Interview with Polo Pepo, 2018

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Interview with Polo Pepo, by Yecatl Peña
On September of 2018 I had the chance to interview Polo Pepo in his house in the San Felipe De Jesús neighborhood in México City. One of the great results of this encounter was the re-issue of the “San Felipe Es Punk” 7” thanks to the willingness of Polo Pepo and the support of La Vida Es Un Mus. I want to thank Victor Rizo because without his help none of this would have been possible. [Lightly edited by Shit-Fi]
YP How did everything start for Polo Pepo?
PP I started learning everything related to music from an early age. My uncle used to play huapango1 and we used to have a house in the Anahuac neighborhood. We had an huge loft with a store where my uncle sold beer and liquor to the workers of the factories in the area.
Peerless Records was around there, big foundries, the Firestone factory, and a bunch of other business on Mariano Escobedo street.
My uncle sold drinks to the workers and played Veracruzano music for them. Around that time, we started listening to rock n roll. 
YP What year was that?
PP A while ago. I wasn’t even 12 years old.
YP When were you born?
PP I was born in 1948. I’m 70 right now. When I was 15 I was already playing in vaudeville shows on Tacuba Street. We were even playing "Surfin’ Bird" at the time.
The shows used to be packed. There was a stage, the drummer, a clarinetist and almost an orchestra playing mambo and danzón and a few dancers with their stockings all torn. It was a good show but very poor.
Sometimes people would show up for hiring the artists to perform at nightclubs. We came out of that. We were nice guys but into rock n roll and we were really happy to have an audience. We used to play in La Roma and La Condesa neighborhoods when they weren’t as hip as they are now. Kids from those neighborhoods used to hire us. 
We used to go to perform for them at these parties inside big vecindades.2 Anybody could make a party there and that was it; getting drunk, playing and getting paid. 
For a factory worker the minimum wage was 25 pesos. When we performed at a party we got paid like 800 pesos. It started to become a job.
That’s how I learned how the music business was and you had to be careful because the big ones always wanted to fuck you up. There was people that would beat you up even if you were in the middle of your performance. Really crazy shit for a young, small, skinny kid that even went to music school and wanted to be a bad ass.
At that time we started playing all the British invasion stuff, The Animals and all the cool things we were just discovering.
YP How hard was getting records back then?
PP They were really expensive. I couldn’t afford most of them. For me the important thing was to play rock and roll instead of sitting and listening to it. Magazines and interviews were really scarce, recording and making records was way more rare. Then Avándaro3 happened, and I moved to Tijuana. I saw the real thing over there. I was young and homeless.
YP You moved to Tijuana after Avándaro?
PP No, before Avándaro. When I came back from Avándaro I had long hair, I was smoking grass and eating peyote. We were transformed; no more looking for trouble, we were all peace and love. 
YP So then before you were all peace and love you considered yourself a rocker?
PP We were always rockers but Tijuana changed our minds because the monsters of rock would play that city very often. Everything new, hip and trendy in the USA and England would sound in the Tijuana clubs that were actually very mainstream. Around that time amazing bands like Peace And Love were starting to play.
People from all over the world would play that city. You would see real soul music from the states, real blues. It was like a dream.
In the end I had trouble with some people and I came back to Mexico city. I restarted my life and tried to put together a band.
My mom bought some land in San Felipe de Jesus so they kind of colonized the neighborhood. I just came here to visit back then. Some time later I decided to stay but shit was very violent and crazy around here.
YP After Avándaro there was a wave of government repression against rockers. How did you experience that? 
PP There was repression already before Avándaro. Now it was way fucked up. But yeah we made it to the festival on Friday. It was raining, we woke up when El Ritual was playing. We sat in circle, it was seven of us and we were tripping.
YP People say most of the Avándaro crowd was just preppy kids. 
PP It wasn’t just preppy kids, but at least most people lived in a house and were in school.
We were kids that had the chance to go to high school and our parents owned houses and some had their own business.
We were the first young generation that smoked marijuana. Before my generation the only people that smoked weed in the old México was dumpster divers or pepenadores that lived off finding good things in the garbage and selling them in the markets. They used to roll joints on brown paper.
Back then you could smoke on the bus. You would get in and in the back of the bus you would see really old people reading the newspaper and smoking grass. 
We were very embarrassed because smoking pot was not a good thing but we realized that weed was better for music than drinking.
YP Was there cocaine around?
PP You would see cocaine, but it was mostly for people with money. Doctors and people with a career. Some time later I got addicted to it and I needed it to play. It was like not having any feelings.
