In the world of Los Bitchos, there’s just one rule: lob that rulebook straight out the window. Bum slaps for percussion; backing vocals recorded via WhatsApp voice messages; bell-adorned dancers adding the final sprinkle of cumbian groove: anything goes. “We like the aesthetic of things being a bit tacky, over the top and ridiculous,” drummer Nic Crawshaw laughs over Zoom.
That may be an understatement. Take their music video for ‘Las Panteras’, the first single taken from their upcoming debut album ‘Let The Festivities Begin!’, as proof. Cue Scooby Doo-style sleuthing, choreographed dance sequences and a Bram Stoker’s Dracula inspired fight scene finale. Match that with the track’s disco-funk riff rollicking around sultry cabasa shakes and fired-up bass bounces.
If that wasn’t enough, follow-up ‘Good To Go!’ sees Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos – the album’s producer – gleefully take on the role of a game show host. Donned in a suit so suave he didn’t have to attend wardrobe prior to the shoot, Kapranos becomes the ultimate decider of fate in the ongoing case concerning Los Bitchos’ vigilantism against La Pantera. Confused? Bassist Josefine Jonsson laughs: “We’re just lucky people like Tom [Williams, director] and Alex can make sense of our derrangedness.”
Their enthusiasm for experimentation and creative freedom is intoxicating, and is the only constant through ‘Let The Festivities Begin!’. It stems from their pan-continental upbringings across Australia, Sweden, Uruguay and the UK that invites a concoction of psych-punk goodness.
The four-piece met gradually through mutual friends and bonded over a general love of music, tequila and partying. Though admitting they “never decided to achieve something specific”, their tastes marry up on the percussion-heavy groove of cumbia. Traditionally played on gaita flutes and tambora drums, Los Bitchos’ spin on the genre mixes in the surf-rock psych tendencies of ‘60s chica, and melodic twangs of Turkish Anatolian rock. Think King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard‘s trippy microtonal years softened up with a Khruangbin pop-funk shimmy. ‘Let The Festivities Begin!’ is the surf-exotica soundtrack to post-pandemic fun.
And they had a whole lot of fun making it. Sun-kissed closer ‘Lindsay Goes To Mykonos’ honours the hours spent watching Lindsay Lohan’s 2019 reality TV attempt Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club, in which the actress-turned-entrepreneur trains up wannabe VIP hosts to launch her Lohan Beach House. It’s less drama-filled, but has enough hazy synths and Turk-psych jollies to get the margaritas flowing. It doesn’t stop there. Head back to ‘I Enjoy It’ to find syncopated South American beats tangoing over a much-appreciated off-kilter bass-pop sheen, then get your cowboy hat and lasso ready with spaghetti-western psych-stomper ‘Try The Circle!’.
But surely with so much going on, there must be at least one genre that hasn’t quite worked, NME asks. “Not yet!” Petale quips. “Even ‘Try The Circle!’ has a bit of Metallica, rock ‘n’ roll in there. If it feels good, we put it in and we’re lucky that we haven’t had anything go wrong yet.”
Part of the driving force behind the precise fine-tuning of every sonic ingredient is their producer Alex Kapranos. They met the Franz Ferdinand frontman when supporting New York art-punks Bodega at London’s Shacklewell Arms in 2019. First brought on board for their singles ‘Pista (Great Start)’ and ‘This Link Is About To Die’, there was no debate over his return for the album.
“He knows more about cumbian and South American music than us,” Ruiz says of their decision to work with him again, before adding his strong tea collection (including temperature controlled kettle) and an insane record collection also played a part. Petale adds: “He’s the most positive and nurturing producer to work with, and he put a lot of himself into the record. He got so into it, he even made Nic break up her drum parts so he could loop sections and tweak the tiniest of things, but it makes all the difference when you hear it together.”
Known for his creative songwriting and arrangement methods, such as replacing the chords in ‘Take Me Out’ with each band member playing separate, individual notes, it didn’t take long for him to persuade them to try his wacky approaches.
“I went up to his studio in Scotland to do the guitar overdubs for ‘Las Panteras’ and it just wasn’t working. Alex is all about the groove, so he tells me, ‘Stand up. I want you to dance and feel your way. Pretend you are the notes. Feel your way through the song like a panther’. In my mind, I’m thinking ‘Fuck. How am I going to do this?’, but then I’m dancing by myself in front of Alex and our engineer Julian [Corrie], hands in the air and being a sensual panther,” Petale laughs, apologising for never sharing this with the others who are listening in disbelief. “He wants you to get out of your head and let things go, and it works! It completely changes how you interpret what you play.”
As talk moves to using bum slaps as percussion, the tales of studio antics feel endless, but the most excitement comes from Kapranos’ gear. It ranges from a rare Binson Echorec, known for defining Pink Floyd’s synonymous echoes, to Moog pedals that made “the craziest guitar sounds” on ‘Lindsay Goes To Mykonos’, and a box full of random percussion that brought back the excitement of when the music trolley made an appearance at school. “Inside there were some bells attached to a string so we wrapped them around our friend and got her to dance in time to the music while we recorded,” Jonsson smirks. “Listen out for it on ‘Good To Go!’.”
Having played around so much in the studio, it only felt right to return to their older material and “jazz it up” to make everything more cohesive. ‘Pista (Fresh Start)’ – originally named ‘Pista (Great Start)’ – sounds tighter and brighter, suiting its name change with a revised riff, and opener ‘The Link Is About To Die’ has a newfound confidence dancing around its reverb-heavy melodies and protruding bass slaps.
“We loved the way the old tracks sounded, but the album was a pivotal time for us to present where we’re at now with the four of us,” Petale explains. No track was safe from a cumbian facelift, with even those only heard live being stripped back and started again. “They developed so much in the recording process that we had to figure out how to do them justice when playing shows,” Crawshaw adds.
Once again, Kapranos offered up some much-needed advice and introduced the idea of pre-planning audience reaction. Questions circulated around how the audience should react at certain points of a track, and how they should feel when watching Los Bitchos perform. “The album always came first, but he also looked at the bigger picture,” says Jonsson. “It’s now so fun to see people react the way we hoped, but also some songs got a bigger reaction than we expected so that’s an even better surprise.”
Having worked on ‘Let The Festivities Begin!’ over 2020, they didn’t get the chance to gig the fresh versions until Latitude Festival last July. Tequila shots at the ready and choreographed dance moves to hand, they went to the Suffolk festival fields for a much-needed live release. “The ‘Las Panteras’ eurotrash drum build-up was one of the coolest moments ever,” Petale reminisces. “When we kicked into the last part of the song], the crowd kicked off with us. It was amazing to see how the new bits can really resonate and make the crowd jump around.”
Being a band that relies so heavily on positivity and fun, the past two years could have easily been a blockage for Los Bitchos’ creative output. However, it’s their desire to have a laugh with everything they do that gives them an edge and keeps them going. Even their aspirations stretch to playing Japan, one day film a music video in Mykonos and to simply continue enjoying themselves.
“We don’t overthink things in this band,” Jonsson is quick to say. “Our dynamic has always been spontaneous and light-hearted, it’s how we are as people. It just helps that we’re all on the same page and are open to each other’s crazy ideas.” Crawshaw adds: “We don’t care what people think about [our music], because we love it and find it funny. We’re just lucky that people get it.”
Los Bitchos’ ‘Let The Festivities Begin!’ will be released on February 4