If you were on a very specific part of the Internet last year, it’s likely that a post-punk cover of Karol G’s hit “Bichota” ended up on your radar. It came from a Chilean band called Friolento, who turned the 2020 hit darker and more exciting by injecting it with cold electric guitar and replacing its dembow-lite riddim with rock drums. TikTok took note, with videos that used the song — for the gag or for punks to proclaim they were pleasantly surprised — receiving nearly 200 million views.
Friolento went on to make covers of reggaeton hits from Bad Bunny to Plan B. These shockingly faithful versions sound as though Joy Division or Bauhaus tried their hand at making music to grind to. The covers have been received for what they are: weird, wonderful niche-culture objects that goths who grew up on the Latinternet never knew we needed. Friolento’s virality sent ripples across this specific corner of the web, effectively leading a wave of “perreo post-punk” covers.
It’s also birthed a very specific term: “reggaeton darks.” What began as a reference to a meme riffing on goth Latinxs has become a thriving and hard-to-pin subgenre used to describe dembow with elements of rave, deconstructed reggaeton, and post-punk covers of reggaeton classics. All of these are the kind of songs present at gatherings where the Latinx kids looking for perreo are also sporting heavy eye makeup and wearing mesh topped with a leather jacket.
“We’re fans of the contrast,” says Friolento’s drummer, Zebart Arias, crediting the influence of the Mexican post-punk artist Saúl De Los Santos, among the first musicians to start making these covers. “If you mix a reggaeton track with a post-punk track, it’s still danceable — but it might make you headbang rather than move your whole body. If it’s perreo, it’s a neurotic and dark one.”
One key attribute that post-punk shares with reggaeton, dembow, and perreo is that all of them were born from the underground — whether in the late-1970s U.K. punk scene, Jamaican dance halls, buses in Panama where mixtapes were passed around, or early-2000s marquesina parties in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. All were disregarded (and in the case of an inherently political genre like reggaeton, criminalized) before reaching mainstream popularity. These covers do more than provide compelling experiments with reggaeton; bands like Friolento and Depresión Post-Mortem, who turned Zion y Lennox’s 2004 hit “Yo Voy” into a darks perreo, are uncovering another side to the reasons why people go out dancing. A lot of us go out to have fun, but there’s often a darkness that we run from (or towards) on nights out.
It’s not an exclusively underground phenomenon, either. Some of the biggest artists in the world are exploring alt-rock. Bad Bunny has rap-dueled guitarists onstage and tried out rock sounds on El Último Tour Del Mundo; the best songs off his most recent LP, Un Verano Sin Ti, are collaborations with Latinx alt bands such as Buscabulla, the Marías, and Bomba Estéreo. He’s not the only one: Fellow Puerto Rican hitmaker Rauw Alejandro has been infusing electric guitar and drums into songs like “Gracias Por Nada.” These reverberations at the highest levels of the charts can be traced back to the genre’s underworld, to queer people, femmes, and goth experimentalists — artists who have more in common with Belarusian post punk act Molchat Doma or avant-garde electronic diva Arca than Daddy Yankee.
Scholars like UC Riverside’s Richard Rodríguez see a clear connection between these seemingly distinct sounds and scenes. “Post-punk covers of reggaeton classics may seem unusual, but given the pervasiveness of and renewed interest in post-punk and other related genres from all parts of the globe, musical hybridity is inevitable,” says Rodríguez, whose new book, A Kiss Across the Ocean, explores the relationships that U.K. post-punk groups had with Latinx audiences in the U.S. at their height. He points to the influence of the Cure and the Smiths on Mexican bands like Caifanes and Café Tacvba, and other connections even further back. “We can’t forget that formative punk bands like Blondie and the Clash were influenced by and incorporated hip-hop into their sound, illustrating music’s consistent multidirectional influence,” he adds. “Conventional understandings of reggaeton are bound to change.”
Perhaps the most unapologetic expression of this darker current in reggaeton is neoperreo. El Movimiento’s chronically online darks cousin, neoperreo was born on the Internet and created by and for the fringes. It’s defined by a deconstructed reggaeton sound, more akin to rave music than the familiar dembow beat. This new generation aims to invoke the feeling of unabashed raunchiness from the marquesina and imbue it with an inclusive, dark digital sheen.
“Everything that happens in the mainstream comes from the underground,” says Tomasa del Real, the undisputed high priestess of the genre, who popularized and pushed it alongside Argentina’s Ms Nina, a frequent collaborator and fellow neoperreo luminary. “Reggaeton was always underground. It was a genre viewed poorly societally because it came out of the streets. Now that the genre is mainstream, those at the top will look underground and modernize so that what they make will survive. Before rock & roll there was rockabilly — this is the same.”
Del Real comes from Iquique, a small beach town in northern Chile. Before she started making music in 2016, she and her friends needed a place to dance. Their options were limited, unwelcoming, and decidedly hetero. The need for something new was bubbling. Del Real, a former tattoo artist who began making music for fun on her MacBook, christened the goth, queer reggaeton offshoot “neoperreo” in part to dispel any comparisons to progenitors like Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderón, and Ivy Queen — what del Real calls “real reggaeton.” Not that neoperreo is fake, but it has always been its own thing.
