“Punk without Politics and Solidarity is Pop!” – Interview on General Strike, Riots against State Oppression and Hardcore Punk Movement in Colombia

With guilty delay (for which i sincerely apologize) i finally find myself publishing this in-depth interview done many months ago with Juan, a punx active in the band Systema, in which we talked not only about the Colombian hardcore scene but also about the moments of protest, riots and demonstrations that have gone through and set Colombian society on fire. In fact the biennium 2020-2021 has seen in Colombia an enormous amount of general strikes, riots, demonstrations and moments of protest against state corruption and brutal police repression. As in other contexts around the world, from Chile to the riots following the killing of George Floyd in the U.S., the masses have occupied the streets, determined to oppose in an active way, organized as much as spontaneous, a life made of violence, misery, repression and alienation. Returning to the Colombian context, in May 2021 some comrades and punx released “La Masacre Continua”, a benefit compilation whose proceeds were donated to people and collectives affected by repression, reaffirming how hardcore can still be a threat and above all a means to bring solidarity. About the general strike, the riots against state repression and police violence and the Colombian hardcore punk movement I talked with Juan in a long and in-depth interview. Enjoy reading and above all solidarity and complicity with those who had risen up are in Colombia as well as with those who are rising up elsewhere! And let’s remember that punk without solidarity and politics is pop!

(Juan’s answers are given in both Spanish and English so that everyone can read and understand them in the easiest way)

In your opinion, Did punk take a different form in Colombia because of the ways in which the racial and colonial, as well as cultural, social and political, contexts differed from Europe and the United States?

Es distinta en el momento en que el contexto racial, político y cultural toman una forma radicalmente distinta y opuesta en este caso de Europa y USA, el tema de ser un país tercermundista marca una diferencia avismal por las políticas y el terrorismo de Estado que se implementa desde leyes hasta la cotidianidad. La consciencia colectiva colombiana está arraigada a la violencia, a la estigmatización y al despojo, además de temas racistas y de xenofobia con el mismo colombiano. En las letras de las bandas y en las dinámicas cotidianas se puede evidenciar el cómo el colombiano está en un constante tema sobre la situación política fascista, sobre asesinatos, desapariciones, desplazamientos forzados y violencias en el campo y ciudad.

EN: It is certainly different. The racial, political and cultural context is radically different from that one in Europe and the USA. Being a third world country marks a visible difference accentuated by a growing state terrorism and a series of laws that have its origins in a colonialistic past.. The collective Colombian conscience is rooted in violence, stigmatization and dispossession.. In the lyrics of the bands and in the daily dynamics, one can highlight how a constant theme is the uprising fascist politics, but also the daily murders, disappearances, forced displacements and violence in the countryside and the cities.

What relationship exists between the more politically engaged hardcore punk scene and the social struggle movements active in the country? What are the paths of political struggle that you are engaged in?

Los caminos de lucha en Colombia son diversos de acuerdos a los sectores sociales que los conforman, desde indígenas, hasta campesinos, hasta sindicatos de obreros y maestros. Personalmente no conformo ninguno de estos movimientos, sin embargo desde el punk hay una unidad colectiva que se organiza desde los conciertos hasta la asistencia a manifestaciones integrándose a las luchas sociales antes mencionadas en la calle. La relación más evidente que puede existir entre la escena punk y los movimientos sociales de lucha, es el discurso de autonomía que cada uno “porta”, además de los contextos sociales que se habitan que son bastante similares, desde la violencia sistemática, hasta las desigualdades sociales.

EN: The ways of struggle in Colombia are diverse depending on the social sectors that make them up, from indigenous people to peasants to workers ‘and teachers’ unions. Personally, I do not conform any of these movements, however from the punk scene there is a collective unit expressed in different ways: from organizing concerts to attending demonstrations, as well as being a support for the aforementioned social struggles in the street. The most obvious relationship that can exist between the punk scene and the social movements of is the discourse of autonomy that each one assumes.The struggles are similar; from systematic violence to social inequalities.

In recent months Colombia has experienced moments of strong mobilization, general strikes, anti-government demonstrations and real moments of revolt. What has been the role of the punk movement in this period? Are there within the hardcore scene forms of support, solidarity and benefits for those who have suffered police repression as a result of these moments of protest and insurrection?