YP Where would you buy marijuana back then?
PP I used to buy grass in Tepito or Morelos neighborhood. There were some kids that would rob you after you just bought it. You could also find joints for less than a dollar, even cents.
We used to play a lot in La Fuente around Eje Central and Salto del Agua and we would buy there too. A really cool old man that lived in that area used to sell us. Also around Comonfort and all the Lagunilla area was a good place to buy. A lot of artists and musicians used to live in that area for some reason.
YP And the pigs?
PP They fucked with us all the time. We had long hair, necklaces, we were hippies. Downtown they would tolerate you but when I came to San Felipe or the outskirts of the city the cops would stop you because of your clothes. 
Police was always a problem but we learned to bribe them. I would say that my generation ruined it for México. We realized those motherfuckers had a lousy job and got paid really bad so we would give them money to leave us alone. You would end up in jail for anything.
YP When did you arrive in San Felipe?
PP I was like 12 years old. When we got here it was just like the countryside. We built our houses and suffered a lot, like everyone else did. I worked in factories and construction, but I did way better than that playing on weekends with any band.
We formed one band after another, but we lasted more than bands nowadays. 
You would join the musician’s union and they would send you to some parties and events to perform. There you would have to say goodbye to rock and roll, your first love and learn how to play other shit.
YP Can you explain the transition from 70s rock and roll to punk?
PP Around that time you would see a lot of synthesizers and progressive rock bands were really popular. That made us feel really bad because we couldn’t afford that kind of gear.
Also we missed riffs and more simple guitars so we found exactly that in punk. You didn’t need that much of musicianship or gear. That way, with punk we were playing rock and roll again. We felt happy playing simple guitar melodies without any virtuoso shit.
The real problem was singing in Spanish. When we wanted to sing in Spanish it was just cursing and bad words. The only one that could pull it off was Alejandro Lora from El Tri. For us everyone else doing it sucked big time or sounded like a ballad. We were very malinchistas4 back then. We wanted to sound like gringos or like the British.
Around the San Felipe area there was people playing rock and roll already and that’s when I met my friend Javier Baviera, founding member of Rebel’D Punk. I used to see that guy walking in the 'hood with spikey hair and weird clothing and it impressed me so much. I had only seen people like that in rock and roll magazines, shit like David Bowie and all that.
Around that time he showed me The Ramones, but I couldn’t get into them at first. It was too loud and crazy for me. Not much later I learned that it was just another form of evolution for the rock and roll that I liked. I remember when all the progressive rock happened people stopped listening to stuff like CCR or any guitar based music until punk showed up.
Punk reached workers and people with money at the same time. I realized that because now you would see people that looked like my friend Javier but now in rich neighborhoods. We started forming some punk bands. I remember we even made one with Javier playing sax, me playing bass and a gringo drummer.
Punk for me was like a whole new thing. No solos. Each instrument was contributing to the music and the music was like a brick. Nothing was more important than other instrument.
In that moment there were no punk bands in San Felipe. The first ones I can remember were from Coyoacán and other parts of the city not as fucked up as ours. 
Some time later Javier would come and pick me up with his spikey hair, suit and tie all full of safety pins and take me to play the bass with a band he was forming.
Around that time I realized I didn’t wanted to play covers anymore so I was just wondering how to start my own thing. What was I gonna sing about? Then I realized it was going to be my reality, all the things I was going through.
Javier already had recorded the first Rebel’D Punk record and he used to make fanzines, playing here and there with his saxophones but he was having problems with his band so he was about to leave Mexico. 
YP How did you start your own band?
PP We were trying to play "C’mon Everybody" and Javier was telling me not to sing the Mexican 60s version. He told me I needed to change the lyrics so the punks would get into it. I needed to decompose the lyrics and sing about fucked up shit. 
Then Javier decided to move to the United States. I stayed here and Rebel’D Punk wanted me to join them I went to see them perform at a show and it was funny because back then people didn’t moshed or slammed because nobody knew which way you danced punk so a lot of people were breakdancing.
Since I heard the first note until I left the band I saw that to play punk you just needed to be simple and grotesque. That was the way.
We did alright with Rebel’D. We attracted a lot of people to the shows but the scene was really violent and you would get robbed all the time. One time we went to play at the Lienzo Charro in Pantitlán. Satanás the promoter told us to go up and play and that they would beat the shit up of anyone who would get in the stage or would try to hurt us. 
