Mercury Toys and Lima’s Booming Indie Music Scene
Written and Photographed by Rick Perez
I met Mercury Toys in February of 2015 when my buddy Levi and I were traveling around Peru. I was there partly to explore, partly on assisgnment for a magazine. Being interested in what music scenes are like in different countries, my assignment was to pick a band in Lima and do a photo shoot with them.
In my research into Lima’s music scene, I stumbled upon an event called the Lima Indie Festival. I checked out a few of the bands that played the year before, and Mercury Toys was one of them. I loved their self-titled LP from start to finish, so I reached out to them. One of the members, Natalia, responded within a day.
Thus began my relationship with the Lima-based indie band, Mercury Toys. For two days, I documented members Nicolas Miranda, Natalia Vajda, Alessandra Robertson, Carlos Aspiros, and Renzo Zamora on different adventures throughout the city . On the first day, I met them at their rehershal space, which was an old house in the Miraflores neighborhood, and did a photo shoot with them. On the second day, they took Levi and I to recoding studio called Rec Room Studio, where they live streamed a few of their songs on the studio’s website and were interviewed by the founder.
On the night of the second day, Mercury Toys took us out on the town, bringing us into their circle of creative friends. They showed Levi and I the seedy artist haunts of Lima, ones filled with cigarette smoke, cheap drinks, and American rock n roll music.
Throughout the night, each person in the circle shared the joys and struggles of being an artist in Lima, much like the conversations I have with my fellow artists in New York City. Although, I learned that the struggle can be much harder in Peru.
One example is that in Peru, the concept of moving to a bigger city to pursue art (like artists flock to NYC) is almost non-existent. Many Peruvians don’t have the means to move up in social and financial status, so the dreams of making it as an artist isn’t as feasible. In New York, someone can work at a coffee shop as a means to their end goal, but in Peru you are stuck there for the rest of your life. It is ones who are fortunate enough to be educated and have money who are able to pursue their art outside of their normal jobs.
Fast forward two years later, I still have a close relationship with Mercury Toys. Natalia has come to NYC each year since my visit to Peru, attending a conference for her organization called Warmi Rock Camp Peru, which encourages young girls to play rock music.
This past year, Nicolas was able accompany Natalia to New York. While they were here, not only was I able to film the music video for their single, ‘Into Love’, but I was able to talk in depth with them about what it’s like to be a musician in Lima, and about the emerging indie music scene happening in the city.
Nicolas explained that for over 30 years, rock radio was dominated by ‘out of fashion’ bands like Ac/Dc and Guns n Roses. Everyone in Lima listened to the same type of music so they made similar music. The youth of Lima’s counter culture, people like Nicolas and Natalia, sought out different voices. They related to bands like Oasis, The Stone Roses, and New Order, and started to make music similar to those artists.
Nicolas’ and Natalia’s underground bands were sheltered from the masses, but all that changed within the past 5 years. “I think 2013 and 2014 were very important years for the music scene in Lima and other places in the country,” says Natalia, “In those years, people started to take notice of indie bands and the media became more open to promote emerging artists.” Districts like Barranco are popping up with more places where artists can congregate and venues like Oliver Club are becoming homes for musicians in the indie scene.
Why did it change? The internet. The current youth of Lima have access to more types of music now, so the demand has become more apparent. Natalia continued to explain, “A lot of bands have appeared within the last year, and there’s now more access to national and international festivals. The young people of Lima are very supportive of local bands.”
Being a group since 2012, Mercury Toys have been one of the first and main bands spear heading this deveopling indie music culture. What’s their impact so far? It’s too soon to tell. “I don’t know what impact we have now,” says Natalia, “but I’m sure I can measure it in the future and wether this influence is reflected in the new generations. It would be super cool if we did have influence, but for now we are just trying to get out there.”
They may not know their effect on the indie community as of yet, but were there any local musicians that inspired Nicolas and Natalia growing up? In Peru, there weren’t so many options of musicians that they could look up to. Especially for Natalia, being a girl, it was a little difficult for her. “Latin America holds a lot of prejudices towards women musicians,” explains Nicolas, “especially in Rock n Roll.”
What did she do about these predjudices? Natalia and her fellow female musicians made an organization Warmi Rock Camp, dedicated to young girls who want to rock out. “We (women) are still a minority and it was very hard to find girls around doing music, or even all female bands,” Natalia explains, “Before Mercury Toys I was in a band called Electro Boobies. We were a hard rock band that became the non-profit, Warmi Rock Camp Peru. We found a way to keep working towards a greater goal, which is to make girls rock!”
How can a small association of musicians in a city like Lima contiue to grow? The answer is hard work, believing in your ideas, and mostly importantly, supporting other musicians. Natalia says that the secret to a thriving music community is, “…about creating a scene together, instead of being the only one.”
I’m excited to see where Lima’s indie community will go, what it produces, and the sort of impact Mercury Toys will have on it. Will future generations name Mercury Toys as one of their influences? Will Lima be a new Mecca for up and coming musicians? Only time will tell, and I’m excited to see what happens next.