En el estallido social la comunidad punk se solidarizó con la lucha al momento de hacer distintas recolecciones para destinar a distintos sectores, como primeras líneas, heridos por represión policial y personas que estaban en condiciones de vulnerabilidad económica. El papel que jugó la comunidad también fue el de visibilizar desde piezas gráficas hasta discursos dentro de conciertos en la calle y la participación a eventos “masivos” de personas donde se realizaban eventos culturales. La realización independiente de conciertos promovidos, generados y financiados por la misma comunidad, fue fundamental para democratizar espacios y discursos con el fin de llegarle a personas del común que no habían tenido la oportunidad de participar activamente en conjunto a la comunidad.

EN: During the social outbreak, the punk community sympathized in different ways with the struggle by the means of fundraisers, collects of goods and so on, to provide people fighting on the frontline of the protests with medical supplies, food and other basic needs. The role played by the community was also to use art (posters, different graphic expressions), spreading the word about the collective situation during concerts in the street and the participation in “massive” events of people where cultural events were held. The independent performance of concerts promoted, generated and financed by the community itself, was essential to democratize spaces and discourses in order to reach ordinary people who had not had the opportunity to actively participate in the community as a whole.

Speaking precisely of benefits, you were one of the producers of the benefit compilation entitled “La Masacre Continua,” which features great Colombian hardcore punk bands that have emerged in recent years (from Muro to Primem Regimen). Can you tell us more about this project? In several posts about this compilation benefit I’ve read the phrase “Punk without politics and solidarity is pop”. Care to elaborate on this concept?

La compila punk “La Masacre Continúa”, nació en una época de estallido social (Paro Nacional 28 de Abril de 2021) en medio de un desayuno junto con mi amigo “Golondrinas” Juan David Santos, junto con quien decidimos que era necesario incluir la música dentro de ésta problemática para gestionar y solidarizarnos con la causa, pues creemos que la música es una herramienta para democratizar, no privatizar y viralizar ideas sin fronteras. El nombre del compilado, surge a partir de cómo el estallido social fue un gran referente en la ciudad de las masacres que se estaban llevando a cabo en ese preciso momento, todos los días asesinaban a personas en cada rincón del país, las masacres continuaban sin cesar… no sé nos ocurrió mejor nombre que el de “La Masacre Continúa”, por ende, el arte mismo de la portada, haciendo alusión a cómo todo un poder gubernamental y policial perpetuaron estas masacres. Ahora, en cuanto a la frase “Punk without politics, and solidarity is pop”, no estaba enterado de esta frase mencionada, en ningún momento la he o la hemos aplicado y menos en un contexto como en donde surgió la compila, por el contrario, creo que el punk es político y completamente solidario, no concibo que el punk no sea político y menos en el contexto en el que nos encontramos en Colombia.

EN: The punk compilation “La Masacre Continúa” was born during the National Strike (that started April 28 , 2021) during a breakfast together with my friend Juan David Santos, (aka”Golondrinas”). Together we decided that it was necessary to include punk music to create a dialogue from us as punks in regards to the social outbreak. We wanted to show solidarity with the cause, because we believe that music is a tool to democratize, not privatize and make ideas go viral. The name of the compilation comes from how, every day people were murdered in every corner of the country, the massacres continued without cease … So we couldnt come up with another name that wasnt “The Massacre Continues”. The art of the cover itself, alluded to how an entire government and police power perpetuated these massacres. Now, as for the phrase “Punk without politics and solidarity is pop”, I was not aware of this phrase, at no time have we applied it, on the contrary I believe that punk is political and completely supportive, I cannot conceive that punk is not political and even less in the context in which we find ourselves in Colombia.

Over the past two years, a series of major uprisings and mobilizations have erupted almost everywhere in the world, from Chile to Hong Kong to the riots following the racial murder of George Floyd in the States. Do you think there is a correlation between the protests that happened in Colombia in the last months and those in these countries? What do you think are the differences in the motivations that led to this great moments of mass mobilization?