“I felt that being described [as reggaeton] would diminish their movement,” says del Real. “It’s more about reinventing a sound, something new that didn’t quite match the classic reggaeton. I don’t think what we do is 100 percent reggaeton, but it is perreo. It’s perreo for you to dance, and it’s not perreo for basic, regular people. It’s modern, and it’s a mix of anything you can think of.”
She adds that neoperreo is as much about physical realities as it is about a sound: “We needed neoperreo to make our own safe spaces. We needed a place where the queers and the metalheads and the weirdos could be together. That energy is something that has disappeared from modern reggaeton.” The fervent need for this music to occupy a physical space likely comes not just from the rhythm at its core, but because neoperreo (and its listeners) came of age online. “It was so ‘internet’,” says Ms Nina. “I was on Instagram and met a lot of people online, I was on Soundcloud… It was all very DIY. It’s exciting to see things evolve. Genres can and should evolve. Now you hear reggaeton being made by people like Rosalía.”
The inherent global nature of goth subcultures complicates the question of Spanish artists participating in El Movimiento as a whole, especially with the prevalence of European acts in neoperreo like Bad Gyal, Bea Pelea, Virgen María, and Spanish American neoperreo phenom La Favi. Even artists who don’t necessarily identify themselves as making perreo specifically, like Rosalía — decidedly a mainstream pop act at this point — are making what could be considered darks. The sound isn’t free of sin by any means, or completely without questions of appropriation of the Black Caribbean riddims that are the root of the genre, but the digital goth aesthetics that dominate neoperreo provide a space for cultural cross-fusion and exploration of the dark side of the heart. It’s a messy and beautiful in-between space that could only have happened because of the Internet.
Now more than ever, and with its ever-broadening sonic scope, artists from all over the Latinx diaspora — based everywhere from Europe and the U.S. to South and Central America and the Caribbean — could fall under the neoperreo umbrella. Artists like Tomasa del Real, Ms Nina and Cuban Miami mainstay La Goony Chonga — who collaborated with del Real and neoperreo producer Chico Sonido on “Muerde La Manzana” and released floaty trap track “I Don’t Really Think So” around the same time Del Real released early neoperreo track “Tu Señora” with Talisto — have paved the way for newer generations of queer and femme reggaetonerxs. From Argentina’s Six Sex and Mexican trio Meth Math to rising local acts like Venezuela’s Yajaira La Bellaca or Colombian perreopop producer and musician Manchado, who helped shape the sound for other up-and-comers like Cartagena’s Pelorucho, this subgenre of reggaeton continues to bloom from the fringes.
Over on the alt-rock end of the spectrum, indie bands have begun dipping their toes into dembow riddims. You can hear it specifically on indie mainstay Divino Niño’s new LP The Last Spa on Earth, which features tracks that incorporate that specifically digital dembow rattle. The breakthrough came to lead singer Camilo Medina during quarantine, when he stumbled upon Honduran perreo-pop princess Isabella Lovestory. Later that year, on a shroom trip soundtracked by Ms Nina and Bea Pelea, he began scheming a new musical direction.
“I used to see [reggaeton] as mainstream shit, which I don’t like,” Medina says. “I like the underground, and there’s a lot of underground reggaeton that is really sick. Our brains opened up like a flower: Why were we trying to be My Bloody Valentine when we could be Ms Nina?”
Lovestory, who melds electric guitar riffs with dembow riddims on tracks like her recent single “Sexo Amor y Dinero,” notes the DIY experimental nature present in both alternative and indie rock and the newer generation of reggaeton. “Darks reggaeton is an Internet baby that’s more free and came from that place of discovering so much so fast,” she says. “A lot of us are immigrants with influences from where we grew up and we want to keep those roots alive, but we were also exposed to so much growing up because of the Internet. I love the Cure and the Smiths, and I also love Plan B. I’m all over the place, and that’s a lot of us. The neoperreo generation is Pluto in Scorpio: We’re depressed, but we love to have fun.”
Within all of this mixing between genres, putting them all under the umbrella of reggaeton darks could feel like another minimization — the same way that so much music from across the Spanish-speaking world gets reduced into the umbrella term “Latin music.” When it comes to the question of what exactly all of these genres melding have in common, what binds them together is actually deceptively simple.
“It’s the dancing,” says Saul De Los Santos, the musician who inspired Friolento’s viral hit, eventually collaborating with them on a cover of “La Santa” (a post-punk parallel to genre titan Daddy Yankee making the song with Bad Bunny). “I’ve heard of cases where my covers are played at parties and people like it without knowing it’s reggaeton. Conversely, people who came to hear reggaeton and had no interest in post-punk found themselves happy to hear a different version of these tracks they’re familiar with. I think we’re getting to a point where we can enjoy without labels what all of us like regardless of our taste: the music.”
Del Real shares that optimism. “The culture stays strong because lately we’re so connected virtually and not at all in real life,” she says. “Neoperreo is a social lubricant, and going to any reggaeton party, physical contact is expected. Perreo is made to touch each other, to sweat and — because of the fast BPM — to dance close. That used to just mean between men and women, but now anyone can and should grind on anyone, respectfully.”
Interviews have been translated from Spanish and condensed for clarity.