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Manual de Combate: We Can Seek the Greatest Possible Creative Freedom by Daring to Sound Different

Experimental punk quartet from Santiago de Chile talks about their new record and political reality in their country.

Mapas Auténticos del Mundo Imaginario, Mapas Imaginarios del Mundo Real is the new album by the experimental punk quartet Manual de Combate from Santiago, Chile. After releasing the single Aparcoa in December 2019a long track full of mood swings, dynamic, energy and a creative proposal of mixing various musical genresthey come back with a great full length where they explore many more themes and musical territories. Six tracks and almost 40 minutes of new ways of proposing what punk can be awaits anyone who dares to listen to their experimental sound.

Manual de Combate started as a duo with a strong and wide bass and versatile drums, later adding a brass section to even toughen up their sound. They’ve been releasing their music through their label Imperecedero Discos and have been incredibly active, touring and constantly playing around Chile.

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We reached to them so we could talk about this new LP, their history and the current political situation in Chile.

The following interview has been recorded in Spanish and then translated into English, we are sorry if it’s not grammatically prowess as we are trying to keep the original expressions as much as possible.

How did Manual de Combate start and where you began your origin?

Julio: I don’t know how it started… I joined the band a few years later. The band was recommended to me because of their apparitions on YouTube and the web. Suddenly, Gaspar wrote to me so we could meet and see how we could add the saxophone.

I knew it was a punk band. But to me, punk is not just a way to make music, it’s a movement for social liberation more broad and complex than that, it is both aesthetics and politics. I consider myself a punk rocker since I was 20 years old and I’m almost 50 now, and I still consider myself that way. But I’m not limited by that, quite the opposite. It’s where my roots come from. 

Gaspar: Before anything, thank you so much for having us and for your time. Manual de Combate was born at the end of the year 2015, with the release of the EP Asociación por el retraso del tiempo in March 2016.

We all come from various projects that used punk as a language and that were built upon DIY ethics, with a very intense activities in terms of music releases, publications, shows and so on. Our most direct relationship with punk is that and about our way of understanding it too. It has to do with the way of doing things and always questioning our current trading system through concepts like self-management and mutual support.

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The band has grown a lot and the sound has changed, but the essence seems to stay the same?

Julio: I think the “essence” is the interplay between bass and drums, and we remain true to this until today. The brass section lives with it… almost like a Marxian figure of base and superstructure (laughs).

Also, while the base is more influenced by various kinds of hardcore styles, with the brass section we showcase our deep love for free jazz, which, besides being a subversive type of music, was very influential when punk started, even if nobody talks much about it (for example, the influence of Coltrane/Ayler in Velvet Underground, Stooges or MC5).

The sum of all that is what makes the current sound of Manual de Combate as a quartet.

Gaspar: Yeah, I think it has to do with circumstances, the friction, the street or life itself, in the sense of the connections we’ve made or how the project has changed until now. It all has been a very gradual process where one thing lead to the other. It’s very fun that it is like that and I think this essence can be seen in such a deconstructed manner. Not only in the musical sense, but also as a collective, a group of human beings or related people.

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How was this new album been made?

Julio: The tracks began to appear to us since I joined the band in January or February of 2019. We immediately started working on that record, besides the folks teaching me the old songs.

We moved from the rehearsal room we were in due to some dangerous things that were happening at the time and we kept going on with the shows and mini-tours to the Coast and in the South of Chile, until we had enough material for a new album and we started recording it in the same rehearsal room. Then, Gaspar sent these recordings to Nahuel in Buenos Aires (Estudios del Valle) and Milo Gomberoff in Barcelona (Estudio Hukot) and that was it: a new album.

Gaspar: We’ve always been very concerned with the fact that at the time of recording we need to feel comfortable and ready enough to play. As Julio says, besides the rehearsing routine, we had the chance of trying and touring with the new tracks, and from there, with all the experience from that year, we locked ourselves in Casa Brasil to record it live. During the whole process, it was fundamental to get the help of Nahuel and Milo, who knew how to support us and collaborated in the mix and mastering, respectively.

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What are the most notorious changes to your sound you see in this new release?

Julio: More than anything, I think we have strong political positions: we are anti-capitalists and anti-authoritarian. We stand for Anarcho-Communism. That doesn’t change.

