Ocho Ojos Is The Psychedelic Cumbia Band Bringing A Fresh Sound From Coachella Valley
The Coachella Valley is known to most as the home of one of the largest music gatherings, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. But if you look deeper, the desert area is home to miles of agriculture, a developing suburb, and a growing music scene.
Ocho Ojos, a local band from the Eastern Coachella Valley, is a product of that underground culture that many outside of the area might not be aware of. The group, Danny Torres (Synthesizer), Cesar Flores (Guitar/Vocals), James Gastelum (Bass) and Rafael Rodriguez (Drums), wears their hometown on their sleeve and are proud of it.
The group’s name, Ocho Ojos, is Spanish for eight eyes, a reference to the thick black glasses that both Flores and Torres wear.
Dressed in matching white button-ups and white patent leather shoes, similar to the kind chambelanes wear for a quinceanera, the group likes to keep it fresh. Flores says he found the shoes at a local Goodwill one day and realized this was going to be their look. It was also helpful during the hot Coachella nights to be wearing white.
“If you look good, you feel good. And if you feel good, you play good,” Torres said. “It’s a part of who we are as a group and a reflection of our style.”
The group, which started as a duo of only Flores and Torres in 2016, started off by playing backyard gigs in their hometown. They slowly moved up to bars and local clubs and after a year, people began recognizing them.
“We just wanted to create songs that people could dance to and escape to,” Torres said. “We moved up after a year and soon we realized that people got attached to the group.”
After three years, the group would expand to a four-piece, with the addition of Rodriguez and Gastelum. This has helped them keep up with the numerous requests to play shows throughout the Coachella area.
The group likes to call themselves a “psychedelic cumbia band.” It’s a tribute to the fusion of sounds they’ve been inspired by.
Their style is what makes Ocho Ojos so unique and popular in the Coachella Valley. The group says they were inspired by the music they and their parents listened to growing up. It was a mixture of cumbia, classic rock and a lot of heavy metal.
“The music I grew up listening to had a huge influence on me and really inspired much of the music we are creating today,” Torres said. “People here love our sound and I think it’s a reflection of what we listened to growing up.”
That sound is thriving in Coachella’s alternative music scene, where indie rock, desert rock, and punk are more popular than ever. The mixture of cumbia is a tribute to their Latin upbringing and plays a special part in their success with locals.
“Our environment inspires our music. It’s consistent right in the middle of the area and the desert,” Rodriguez. “We even have a song with a sound of a snake in it, I think Coachella inspired us all.”
While the group had success, it wasn’t until a last-minute addition to the 2017 Coachella lineup that they had their big break.
When Ocho Ojos first performed at the Coachella Festival in 2017, they performed on a Sunday to a small crowd of about 100-150. The group was also a last-minute addition, so their name wasn’t on the official concert poster and found out they’d be on the bill on Monday of that week.
Fast-forward two years later, the group was officially part of the lineup and performed along with the likes of Bad Bunny and Tame Impala. When comparing those two different experiences, Torres says it felt like the second time around the group in a way earned the spot.
“It was a completely different experience and it was a completely different process,” Torres said. “We made the lineup and we weren’t just that band from Coachella, we made it because of who we are. We felt like rock stars that night.”
From playing in bars and backyard gigs, the group felt the event was a culmination of all that hard work put forward. Rodriguez says after attending the festival as fans for years being on that stage was special.
“It was surreal after attending the festival for years to find yourself up there it felt like an out of body feeling,” Rodriguez said.
The sky is the limit for Ocho Ojos as they now plan on expanding their reach beyond Coachella.
The group sees growth in themselves and their unique sound that has played a big role in where they are today. For them, performing at Coachella wasn’t anything close to the pinnacle of what they hope is a long music career but another stepping stone.
“All the work that goes on behind the scenes and all the little things that you consider the tedious work is important,” Torres says. “If you go into it with the idea that you’ll be famous it won’t work.”
They hope to continue expanding their fan reach and keep touring around the country. Their love of experimental music and more importantly, their love for the Coachella Valley is what drives them to keep going.
“It’s that desert love and that appreciation for what music has brought into our lives,” Gastelum says. “At night when the temperatures drop, people are dancing and they are enjoying the night, we love it and it keeps us going.”