Los estallidos sociales se deben a que la gente está cansada de la represión desde la institución policial hasta la desprotección gubernamental que cada país vive en su propio contexto. Hay similitudes en las luchas y movimientos sociales que llevaron a cabo estos estallidos, por ejemplo en Latinoamerica con Chile y Colombia. Latinoamerica es un continente donde las políticas gubernamentales son similares (derecha), y donde hay una historia de represión y dictaduras que quedan instaurados en el inconsciente colectivo de los habitantes, por esto, la forma como se vivió el estallido social en Chile y Colombia fueron bastante similares, desde el modo de operar de la policía, hasta los discursos de odio y de invisibilización que se manejaron en su momento. La diferencia con Colombia, es la relación que se tiene entre el Estado y el paramilitarismo (Terrorismo de estado), los cuales trabajan de la mano. Esto da como resultado desapariciones, torturas extrajudiciales, y varios tipos de prácticas que son más propias de una dictadura que de un estado “democratico”, como Colombia dice ser. La motivación del estallido en Colombia, tiene un eje fundamental y es todo un sistema de problemas que se entrelazan entre sí, como el ser el 4 país más desigual del mundo y el 1 de Latinoamérica. La pobreza, el paramilitarismo, el narcotráfico y la ultra derecha son los motivadores principales para llegar a un estallido social de tal magnitud como el de los meses pasados, que fue en muchas medidas, distintos a los de Hong Kong, USA y Chile.

EN: The social outbursts are due to the fact that people are tired of the repression from the police/military institutions but also to the lack of opportunities, corruption and inequalities. This is experienced different in every country, of course. There are similarities in the struggles and social movements that carried out these outbreaks, for example in Latin America with Chile and Colombia. Latin America is a continent where government policies are similar (right-wing), and where there is a history of repression and dictatorships that are established in the collective unconscious of the inhabitants, for this reason, the way in which the social outbreak was experienced in Chile and Colombia were somehow similar, from the way the police operate, to the hate speech, the forms and tactics of repressing protests and so on. The difference with Colombia is that here, there is a close relationship that exists between the State and the paramilitaries (right wing military groups, created to combat left wing marxists guerillas, such as FARC), which work hand in hand. This results in disappearances, extrajudicial torture, and various types of practices that are more typical of a dictatorship than a “democratic” state, as Colombia claims to be. The motivation for the outbreak in Colombia has a fundamental axis based on a mixture of problems that are intertwined with each other, such as being the 4 most unequal country in the world and the 1 in Latin America. Poverty, paramilitarism, drug trafficking and corruption are the main motivators to reach a social outbreak of such magnitude as that of the past months. Personally I believe it was in many ways different from those of Hong Kong, USA and Chile. The contexts vary a lot.

In recent years it seems that the Colombian hardcore punk scene is going through a moment of extreme fertility, with many bands forming and releasing really good records. Just think of the aforementioned Muro or Primer Regimen, as well as Uzi, Alambrada and not least Systema, a band of which you are a part. In your opinion, what is this explosion of new bands and new projects due to?

En mi opinión, esto se debe a la organización de la comunidad, a la colectividad, a la motivación de querer explotar ideas y talentos en conjunto de manera música, por la madurez musical y la experiencia de las personas que habitamos la comunidad, hablo de experiencia en el momento en que todas las personas que conformamos las bandas, hemos tenido experiencias previas con otros proyectos, desde viajes pequeños hasta toures más grandes. Además de la motivación del exteriorizar angustias, rabias y el querer visibilizar desde lo individual y colectivo la inconformidad que cada uno lleva consigo mismo dentro de sus propios sentires, saberes y experiencias.

EN: In my opinion, this is due to the organization of the community. The motivation of wanting to share ideas and talents together in a musical way. A lot of people has been involved in bands and collectives fro many years in their respective cities and when they all converge it is easier to create networks.The extra motivation is the fact that we all want to creatively express the anger and frustration of living in this country. Punk is seen as a real alternative to how the world operates.

Continuing to talk about the Colombian hardcore punk scene, what are the most active and important collectives, fanzines, squats, and social centers in keeping this cultural and political movement alive and extremely prolific in Colombia?

En este momento la calle es un epicentro fundamental para el mantener viva la esencia del HTM. Sin embargo, es complicado hablar de colectivos, fanzines, squats y centros sociales específicos, pues hay una constante movilización en distintas partes de Colombia en cuanto a la comunidad punk, donde todxs tienen que ver con todxs, desde la Costa hasta la Capital, en una constante solidaridad entre quienes habitamos la comunidad punk de Colombia, incluso quienes forman parte de la misma teniendo distinta nacionalidad, y quienes deciden marcharse del país y seguir aportando desde otros lugares del mundo.

EN: At this time the street is a fundamental epicenter for keeping the essence of the HTM alive. However, it is difficult to talk about specific collectives, fanzines, squats and social centers, since there is a constant mobilization in different parts of Colombia in terms of the punk community, where everyone has to do with everyone, from the Coast to the Capital, in a constant solidarity between those of us who inhabit the Colombian punk community, even those who are part of it having different nationalities, and those who decide to leave the country and continue contributing from other parts of the world.