What’s interesting to see is how the music we make express the social and individual contradictions in which this world lives in, and how from our punk roots we can show that we are not obligated to repeat what has already been done nor be encapsulated in formal styles and overly known subgenres of punk. We can seek the greatest possible creative freedom by daring to sound different, or better, to sound like just the four of us can at this moment. 

Gaspar: Musically speaking, I can add that this creative freedom led us to work in songs like “Aparcoa”, a kind of catharsis in 14 minutes that at a collective level filled us up with satisfaction in how it ended up being and how irreducible it is: you don’t know if it is punk, noise, rock, free jazz, post-rock or any of those terms that the ‘specialized’ press likes to use.

Is there any transversal topic that goes through the entire work of the band?

Gaspar: I think there are topics and/or constructs that are repeated in the lyrics. The imaginary constructs and our commodified relationship with time and space, the relationships we have with territory, and quotes or references to various texts that we think are relevant. 

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How does the graphic imaginary of Manual de Combate appear in the process?

Julio: I can’t say a lot about this, but we have close connections with comrades that are designers and who have helped us in that area, as they know us and understand our aesthetics.

Gaspar: It has to do with the collaborative work with different partners that have known how to interpret or that have been involved in some way with what we do, including the artwork of albums, posters or the development of concepts.

In this, the help of Nico Sagredo, Katafú, Caro Lagos, Joaquín Contreras, Tomás Spicolli and Victor Jaque has been very precious, in the sense of generating or sharing from the community we’ve made from the same intuition and creative passion.

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How’s the political discourse in the places you play and related to the scene?

Julio: There’s a strong antifascist, animal liberation and feminist presence. I miss a more integral revolutionary position, for communism and anarchy, but, well, we live in a postmodern era. 

Gaspar: I think it’s great and I love the fact that from an anti-capitalist conscience there’s been a lot of activities centered around what’s political: from zines  to solidarity activities to help prisoners of the current revolt in Chile, to help buy medical supplies and directly support each one of the fronts that are against the system. I think this is the best we’ve seen in years in the hardcore punk scene. 

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You’ve played in a lot of different places. What have you learned and built from that experience?

Julio: I’ve never toured outside of Chile. Los Ángeles was a really great concert, and I also liked Temuco and Valdivia. In September we had a mini tour in Punta Arenas, which was a very important show for me because I lived there in the 80s and is one of the most southern cities of the world. There, we could play in a social libertarian center in the Población 18 de Septiembre, a very combative place since the times of rebellion against Pinochet.

Touring, we learned that we exist and create thanks to a great chain of mutual support. 

Gaspar: The most important thing I believe was being able to create relationships with partners and comrades in different parts of the globe that like us and are capable of making each one of their projects from the most honest side of the DIY spectrum. 

All of that has brought us an incredible level of knowledge, one that we could hardly have without our connections with noise. 

How do you feel about the current social process in Chile and how do you manage to live with it?

Julio: We all have been participating with enthusiasm since the first day. It was something that we were waiting for for years and it suddenly happened. 

As a band, at the start, we played way less, but we searched for a way to make shows and compilations to support prisoners and people wounded in the revolt.

Gaspar: I think changes also appear on an individual level, from the questioning about supplying our basic needs at assemblies and the way we organize, to the ways or context in which we participate. 

Getting involved at a kinship, personal and professional level, and on each front that has been possible, has been very important and will continue to be as we keep on struggling. 

In what way the music can support or be understood in a context like that?

Julio: The rage that exists within our music comes from that particular political context. With the calmer and more spiritual bits we try to reach somewhere beyond: the utopia, the world we have within us and that only through acts of individual and/or collective revolt we can give birth to. 

It is not about “artists” trying to “support” the revolt, it is about being part of it as the integral human beings we are. 

Gaspar: Music is a social fact in itself and another front in which we can build, do and make a new world possible. 

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Anything else to add to finish this interview?

Julio: The Chilean insurrection is not done yet! We think it is just starting and we’ll keep deepening it with anything we have in our hands: stones, barricades, assemblies, saxophones, posters, anything that works for the combat of humanity against the forces of domination. 

Gaspar: Thanks a lot for the space, time and support. Please keep writing about screamo from the 2000. 

You can contact Manual de Combate at [email protected] 

The album is available on Bandcamp (and other streaming platforms) and can be streamed and downloaded for free.

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