NOW ON TOPIC! As a Cuban and a lover of metal growing up, Los Últimos Frikis (The Last Freaks) was on my radar as it made the festival rounds. Director Nicholas Brennan chronicles the lives of the members of Zeus, Cuba’s most popular metal band in the 1990s, as they embark on one last tour of the island. Artistic expression in Cuba is a complicated topic. Since 1959 there has been a constant push and pull between artists and the government, periods of repression, followed by periods of greater allowance in terms of expression.
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones best exemplify this dialectic. In the 60s and 70s, both bands were considered “ideologically divergent” artists conveying bourgeois and capitalist values. Years later, a park in Havana was renamed John Lennon Park along with the unveiling of a statue of its namesake. In addition, the Rolling Stones played a live government-sanctioned concert in Havana in 2016.
The story of Zeus follows a similar narrative. The band, consisting of Diony Arce, Yamil Siré, Yandi Fragela, Hansel Arroca Sala, Iván Vera Muñoz, reached the height of its popularity in the 90s, known in Cuba as the “Special Period.” The fall of the Soviet Union — Cuba’s primary trade partner — made the decade an economic hardship. Arce, the lead singer, was imprisoned for six years before the band formed. The government did not officially sanction metal bands such as Zeus. Apart from hardship, a curious thing occurred in the 90s. The biggest protests since 1959 erupted in Havana, and the Cuban government realized that it needed to loosen its hand. As long as they did not go beyond certain parameters, bands like Zeus were officially sanctioned and even supported by the government.
“…chronicles the lives of the members of Zeus, Cuba’s most popular metal band in the 1990s, as they embark on one last tour…”
Brennan takes the viewer on an intimate journey into the lives of the members, their families, neighborhoods, and the identity of Cuban people. The filmmaker captures the lack of pretension and the marked friendliness of Cuba. Cuban history and politics are touched upon, but to Brennan.s credit, Los Últimos Frikis is about much more than those topics.
There is a melancholy he effectively captures as the band tours. Diminished audiences, indifference by the young, power outages before playing, and many other obstacles lead Zeus to realize that they, and metal, are a remnant of the past. Musical tastes on the island have shifted dramatically since their heyday. Reggaeton is pervasive; it crowds out all other music genres. The band realized that it was perhaps better to be perceived once upon a time as freaks because irrelevance is much worse.
A scene in Los Últimos Frikis involves a band member recalling his listening to Metallica for the first time. It was thrilling, a paradigm shift, and indicative that others needed to hear this wonderful music. Metal formed communities. As an alienated teenager, I felt like a misfit. As an immigrant, I did not quite feel American. Then again, I never really enjoyed the music my Cuban parents listened to. I gravitated toward genres and communities that were accepting of misfits like me — metal, punk, grunge, and industrial. That is perhaps the reason metal never dies.
As long as misfits exist, metal will as well. Perhaps one day, we will reach a point — both in Cuba and in my hometown of Miami — where people will become satiated with reggaeton. We can only hope that the bell will toll for reggaeton sooner rather than later. Then, maybe a renaissance of all things heavy will be the horizon. Until then, we have Los Últimos Frikis to tide us over.
"…as long as misfits exist, metal will as well."