A Tale of Three Cities: Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires : A Search for DIY Punk Rock By Jennifer Federico

Oct 08, 2012

I had the good fortune recently to travel to South America for work, and, as is my way, I took the opportunity to do some poking around.

My first stop was Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I don’t know many Brazilian bands, but I was very interested in tracking down some cool punk ones and going to a show while I was there. Little did I know how difficult that would be!

I understand that sometimes when you are searching online for something in a language (English) other than the one used in the country in which you are searching (in this case, Portuguese), it can be difficult to find things, but I’ve always managed to dig up some info in the past in other countries. However, for some reason, this time it proved to be much more difficult! Maybe it was the language issue or maybe it was something else. Everything that I managed to find online about Brazilian punk had to do with Sao Paulo, not Rio. Not exactly right around the corner. In Rio itself I kept my eyes peeled for flyers, but saw nary a one. Once in a neighborhood called Lapa I popped into a tattoo shop, just to inquire, but the people who were working there didn’t listen to punk and didn’t really have any concrete suggestions. They said that I might check around Praça da Bandeira, but couldn’t be more specific. 

I also emailed some record stores that I found online. One, Audio Rebel, responded but couldn’t recommend any shows for the time that I was there. Also, FYI, their store is no longer open. The other, which is a record store and (metal) label (Marquee Records), was very helpful, but, alas, Armando, the nice person who responded, didn’t know much about punk happenings, only metal (and there was nothing of the sort of metal that I like going on while I was there). However, if you find yourself in Rio and you want to see a metal show, I suggest checking http://whiplash.net/agenda/agenda_rio_de_janeiro.htmlor getting in touch with Marquee because they were definitely ready to lend a hand!

I also emailed some other labels / bands / zines / blogs (Purgatorius Records, Laja Records, Deaf Kids, Vermynoze Pútrida, Arroto, Underground Attack Zine, etc.) to see if I could get any info or suggestions, but, unfortunately, I mostly didn’t get any responses.

I heard from two different people that Rio doesn’t have much of a punk scene, although one of them did thoughtfully ask her friends to see if she could get any info, and she found a show for me that started around 11pm—with nine bands playing!—on a street close to Praça da Bandeira (same area the tattoo shop folks suggested), although I only got a street name, not an exact address. She told me that the bar where it was happening was called “Bigode,” but that probably the name would not be written on the outside… it is just, if I understood correctly, the name that people who know the place call it. 

I didn’t get any of the names of the bands. In the end, although I felt bad because she’d gone to the trouble to try to find something for me, I decided to pass, for various reasons. If I spoke Portuguese and/or had someone to come along with me I probably would have tried to check it out even for a little while, but that was not the case.  

So, Rio was a bust. I have to say, I was surprised that I couldn’t find anything. Perhaps my research powers are slipping! Of course, it’s quite possible that there really is a scene there but I just couldn’t find it, or, as a few people mentioned, there actually isn’t much of a scene. Regardless, if you are heading to Rio and are interested in seeing a punk show, I suggest you start looking into it with plenty of time in advance! 

Next up: Montevideo, Uruguay

From Rio I headed over to Montevideo, Uruguay. I thought I was going to have better luck there, but unfortunately, I got sick. Curses! Stupid flu! Stupid temperature! Needless to say, all I wanted to do was stay in bed, so I missed my opportunity to go check out some music. However, I mention it because I did find a few things to check out: Entropía Records and En Los Nervios fanzine for tips (although those may be out of date), the bar Clash City Rockers, and the band La Sangre de Veronika, apparently one of the oldest punk bands in Montevideo. When I listened to them in advance, I wasn’t sure that La Sangre de Veronika was going to be my cup of tea, but an acquaintance knows the drummer, and he said they might play a show while I was there, so I definitely would have gone had I not been struck down. So, I pass this info on to you as a start, should you find yourself in that neck of the woods. 

Also, unlike in Rio, I actually saw some people around and about that looked like they could be into the punk scene (although looks can certainly be deceiving!), so maybe there is more going on there. 

Pit stop: Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. I stopped in this little town only for a day, on the recommendation of a friend. In terms of European settlers (rather than indigenous inhabitants), this is the oldest town in Uruguay, with a UNESCO-determined World Heritage Site that dates back to 1680. There’s a little plaza there up against the Rio de la Plata that has some beautiful old buildings, a lighthouse, and a really old church. However, Colonia is also a regular town where regular people live, and I guess some of the residents need other things to do besides wander around quaint cobblestone streets, because right around the corner from the posada I was staying in, I ran across some graffiti that said: “Prófugos Punk-Rock.” Yes! 

As I said, I was only there for a day, so I didn’t bother tracking down the Prófugos, but I thought I’d pass it on.

Next up: Buenos Aires, Argentina

From Colonia I took a high-speed ferry across the river to Buenos Aires. Once there, I was determined to find something punk-related. Would I really leave from a month-plus in South America without seeing even a single show?! It seemed crazy.

My first plan was to go to this place called Bond Street Galleria. When I was looking online, I had run across this bloghttp://punkrocksong.com.ar/sobre-el-blog/that I thought could provide some insight and had written to the contact address on the webpage. A guy called Joaquin answered me and was really kind in trying to help me out. The first thing he did was tell me that NOFX was playing in Buenos Aires on the 7th of July, but I was really more interested in seeing an Argentine band. Joaquin and I exchanged a few more emails and he suggested I go to Bond Street Galleria. As it says on their website (although I read the English version, which seems probably not as eloquent as the Spanish), Bond Street Galleria keeps an “authentic atmosphere,” assembles record stores, tattooists, and new designers, and provides (I think) young people with allies to express themselves as outsiders. I figured I could inquire at the record store there to see what was going on (and I’d also run across some info in my research that implied that some of the other stores at the Galleria have flyers for shows). 

