Back in the 1970s, Legs McNeil, the former “resident punk” at Punk magazine, once articulated the genre’s core as being “this wonderful vital force that was really about corrupting every form. It was about advocating kids to not wait to be told what to do…about working with what you got in front of you and turning everything embarrassing, awful, and stupid in your life to your advantage.”
A lot’s changed since then. Punk has splintered into countless subgenres, and evolved from kids’ scrappy musings about chicken vindaloo and blank generations into a weapon against inequality; no longer dominated by white dudes, punk bands are more likely to be heard singing searing invective at border cops than Mom and Dad, or railing against rape culture instead of a girl who said no to a date. This weekend, from August 5th to 7th, some of 2016’s most defiant punk bands will be throttling the Latinx Punk Festival at Don Pedro and Aviv, both in Brooklyn, many addressing big issues of our times. The three-day fest, now in its third year, features an array of punk bands from Colombia, Mexico, and beyond treating audiences to thrashing lyrics that touch on violence, disparity, and daily adversities.
Organized by Aldo Hidalgo and Olya Liiratai, the nonprofit festival has two firm rules: no homophobia, and no racism. They seek to build a “D.I.Y culture that embraces diversity and creates community. We are opening spaces for our people and saying fuck fascist immigration policies, fuck deportations! NO BORDERS! NO NATIONS!”
While queer and minority visibility and representation within punk have seen an uptick in recent years (perhaps thanks to the internet, and also to increased access to venues and instruments), it can still, unwittingly, be privy to the very same hatred, homophobia, and hierarchies that it openly rejected. “It’s strange, because it’s true that punk in general has been gaining more [diversity],” says Alfredo Bojórquez, the drummer of Mexico City’s Cadenaxo. “But it’s not all punk. It’s not that intersectional. There’s one type of punk in one type of venue for one kind of person.” From the outside, punk looks more welcoming than ever before, but divisions persist.
Toli, the one-name guitarist of South Florida’s hardcore outfit Ladrón, tells the Voice that, while punk is “flourishing,” the ongoing territorial divides between genres can be damaging, too. “There’s kind of a hardcore and punk divide. [Part of] the reason we started this band was to break down that barrier, because our music is a little more punk rooted, and we play shows with the punk scene.” Ladrón’s barrier-busting set is one of the festival’s last, on August 7 at Aviv.
Divisive structures are exactly what the Latinx Punk Festival seeks to destroy. In addition to three days of music, a “Counterculture Event” at Aviv will offer zines, food, and workshop discussions. Later, a wide-ranging panel of activists, organizers, and artists will dissect the gnarled, timely topic of “dismantling anti-black mentalities in Latinx Communities.”
The festival also serves to dismantle anti-Latinx mentalities in the wider punk community. Within the United States, groups that sing in Spanish have struggled for footing outside a niche audience. But Bojórquez’s bandmate in Cadenaxo Pablo Burgos says he’s also seen a burgeoning fanaticism about old Spanish punk bands among punks who may not speak the language. “We never thought that people in the U.S. listened to Eskorbuto, or Narcosis.”
Given the absurd xenophobia of one of the United States’ presidential candidates, the threat of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment are even further at the front of the performers’ minds than in previous years. The ensuing need for solidarity (or at the very least discussion) has inspired some of the most urgent punk we’ve heard in years — especially from Latinx performers, who pour their rage into visceral songs that transcend continents, languages, and, yes, even walls.
The third annual Latinx Punk Festival starts this Friday. For a taste of what to expect, check out our slideshow from last year’s shows.