The Rise of Punk in Argentina
How the anarcho-punk scene in Argentina rose up as a radical counterculture in the end of 70's, despite a history of fascist military dictatorship
A personal account from a member of the anarchopunk collective Dekadencia Humana.
Everything written here comes from searching and personal experience. Not from periodical research from other people, but from my growing up to today together with punk. I don’t want you to take this as an egocentric act. I am not looking to be worshiped like Bakunin or idolized—at all! I refuse this, I just want to make it clear where I am coming from when you read what you have in your hands.
Many people are going to write and commercialize histories, thoughts, and attitudes, but they don’t actually adopt it in their day to day lives. These people seeking only opportunities will not inform you of the entire truth. That makes it our own world to climb above what we refuse. The punk scene always was a step for many hypocrites—today they live by the rock business. Our culture never was nor will it be fashion, neither a label or a moment in our teenage lives. For us it is a form, a way of life.
Our history continues
At the end of the 70’s, like in London or New York, bloomed the black flowers of punk rock. In the beginning there was anti-establishment rock and poetry, escaping from a crude and violent reality. Big shows, and plastic idols and packaged goods for sale. Our root comes from this unhappiness, the emptiness of this burgeois rock. Why are we going to deny that every origin of a youth movement happens for the music (a big part of the history). The age of beatnik, mods, rockers, hippies, link a political stance and from taking different ideas, and a big part of these took references from anarchism. Punk from the beginning had a strong affinity to this beautiful idea, as well as wildness (in the good sense of the word), of pioneers of the land. You didn’t have to be a great musician to express what you were living through sounds & noises. You too could do it, without the need for status or position of being popular or well-known. This really influenced DIY ethics, from writing punk zines, to editing cassettes or independent vinyl to the commercial market. From here, the punk is marginalized, all that have something to be with the system, we are against the system from its origin. Always we attack (and we are still doing it!), with a primal scream of rage, hate and love, against the institutions that order you to study, work, form a family, save money, get success and you would be a good person. The eviction, the repression, the authoritarianism, manipulation of our own lives, wars, exploitation, not just of humans but also animals, of mother nature, causes and more causes awaken a surge that today continues with our own lives.
There isn’t a future of the English dreams, screaming the Sex Pistols and The Clash, they incited youth to occupy or compromise politically, all those marginalized and socially discrimanted against, would give life to our culture, and would start our revolution.
With “hippy-ism” not everything in the US was “flower power”, escaping with acid, among maryjuana, we could find signs that led us to arrive at calling ourselves punks. Jerry Rubin, a hippy activist said “We are the generation of obsenities. The most oppressed people of this place. Not the black people, the poor, but the middle class, they have nothing to rise up or fight against. We would have to invent them new laws to destroy. The first part of the hippie program is to kill your parents, while you aren’t ready to kill them and you aren’t ready to change the system, our parents are the first oppressors…”
We can find many warnings and signs that would go ahead and give form and life to the rise of punk. In Argentina, as with everything, it came late. But already in ’78 and ’79, a few people had access to the music or what was happening. Here hippies were taken as a joke, satirized, through their specialized media (rock magazines) like La Pelo, Expreso Imaginario, but the funny thing is after this, almost every magazine was inundated in its pages and front covers with punk (this would be when the official media would take it like fashion, when everyone would start to follow the trend of punk), poorly recorded cassettes would get passed from mouth to mouth from hand to hand, shaved heads, spiky hair and mohawks slowly started to appear, really to have that look in that age was both shocking and at times dangerous. Why? Let’s think about this time, South America in the 1970’s suffered really hard punches socio-politically and culturally. In Chile the murderer of Pinochet, in Argentina the fascist fascist military general Peron would live in a chaotic social environment in which he would leave his mark forever in our military and their accomplices.