What do you think is the potential of a genre like hardcore punk at this moment in history? How does it make sense for you to play punk in 2021?

El potencial del punk es la motivación que hay detrás precisamente de lo que és cómo tal el punk y de cómo cada uno lo percibe y lo vive. Como lo decía anteriormente, la motivación es la rabia y las ganas de desahogarse por medio del ruido, lo que hace diferencia con otros géneros musicales. El sentido de que yo toque y cante punk en pleno 2021, es el contar mi realidad, la del vecino, la de mi amigo, la de mi familia, la del país, desahogar mis miedos y frustraciones, en un año con tanta carga por la pandemia y la aceleración de la desigualdad a nivel mundial es importante seguir en lo que estaba, más que por gusto, por un compromiso con la realidad.

EN: The potential of punk is the motivation behind precisely what punk is like and how everyone perceives and lives it. As I said before, the main motivation is the anger and the desire to create through music, which makes a difference with other musical genres. The fact that I play and sing punk in the middle of 2021, is to tell my reality, that of the neighbor, that of my friend, that of my family, that of the country, to let my fears and frustrations go public. In a year with so much burden for the pandemic and the acceleration of inequality worldwide it is important to continue where it was, more than for pleasure, out of a commitment to reality.

How is the current political and social situation in Colombia? What are the biggest difficulties that the most militant and active hardcore punk scene in the paths of struggle is forced to face? What is the weight of police and state repression on protest and struggle movements, inside and outside the punk scene in Colombia?

La situación actual en Colombia es una situación de total corrupción, desigualdad, abandono estatal, y estamos a manos de un narcoestado el cuál significa que es un gobierno patrocinado por una economía establecida a partir de la exportación de droga, cosa que causa conflictos interno de violencia contra el pueblo más que todo en el campo. Además de ser una política prácticamente dictatorial en los cuales llevamos más de 5 décadas de no tener un cambio real, manejadas por las mismas familias que se creen los dueños del país. 2. La mayor dificultad es la situación económica misma del país, al que igual estamos sometidos los y las punks en todo el tema de la autogestión y el HTM. 3. La represión estatal y policial son dos instancias que no pueden separarse ni hablarse en distintos términos, estas dos son cómplices la una con la otra, por lo que la policía actúa de acuerdo a lo que el Estado ordene. Son complices en el momento en que tienen nexos con el paramilitarismo, narcotráfico y la ultra derecha, lo que ha ocasionado desapariciones, mutilaciones, asesinatos, secuestros, casos de abuso sexual de parte de la policiá hacia manifestantes dentro y fuera de las marchas.

EN: The current situation in Colombia is one of impunity, corruption, inequality and state abandonment. We are at the hands of a narco-state, and by this I mean that we are in the led by a government sponsored by an economy established from the export of drugs; very often we hear on the news how politicians are involved in situations where either their campaigns were financed by a narco or that they support directly a politician with connections in that world.
We have been in hidden dictatorship: we have lived 5+ decades of being governed by the same group of people, that is to say, the landlords, the bankers and the military.
State and police repression are two issues that cannot be separated or discussed in different terms, these two are complicit with each other, so the police act according to what the State orders. Theyare complicit at the moment when they have links with paramilitarism, drug trafficking and the ultra-right, which has caused disappearances, mutilations, murders, kidnappings, cases of sexual abuse by the police against protesters inside and outside the marches.

I admit my total historical ignorance of the 80’s Colombian hardcore punk scene. The only thing I know is the existence of the so-called “punk medallo”, a subcultural movement that emerged mainly in the capital Medellin and fundamental for the development of a real punk scene in Colombia, also politically active against police violence. What do you think was the historical importance of Punk Medallo and what do you think are the biggest differences in terms of practices and political activism compared to the current Colombian hardcore punk scene? And what were instead the bands in your opinion the most important that emerged from that movement and historical period?

