"s/t" 7" (Cintas Pepe CP-003)
White America’s ignorance about the world beyond its borders knows no bounds, so to speak. Want proof? Tell your average gringo you’re going to live in Mexico City for a few months. Sure, the questions about how dangerous it is are to be expected. (It isn’t, unlike many parts of the rest of the country.) But the utter lack of any sense of complicity or culpability in that dangerousness is truly unsettling. If Americans “know” that Mexico is dangerous, what they cannot know—because of the basic logic of American empire’s exceptionalism—is how that danger has anything to do with the United States and the ways it conducts its relations with other countries. The drug war in Mexico in this dim understanding (I use that word advisedly) is sui generis, as if the drugs were not en route to the United States, as if US prohibition of drugs did not create the market, as if US gun manufacturers were not the enablers of the killings, as if the world financial system, helmed by the Wall Street-Treasury nexus, were not systematically buoyed by laundered narco-profits.*
Mexico’s drug war, which began in earnest in 2006, followed on the heels of the “success” of the 30-year-or-longer anticommunist counterinsurgent drug war in Colombia, as its sequel: that is not a historical fact the United States chooses to know. NAFTA, the 1994 free-trade agreement that put nearly all small farmers in the countryside of Mexico in the position of choosing between starvation or finding a new line of work so that Wal-Mart could become Mexico’s largest employer and Midwest industrial agricultural firms could boost their profits, was a necessary ingredient for the eruption of the drug war: that is not a historical fact the United States chooses to know. This push effect, which depopulated Mexico’s countryside, was followed by the immigration pull effect of the economic booms of the Clinton and second Bush presidencies (for which NAFTA was an antecedent—though not because it created jobs for the voters who may have supported it but because it created profits that were invested in real estate, leading to the temporary need for low-wage laborers, who crossed the border as if on cue): that is not a historical fact the United States chooses to know. The new era of migration had a profoundly unsettling effect on social life in Mexico while also creating the conditions for the militarized border clampdown whose rippling consequences include the militarization of those syndicates whose members’ livelihoods depend on moving contraband across the border: that is not a historical fact the United States chooses to know.** The most ruthless, perverse, and murderous of the parties to the drug war, the Zetas, have their roots in the professional training and arming of anticommunist paramilitaries in Central America during the Cold War (itself the key modality of US counterrevolution on a global scale in the postwar period, continuing in a different guise today): that is not a historical fact the United States chooses to know.
There can be no exculpation of the craven Mexican authorities who perpetuate the drug war due to venality and through penality and state-sanctioned violence, nor of the macho, sadistic individuals who are its ground-level actors. But before even beginning to think about blaming Mexicans, be sure to consider how the United States, in its everlasting pursuit of heaven in the form of white supremacist empire, has for decades consigned its “internal” unruly to an equally infinite regime of encaging through hyperincarceration; the “external” unruly to an unthinkably wide-ranging and well-endowed warmachine; and the rest to horizons constrained by free-market nostrums made manifest, toil and drudgery as work or else unemployment, and cascading environmental catastrophes that, it seems, in the absence of world-scale revolutionary counterforce, augur the only way out—through planetary biosphere collapse.
The appropriate response seems barely confinable to polite speech or rational thought. I will return to this point below.
It is a peculiarity of cultural production, which inhabits a sphere irreducible to the immediate socioeconomic world of its emergence, that we cannot “read off” its characteristics from a sober analysis of that world. Put another way, South Africa under Apartheid, though it had antinomians who created some incredible music, was not the source of the most fucked-up, primitive, apeshit, irate, no-holds-barred punk rock. Perhaps it should have been in some record collectors’ dreams, but things just don’t always work that way. Derry in the 1970s produced the Undertones, a brilliant band but not one whose sound is predicted by the extreme conditions in which they lived, except perhaps as mirror-like inversion. Relatively calm, even boring, social-democratic Sweden, on the other hand, was the source of Anti-Cimex, Crudity, DTAL, Shitlickers, SOD, etc. Off-the-charts rage captured for posterity on vinyl. Tacka gud.
