“I Like Punk and I Like to Suck Dick”: Martin Sorrondeguy on the Queer Rebellion of Latinx Punk

Photo by Mateus Mondini. Courtesy of Martin Sorrondeguy

Before the inception of Los Crudos in 1991, U.S. punk and hardcore already had a handful of Latinx figures involved in the genre’s biggest bands. Artists in The Bags, Black Flag, Descendents, Adolescents, Suicidal Tendencies, Agnostic Front, and so many others made their mark on the scene, yet they rarely confronted their unique life experience in the U.S., instead focusing on general themes of alienation and social unrest. Los Crudos, on the other hand, composed lyrics explicitly about their experience as people of color and immigrants.

Los Crudos played a radical take on hardcore punk – one of austere musicality, maximum speed, and overdriven guitar tones. Vocalist Martin Sorrondeguy spewed concerns of an immigrant in the United States almost exclusively in Spanish (in the spirit of true rebellion, their sole English track was titled “That’s Right We’re That Spic Band“). Their impact shook punk far and wide, and not only for those who spoke Spanish – they influenced non-white and non-binary folks across the scene. The band toured relentlessly throughout the decade, creating connections with groups like Spitboy and even touring south of the border. When Los Crudos hit Mexico, mobs showed up and bum rushed the venues to get inside.

After Los Crudos broke up, Martin formed Limp Wrist, an equally radical band both musically and thematically. Limp Wrist embraced Sorrondeguy and the other members’ queerness to challenge heteronormativity in the punk scene. Again, LGBTQ punks were no strangers to the scene at the time, with political bands like The Dicks, Big Boys, and MDC singing about queerness in the 80s. The movement formalized under the term “queercore,” with bands like Fifth Column, Pansy Division, and Team Dresch. Limp Wrist made their music harder and faster without sacrificing any part of their identities.

Ever the punk lifer, Martin Crudo (as he’s known to fans far and wide) has also been documenting punk through his photography, which he has exhibited internationally. He published a collection called Get Shot! in 2012, and has been invited to talk about the intersection of punk, Latinidad, and LGBTQ identity at various universities.

On September 30, Sorrondeguy hosted the launch of Desafinados, a 9-day event that celebrates all things Crudos as well as the Latinx punk scenes in the Chicago neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village. Along with performances, Desafinados will feature talks, lectures, readings, and art exhibits from Latinx punk icons like Alice Bag, Michelle Gonzales, David Zamora Casas, Dorian Wood, Gerardo Villarreal, Cristy C. Road, and many others. We sat down with Sorrondeguy to get his perspective on the event and reflect on the 25th anniversary of Los Crudos.

Organizing a retrospective required Martin to revisit his past, and Los Crudos’ reunion has certainly made the identity of the band clear. The crew decided to reunite in 2013, after learning that a friend – who is a trans woman and played in peer bands in the 90s – had been diagnosed with cancer. “On the spot, I called all the members of Los Crudos and everybody said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ It felt right under the condition that it had to be done Crudos-style. It had to be done in a way that felt authentic and comfortable.”

“That’s the true spirit of punk, to challenge within it. We need the rule breakers.”

Martin is not one to dwell on the past, and though reuniting a group he first started when he was young might come off as pure nostalgia, he says it made as much sense in 2016 as it did in the early 90s. “The thing about the lyrics that we wrote 25 years ago is that they are completely relevant today,” he explains. “For me it’s not hard to scream these lyrics and still feel very strongly about them. It’s all still happening. The U.S. is very anti-Latinx and the world is very anti-immigrant, and that also includes us.”

Because those lyrics remain relevant, Sorrodneguy continues to be vocal about underscoring Latinxs’ pivotal role in punk history. He’s brought his expertise on the scene to academic settings, but is reluctant to fully support roundtables on the genre at universities – for justifiable reasons. “I still go to basement shows and I’m still pissed off [laughs]. I never left that. I don’t do many lectures in universities. I see that they invite a lot of scholars who study punk but often they don’t invite punks [laughs]…If I get invited, I’m glad and honored and I do my best to give a true sort of representation of what punk is. I also don’t have a problem with challenging these ‘punk scholars’ because I think sometimes they’re wrong and need to be challenged before it gets written down in their books,” he avers.

Identity is crucial to the style of punk Martin has been playing since he first started his career. “Sometimes people get into punk because they like fast, aggressive music,” he says. But for Latinx punks, the genre encompasses more than teen rebellion. “For Latinxs in punk, living in the U.S. is different than angry suburban white youth…In the lyrics, you find [that] some of those songs are against Mom and Dad, and it’s like ‘I don’t have problems with my mom and dad.’ [laughs] We were living in different realities. We weren’t living in the suburbs and then came to the city. We grew up in the city in gang-infested neighborhoods, [with] corruption and all this stuff. We came from aggressive and violent areas and upbringings as young Latinxs,” he describes.

