Los Bitchos: Here To Slay
Panthers prowling through a desert. Cowgirls swaggering into a saloon and kicking up dust. Riding shotgun with a Tarantino heroine. Having the fiesta of your lives under a giant piñata with all your friends. Los Bitchos’ hallucinatory surf-exotica is as evocative as it is playful: the London-based pan-continental group could well be your new favourite party band with their instrumental voyages that are the soundtrack to setting alight to a row of flaming sambucas and losing yourself to the night. They’ve got a bun-tight knack for a groove – and they’ve got the best fringes in rock’n’roll too.
Partying is the glue that bonds Los Bitchos together – as well as being superb musicians, that is. They’re used to drinking Mac DeMarco under the table, having been enlisted by him to support him on various shows across Europe. Serra Petale (guitar), Agustina Ruiz (keytar), Josefine Jonsson (bass) and Nic Crawshaw (drums) hail from different parts of the world but met via all-night house parties, or through friends, in London. Their unique sound binds them together, though, taking in a retro-futuristic blend of Peruvian chica, Argentine cumbia, Turkish psych and surf guitars. They are London’s answer to Khruangbin, if Khruangbin spent all weekend getting slammed on cheap tequila in a Dalston dive bar.
“I wanted to sound like Van Halen and Cocteau Twins – but from Turkey,” says multi-instrumentalist Serra, who was born herself in Western Australia and takes a lot of inspiration from her mother’s 70s Anatolian rock records. The rest of the band bring influences from their upbringings, too. Agustina comes from Uruguay and the group fell in love with her Latin-American music collection (as much as they did Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’ period). Then there’s Josefine from Sweden – “who brings a touch of out-of-control pop,” her bandmates joke – and Nic from south London, who drummed in various punk bands before rounding off Los Bitchos. “Coming from all these different places,” says Serra, “it means we’re not stuck in one genre and we can rip up the rulebook a bit.”
It’s these personalities and lively musical outlook that pricked the ears of one Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, who ushered them into the studio in 2019 to make their whooping, hollering first sell-out single, ‘Pista (Great Start)’, which sounds like William Onyeabor discovering cumbia. Since then, Los Bitchos have also sold out a self-released seven-inch of their track ‘The Link Is About To Die’ last year and rejoined Kapranos for their debut album, Let The Festivities Begin!, which is due out in City Slang in February 2022 alongside a European headline tour. “We asked him to produce us again, and he brought out the best in us in a really encouraging way,” says Josefine. “He used a lot of his vintage gear, including some cosmic synths that give our songs a bit of added sass,” adds Serra.
Let The Festivities Begin! has been a long time coming: Los Bitchos finished recording it back in January 2020 at London’s Gallery Studios – the recording space owned by Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music – right before the pandemic hit. They kept momentum going during lockdown with their radio show, Planet Bitchos, on esteemed internet station Worldwide FM, which ‘hits the road’ every month to explore a new far-flung corner of the globe. It was a welcome respite especially for Nic, who was swept up with her job as a physiotherapist, working on the NHS frontline. “Even in times of adversity, everyone's strength has been really inspiring,” says Agustina. “And we bring out the best in each other, too.” The band’s live performance for KEXP, meanwhile – which was recorded in France during the 2019 Trans Musicales festival – was let loose last March and has since racked up over 1 million views, evidencing the ease of their rhythm section and their penchant for percussion: timbales, bongos, cowbells and shakers all star.
Similarly, Let The Festivities Begin! is hardly minimalist. It’s a maximal, Technicolour strut of an album. Lead single ‘Las Panteras’ is a disco-funk prowler that sounds like it’s beamed in from another planet, where washes of synth and delirious guitar lines are punctuated with the thrust of stonewashed 80s rock and the slinky shake of the cabasa. Or there’s ‘Try the circle!’, a track title that came about after a night on magic mushrooms and which pairs killer psychedelic-rock guitars with galloping drums like a demented spaghetti western. Other songs have names like ‘Tripping At A Party’, ‘FFS’ and the chilled-out tiki lounge vibe of ‘Good To Go!’, though they tend “not to overthink” their song meanings. “As there's no lyrics, people use their imagination with the songs and might picture their own interpretations of what it’s about,” explains Nic.
The album’s closing track, meanwhile, is named after the reality TV show where Lindsay Lohan opened a luxury beach hotel on the Greek island (‘Lindsay Goes To Mykonos’) and is replete with Ramones-style yelling at the end. That’s about as much vocal as you’re going to get with Los Bitchos, though, which seems to surprise those who assume that because there are four women in the band, they should sing. But the band remains resolute in their instrumental mission and any voices they add only heighten this sense of them being in the world’s most enjoyable girl gang. “The vocals we do have are quite deranged,” says Agustina. “They’re funny!”
It does all come back to having a much-needed sense of humour. Let The Festivities Begin! is a celebratory title, something you might say as you toast with your shot glass, signalling the end of the pandemic era and ushering in a bright new dawn of wild abandon. “It’s about being together and having a really good time,” says Los Bitchos. That mindset translates to their thrilling live shows, too, where the gurn faces rival Este Haim’s and where they’ll often rope in an honorary member of a band like psych-rockers Flamingods to help out on guitar. “We want people to have fun with us when we go onstage,” says Josefine. “But it isn’t hard,” Serra chimes in. “Whenever we hang out it’s fun.”
They’re so busy having fun that ambition rarely comes into it, they say. “We never expect anything, we just find joy in whatever happens,” Serra laughs. But not everyone agrees all the time. “No, we’d like to end up in a Tarantino movie,” says Nic. “That would be the dream.” So Quentin, if you’re listening… Let the festivities begin!