In 1976, the civic-military dictatorship began. Persecutions, torture, disappearances, became the normal way for the muderers that made everything dissappear that attempted to fight against the institutions and the national order, curfew, police and military occupied the streets day and night, every youth was considered subversive at that time (and even today), the factories were closed, unemployment rose, no rights could be manifested or defended, that was consolidated very much with the great lie of the football world cup in 1978. The scream of the Argentina world champion shut out the real suffering of the people who were agonizing. Well, I don’t want to be so down, but this was the environment in which the punk would take life in Argentina, more precisely in cities like the capital Buenos Aires, Kordoba, Rosario, La Plata, Mar del Plata, with time they would spread out to all places.
First appeared punk individuals then they formed bands or would write punk zines, would look for ways to pair together, we would say that the first punk bands around 1979-1980 were Los Testiculous (1979-1981), Los Baraja (1981-1984), Los Laxantes (1979-1983), Los Violadores (1980-1992), Alerta Roja (1981-1987), then another more defined, more political wave would come. They noted the influence of collectives like those of Crass, Dead Kennedys, Sound of Disasters. This would begin the anarcho-punk age, with bands like Sentimiento Incontrolable, Todos tus Muertos, Tumbas NN, Mutantes del Kaos, there were a lot. It was a really rich moment for our scene, there were many punk zines, like the first ones Vaselina, Manuela, Deskarga, Juvenil, then followed Resistencia, Rebelion Rock (more metal than punk in the beginning), Comando Mugriento, Moco, Dekadencia Humana, and La Contrakultura. There were many groups that formed cooperatives here in the capital as in other cities, from where they would organize the first demonstrations, actions, cooperative independence in punk, Loka from Mar del Plata where there was the band Todos Contra Todos, the Moco punk zine and other individuals at that time. no matter what the situation we were living, we would go approach an anarchist reading and the libraries, we started to cultivate our interior, in these early days it was like “here we are, we’re punks!” and then would be time to grow up and re-evolve our culture.
Here I am trying to reflect our origin and history and stating that this is not just simply music, and it took punk like an attitude or way of life, and not as a fashion, at least at this moment we were almost credible, then the time would go showing the true face of many, so sorry if your name doesn’t appear here, I also think that they won’t bother because their notes and records were released out of our media and criticized us, today you take a part in that which you shunned. Do you remember?
This is a referencial piece for our history, because many people from that time today are religious rastas, rock executives, members of the burgeois class, or simply rock stars. Could you call this punk rock?
Argentine Punk in the 80’s
The 80’s, like I mentioned before, was the most lively time in punk, but not just with bands and zines but also because of the start-up of marginal theatre groups, magical places like The Parakaulatural, where people didn’t pay entry and could see small performances with characters like Batato Barea, Urdapilleta, Totrones, transvestives satirizing education, moral and good costumes, or you could see Todos tus Muertos, or Los Corrosivos, or an exhibition of independent publications, you had a seat on the floor. There was another place that saw the birth of punk around these places, like Einstein or Zero. I am telling you that it wasn’t easy to organize a gig, everything that sounded like punk was marginalized or prohibited.
During this time even the bars or pubs were accustomed to the tranquility of hippies going to see bands; a place where there was a gig had tables and chairs close to the stage, even though the majority weren’t, all the punks went to the place disguised. From the starting note, all the tables and chairs were pressed to the back of the space, the dancing was unstoppable, here I want to say the pogo, the gigs our starting point, we didn’t know if we would come back, almost always it ended with the 3rd or 4th song with the police reprimanding and taking everyone away arrested. The gigs were very emotionally charged, rage, but to find our mates, with who we were sharing information, conversations, trades, contacts, opinions, projects.
Pogo was the place against military repression, police, it was to listen to what we were living and suffering, it was our place to vent, crushing one against the others, falling to floor, spitting (also used to take down an idol). The gigs were very emotional; more than ones we left in tears.
For the end of the 80’s, the punk would be accepted and would begin to grow and commercialize, of course I’m talking about punk rock.
What happened with drugs and lack of control?