I have been on a life-defining quest for the past decade-plus. The object of it I have labeled however inadequately as the Shit-Fi aesthetic. It has led me to seek the (un-)favorable circumstances under which ugly music emerges from ugly life-worlds. Indeed, some of the most notable exemplars of the Shit-Fi aesthetic come from early-to-mid-80s Brazil (SP Caos, Armagedom, Ruidos Absurdos, Ulster), late 80s Colombia (Parabellum, Imagen, Ataque de Sonido [cass tx only, natch]), early 80s Wales (Tax Exiles), and late 80s Jersey City (Psycho Sin)—political, social, economic shit-holes all. But in the end I’ll take the ugly music regardless of its environs. And I am, in some ways, even more curious about bands like Pinochet Boys, National Wake, Third World Chaos, Handgrenades, Devils Hole Gang, State Children, Magic de Spell, Basta, and Butter Utter—which qualify for inclusion on the site (I can make up the qualifications as I go, which is nice) not because they are shitty in sound per se but because they are oddballs, whose incongruous sounds seem at once to make perfect sense given their contexts yet also transcend those contexts as well and defy explanation.
As I have continued with the quest, Mexico has loomed large, in good measure because I have lived there for a total of approximately four months in the past year and a half. Even before arriving, I knew that in the Top Ten list of Shit-Fi tuneless, totally-unhindered-by-talent, out-of-tune, raw, primitive classics, at least three would be Mexican. Now I can’t help but think that even more slots in the list might belong to Mexican releases. It would be tough to choose which to exclude from these hecho en Mexico gems: Polo Pepo 7", Dangerous Rhythm 7", Rebel'd Punk 7", TNT “Punk” LP, Xenofobia “Presionados” LP, B**** M***** "C********* P******" LP (I can't just give it all away), SS-20 LP, MELI demo. Here the quest, therefore, has been fruitful.
But as I have long sensed, as much as I believe in the fundamental non-correspondence between cultural production and socioeconomic context, there is something a little ridiculous in the quest. I know such a thing doesn’t exist, but I still want to find the recording from the fucked-up and exotic locale that outstrips Parabellum (my encounter with Parabellum was the apotheosis of the quest, which proved it worthwhile and thus gave cause to continue it but also remains as the high-point likely never to be superseded). And in the process of being on this search, I have probably succumbed to an unsustainable and ethically dubious romanticism about fucked-up historical situations. I hasten to add, however, that I insist I have not been nearly as bad in this regard as others (see my writing about the Dragons here and here). There is nothing redeeming about kids finding their only escape and outlet from a fratricidal US-backed war in Medellín in recording a record I now love. To find something redeeming in it is twisted. As the Occupy movement clarified, shit is fucked up and bullshit. It was then too, and no privileged white dude from the New Jersey suburbs (me) banging his head to a song about the dead mother of a guy from Medellín is going to make it have been worthwhile, or change the way all the deaths can be viewed in retrospect. Nor should it even be expected to. Parabellum just is. The Medellín of the 80s and 90s just was. That is all.
Still, the Shit-Fi aesthetic countenances a certain absurdity that comes with the knowing, ironic gaze of sage record collectors. Gonzo, stupid, and moronic? I want to hear it. This perspective is inherently a bit condescending. True, some stupid bands were intentionally stupid, and hence smart. Others, well, not so much. Although I cannot and will not ever tolerate the fucking idiocy that so many of my peers and, unfortunately, friends indulge—avowedly racist music—I was confronted with the limits of my perspective on stupid music the other day. A couple Mexican punk friends asked me what I thought about the fact that some classic Mexican punk bands actually had Christian themes, vibes, beliefs. For example, Herejía (appositely named, or not), apparently had a couple Christian songs, including an anti-abortion song. TNT—never a real punk band but shit-fi through and through—were Christians. Did this bother me? Although I was surprised to learn that some classic hardcore bands of the 80s were religious, I had to be honest, learning so increased their appeal in a weird way. It’s not like I’m listening to Herejía lyrics to discover the way the world works, as I did Crass lyrics as a teenager. In a way my Mexican friends do not, I have a lot of distance from the Mexico of the 80s, when hard-fought internecine battles within the punk scene erupted, causing dividing lines that persist today, over religious lyrics. With the distance afforded by time, space, and a language barrier, such lyrics seem just sort of silly and increase the shit-fi quotient. It seems so harmless. (There’s also the prurient interest in really out-there, creepy Christian zealotry set to music, as in the 1970 psych/folk band New Creation.) But I told my friends that a band today in the DIY punk scene with Christian lyrics—and there is at least one of which I am aware—is antithetical to punk ideals. Maybe that is hypocritical.