So, I trekked from a neighborhood called San Telmo all the way over to the Galleria. I thought from Joaquin’s description that I would feel at home in this place, but what I really felt was totally weird. It’s like a little mall, and it’s full of tattoo shops and shops that sell “punk clothing” and there is graffiti on the walls, at least one skate shop, a head shop and a CD store. 

I totally don’t mean to knock this place, because I am really genuinely happy for the locals there that are super into it, and maybe if I was fourteen years old I’d be really excited about it, but for me it seemed very Hot Topic and very much notreal punk. It seemed like a shining example of the trendy fad that punk became in the U.S., one which, sadly, still (!) does not seemed to have totally dispersed. As such, I was not at all interested in hanging around there. However, being totally uninformed about the scene in Buenos Aires, maybe a central place like that is a great boon for lots of folks, and, like I said, I sincerely don’t mean to knock it.

Regardless of all that, the woman in the CD shop there (Thor http://www.thor-records.com.ar/) did not really know of any small-ish, local shows happening (she also mentioned the NOFX show), although she was super nice and helpful. She told me a website to check and suggested this show on the 7th that was happening with this guy called Boom Boom Kid. I did not know who that was, but later learned that he used to sing for the Argentine band Fun People. Regardless, I listened to Boom Boom Kid and thought that, although he did not totally butter my toast, maybe I would go if I couldn’t find anything else to do, just to check out the scene. 

(By the way, here is a place to look up shows: http://sustitutos.es.tl/Fechas-Punkys.htm)

Before I left the Galleria, I did walk around and carefully inspected the stores to see if there were any flyers posted in any of the shop windows. In that way I did get some info about some bands and clubs / bars that I looked up online when I got back to where I was staying. Two places I learned about are:

Especial Videobar a club that appeared to have, in the course of one evening, stand-up comedy (around 4 pm), “HC Punk Melodic” beginning at 8 pm, and then a garage / rockabilly show starting at midnight. 

El Salon Pueyrredon—this place kept coming up, so my impression was that it’s probably the best place to check for shows, but there wasn’t anything I was interested in going on while I was there.

I’d also found a list of record stores online and I’d written to a bunch of them, asking if they could recommend any shows but I did not hear back from any of them except for Hacienda Discos. Additionally, I heard from Pat Pietrafesa from the bands Kumbia Queers and She Devils—she told me about an interesting play, but, unfortunately, it was happening after I’d have headed back to the U.S.

The place where Mr. Kid was playing was seriously way on the other side of the city (it’s a big city!), so in the end I decided to go to Especial. Upon retrospect, I wish I had gone to see Boom Boom, but that’s the way it goes. Regardless, upon a listen online I was not super interested in the “HC Punk Melodic” bands that were playing at Especial, but some of the garage bands sounded like they would be really fun.

A friend and I showed up at Especial around 11:45 pm and the last band from the punk set was playing. This band, who for the life of me I cannot figure out the name of (clearly I should’ve asked while I was there), and which has a plethora of guitarists (two electric guitarists and one acoustic guitarist, in addition to the bassist) did not really do a lot for me, but I liked the singer’s enthusiasm (the way he was dancing and his use of a tambourine reminded me of Davila 666 a little), and I thought the drummer was good. The rest of the band was somewhat sedate, but they weren’t terrible or anything like that, not at all, just played mostly a pop punk style that didn’t get my blood pumping. 

Especial itself is a smallish club with two major rooms—one in the front where the bands play and one in the back where you can buy beer, smoke, and watch whatever video they happen to be screening (on the night I was there, one about the Who and one about Tom Jones). 

My friend and I hung out and talked and I got a beer or two, and we waited for the garage set to start. More people started showing up around 1 am or so, while the first band, Las Fantásticas Pupés, was setting up. They finally went on around, oh, about 1:30 am or so. This is much later than I am used to for a first band! Honestly, I don’t know why New York is called the city that never sleeps when there is Buenos Aires around. You have to figure that with a start time of 1:30 am and four bands lined up, the show probably didn’t finish before 4 or 5 am.  

Unfortunately, Las Fantásticas Pupés were not really doing it for me, nor for my friend, who is not into that kind of scene to begin with. They were okay, and they had some fans in the crowd, but they didn’t command my attention. They didn’t really seem to totally rock, you know? They were kind of mild mannered, in my opinion. I think with garage you want to totally rock out. Maybe they warmed up more as the evening went on (my friend and I didn’t stay for their whole set, so I don’t know), but that which we saw of it did not grab me. I had been hoping to be grabbed!

I’d really been interested in seeing the rest of the bands (The Knacks, The Vulcanos, and Los Acetones), but did not want to sit around until 2:30 am or so, when I figured the next band might come on. Plus, I could tell that my friend would have been very okay about leaving, so that’s what we did. However, I am happy we went to check out the scene—my impression is that Especial probably has some good bands at least now and again, and it seems like a fun place to hang out.  

And if I find myself in any of these cities again, well, at least I have some places to begin looking, so that maybe next time I can better experience punk rock in South America!