A Very Brief History of Punk in Chile
Crudo Soy zine traces the history of punk in Chile from the 80's to modern day
This piece originally appeared in Spanish language on the pages of Crudo Soy zine. The author, Giovanni, contacted us to publish an English translation on our site. The rough translation of the original text has been updated with new information and edited to make it easier to read.
On September 11, 1973, the ultra-right military junta of Augusto Pinochet had began. Coming in power by violently removing Salvador Allende with the promise of saving the country economically, Pinochet’s regime lasted until March 11, 1990 with a total of 3,500 people missing, more than 2,000 executed and thousands of other political prisoners tortured. From the execution of Victor Jara in 1973 to the emergence of punk-rock during the 1980s, the Chilean protest music has a rich and bloody history to be explored.
To begin, it is necessary to mention the geographical situation of the country called Chile. When you look at a map of South America, you will find a long and narrow strip of land that borders Argentina, Peru and Bolivia.
This geographical form is key to understanding the emergence of punk in Chile in the first place. Basically, the country is divided into 13 regions from top to bottom, each one consisting of two main cities. The importance of this detail lies in the fact that the central zone of the country is kind of disconnected from its upper and lower poles.
The capital, Santiago, is there in the middle, situated between the two other main cities, Valparaíso and Concepción. The largest number of punk bands and the movement as a whole is largely concentrated within this central area, while there’s a always been a much smaller flow of information about the whereabouts in other parts of the country.
For this reason, I’d like to apologize in advance if the information I present is too narrowed down to one sector of the country. But even today, with the Internet at our disposal, it is difficult to know anything in detail about the punk movement that emerged throughout the whole country. Santiago concentrates more than half the population of Chile, and the same principle applies to the underground scenes as well.
The Early Years
The history of punk in Chile could be traced back to the early 1980s, in the midst of the military dictatorship. Actually, the first gangs of young people linked to this subculture were much more attached to street-rock and the new-wave scene than to punk music.
At that time, punk was more a matter of attitude; an angst-ridden youth filled with discontent and immediacy over a musical aggression. The first “punk” gatherings in Santiago brought together people related to arts; from writers and poets to rejects and upper-class misfits, along with one or two political activists. (It’s worth mentioning that during the dictatorship, the leftist groups were depoliticized, persecuted and physically eliminated, thus opening a deep generational gap. This added to a systematic censorship of music, film and literature).
Standing on the fringes between a growing movement of underground rock and independent power-pop music, enter a street-rock band equally influenced by The Clash and The Kinks (among other things), called Los Prisioneros (The Prisoners). In 1984, they would release their first album “La Voz de Los 80” (The Voice of the 80s).
A good testimony of how punk was perceived at the time is portrayed by the director Gonzalo Justiniano in the documentary Guerreros Pacifistas (1984). It also highlights the appearance of the band Pinochet Boys (1984), who gave a real underground personality to the movement.
But before moving on, it is necessary to mention another band recognized as the real founders of Punk in Chile: Los Dada (1980).
Around 1986/1987 the local punk scene was finally starting to take shape with the emergence of plenty of bands and venues to play shows (all very improvised though), and a greater recognition of the influence that came from England and the United States.
Bands such as Indice De Desempleo, Los Jorobados, Vandalik, Fiskales Ad Hok, Políticos Muertos, and a long list of others would begin to cross-pollinate with the extreme metal scene at the time. The Chilean metal scene already had great examples, recognized worldwide, such as Pentagram, Death Yell, Atomic Aggressor, Totten Korps, Belial, Torture, and many more.
It was the exchange between metal and punk that defined the harder sound of the punk bands, moving away from the new-wave and pop influence into the extreme music realms. Thus, the punk scene began to get up-to-date with the times and improve its sound. The bands finally got used to the classic punk line-up: guitar, bass, drums and voice (leaving aside the keyboards and other unusual instruments).
Chilean Punk in the 1990s
The next wave of punk bands came in 1989 through the early 90s. Anarkia, CNI, Los KK, Ecosidio, Los Miserables, Caos, Ocho Bolas, and many others who drank from the same well as Entreklles, Los Morton, Villalemanarock.
