I don’t like plugging random punk shows and events too often because there are so many and our readers are from so many different locations it isn’t useful to everyone. But considering such a large % of our readers are from Colombia and Latin America I thought it might interest people to know about this big festival coming up in Medellin. It’s also a good chance to hear our good buddies from Punk Outlaw Records, “Los Suziox” and other excellent local punk bands.
And in case you missed the article we put out on the Colombian Punk scene in Remezcla magazine, you can check it out HERE.
or I’ve posted the “un-edited” raw version just for you, our loyal readers. Enjoy!
LIKE A GOOD PUNK SONG, IT BEGINS WITH INJUSTICE
I remember it clearly, or as clearly as anyone of us can remember anything. I was at an outdoor café in Parque Lleras in the upscale neighborhood of Poblado in Medellin, Colombia. This was my first visit to Medellin and I had been there just long enough to realize how ridiculous of my irrational fears of being kidnapped or killed in a drug war shootout were.
Lleras was an appropriate spot for a semi-nervous turista to grab some food and people watch. It felt “muy tranquilo”. Most people looked as if they were lifted out of a scene from a hot nightclub in Miami or Los Angeles. The girls were dressed sexy and the guys were sizing them up unabashedly while drinking beer or shooting aguardiente, a Colombian liqueur sometimes called firewater.
Suddenly, I saw something I’d never seen in my travels to Latin America heretofore, a trio of hardcore looking young punks, two guys and a girl, walking around plying their handmade leather wristbands and jewelry to the visitors and upscale denizens of Medellin.
I don’t remember specifically what they were wearing but there was no doubt they were punks. They were of the mohawk wearing, tattooed and pierced variety, the kind you might see at an Exploited or Casualties show moshing it up and stagediving, not posers.
“There are punks in Latin America?” the naïve nature of my first thoughts would later be cause for much amusement. I would find that “por supuesto” (of course) there were indeed many punks in Latin America with a rich history at that.
WHERE AM I & HOW DID I GET HERE?
At this point in my life, I was a fairly new observer of the punk lifestyle not realizing that even though I was not of the Mohawk, tattooed, pierced variety, I can now confidently state that I was pure punk. Though always slightly rebellious and suspicious of authority, even in my native Tennessee, my theory is that I’ve been a punk since birth, but that my “punkness” had lain dormant. I was a punk and didn’t realize it until I’d lived in New York City for a few years and against some pretty heavy odds, tried my hand at becoming an entrepreneur and changing a small but ugly part of the media business.
“A punk-rock businessman?” you ask. Yes. They, like Colombian punks, also exist. At the time when I began my entrepreneurial pursuit of producing English language TV for young, American born Latinos, it seemed it was me (a white farm boy), my friends (almost all Latino) and our cause (representing Latinos in mainstream media) against a largely ignorant and biased media world run by large corporations and their just as hefty corporate sponsors.
At the beginning, my small, bootstrapped and grossly underfunded company was often on the verge of extinction but we found strength in our commitment to fight the status quo of corporate media giants and their sometimes willful ignorance. In my eyes at the time, they represented an intellectually lazy culture that was largely intent on keeping things the same. We represented a new, open minded culture that demanded change.
Money didn’t motivate me, (I viewed it more as a tool to stay alive and fight the good fight), as much as the cause, which felt more and more like the right thing as many people first ignored us, then laughed at us and finally attacked us ( the 3 stages of success).
It was at this time in my life when I mistakenly thought I would fail but had pledged I was going to go down swinging, blacking a few eyes along the way, that I also mistakenly bought Social Distortion’s “White Light, White Heat, White Trash” CD. This happy accident was a bridge to a genre and lifestyle that would take me on a journey to points the world over and would forever change my life.
At this point of the Colombian punk sighting, I was not an entirely seasoned, independent traveler just yet either. Most of my travels had thus far consisted of staying in chain hotels confined to the safety of tourist zones in places like the Dominican Republic or Costa Rica. I had a lot to learn about both the punk lifestyle and independent travel.
MY ACCIDENTAL JOURNEY
Watching these punked out Colombian teens, my curiosity was peaked. I wanted to speak to these guys and even though my Spanish was rudimentary, I wanted more information. Information like; “How did they become punks?”, “Was there a big scene in Colombia?”, “What bands influenced them most?”, etc.
I followed at a distance trying to catch up. The sight of a running gringo is rarely a sign of anything good in these parts, so I briskly walked to the corner of the main road where a bus was making its stop.
Bus routes or collectivos in Colombia and most of Latin America are run by private drivers and though they are subject to some government oversight, it feels a bit like the wild West at times. Each bus is often “hooked up” with chrome trimmings while brightly painted designs and nicknames on the front or side reflect the personality of the driver and even its destination.