The problem was that the previous band, Enigma, had announced El Tri already and people was expecting them to play. We were received with rocks and bottles but we kept playing and people liked it in the end.
I quitted Rebel some time later. We presented "San Felipe Es Punk" in La Carpa Astros and nobody was expecting that from me. People saw me playing solo already in many hoyos funky,5 but no one had any idea what I was preparing.
I quit Rebel because I wanted to play something free so we started Polo Pepo. We used to practice in an abandoned house just next to the sewage canal.
Back then it was really difficult to make a record. I remember paying 250 pesos of that time which was a lot for me but finally I had something out there.
YP Tell me about the recording process.
PP The recording session was in August of 1988. It was going to be a 12-track recording, but the gear broke so in the end it was just 8. I was just rehearsing for a month with el Calzón, the drummer before doing it. Juan Hernandez, a famous Mexican bluesman, played the guitar just as a fill in and Merced Belén played the harmonica.
I never liked the way we played in that recording but now I think the songs came out just well. The reality of those times was really harsh so now I give the recording its importance. 
YP Around 1988 there was a proper punk scene in San Felipe, right?
PP Yeah. Desorden Publico, TNT, El Eclipse, Descontrol and many others were around by then. I decided to stick with punk as a style so I wrote more punk songs to have a good set list. The cool thing about punks was that I could move my music the way I wanted and also I could experiment with stuff I liked such as blues or crazier shit.
I liked punk because it was discord and dissonance. Also because just as rock and roll it’s a well established square with just a few notes and you can do whatever you want with them, just like the blues. Punk is just an evolution of the first rock and roll and the blues. That was what I was looking for at the time because commercial rock was just boring. I was just done with all that bullshit. 
We played punk for many years. In the worst conditions, poorly paid and just barely surviving, using any drugs we could get in our hands until one day that I just collapsed. I was put in an addiction clinic. I was there for a while and then I got better and went out to play music again.
YP How was the "San Felipe Es Punk" single received back then?
PP People liked it a lot. I used to go out with my acoustic guitar and play in the streets. I sang that song all over the city. I carried my records with me, I sold them, gave them away, trade them for weed. Those records really helped me get by.
YP How many records were pressed?
PP The first edition was really small, but I can’t tell exactly how many because Merced Belén pressed some more later. I don’t know where the master tape is anymore. Nobody knows how many copies of that record are out there. I really don’t give a fuck actually. After years of attacking the government with my music now the government gives me money with the elder person support and gives me what I need. Things that punk never did for me.
YP After the "San Felipe Es Punk" single, what were your next recordings?
PP I was invited to a punk compilation on Discos Y Cintas Denver. I recorded "Chavo Marginado," and Merced Belén did the lyrics. He was really out of touch about which drugs kids where doing those days, so I helped him making the song accurate. Instead of chemo,6 kids were huffing activo.7 Kids drank 40 oz., smoked weed, and huffed paint thinner so the song was about that, about being poor, about your mother washing other family’s clothes so she could support her own.
I was really into the song because I knew a lot of people like that, but that wasn’t me. I was an artist, I wasn’t a marginal person, I wasn’t homeless or a bum, right?
The song was about the marginalized kids, abandoned by society, even abandoned by god. Well…that was actually me, but at the time I didn’t realize I was part of all that poverty and addiction.
YP How was the relationship with gangs?
PP We were cool. Most of them never saw me play. I used to have a lot of marijuana planted in my house. A lot. So people hung out there. 
Gang violence was really brutal around that time. We were just getting out of the hippie thing and the people in those gangs were just fucking crazy. My mom used to tell us to be careful because the gangs here weren’t like the ones we saw when we were little kids. Here they were totally insane. I always thought that even though they were violent and crazy they were still into rock and roll so that would calm them down. I used to tell them that I was in a band, so we played for them a few times.
YP Why did you stop playing?
PP I went crazy. I was doing cocaine nonstop for many days, drinking all the time, not eating at all. I was like that for many years until I collapsed. My brothers came and put me in this clinic in La Condesa. That was the first AA group in Mexico. I was there for a year, and then I started working for them for a long time. When I felt better I came back to San Felipe to do the only thing I knew how to do: play music.
I realized that around AA and rehab clinics music is very important so I was playing in that environment for a good amount of time. Then I started playing parties and nightclubs again with people from the Luis Alcaraz Jr. Orchestra in big dancing clubs. I was doing good but I missed rock and roll. I tried to make a comeback and put a band together but I wasn’t making much money.