As the dictatorship came to an end, an influx of bands surfaced all around the country, and the urban myth of The Punk as a violent, drunk, troublemaker was born. This is how, along with some other misconceptions, the Punk, as a character, was ingrained in the fabric of Chilean society. Actually, these prejudices were not that far from reality as the early 90s were unstable times. Violence reigned supreme in the streets of Santiago with fights breaking out between football hooligans, pervading alcoholism, and brawls between rival groups. In general, everything was lost for the punks. The growing punk movement really had a rough time.
It is difficult to mention any notable records from that time. Most of the existing records were homemade recordings or live tracks from gigs. In fact, it took a long time to recover all those recordings of the oldest bands that we can listen to today. It was not until 1994 to ’96 when the Chilean label Alerce would publish some of the first tapes in a decent format (Alerce was a label with political left-wing leanings, historically dedicated to popular music dissenting against the dictatorship). The records chosen: Los Miserables “Futuro Esplendor”, BBS Paranoicos “Incierto Final”, and the compilations “Clásicos del Punk Chileno” that exposed the first recordings of Los KK, Caos, Anarkia and Ocho Bolas in a two-volume cassette format.
On the other hand, Fiskales Ad Hok published their first work under the label Culebra Records (subsidiary label of BMG), a tape that over the years has gained status as the most classic record of punk in Chile. In these years (1995/96) an unknown number of bands related to punk-rock and hardcore emerged, strongly influenced by the Spanish and Basque punk stuff that the Alerce Label distributed in a cassette format.
Bands like Kortatu and La Polla Records had become part of daily life for the local punks, in addition to the equally important Spanish punk bands (Eskorbuto, mainly) and bands from Argentina like 2 Minutos, Flema and Attaque 77; even some punk bands that came out of Peru, like Narcosis and Leuzemia. The Argentinian bands had already had the luck of being able to release proper albums (the first band recognized for the rise of punk in Argentina is Los Violadores).
A small hardcore scene also began to form in the mid 90’s. It was a blend of people from different social classes and various influences (from the NYHC to the DC scene, and the Straight Edge). This group of people also sowed the seeds of politics in the scene. Some of the bands during the first epoch of Chilean hardcore were Silencio Absoluto, Disturbio Menor, Alternocidio, Redencion 911, Justicia Final, Crisis Extrema, among many others. Many of these bands were also significantly influenced by the Argentinian hardcore scene. The Argentinian hardcore was well ahead of the times and had developed a sound and style which influenced the whole South American scene, from punk and hardcore to experimental, indie, post-hardcore, surf, garage, etc.
By the second half of the ‘90s, with the politicization of hardcore, a mass of punks started to get involved in issues such as antimilitarism, anarchism, the squatters movement and others. In this way, and over the years, it gave shape to what is now known as Anarkopunk (anarchist punk). Vibrant during the last years of the ‘90s and taking its definitive form at the beginning of the 2000s, the anarchist punk and hardcore scene in Chile also had connections with similar communities in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia, which already had rich experience within the almost symbiotic relationship of punk and radical politics.
Bands like Malgobierno and Sin Apoyo were among the most active participants of the radical/political hardcore punk movement. At the turn of the new century, several US bands like Catharsis, Los Crudos, Fugazi, and Better Than a Thousand did some DIY gigs in Chile. In 2003, the anarchist punk band Sin Dios from Spain also played two shows in Chile, reviving interest in the history of the 1936 revolution.
From then on, history has been writing itself. With the advent of disk copying technologies and a greater exchange with the rest of the world, Chilean punk now seems almost too infinite to chronicle. Therefore, this review is very generalized, superficial, and I am aware that I’ve breezed through thousands of details, as well as many band names and other important things. I didn’t want to go too deep as there’s enough material to write a book, and there are actually several books about punk in Chile already published out there.
Today, we can find everything within the realms of the DIY scene. But if I have to admit a criticism, I must say that modern-day punk in Chile seems too locked down in its own bubble. Very few bands are brave enough to send their message to the world through other means than the Internet. Punk has a rich, decades long history in Chile, but already feels dated and unable to make a threat again. It has only conformed to its existence.
The author can be contacted at [email protected]