The rides can sometimes be rough. Years later, when I actually lived in Colombia for a few months, I regularly took the bus and once witnessed a lady literally getting bounced out of her shoes. Had we not grabbed her she may have bounced right out of the open, back door of the bus!
Now this is the part I have replayed in my head many times since. As the punks attempted to gain entry, the bus driver, who looked like a decent guy but had the posture of a hardworking man who’s run this route 6 days a week, 12-15 hours a day for a while, shook his head vehemently “no”, refusing to open his doors and drove away trailing a smelly, cloudy diesel exhaust to a chorus of “puta madres” and “hijo de puta” protestations from the trio of young punks.
After witnessing this discouraging scene, alas, I lost my nerve to approach the now irritated punks. I had wandered off tourists’ reservation and felt the sudden need to head back to familiar territory.
But that incident with the punks and the bus in Medellin was firmly tattooed on my brain and inspired me to bring my video camera on what would become many subsequent trips. I would attempt to document the punk scene not only in Colombia but all of Latin America and even the world! I now had a host of other questions like “Are punks regularly discriminated against?”; “Do police harass them?”; “What do their families think?” “What’s it like being a punk in the developing world” etc.
Since that incident, my travels have taken me on several journeys throughout Latin America including Guatemala, Argentina, Uruguay, Honduras, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and even Cuba with plans to hit the meccas of Mexico and Brazil. I’ve also traveled to Trinidad & Tobago, Spain, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Hungary and Serbia. My goal is to visit every continent, even Antarctica. .
So far I’ve conducted scores of interviews and watched dozens of punk bands perform. I’ve posted some of them on my video blog PunkOutlawBlog.com which also serves as a rough outline for the bigger project, a documentary film entitled “Punktology” with the ever-evolving tagline “The Power of a Punk Planet”. I began a digital record label called Punk Outlaw Records to bring some of this punk and underground music to audiences in North America and Europe.
So much has been documented about punk from the U.S. and U.K. perspective, but what of the rest of the world? I also attempt to cover not just punk but other related, underground genres like Rockabilly, Psychobilly, Ska, Reggae, etc. in an attempt to find out what makes the scenes tick and tied together.
These bands and scenes aren’t merely extensions of the U.S or U.K, but separate and divergent with their own uniqueness set in a larger global ecosystem that while unorganized somehow has a natural order, almost like a collective consciousness in a punk parallel universe.
It’s the same but different at the same time. Same enough to have this love of punk in common yet diverse enough with their own cultural idiosyncrasies to prove interesting.
That punk/bus incident in Colombia inspired me to look further and see what stories had been left untold about the music I love from the rest of our planet.
COLOMBIA – A PUNK SORPRESA
I like surprises, like the Social Distortion CD or punks in Colombia where I had done no prior research and had no idea what to make of it. Maybe that’s why years later even after all these other travels, I still find myself fascinated by the depth and passion of the punk movement in Colombia.
From Bogota’s rough and tumble scene (which often may feature an element of danger or a riot ending with the police firing tear gas) to the “usually” more peaceful but equally fuerte scenes in Medellin and surrounding coffee country lands of Manizales, Armenia and Pereira to the coastal areas of Cali & Cartagena and even the Amazon. Colombia’s punk scene is as diverse as the country itself.
BOGOTA FOR THE BRAVE – ROCKIN ROLOS!
Many start their journey to Colombia in the big, bustling, high altitude capital of Bogota. If you hit a punk show here it’s probably going to start off calm enough but stick around and it’s almost guaranteed to get crazy. At a Casualties show I covered in 2009 the police had a showdown complete with tanks and teargas with the punks in the street who were partying outside the venue. Thankfully the concert inside went on and was an utter blast.
Then of course, there is Rock Al Parque, a huge free outdoor music festival organized by the government that last for days, garners hundreds of thousands of attendees and features acts from all over the world. It showcases diverse styles of music including Rock, Metal, Reggae, Ska, World and some Punk.
While Punk is somewhat represented at Rock Al Parque, the selection process to play has become politicized and rife with controversy, so much so that many punk bands say “f*&k it” and play instead at simultaneous, smaller underground shows. .
In 2010 while covering Rock Al Parque, I left my press credentials behind and attended one such event and for a brief moment thought I might not make it out with my life, much less my camera. Unbeknownst to me at the time, there had been a stabbing outside. The police arrived and too many people rushed inside, resulting in serious overcrowding for a venue with only one rear entrance serving as the exit. I was thinking “fire trap” and unable to get the tragic “Great White” concert in Rhode Island out of my head. I found myself in the midst of some very drunk & rowdy punks and unable to navigate to the lone exit.
When I finally did make it out of the too small venue, it was around 2 AM and the big crowd outside had completely disappeared. It was just me, in a lonely and decidedly non-touristy part of Bogota toting around a fairly expensive camera with a few desperate souls lurking in the shadows. I never felt more like a target in my life. Eventually, I made it home safely with incredible footage but unclear if I’d truly been lucky or just another jittery Gringo.