YP In 2006, Warpig from Atóxxxico and Lost Acapulco organized a reunion show for Polo Pepo. Was there any relationship between Polo Pepo and Atóxxxico in the 80s?
PP Back then Atóxxxico was quite popular between my friends. El Wagner from Escoria was really into them. They used to play in the 'hood a lot in this venue called NutriRock. The owner was my friend Pepe Láminas. It was a very well known spot and very important for San Felipe’s rock and roll scene. Xenofóbia and Colectivo Caótico used to play there often.
YP What’s that song "Cristales Mágicos" about?
PP You know what that shit's about. About that magic crystals world. You take a sneak peek and you feel so good that you want to come back again and again. Isn’t it like that with crack and cocaine? The bad part is that later you feel some crazy shit. Nobody understand you and you are the king of your own universe.
YP Do you think young people are not into rock and roll anymore?
PP Punk showed up, and then it was gone. Reggaetón came along and kids are into it and seems to be the thing now. Having sex, stealing, getting in trouble and doing the same shit the punks did. 
But rock and roll is fine, just waiting, looking from up there how the new kids do the stuff we did.
Back then we used to get drunk and huff paint thinner in the San Felipe flea market the same way the kids are doing it now. I’m old as fuck, but just like a kid I have goals and not being able to reach them makes me dissatisfied. 
I’m still uncomfortable and dissatisfied.


1. An indigenous music style from Veracruz.

2. Big houses with an interior patio and small apartments, where most of the working class people lived in Mexico City. Most of them were destroyed in the 1985 earthquake.

3. On September 11, 1971,the  Avándaro festival took place. It was considered the Mexican Woodstock. After it happened rock and roll was forbidden in Mexico until the late 80s, but the tradition of police harrasing young people is still alive and well.

4. This word signifies somebody who prefers things from out of Mexico, mostly from the USA or Euope. Even though it’s not always overt, it’s also very common.

5. When rock and roll was forbidden in Mexico, venues would not host anything related to it. shows took place in warehouses, abandoned buildings, or vacant lots. These places would be called Hoyos Funky.

6. Street name for industrial glue.

7. Street name for paint thinner.