What punk music owes to its lesser-known Latin roots

Mentions of “punk rock” can conjure up the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, leather jackets in the cooler climes of London and New York. But the youthful fire of punk burned early in Southern California, Mexico, and other Latino communities around the world.

The new eight-part Audible podcast series, Punk in translation: Latin origins, traces the history of punk back to its lesser known and more diverse roots.

One of the earliest examples of proto-punk in the series is Question Mark and the Mysterians, a group of Mexican American teenagers from Michigan with raw vocals and garage rock styles. They broke through with the 1966 hit, ’96 Tears’, long before the punk revolution gripped the music world – the song went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

“They were able to find that sound and create music that I still find very fresh,” said Punk in translation host and former punk band member This Bastidawho grew up in Tijuana and now lives in LA

Bastida started playing with the punk band that became Tijuana No! when she was just 15, the group played music inspired by bands such as Clash and Black Flag, until disbanding after a decade.

It might not be obvious right away, but what connects the punk and Latino experiences, according to Bastida, is the philosophy of doing things your own way. “You’re not supposed to fit in with anyone [in punk]”, Bastida said. “People are going to respond to you, and you are going to be honest and unique.

Hollywood’s punk origins

Singer Alice Bag, lead singer of late ’70s punk band The Bags, grew up in East Los Angeles, taking guitar lessons from the age of 16. She told Bastida that when she saw a Latino band playing pop-punk in 1977, it was the first time she had seen rockers who looked like them. She gravitates towards Hollywood, where the punk scene takes place.

Alice Bag at the Hong Kong Cafe.

(Louis Jacinto/Courtesy Alice Bag)

“It didn’t matter where you were from or if you were gay – nothing mattered, everyone was welcome,” Bastida said. “And it seemed like a great place to create to me.”

The Hollywood of the day, even more run down and unglamorous than it seems today, had cheap rents that allowed an arts scene to flourish, says rocker John Doe of punk band X of Los Angeles on the podcast. Bag lived in the sadly filthy flats of Canterbury, alongside members of bands such as the Go-Gos, playing shows in venues that included a punk venue in the basement of the nearby Pussycat porn theatre.

The Bags were short-lived, releasing only one record and breaking up a few years after forming. But they became hugely influential in both their music and aesthetic style – Salvation Army dresses over torn fishnets, with dark chola-inspired eyeliner.

Alice’s lead vocal included a primal scream that has become a signature of Hollywood punk. This influence was clearly felt in the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s, with female-led punk acts embracing both femininity and strength while calling for sexism.

Latino Teen And Punk Pachuco

East LA’s Los Lobos also drew inspiration from the city’s punk scene, the band’s Louie Perez told Bastida. Los Lobos played punk shows early on, before the sound of punk was specifically defined by elements such as the distorted guitar. The area’s Latino community had long had their own proto-punk cultures, including pachucos and cholos – Perez described his band as “pachuco punk”, playing sped up versions of traditional Mexican songs.

A black and white photo of a man with a passionate look on his face, playing a guitar, with a drummer behind him, with a mural on the wall behind.

Generacion Suicida plays La Miroiterie, Paris in 2013.



via Flickr Creative Commons)

One of the young punk bands that Bastida interviewed was the members of suicidal generationbased in South LA, who have been playing together since 2010.

“They were in their twenties and lived in this community that a lot of people see as a dangerous area or full of violence,” Bastida said. “They show the world how much it is like any other community filled with families, love, art.”

As the group grew, bands toured the area to come to their neighborhoods, play backyard parties, and connect with new audiences. This led to the Generación Suicida’s music having influence outside of South LA, as well as invitations to take their music on the road – they would support and tour with other bands and be invited to perform in other cities.

“They’re older than me when they started – they had their record store, they had it all figured out,” Bastida said.

As labels tried to sign them, the band decided to stay independent and do things their own way, which Bastida said she greatly respected. Generación Suicida stays on the road regularly.

In search of forgotten punk roots

Bastida discovered punk’s Latin roots herself while hosting the podcast. When she arrived alongside her band mates Tijuana No, she was unaware of these early influences.

“I haven’t really heard of these Latin/Chicano punk bands,” Bastida said. “Back then, unless you were on radio – mainstream radio – you didn’t know much about them.”

She used punk to help understand who she was as she grew up, learning from her bandmates about everything from music to social justice.

Bastida started out as an interview subject, but the show’s producers floated the idea of ​​her becoming the host after interviewing her in Spanish and English. They were looking for a bilingual woman with a connection to music, and Bastida fit the bill.

All Punk in translation podcast is available in English and Spanish.

“It was tricky. Obviously I speak English, but I feel more comfortable in Spanish,” Bastida said. “I had to ask someone to help me and guide me, because I pronounce things better in Spanish than in English.”

Although many of the artists were Latinos, they didn’t always speak Spanish either. It was more difficult to convey the content of these interviews in both languages, but this effort made the project more accessible.

The Latin box of the industry

It took time for Bastida to find her own place, while making the music industry understand exactly what her thing is. She first moved to Los Angeles around 16 years ago when she also started writing music as a solo artist.

“My music, if you listen to it, it doesn’t necessarily sound Mexican,” Bastida said. “People would say, OK, I like music, but you sing in Spanish. They didn’t really know where to put me.

She always hated being boxed in by record companies and booking agents.

“I grew up in Mexico and listened to music in English, and I had no problem with that,” Bastida said. “Why would people have such a problem with me singing in Spanish?”

Industry gatekeepers were frustrated, as the fact that she didn’t make ranchera or mariachi music meant they couldn’t put her in the “world music” category.

“I would like people to like [my music] and connect with him the same way I connected with David Bowie, when I couldn’t understand everything he was saying,” Bastida said.

She’s been encouraged by crossover artists in recent years, with language not a barrier for acts such as Bad Bunny and BTS airing on mainstream pop radio. Now she wants it to happen in more genres.

Bastida hopes the show’s listeners will have a better understanding of music history and, when they connect with an artist, their personal story as well.

“I wish people understood that American music is also Latin music,” Bastida said.

Punk in Translation: Latinx Origins (produced by Fresh Produce Media) is out now.

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