If Psychobilly is your thing, well there is an emerging Psychobilly scene with bands Los Chiclosos Desmembrados and Salidos de la Cripta doing their part, but it’s clear that for most underground Rolos (nickname for Bogotanos), Punk rules.
MEDELLIN IS A MECCA – PUNK PAISAS
Maybe it was my emotional connection with the trio trying to catch that bus, but I think it goes deeper than that, whatever the reason I was immediately drawn to the punk scene in Medellin.
On subsequent trips, hanging out in Parque Poblado (a working class alternative to the nearby and higher priced Parque Lleras), I was able to get to know punks in Medellin first hand. I discovered, through interviews and web sites like ColombianPunk.com and Punk-Medallo that Medellin was a mecca and had been since the 1980s & 90s when the FARC, Narco Trafficos and Colombian government were in a bloody war that ripped the country apart. Each had demanded that punks take their side. Most didn’t and as such were targets from all sides. In the U.S. it was cool to wear a mohawk, in Colombia, it could be deadly.
Maybe it is the fact that the Paisas (a nickname for Medellin’s residents) survived such a devastating war (this was after all Pablo Escobar’s home turf) but you’d be hard pressed to find a friendlier, more hospitable bunch than the Paisa Punks of Medellin. More notably, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the depth of punk musicianship that I’ve encountered in Medellin anywhere in the world, including modern day Los Angeles or New York City.
In Medellin you have famous, legendary veterans like I.R.A., a co-ed trio of punks who over their nearly 30 year career are still putting out music and toured the U.S. and even CBGBs in 2004.
Then there are I.R.A.’s hardcore peers, Fertil Miseria fronted by Viki, her tatted bald head instantly recognizable to fans throughout the country. Viki, with the rest of her band mates and other friends in the tightknit scene, also run “Rock N Roll Tienda”, a store where you can get hooked up with punk & metal gear, patches and pins.
Bands like Los Sornos (garage punk) and Neus (industrial punk), Estoy Puto, GP, Desaptadoz, Disastre Capital, Infeccion Sikosis, Lokekeda and many, many more have been performing excellent punk music in Medellin and surrounding areas for years now. International acts like the Casualties, the Addicts and Konflict roll through town on a semi regular basis. And while psychobilly is more of a Bogota thing there is an emerging rockabilly scene with the excellent Dorados Rockabilly Trio spreading their rockabilly rhythm with shows at tattoo conventions, motorcycle shops, etc.
But perhaps the headquarters for punk music in Colombia is Medellin’s northernmost neighborhood of Bello, a rough and tumble barrio 45 minutes away by car from the more comfy confines of Poblado. Bello is where the leader of Los Suziox (The Dirty Ones), Andres Ocampo lives, works and produces at his DIY recording studio and where on the streets of this decidedly working class barrio, he is a bona-fide celebrity.
In Bello punk almost feels main stream. It is just part of the culture and no one waves the Bello moniker more proudly than Los Suziox who have performed their infectious melodic punk for thousands of frenetic fans all over Colombia but strangely never at Rock Al Parque.
Why is punk so big in Colombia? David & Monica from I.R.A. say that it is because of the suffering Colombians have experienced over the years and that punk music’s popularity comes from “the hearts of the youth who are living with unemployment, violence and intolerance” on a daily basis.
In my travels, I have to agree. Misery is great fodder for a punk scene, but it doesn’t really explain the full story. Places like Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela and Ecuador have also seen their share of misery yet have comparatively smaller scenes. Indeed the misery index is high in many places where the punk scene is a fraction of the size and depth of Colombia throughout Latin America (in Argentina punk was outlawed during the military dictatorship, Peru was ripped apart by terrorism and war in the 1980s as well and don’t get me started about Cuba).
But Andres of Los Suziox, who doesn’t shy away from heavy subjects like global politics in his lyrics, says that Colombia’s casual, good time culture also has a lot to do with it, matching up favorably with Punks DIY and democratic method of delivering a diverse message. Andres states that “Every punk in Medellin has a band. Even if two drunks are in a park strumming a guitar, they can be a (punk) band. This is real music, music from the gut. There are no rules. You don’t have to be a virtuoso. You don’t have to be pretty, look at me!”
Colombia has been known for many things; a brutal war that once made inter country travel almost impossible, thuggish drug cartels, government corruption, and crippling poverty in a capitalistic economic system that still too often leaves the weak to simply fend for themselves.
It’s also known for incredibly diverse ecology, cultures and geography, delicious food, cheap beer an emerging middle class and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. Oh and one more thing, now it can be known as a place with some of the best punk music you’ve ever heard.
I can hear the Colombian tourism bureau’s new tagline now “Colombia… the only risk is that you’ll get a mohawk”.