I recently revisited Medellin, Colombia after an almost 8-year absence (yeah, I’ve been a bit busy). Having once semi-lived in Medellin, I know the city pretty well, thanks largely in part to my punk rock amigos and particularly to Andres O’Campo, lead singer of the now legendary punk band Los Suziox.
I’d seen Andres a couple of times over this period, but that was in the USA on his visits to NYC when visiting his family.
We always had a blast in NYC, me especially, observing and helping my friend Andres navigate this strange, new country and culture. Andres spurred along my desire to find and connect with what remains of the NYC area’s punk rock scene. It’s kind of telling that it takes a punk rocker from Colombia to do this for a guy who lives here most of the time, but if you scroll through my past blogs, you will see, the punk scene is indeed still alive here in NYC.
But in Colombia, punk, metal, rock and all is still a huge part of the fabric of many neighborhoods and I was excited not only to see Andres again in Colombia but all my punk rock amigos from that period of my life, Mono, Kamel, Faber, etc., etc.
I was also excited to check out the new punk rock club and music venue “El Sub” (The Underground) that Andres and his pals had built, partly at least with proceeds from the royalties from Andres’ compositions and music that we’ve used on Raw Travel. Now, who could have predicted that “butterfly effect”? An indie TV show in the USA with a “ghost of a chance” to succeed, would and then would lead to the building of a punk club in Medellin, Colombia?
After confirming my travel dates, Andres quickly organized the Los Suziox 15 Anniversary show. This thing was bigger than I expected. I think it may have begun as a small endeavor but quickly became a multi-hour, multi-band affair. They raised funds for a sick punk rock comrade in the community, commissioned a 15-year vinyl album, T-Shirts and even a Los Suziox 15th Anniversary Craft Specialty Beer. The guys went all out.
Upon my first arrival to Colombia and eventually Medellin, it was surreal and emotional. I was amazed at how Medellin’s tourism has grown and expanded. It’s (thankfully) no longer the tired old stereotypical older, male quasi-adventurers in their mid-life crisis mode or the young, perpetually broke backpacker.
Not that this made up the majority of travelers or ex-pats even when I was living there, but there were enough % of those shady characters around to give fellow Gringos and travelers a bad image, particularly in the tourists laden, upscale Poblado area. I felt welcomed 99% of the time, but the 1% when I didn’t I kind of got it having witnessed a sorry display of behavior and arrogance from a very vocal minority of travelers.
Now to be clear, I met so many very good people when I lived in Medellin including some I’m still in touch with and friends with to this day. But I also met a few shady, unsavory characters as well, who always seemed intent on scamming me into something and most importantly showed a disgraceful amount of respect for the locals. They just didn’t know or care how to act respectfully.
They were for lack of a better term the “Ugly Americans” but I’d go a step further and call them the “Shady Gringos” or perhaps just plain losers who couldn’t hack it in the U.S. and thought to live abroad was, I don’t know, a chance for them to be somebody special?
Today Medellin seems to be attracting a better, more sustainable form of tourism with adventurous, respectful travelers interested in the culture, people, and outdoor activities present in Antioquia. Young Backpacking Couples, Older (and younger) Female Travelers, Volunteers, and Savvy Travelers make up the much more diverse group of travelers from all over the world.
I also noticed a MUCH broader array of travelers in Bogota, Cartagena but it’s especially resonant in Medellin. The word is out and I hope we had a small something to do with that, having been a Colombia booster for over a decade now.
This time it felt most travelers were there for the same reason I was, the people, the culture, the food, the lifestyle. I bet there are still some adventurers and dark underbellies to that scene still today, but at least there is diversity and the underbelly is not so obvious perhaps.
As for me, I was seeking what I always seek, genuine connections with the super friendly locals, authentic culture and good punk rock music and I got them all when I arrived at the barrio of Castillo in the northernmost reaches of Medellin near Bello.
This is where Andres and team had transformed an old recording studio to El Sub, a fully functional pub and concert venue that holds around 300 or so punk loving fans.
What these guys have done with limited resources is nothing short of miraculous and I could not be more proud of them. The Pub out front has a video jukebox with punk rock or hardcore classics from around the world blaring; the back concert hall is a completely separated space with lights, audio mixing, stage and it’s own pub below as well. The live music crowd can mix it up downstairs by the stage or remain upstairs close to the bathrooms for a bird’s eye view from above.
The only thing the pub is missing is enough fire exits as I’d find out when the place was packed for the 15th-anniversary concert. No one seemed concerned as we sweated it out and I was as far away from the exit/entrance out front as one could be. My only solace was the place is mostly rock, brick, and mortar so maybe it’s mostly fireproof, but I want to help raise the $ for proper rear exits if possible. If only for emergencies.
Castilla, like many of the outlying neighborhoods, has its gang or criminal element, but most people are really good people who did nothing but treat me extraordinarily kind. A surprising % of them are into punk music.
Andres says having El Sub in Castilla is not only good for punk music, it’s good for Castilla and I agree with him.
This is Colombia, and for most folks lack of proper fire exits at a concert is the least of their issues. Free speech and the peace that has mostly been the Colombia I knew the last few years is under assault as community leaders all over the country are showing up dead when they speak out against the government and their recent peace deal with the former Farc.
The day before the big concert, Andres and I did some filming around Medellin that ended with us attending a huge protest at the University. I was shocked at what I saw. I thought I was plugged into Colombia’s politics, but I saw thousands of people protesting dozens of murders all over the country. Faces and names of the deceased on posters, with the crowd chanting slogans meant to show solidarity with each other. People, not the government, is what makes Colombia special.
Why wasn’t this violence being reported more in the mainstream USA media? Could it be because Drama Queen Trump is 24/7 on the news cycle? Damn. I plan to educate myself better before going back. If I didn’t know about this I can only wonder how many of the tourists in Poblado even have a whiff of knowledge of this issue?
Anyway, please enjoy some of the pics from my return back to Colombia, the protests (let’s all learn more about what is happening) as well as the concert as well as some videos.
I hope it’s not another 8 years before I’m able to return again.