. Known for his animated rap performances, he looked uncharacteristically dour that morning. Lopez kept watch on the TV. "I can't believe they don't have it on Channel 14," he said, irritated by Cocina Poblana's decision to show the ESPN sportscast rather than the Univision broadcast. "That's the fun part — hearing 'da da da da da' (he imitates a crisp, Spanish-speaking commentator). Not 'paaaaasss the baaaaaall; Ooooooofff siiiiiiiiides.'"
The three make a combustible group. Lopez and Deuce met at Soundwave Studios in the early Nineties. Lopez had a full-time gig at the front desk, where he checked in musicians and played guitar all day. Deuce would arrive with various rap groups — first his high school backpacker outfit, Full Deck, then emcee Zumbi and DJ Amp Live of the duo Zion-I. (Deuce is widely regarded as a member of Zion-I's "extended family.") For a long time, Deuce and Lopez were too involved in their own separate projects to pay much attention to each other. Lopez launched the rap-rock group Flipsyde, signed to Interscope, and thought he was set for life. Deuce concentrated mostly on hip-hop, making cameos at all the Zion-I shows and occasionally cutting tracks with Amp Live. Caipo focused on Orixa, which, in 2004, also seemed on the verge of greatness. The video for its single "Siembra" debuted on MTV-es in 2004.
Why these guys didn't remain viable in the pop realm is still a point of contention. It's tempting to blame mainstream labels for being xenophobic toward Latin music. In reality, though, the members of Bang Data are more beholden to American rock and hip-hop than to their heritage cultures. The group's new album, Maldito Carnaval, incorporates salsa and cumbia styles into a heavily riff-based form. Since the band only includes two instrumentalists (plus freelance trumpeters Steve Bradley and Mario Silva), Maldito relies heavily on programmed sounds. The tracks mix live snare with a lot of synthetic bumps and hiccups. Deuce sings and raps in both English in Spanish. Lopez' melodic, minor-key guitar leads recall traditional tango or flamenco, though he says he's not rooted in any particular form. (Flamenco guitarists play with their fingers; Lopez uses a pick.) "I always says it's a sopa," said Deuce, using the Spanish word for "soup."
You can hear resonances of Flipsyde and Orixa throughout the record, but it's a lot more geared toward hip-hop, with the rapping and the emphasis on electronic sounds. And the group is uncompromising: Lopez, Deuce, and Caipo recorded everything at Caipo's studio in Oakland Music Complex (formerly Soundwave), and fused elements according to their own artistic whims. Lopez likes it better that way. He said that signing to Interscope made him an accomplice in his own exploitation. "It's like you're doing a painting, and someone comes up and says, 'I want two more of those.' Then they come back, and they say, 'How about you do this? How about you do that?'" Judging from his Interscope horror stories, the analogy seems apropos. Lopez said that label execs larded their second album with schlock by adding a sultry twenty-year-old blond girl to the group, enjoining the singer Steve Knight to use Auto-Tune, and ordering Jinho "Piper" Ferreira to rap about club life rather than social themes. He said he tentatively pitched the idea of adding Latin music to Flipsyde's repertoire, and got an emphatic "no" from Interscope. Latin didn't sell.
Thus, the devolution of Flipsyde and Orixa might have been a salutary thing. Caipo and Lopez started recording together in fall of 2007. Lopez recorded Deuce after hearing the rapper sing on a track on Amp Live's current album, Murder at the Discotech. (Lopez also penned one track for Murder.) They laid down tracks over the course of two years, and found creative ways to finance the new project — Caipo licensed two tracks to the indie film Becoming Eduardo to pay for a final pressing. The name "Bang Data" originated from Deuce, and doesn't mean anything. Deuce describes it as the coinjoining of lyrical "data" with a sonic "bang." In a Google search, "Bang Data" leads to web sites about Big Bang theory. To Lopez, that's rather satisfying.
Right now the group is resolutely independent, and Caipo is pretty convinced it will stay that way. The band earns a steady income from its live shows, and its members get enough freelance work to live entirely off their art. That's big, said Caipo. It means they're not obliged to anyone, and they have creative control of their work. It also means they have time to watch the World Cup.
All heads turned at Cocina Poblana when, shortly after noon, Brazil's right defender Maicon Douglas Sisenando scored with a phenomenal corner kick that landed at the far end of the goal box. Lopez sprang up from his chair. "Oh shit, what happened?" he said. "How the hell did he do that?" Korean goalie Ri Myong Guk lay on the field, devastated. Lopez smiled. "That would be sick if Korea scored right now," he said. "I'd be so happy." He turned to Caipo with a mischievous grin. "I like the underdog."
Deuce was non-plussed.
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