Yes, I know that in every scene this something that always ruin proposals, projects, expressions, and of course there were, and they are still taking a lot of lives, marked to many others and break down positive histories (battles won by the system!), inside of us arose the questioning of this. Many of us decided, like the old anarchists say, don’t use the weapons/tools of the system. But it’s always easier, the least effort wins, few of us re-evolved while many joined in stupid self-destruction. One of the motives that took to the interesting scene of the 80’s was not to grow up or become something more than punk. We don’t forget that violence is one of its causes, another thing at this time it criticized one way of life but didn’t create a real alternative. Not everyone was busy creating communities, many theories but little in practice.
I’m quoting part of the book edited by Penny Rimbaud, from the collective CRASS, that said “To us, we don’t describe ourselves as hippies for many reasons. After it was normal to experiment a little, we refused the use of drugs, because we feel that they cause confusion of ideas and in general damage relationships instead of contributing to them. We’ve had our house opean at the same time when many others did the same, the movement of communities was the natural result of the desire for people to live together, to create life in cooperation, understanding and sharing, to live in communities that present a real alternative life, if we could learn to share our houses, maybe we could leartn to share our world, and that would be the frist step towards the state of sanity.
The [Dial] House was never a refuge place for people to do drugs, much more we wanted a place where people could come and realize, having their own time in their own space could create their own goals and reasons and most important, their own life. We wanted to offer a space where people could be something that the system impeded them from being: themselves. In many aspects we were found more close to anarchist views than hippies, but there were inevitable interactions.”
We share the disgust of Phil towards a conventional society, a society that gives more value to things than people, that respects material materials more than widsom, we support his vision of a world where people take back what state has robbed from them. The occupation of houses as political act has its origins in this way of thinking. Why should we pay for what’s legitimately ours? Sobriety is also a threat.
Another historical fact that branded us was the absurd war of the Falklands in 1982. Many of us were in high school, we were witnesses of all the lies that the media supported and encouraged patriotism in the war. Even those who called themselves hippies were compromised socially and accomplices to this sad fact, many Argentinian rock stars made their fame and money thanks to the war, at this time it was prohibited to pass along music in English, so that they took advantage of that to manipulate the youth market, so that it was difficult for us to get material, so we started mailing and trading music, friendship with punks all over the world. A big part of the material we received (zines, tapes, videos) came from this cooperation, many of us got material in this way. This allowed us to break with borders and connect with other scenes, cultures, realities that weren’t very different from ours. We began to learn that the enemy is everywhere, in searching we would go knowing and learning everything about that system that was criticized in lyrics, writings, graffitti, that search would mark our “punkytude” together with doubts, right guesses and mistakes, that would define us up to today.
Growing up as punks in Argentina
The majority of us weren’t born punks, ha ha ha, starting at 13-14 years old we were getting into the world of rock and it was natural that not all of us would wake up. We finished identifying ourselves with punks, the appearance, the lyrics, we would go adopt our own way to express ourselves, of course the beginning was wild, at times without clarity and many “why?”s, what there was at the end of the 70’s didn’t attract us, didn’t even reflect us, of course we made excess or acts of vandalism without sense, nihilism and self-destruction, almost all of us listened to the typical bands like Led Zeppelin, Queen, Kiss, Pink Floyd, those that could have more profound access to information could get to the MC5, Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Kinks, or more underground bands. In Argentina, it was very difficult to get material, record labels existed, vinyl was very expensive, almost impossible to buy one. Like you will see everything came for the music, when we would go connecting in gigs or in certain places like the shop Rebelion Rock, there we could get zines or flyiers for gigs or protests, or to meet with other punks, this would start the diffusion of materials like Amebix, CRASS, or bands from Mexico, Spain, Brazil. Slowly through our search we would go creating a scene and the beginnings of our own culture, we would go realize that this was something more than an image and noises.
Through punk we would learn many thngs that would bother our parents and the system. Firstly, questioning, to oppose authority, racism, war, repression, fascist education, manipulation, of religious or political parties, sexism, homophobia, moral rules, and obedience as well as traditions and nationalism, our origin was and will be international.