So Sorrondeguy set out to address that reality with Los Crudos, writing songs about his experience as a child of Uruguayan immigrants. “There was a dictatorship and most American punks would go ‘What? What are you talking about?’ It was one thing to write a song about El Salvador from a U.S. perspective – and that was cool, I think there were some great bands who did good stuff – but when you have people coming from certain places and have dealt with these ugly realities and they go writing songs, then it’s a little different. It got to a point where we needed to write our own songs about these things that were important to us.”

“I like punk too and I like to suck dick and I don’t give a fuck if you don’t like it.”

Ever since Los Crudos first started, there has been a huge movement of Latinx punk and hardcore in the U.S., as well as bigger exposure and scene unity between bands from Mexico, Central and South America, and Spain. As a sort of godfather to so many things happening right now, from Downtown Boys to Latino Punk Fest in New York, I ask him what he thinks of the proliferation of Latinx punk. “I think it’s cool. When you talk about Latinxs in punk, there are so many, and not all of them sing about identity. I think that’s what’s differentiating when you say ‘Latinx punk’ instead of just regular punk, because it’s sort of a statement. You’re putting a stamp on yourself which is good, but you have to be careful because some kids might go, ‘This is just for us.’ And I’ve never been into that mentality. I’ve always been into making connections with people who weren’t from where we’re from. Los Crudos spread out to so many communities and different people because we weren’t about isolating ourselves.”

“I fear the formula, you know?” Sorrondeguy continues. “Like, ‘Oh, I’m a Latinx in a band so I need to speak about politics and identity,’ and I don’t think you have to. If that’s not you, don’t do it.” Sorrondeguy favors authenticity and artistry over performative politics. “I want to see some totally freaky queer person doing something that has nothing to do with queerness as political…I’m curious about what people bring to punk or take or give to punk. I get bored easily when bands do the same thing over and over and over. I think kids are afraid to take risks, to look different from their peers and their scenes. When they step outside of their peers and scenes, te critican, but si te están criticando, maybe you’re doing something fucking cool, you know? [laughs] I said to people in the past who have interviewed me that I don’t believe all bands should tell me all their politics, after which they tell me, ‘But that’s what you do!’ Yeah, that’s what I do and what I have done, I don’t expect everybody to follow in my footsteps.”

Queerness has been a big part of Martin’s music, most notably in his work with Limp Wrist. Since LGBTQ communities have gained more visibility in both the underground and the mainstream, we wondered how Sorrondeguy saw things develop in the punk scene. “Over the years, there has been a much larger presence of queer punk and people coming out or being more visible. I’ve seen that there’s a lot more trans kids that are part of the scene and I think that’s amazing. You wouldn’t see that sort of thing in a hardcore punk setting 15 or 20 years ago. People were so afraid because punk and hardcore had a very macho exterior, and to a certain degree I get it, because you have to fight a lot, to be always ready to battle. Because you were a weirdo y la gente te veía raro and they would fuck with you. You’re fighting to create your own space within punk, to say, ‘I like punk too and I like to suck dick – that’s who I am – and I don’t give a fuck if you don’t like it.’ That’s the true spirit of punk, to challenge within it, especially once it became more codified and [adopted] more rules. We need the rule breakers.”

Martin sees the future of punk in empathy and positivity, as tools to counterbalance oppressive forces facing POC communities. “I fear that this younger generation will have this sentiment of defeat. One of the things I talked about [at a recent festival] was, ‘No matter what they do if they gentrify us out of our neighborhoods, or that this clown Trump is saying these horrible things about your community, your families, your people and who you are – no matter what, we will always survive; we’re not going anywhere.’”

Sorrondeguy is quick to emphasize that political progress comes from experimentation, rather than division and aggression. “[Right now] in politics, if you don’t think exactly like other people think and you don’t say exactly what they want you to say, they just insult you and call you a sellout. It’s almost like there’s a wave of fascism within the left. ‘Oh my god, you don’t think like me! You’re an asshole!’ That’s a really fucked up mentality to have. It’s bizarre; there’s no room for subtleties or mistakes or room for people to experiment, explore, and learn.”

The Desafinados festival is a culmination of Los Crudos and their peers’ longtime efforts to uplift Latinxs in punk history. “[The exhibition] is a history of how punk started happening in our neighborhood. It starts with the first show that occurred in 1987 and then the beginning of Los Crudos and all the other bands that came afterwards. We also invited artists from our neighborhood who were always supportive of our bands and used to come see us…it’s kinda of like a community.” Twenty-five years after Los Crudos’ inception, the project keeps the flame alive in this trying political climate, and celebrates the band’s continuing legacy.

Desafinados opened at Chicago’s Co-Prosperity Sphere gallery on September 30, 2016. It runs until Saturday, October 8. For more information, head over to the Facebook event or Los Crudos’ website.