La importancia histórica del punk Medallo, fue en cuanto a sonido crudo y rápido, en cuanto al contenido de las bandas, las letras generaron una diferencia en el momento en que se era contundente por la situación que vivía Medellín en esa década, además de ser un ruido hecho con las uñas en cuanto a instrumentalización, factor que le otorgó el nombre “Punk Medallo”. 2.Las distinciones respecto a la actualidad, es que en la década de los 80’s muchos punks cayeron en la drog y el tema sicarial (sicarios) gracias a que en esa época el narcotráfico estaba en pleno auge, con el famoso Pablo Escobar, lo que ocasionó que específicamente en ésta década mencionada, la influencia de la violencia entre los punks y el punk medallo fuera completamente evidente, ocasionando directamente una diferencia en la actualidad, donde los temas de violencia, y narcotráfico no tienen la misma concepción, además de la organización de la comunidad que causa una crítica más organizada y más consciente respecto a la situación por la que se vió y se ve sumergida el país. 3. Las bandas más importantes para mi dentro de la escena el punk Medallo entre 80’s y 90’s, son Bastardos Sin Nombre (BSN), Dexkoncierto, Fertil Miseria, Anti Todo, Pextes Mutantex quienes fueron banda sonora en la película Rodrigo D no Futuro, HPHC, Averxion, compilado de la Flema Innata de la Sociedad

EN: The historical importance of punk Medallo has to do with its raw and fast sound but also for being a reaction to a specific period of time. It was an urgent and violent, chaotic and incorrect music that reflected the reality of one of the most violent periods in the recent history of Colombia.

The differences with how it is today is that in the 80’s many punks fell into drugs and crime (working as hitmen, for example). At that time, drug trafficking was booming, which caused punks in one way or another to get sucked into that chaotic reality. This is why there is a big difference between the punk scene of that time and that of now. Before, being a punk was about being tough while trying to survive that harsh reality, nowadays we have the spaces and sense of community to face reality in a more critical and creative way. The most important bands for me within the Medallo punk scene between 80’s and 90’s, are Bastardos Sin Nombre (BSN), Dexkoncierto, Fertil Miseria, Anti Todo, Pextes Mutantex who were the soundtrack in the film Rodrigo D no Futuro, HPHC, Averxion, and the compilation “La Flema Innata de la Sociedad”

I wanted to focus for a moment on your band, Systema, and your latest record titled “Ultima Guerra”. What do you guys talk about in the lyrics? With what motivations and from what needs was the band born?

Las letras hablan de la realidad que vivimos cada uno desde la individualidad como integrantes de la banda, y el cómo vemos la situación actual no sólo del país sino del mundo, las crisis, la desigualdad social; las letras son el resultado del desahogo y del querer gritar, visibilizar y exteriorizar nuestras rabias. 2. La motivación es que siempre hemos estado todos en distintas bandas, y hemos tenido siempre la necesidad de tocar. El hecho de conocernos, ser amigos y la unión hace que haya una motivación más grande para conformar algo con ideas en común, con referentes similares ya que hay una misma línea musical que abarca también diferencias, y son esas diferencias las que conformaron Sytema.

EN: The lyrics speak of the reality that each one of us lives from our individuality as members of the band, and how we see the current situation not only in the country but in the world, the crises, social inequality; the lyrics are the result of wanting to shout, make visible and externalize our rages. The motivation is that we have always all been in different bands, and we have always had the urge to play. The fact of knowing each other, being friends makes a greater motivation to conform something with ideas in common, with similar references since there is the same musical line but we also have differences, and I think those differences is what makes systema what it is.

Juan we have come to the conclusion of this interview. I would like to thank you again for agreeing to answer these questions and especially for talking about the general situation experienced in Colombia, inside and outside of the hardcore punk scene. I leave this space for you to add thoughts, words and anything else you want.

Muchas gracias por el espacio, estoy convencido que este tipo de dinámicas nos ayudan a visibilizar situaciones que en su mayoría de veces son silenciadas hacia el exterior, la solidaridad en estos términos es fundamental para seguirnos creando redes de apoyo y así generar un cuestionamiento constante respecto a las situaciones ajenas de otros países que como punks nos competen. Espero que este pequeño resumen de lo que es el punk en Colombia relacionado también con el compilado punk solidario “ La Masacre Continúa”, logre crear un panorama crítico de la situación actual de Colombia que es bastante grave. Nuevamente gracias y abrazos fraternales para todos y todas.

Thank you very much for the invitation to participate, I am convinced that these types of spaces aims to make visible situations and struggles that are sometimes hidden under the constant flow of news. Solidarity is essential to continue creating support networks and thus generating constant questioning regarding each countries’ own political struggles, from a punk perspective. I hope that this small summary of what punk goes on in Colombia, also related to the solidarity punk compilation “La Masacre Continúa”, will create a critical panorama of the current situation in the country. Thanks again and big hugs to everyone reading this.