I remember that in high school I had the luck to get into college, where a punk crew would arise in Mar del Plata. There they prohibited us or punished us if we were going with spiked or dyed hair (1980-85), or we carried studs or safety pins in our jackets or school uniforms. I remember that Chino Safo said that he was a model, he had green mohawk, it was very chaotic times, there were a lot of amphetamines, cocaine, alcohol, maryjuana was rejected because it was for hippies, the moment came to say “stop!” because many were arrested or died because of this. I understand this very well because there was a moment of the re-evolution of the punk questioning the use of drugs and not using them anymore (or they don’t use us?), it was said, I saw a few people disappear.
El Dagger was a friend of mine, he used to sing in 15-5, I think this band lasted a couple of days with a chaotic debut, very shocking and visual. There were also the bands Los Putrefactos Punks, Submision, Los Demoladores, even though the first ones were Vimana, the people from the capital looked at us like our scene was the most chaotic and violent. Here in Mar del Plata the library Juventud Miderna exists, made by anarchists since their first break, from there came the first influences toward us, there was a communal experience (that didn’t last), many punks refused the political belief of anarchism as the same as the political parties, well, so would begin our approaching with ideas, here in Mar del Plata the group Anarchista Matapense formed. In the capital something similar happened, a shock always existed, I would say gemerational and different times, realities, but we realized that we had much in common with the anarchists.
A band that influenced many to anarchopunk was Sentimiento Incontrolable, as well as Todos tus Muertos, Todos Contra Todos, Cadáveres de Niños, I don’t remember well it was 1985 or ’86, that Steve Ignorant, the vocalist of CRASS, was around. He was at the library, Jose Ingenieros, he was surprised to see nazi skinheads in Argentina. Patricial, at the times bass player of Sentimiento Incontrolable, was a little bit of a precursor in spreading out information about many of these bands, she translated many texts (who doesn’t get caught up in reading CRASS?), after reading these things from the Active Minds, many questions about many themes would appear, causes about our culture, we were still growing up.
There was a band Geniol con Coca that mixed punk with satirical or absurd theatre, their vocalist appeared semi-naked with her face painted, heels and an umbrella, she used to take a shit on stage while singing, this character was quite shocking. There also was the band Virus, at the beginning they called themselves punks. They also utilized theatre. Los Violadores, in their beginnings were 100% punk; visual attitude, sounds, the way they played, their gigs were censored, the first time I saw them at the end of 1982, I couldn’t believe it, raw and wild screaming against repression and plenty of military dictatorship. Imagine the fury they used to sing with.
Trixy y Sus Maniatikos were the first band with a female singer and guitar player that I saw. There weren’t many women in bands, but if editing punk zines or shaking histories, I am telling you that Argentina is an ultra-macho and sexist country, however, it repeated in the punk scene at the start. A band that started to become a stretpunk that was also one of the first was Comando Suicida. But then they would become nationalistic, strongly influencing the skinhead movement. There was a skate rock band Masacre Palestina that formed an active part during that time. Their gigs were battles between punks and skaters. Once I had a bad experience to listen to their singer Richard call the police to take all the punks that were on the front sidewalk. It was disgusting. The police showed up and took many people. They made a song where certain prejudices existed, but more than once I heard them say they weren’t punks. The guitar player, however, did say they were punks (I think just as far as their music).
Another band that was really exciting to see live was Todos tus Muertos. How they sung was terrible, but their lyrics were really good. They had stage presence, they were charismatic, they would go to the cemetary to grab flowers to use during their gig at dawn. The shows were huge, at the beginning we didn’t believe that there would be that many going to shows, we weren’t more than 30 at most 50 punks. Some gig or another organized by the cooperative or Rebelion Rock had up to 100. The gigs would start to be huge at the end of the 80’s and start of the 90’s. In the 90’s, it had already begun to become commercialized, and after it never had the same energy or feeling.
Of course, this history continues, but we already would get to see what has happened to it today. There are for sure many things still hanging, but I think that reflected the srength, the energy of that time as well as the feeling and love, history that today we are still re-evolving, resisting, existing and living. No gods, no masters, against the state and all authority, against all power.