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Hardcore Latino Underground Surfaces in SLC

-OR- Punk Metal and Other Defiant Music that Your Parents Don't Want You to Read About Let Alone Listen To

 
  By Luciano Marzulli Vargas  
 

n Saturday, March 15, a gathering of sorts took place in a warehouse on the south side of town. Hard rock, metal and punk bands came together to share one stage for an evening of entertainment, but what separated this evening’s line-up from other local hardcore acts is that the majority of players possess a brown hue and have a Spanish surname. In the same strain, the singing and screaming was done in Spanish in addition to English.


The evening's line-up featured a small community of local musicians making waves in an emerging underground scene of Latino hardcore. They are carrying on a tradition of bands that are barely known, throughout the United States and Latin America.


According to the documentary "Beyond The Screams" by Martin Sorrondeguy (vocalist for Los Crudos), bands like The Plugz, The Brat, The Zeros and The Bags were integral in the late ’70s in the East L.A. Chicana/o Latina/o punk scene. In the ’80s, various Latin American countries hosted homegrown punk-rock acts. The early ’90s saw the emergence of the Chicana/o Latina/o hardcore punk scene in different cities in the United States. These bands include Los Crudos, Arma Contra Arma, Youth Against and Sin Orden in Chicago, Kontra Attaque and Subsistencia in L.A. and other bands in New York and Texas.


According to the documentary, the anti-immigrant and xenophobic climate of the early ’90s served as a catalyst for these bands to speak out. While protest punk is nothing new, Chicana/o and Latina/o hardcore bands protested specific issues central to their communities that no other punks had addressed before. With the Zapatista uprising, the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement and California’s Proposition 187, which denied undocumented workers health care, the bands had a wealth of material both revolutionary and critical to scream about.


Current bands, like metal masters Brujeria, Napalm Death and rapcore innovators Aztlan Underground, are probably the most recognized hardcore Chicana/o Latina/o underground acts of today and maintain a nationally recognized scene. Now, nearly 10 years later, Salt Lake City is host to its own version of a Latina/o hardcore scene.


Although Jorge Arellano (vocals), Rich Caramadre former drummer for Aus Rotten, Iodina’s Travis Nelson (bass) and Gabe Barrett (guitar) used the name Kontrakultura for their debut performance, the name will likely change since they only wanted something to put on the flyer. Their set of hardcore punk definitely stole the show and established them as a force soon to be reckoned with among local hardcore acts.


Arellano, originally from Taxco Guerrero, Mexico, and raised in Mexico City, has played in punk bands for 12 years and screams protest lyrics in Spanish and English with true experience. His band mates accompany him with exhilarating hardcore music full of interesting changes and aggressive movements.


Of the protest lyrics, Arellano said in Spanish, “in general they are protest songs and we try to look for themes regarding what is happening right now.” The song “Not In Our Name” has an anti war theme and explains the historical relationship between the United States and Iraq and the motives behind the pre-emptive military action taken by the United States.


“Immigrantes Muertos” discusses the risks immigrants face when crossing the U.S. Mexico border and “Mundo Complejo” discusses the world crisis over terrorism, war and neo-liberal globalization.


“The government gives a lot of freedom, but in reality the people are very repressed. I see that there isn’t freedom to do shows in your own house because they are loud and they’ll shut you down. Shows always have to be in bars where you have to pay money and drink and that’s kind of against the reality of the protest shows. It’s really difficult to do shows that support everything about the underground scene,” Arellano said in Spanish.


Aside from their excellent musicianship, the band members are really fun to watch because they’re all animated, and you can see how hard they focus on the music—and they’ve been able to reach this level on just six months of practice.


Nelson’s bass parts stand strong allowing Barrett to add texture on the guitar by harmonizing, playing riffs, letting chords ring or messing around with feedback. For one song, Caramadre let the drums roll while Arellano screamed out the verses and then Barrett and Nelson played riffs in between the verses.


“I was always used to one scene, which was the punk scene in Mexico, which is something completely different from what I came to see here,” Arellano said in Spanish. He added that Salt Lake City has a very small group of people taking action to keep the scene alive and that new bands are often left with little support.


The last song of the set featured Nelson holding down the song with distorted bass sounds while Caramadre provided interesting drum lines, Arellano provided protest lyrics, and Barrett added texture—however, it was unclear if he was messing around with harmonics and feedback by choice or out of necessity since he broke a few strings during the song. The band’s intense stage presence and energy shows they are excited about the music they are playing.


Yaotl Mictlan, which comes from the phrase meaning “warrior from the land of the dead” in Nahuatl, is a four-piece pre-Hispanic metal band fronted by Alejandro Gomez on guitar and vocals. His older brother Rene plays the drum kit, Adrian Palomeque plays bass and Alejandro Garcia takes care of the additional percussion.


After a quick sound check, they opened their set with some heavy feedback and some quick drumming on a huehuetl, a traditional Aztec drum that is tall and cylindrical. Then they moved into their signature sound of deep, heavy and fast metal while Alejandro screamed out the Spanish lyrics. The audience really came together for them, crowding around the front of the musicians with little movement minus the headbangers. They played “Aztlan” to a pleased crowd and delivered a strong set of really hardcore original metal.


The band’s lyrical subjects discuss pre-conquest Mexico and the struggles the Aztecs faced at the time of conquest. The incorporation of traditional Aztec percussion instruments separates them from other metal acts, adding a distinct cultural element. California’s Aztlan Underground also uses the huehuetl as well as flutes as part of its instrumentation.


There is no question about their ability as musicians. Rene is an amazing drummer with the ability to play fast and add dynamics and create interesting side thoughts on his set. Alejandro plays metal guitar like a pro, the riffs are fresh and the melody lines reek of aggression—the brothers have been part of the scene for a couple of years.


Volume was the only thing that worked against them—they were so loud it was hard to hear the texture Garcia was adding with various percussion instruments as well as a real distinction of lines on the bass. Regardless, they didn’t compromise the time throughout the set but could benefit from working out their sound levels to ensure that every band member is audible.

The other metal band of the night, Oxido, played a heavy style of metal that’s not as fast as Yaotl Mictlan’s style. But the pace didn’t hold them back from playing a solid set of metal all the same.


Efrain, who preferred not to disclose his last name, played lead guitar and sang while Victor Viveros played rhythm guitar, Diny Ruiz played bass and Juan Ramirez played drums.


The set began with a cover of a song by Brazilian metal band Sepultura. The sound on their originals was heavy with the riffs taken at a mid-range tempo.


The band’s sound is a bit more accessible to the timid ear since they play all-riff metal, a style established by Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and reinterpreted by too many bands to mention.


Audio C, a trio comprised of one guitarist / vocalist, a bassist and a drummer played a short set of tunes including a cover of a song by The Tri from Mexico as well as a Caifanes cover. Their sound is distorted and quick—no solos, just unison playing and an easily accessible sound.


Arellano said that they have definite plans to record and have an LP out in two or three months. A Peruvian label gave them an offer to include a song on an anti war compilation, but Arellano said it’s unclear if that will go through.


Arellano’s fanzine Exhortacion is his only project aside from the band and the distribution he does for hardcore Latino punk bands past and present in other parts of the country like Los Crudos and Kontra Attaque.


Judging by the success of their debut performance, the members of what was Kontrakultura are sure to wow any crowd they perform to with conscious screams and innovative hardcore punk.


The next gig for Arellano, Barrett, Caramadre and Nelson will be April 10, as long as Burt’s Tiki Lounge confirms the show, go to 726 S. State Street to be a part.

lou@red-mag.com