Welcome, dear readers, to another edition of our Guided Tour musician series. We’re all about diving into the long careers of some of the most important figures in Argentine music history. In past installments, we’ve taken a look at the careers of mythical bands such as Sumo, rock nacional demigod Charly García, avant-garde songstress Juana Molina, psychedelic pop pioneers Babasónicos, and kings of unabashed kitsch Miranda!. Heck, we’ve even taken a look at the current crop of indie musicians for you to check out. Whenever you find yourself grasping for Argentine music trivia to impress your friends with – whenever you’re struggling to answer the question “so what do you listen to?” – we’re here to help you climb that prodigious hill.
And now we come to band that is, to a lot of people, the very definition of Argentine rock. A mythical group whose influence reaches far and deep, and who is a legendary figure in not just Argentine rock music but in Latin American music in general. We’re talking about one of the most storied bands in this country’s history, with a string of releases that not only smashed sales records but also brought an enormous amount of attention to the scene in their home country. We’re talking about a group of innovators, pioneers, creatively restless individuals who followed each artistic whim to its full completion and left behind an enormous legacy that will live on far past their own demise. We’re talking about the one, the only, Soda Stereo.
Soda Stereo frontman Gustavo Cerati was born in Buenos Aires. Growing up in a middle-class household, he displayed a very early fascination with the creative arts; first, by creating his own original superheroes and then by picking up his first guitar and putting together his own little song vignettes. He had a fascination for classic rock figures such as The Who, and he’d attempt to replicate those songs on his instrument.
Much of the derision that would come from some of his more working-class colleagues in the Argentine rock scene later on in life would stem form the fact that he, as well as the other members of Soda Stereo, were perceived to be “chetos“; preppy kids from well-off families who lacked the streetwise grit that rock n roll traditionally requires. This is somewhat true for Cerati; he was a buttoned-up honor student and a member of the church choir. If you took a look at his life as a young man and tried to guess what he would end up becoming, “rock and roll legend” would be far from the list.
It wasn’t until after serving compulsory military service in the late 70s that Cerati would meet the people who would eventually become his bandmates. As a marketing student in the Universidad del Salvador, he became friends with one Hector “Zeta” Bosio, with whom he shared an affinity for the new sounds of the burgeoning new wave scene in the UK and New York. They decided to form a band, and went through a number of lineup changes (including, briefly, Andrés Calamaro, who keeps popping up in these Guided Tours with brief cameos). Eventually, the pair would meet Charly Alberti. The story is actually kind of interesting: Alberti wouldn’t stop harassing Cerati’s sister, and Cerati decided to confront him on the phone. The conversation turned to music, and the two hit it off. So the man who kept harassing his sister would become the drummer for their new band. A band that would change everything.
Soda Stereo made their live debut in 1983, at a fashion show, before a crowd of uninterested fashionistas. They worked their way through a set of originals, played through a precarious sound system. And though the show didn’t exactly make waves, it was an incredibly important milestone for the band; they’d gotten a taste of the gigging life, and they would go on to be defined by it.
From there, they went on to make a name for themselves in the Buenos Aires music underground, playing shows with bands such as Sumo, making important connections in the live rock circuit. They would also further refine their sound, as well as record demos to show off their compositional talents. In 1984, the band released their debut self-titled album, produced by Federico Moura (lead singer for Virus, another legendary Argentine pop band). The sound of the album wouldn’t quite capture their live ferocity, instead featuring a chillier, smoothed-out pop sound, which was what the band was looking for anyway.
As the band kept playing shows, the venue they played kept getting bigger. They would tour all around Argentina, often participating in large festivals, getting their name out there as a force to be reckoned with. They would also have collaborators, “guest musicians” who would round up their live sound with keyboards and saxophones. By the time their second album Nada Personal was recorded in 1985, the band had a very clear musical and artistic identity; if their debut album was a presentation card, Nada Personal was a firm and assertive handshake. By this point, they had become mega stars of the national stage, earning platinum records and headlining stadium shows. But there was still more to conquer.