While on the quest I have admittedly been less than excited about new bands (only a couple articles on this site refer to current bands). I get the sense that some folks who read my exuberant writing about current bands and the punk scene of the 90s and early 00s feel I have betrayed that exuberance by a certain lack of interest or perceived cynicism. What can I say? I may die with my boots on, but interests change. I’m less nihilistic these days. And, honestly, if you were there during the 9 Shocks Terror show in Minneapolis at Havoc Fest, when the 90s definitively ended, you probably look on today’s wild show shenanigans with a jaundiced eye.
And then there is the urgency of the moment in which we live. The studied introversion and apolitical character of nearly all punk bands in the United States today is just fucking stupid. Does anyone really want to pay money to buy a record that comes with beyond-inane lyrics, sung in English, thus making their unintelligence intelligible? I love Crazy Spirit and Perdition, along with a handful of other current US bands, but for the most part the US scene as I experience it today might actually disprove my ideas about the indirectness the relationship between of cultural production and socioeconomic context. The crumbling US empire, a mephitic morass of nattering neoliberal individualist idiocy, has found its soundtrack as much in LMFAO as [insert current hardcore band of your choice here; I don’t want to hurt any numbskulls’ feelings].
The quest has led me to unsavory dealings with characters of questionable character in Mexico City (and elsewhere). That is what record collectors do, I suppose. But it has also meant that I have been tracking down records themselves by apparently unsavory bands, like those that bother my Mexican friends, at no mean expense. That’s the thing about the romanticism inherent to the Shit-Fi aesthetic, or other versions of “taste” that one finds among record collectors (though most are utterly unethical types and probably don’t spend much time wincing—or, rather, they seek out the wince-worthy). In the meantime, I had been unaware—through no fault of my own—of a one-off present-day project band that meets the finer Shit-Fi criteria, Tercer Mundo. (I did know about Mexico City’s Inservibles, influenced by 80s Italian hardcore. Their most recent 7", “Una Vida de Tristeza,” displaces nearly every recording from the 80s on that list above through brain-frying noise, feedback, distortion, and rage. It is a monster.)
Composed of two guys from Monterrey, a city devastated and depopulated by the drug war, who have played in other bands you may know such as Ratas del Vaticano, Tercer Mundo is to Mexico today what Parabellum was to Colombia in the 1980s. It is a band that harnesses in its sound and aesthetic the quivering rage, blank indignation, and desperate frustration the drug war induces. No individual can do anything of substance—short of a suicidal act—against the chaos of the drug war. (The poet Javier Sicilia and the journalist Anabel Hernández may be the exceptions to this rule.) Rational arguments as well seem to fail. But one can make art.
The nightly sound of gunshots and the daily sight of corpses, whether in Tercer Mundo’s lives or in the news, drives the band’s songs. Fear and impotence become a seething, unchained fury that recalls the too-many-words-per-line explosions of Wretched or other Italian greats. Tercer Mundo’s sound and aesthetic also have affinities with OTAN’s (a band that I noted seemed to capture the moment of the Iraq war and its horror in a way no bloated pundit could), though perhaps with a bit more of the unhinged flavor of Attak or Autodefensa. The five songs on the record all fit together to form a cohesive whole, yet each one stands on its own. The barrage combines stand-out riffs with feedback and noise to ineffably powerful effect. The final song, “Hijos de la Noche,” on the assassins who prowl darkened streets, though short, seems unable to come to a close, much like sleepless nights, much like nightmares, much like the endless drug war itself. Each lull is only a temporary hiatus.
