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As a musician with nearly two decades of time spent immersed within the Austin music scene, Mike Fonseca has applied his talents in a variety of musical endeavors.
With a foundational knowledge of jazz performance, he’s played in bands spanning across multiple genres. From one-off jazz gigs to indie rock bands and Brazilian music groups, the Austin-based musician has depth in his musical repertoire.
While his catalogue is rich in diversity, one band of his stands out amongst the rest – Huelga.
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Mike Fonseca’s deep admiration of the metal genre and its many subgenres are encapsulated in Huelga, a solo project he’s pursued for roughly 13 years. Taking inspiration from the early thrash metal pioneers as well as more experimental and progressive metal acts, Huelga’s music follows complex polyrhythms, crushing drum fills, and distorted staccato guitar riffs.
In the same vein as contemporary bands such as Revocation, Polyphia, Meshuggah, and Chon, Huelga offers a unique blend of the heaviness and speed found within the realm of technical death metal, as well as the progressive and experimental characteristics of instrumental math rock.
The subtle complexity of his music can largely be attributed to his formal study of jazz performance at the University of North Texas and The University of Texas at Austin, where intricate experimental techniques are commonplace.
“When I was studying music at North Texas back in the 90’s I was exposed to 20th century composers and always loved concepts they came up with,” Fonseca said. “That music is hard to listen to, and I’ve always wondered if those concepts could be fused with a more pop sensibility. My love for metal is what got me to study music in the first place, so for me it is a perfect combination.”
The name of his solo project can be traced back to one of Fonseca’s early heroes, Dolores Huerta, a Mexican-American civil rights activist. An iconic image of Dolores Huerta holding a sign that read “Huelga” resonated with Fonseca and served as the direct inspiration for his band’s name. Translating to “strike” in English, the local musician took the meaning of the word literally.
Wanting to distance himself from playing in the conventional 4-or 5-piece metal band, essentially going on “strike” as he described it, Fonseca’s decision was based on preserving the artistic value of his music by taking his band in a very specific direction, which often didn’t line up with having multiple individuals joining Huelga.
“One reason is that all my friends are starting to mellow out,” Fonseca said. “They want to play slower and quieter. I want to go faster and louder. Another reason is that I know most guitarists and bassist don’t like to play music that they didn’t write. My music is really challenging to play and would require lots on rehearsal, all of which is a hard sell for musicians.”
One would be led to believe that running a one-man band based off of complex musicianship would be prove to be a daunting task. For Fonseca, however, it’s the opposite.
“To tell you the truth, right now, I only see benefits. Getting multiple people on the same page for rehearsals, artistic direction and social media outreach has been extremely difficult in every other band that I’ve been in.”
While fully enjoying his time operating Huelga as a solo project, Fonseca has not dismissed playing in other bands in the future. Expressing your vision without inhibition certainly has its benefits, but the experience of creating music with others is something nearly every musician can get behind.
“I love playing with other musicians,” Fonseca added. “I just really needed to get this project off the ground. Different things have kept me from letting the project take off. Things like joining other bands, getting my Masters and fried hard drives.”
Currently, Fonseca is planning on releasing a 4-song EP through the Huelga page – depending on its reception, a local performance from the metal one-piece could be on the horizon.
Your resident metal columnist.