If Argentina was the first territory they conquered, what had to follow was a full-on takeover of the rest of Latin America. The following year, Soda Stereo embarked on a tour through Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Peru, where they earned the support of those audiences. It is important to note that it was unusual for a Latin American rock band to do international tours at the time, as the genre didn’t have a sizable following back then. Soda’s visit to these territories helped changed that, and caused an entire generation of fans to start looking at their own continent for rock and roll music. Later that same year, the band would take a stratospheric step forward with the release of their third album, Signos.
Signos features the song you probably think of the moment you think “Soda Stereo.” Yep, the propulsive, maddeningly catchy Persiana Americana, which was a massive international hit. The band sold a then-unheard of amount of albums for a Latin American rock group and continued to tour internationally, picking up thousands of new fans with each visit to each new country. The tour that accompanied Signos was a huge success, playing to nearly 350,000 total fans, and resulting in the live album Ruido Blanco (released the following year). 1988 saw the recording and release of their next album, Doble Vida, featuring the mega-hit En la Ciudad de la Furia. Another massive tour followed. By this point, Soda Stereo was widely considered to be the most important band in Latin American rock music.
As if daring the universe to take that title away from them, Soda released another stone-cold classic two years later with Canción Animal. Featuring another signature song, De Música Ligera, Canción Animal went on to become not just a commercial and critical hit, but a fan favorite. During conversations about what the best Soda Stereo album is, this one frequently rises to the top, and that is due to its massive anthemic choruses, its iconic melodies, and its thoughtful arrangements. Soda was able to expand their fanbase across the European continent. However, this level of success, with three enormously lucrative and well-received albums in a row, required a bit of a change to remain artistically engaging.
Later Career and Setbacks
In 1992, Gustavo Cerati released his very first musical venture away from the Soda Stereo brand: Colores Santos, a collaboration with musician Daniel Melero. This was his first piece of work that started to stray from the pop melodicism and rock-influenced sound of Soda Stereo, instead dabbling in psychedelic, dreamy sounds. It was also the first indication that Cerati was ready to try new things.
Later in the year, Soda released their sixth album Dynamo. A marked departure from their sharp pop hooks, Dynamo is essentially a shoegaze album, featuring dense sonic textures and unusual sounds for the band. This was the first album of theirs that truly challenged their fanbase, and remains a sharply divisive one: some people call it the beginning of the end, while others maintain that it is an incredible piece of work by a band that is not content to rest on their laurels and produce the same stuff over and over again. Unfortunately, this divisiveness translated to record sales: though nowhere near a failure, the album did not manage to maintain the increasing level of success that the band had up to that point. The band continued to tour relentlessly, and Cerati finally released his first solo album: Amor Amarillo.
Tragedy struck in 1994, when Zeta Bosio’s young child was killed in a traffic accident. This only contributed to growing tensions within the band, and they all decided to take a break around this time.
A year later, the band would return with their final album, Sueño Stereo, which served as a fitting send-off to the band’s history, featuring elements of all their different eras. The album was a success, featuring MTV hits such as Ella Usó Mi Cabeza Como Un Revolver and Zoom. Shortly afterward, the band announced their breakup: their inter-personal relationships had become fraught, and the artistic collaboration had reached its natural conclusion. The band played a farewell tour – a victory lap of sorts – and then officially called it quits after a show at River Plate stadium.
After the band disbanded, Cerati embarked on a very successful solo career, becoming an emblematic figure in Argentine rock even as a solo artist. Zeta Bosio has continued to work as a producer and DJ, and Charly Alberti became involved in the tech industry. The band reunited for a brief tour in 2007, which broke sales records for live events, but then they each went on their own paths.
In 2010, Gustavo Cerati suffered an aneurysm while on tour in Caracas. He was kept on life support for a long time, languishing in a coma for over four years until finally succumbing to respiratory arrest in Buenos Aires.
There will never be another band like Soda Stereo. And there doesn’t need to be. They occupy their role perfectly, always pushing forward, always innovating, always representing the country at the highest level. It’s a shame that they’re not around anymore, yes, and it particularly hurts to be deprived of the music that Cerati might’ve made in old age. But for a few brief years, they shone brightly, and their light illuminated the country’s music scene as a whole. We were lucky to have them. Gracias totales.