Tercer Mundo’s name, meaning Third World, may seem like a throwback to the Cold War and thus to classic 80s hardcore, but even this is a sharp commentary on the drug war. The Third World, as a historical descriptor, is best understood as a political project of peoples put in a position of political subordination, economic dependency, and underdevelopment by the global relations of US-led capitalism. This political project had as its goal an end to dependency and underdevelopment and the achievement of self-determination through differentiated, locationally specific means. In other words, far from being a gray area whose loyalty to the United States or the Soviet Union was up for grabs, as it was then perceived, the Third World in retrospect was a collective project by those gathered under this term, including black and brown people within the United States, to enhance democracy, achieve freedom, and abolish the Third World. For Tercer Mundo, the drug war symbolizes the limits and failures of past efforts to overcome dependent relations between countries of the Global South and Euro-America, and it suggests how the neoliberal present recapitulates and reinvents past processes of underdevelopment on novel historical terrain.
This record is the third Cintas Pepe release. The first, the “Brutales Matanzas” compilation LP, which I wish I had reviewed on this site, is the best shit-fi hardcore release of recent memory and perhaps the best compilation of new bands since the 1980s. It was impossible to find outside Mexico immediately upon release, but I hear it will soon be repressed and have wider distribution. Yecal and Kuble of Cintas Pepe manage to make the most of limited means with an aesthetic that supersedes rather than succumbs to fiscal limitations by foregrounding them and incorporating them into the look and feel of the releases. (The current Mexico City DIY punk scene is as much a zine and underground comic scene as a music scene.) Tercer Mundo’s 7" is the best-looking Cintas Pepe release yet, with a handmade feel, an appropriate mix of black and white (actually, brown) with streaks of red, and jagged, knifed edges that seem to match both the music and the subject matter.
If you want a spotlight on the effects of US empire, of our complicity in mass murder, pick up a Mexican newspaper. El Gráfico is particularly clarifying: each day on its cover appear photos of a corpse and a nearly naked (live) woman. You can’t get your hands on Mexican newspaper? You don’t read Spanish? If you’re reading this site, then I expect you will understand the form of communication used by Tercer Mundo. They make it plain with a gruesome picture on the record’s insert, of a legless corpse: a woman, shot in the chest and mutilated, left naked. Perhaps she was one of the beauty queens the cartels so prize. Beneath this awful photo it says in English: “Mexico 2012—60,000 human beings dead. Now go party and score some cocaine.”
* Banking giant HSBC made the news when it recently paid a fine of $1.9 billion for laundering drug money. The fine is approximately 1/5th the amount of US dollars purchased from HSBC Mexico over a three-year period, and approximately 1/350th the amount in wire transfers made from HSBC Mexico in the same period, none of which was monitored for possible illegal activity. HSBC is one among many financial firms that have paid fines for such money laundering in recent years.
Widespread money laundering came to serve a crucial purpose during the financial crisis in autumn 2008 after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. As firms ceased interbank lending, out of fear of being left holding the bag, liquidity was terribly difficult to find. One high-ranking United Nations economist argues that narco-profits, which are always liquid, bridged the gap, thereby saving the system. The gap would later be filled by President Bush’s $700 billion bailout. The narco-profits absorbed into “legitimate” global investment capital amounted to more than half the sum of the US bailout.
** The transformations of the economies of Mexico and Latin America more generally in the past twenty years are not reducible to NAFTA, nor does the drug war explain everything. The drug war in Mexico, however, is one of the central interlocking pieces of the transformations. Mexico is also one of the key sites of the upsurge of anticapitalist movements in the same period. For a broad overview, check this article.