Los Últimos Frikis (The Last Monsters)
NOW ON THE TOPIC! As a Cuban and lover of metal growing up, Los Últimos Frikis (The last monsters) was on my radar as he toured the festival. Director Nicholas Brennan chronicles the lives of the members of Zeus, Cuba’s most popular metal band in the 1990s, as they embark on a final tour of the island. Artistic expression in Cuba is a complicated subject. Since 1959, there has been a constant back and forth between artists and the government, periods of repression, followed by periods of greater tolerance in terms of expression.
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones best illustrate this dialectic. In the 1960s and 1970s, the two groups were seen as “ideologically divergent” artists conveying bourgeois and capitalist values. Years later, a Havana park was renamed John Lennon Park with the unveiling of a statue of its namesake. Additionally, the Rolling Stones performed a government-sanctioned live concert in Havana in 2016.
The story of Zeus follows a similar narrative. The group, made up of Diony Arce, Yamil Siré, Yandi Fragela, Hansel Arroca Sala, Iván Vera Muñoz, reached the peak of its popularity in the 90s, known in Cuba as the “Special Period”. The fall of the Soviet Union – Cuba’s main trading partner – turned the decade into an economic test. Arce, the lead singer, was jailed for six years before the group formed. The government has not officially sanctioned metal groups such as Zeus. Apart from the hardships, a curious thing happened in the 1990s. The biggest protests since 1959 erupted in Havana, and the Cuban government realized it had to loosen its hand. As long as they didn’t go beyond certain parameters, groups like Zeus were officially sanctioned and even supported by the government.
“…tells the story of the members of Zeus, Cuba’s most popular metal band in the 1990s, as they embark on a last tour… ”
Brennan takes the viewer on an intimate journey into the lives of members, their families, their neighborhoods and the identity of the Cuban people. The filmmaker captures the unpretentiousness and marked friendliness of Cuba. Cuban history and politics are discussed, but to Brennan’s credit, Los Últimos Frikis is much more than these topics.
There is a melancholy that he effectively captures during the group’s tours. The declining audience, the indifference of young people, power cuts before playing and many other obstacles lead Zeus to realize that they, and metal, are a holdover from the past. Musical tastes on the island have changed dramatically since their heyday. Reggaeton is everywhere; it crowds out all other musical genres. The group realized that perhaps it was better to be seen as monsters in the past, as irrelevance is so much worse.
A scene in Los Últimos Frikis involves a band member remembering his first listening to Metallica. It was exciting, a paradigm shift and telling that others needed to hear this wonderful music. The metal formed communities. As an insane teenager, I felt like a misfit. As an immigrant, I didn’t really feel like an American. Then again, I never really enjoyed the music my Cuban parents listened to. I looked to genres and communities that accepted outsiders like me – metal, punk, grunge and industrial. Perhaps this is the reason why metal never dies.
As long as there are misfits, so will metal. Maybe one day we’ll reach a point – both in Cuba and in my hometown of Miami – where people will be sated with reggaeton. We can only hope that the bell rings for reggaeton sooner rather than later. So maybe a rebirth of all that heavy will be on the horizon. Until then we have Los Últimos Frikis to help us out.