It’s not easy for a band who explore the furthest reaches of post-hardcore music in 2020 to exist. As it is, there are enough reasons to throw in the towel, so what to make of a band whose members don’t live in the same country? How do you get over that one? Lima, Perú’s Plug Plug has released their most accomplished music to date while operating this way.
For the past 12 years, Plug Plug have withstood many empty venues, angry neighbors, and the global decline of the independent record industry. They also had to endure aging, family life, and adult jobs, as well as the fact they live in different parts of the world; yet they keep playing together, making incredible music inspired by punk, noise rock, and vintage emo sound—even sometimes getting the math rock tag attached to them, thanks to their complex, yet high energy music. Their latest statement, Humanicomio Terraqueo, is testament that they are playing at the peak of their power thanks to the very prescient social themes of the lyrics and exciting, yet atypical music.
Plug Plug’s story in their early years doesn’t differ from millions of bands in that situation. Garzo (guitar), Kamilo Riveros (bass), and Sandro Labenita (drums; replaced in 2018 by Antonio Olivera) spent their formative years sharing their favorite punk music with each other, uploading their music to MySpace, and trying to get gigs anywhere they could. Garzo had already been part of cult Lima band Metamorfosis where Riveros first came across the guitarist. Impressed with that band’s sound which included nods to adventurous music by the likes of Fugazi and Samiam, it formed the basis for the sound of Plug Plug which allowed them to play shows at the small but active scene, taking the stage at impromptu venues like pizzerias, restaurants, garages, birthday parties, and even block parties. “You were happy if they would pay you transportation fare,” says Riveros. Today they fondly remember their ritualistic rehearsals where they would haul their equipment five flights of stairs and play as loud as they could, sometimes getting unexpected visits. “Sometimes we played at full volume and the police would show up to tell us to turn it down, but we wouldn’t hear them. [Laughs] It was a great experience. We were rehearsing all the time,” says Riveros.
Their sound didn’t take long to take shape. “Garzo is great at making his guitar sound like more than one instrument because he learned how to play with only two strings, so when they gave him the rest of the strings it was like a luxury. [Laughs.]” says Riveros. Garzo continues by saying, “For me, everything is an influence. Here in Perú, public transportation has radios at full volume. I remember getting all this music on cassettes when I was younger. I loved fast music and that was the basis of what we like. We’re three [members] and everyone contributes to the sound.” These included bands that were labeled math rock—Riveros jokes that Plug Plug don’t consider themselves part of the genre since they don’t really know how to count odd-time rhythms— as well as sounds from the Peruvian culture, influenced in great part by late musicologist Chalena Vásquez, Riveros’ mother.
Everything seemed to be going great. Then Garzo decided to move out of Perú.
It was 2010 when Garzo departed to California to pursue a career in music. There he formed Los Huaycos with other Peruvian expats, who are best known for making a cameo appearance on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. While this could have spelt the end of any other band, Plug Plug soldiered on against all odds while Garzo made his life in the United States. They found ways to write music from a distance, and they would play live when Garzo would return home to visit family. “We have been playing from a distance before the pandemic, that’s something we established a long time ago,” says Garzo. He would send videos of riff ideas to the other members of Plug Plug, “so I can see what his hands are doing because we come from punk so we don’t know about music theory,” says Riveros. As for the shows, they would book them any time Garzo would come back to visit family. To their surprise, these shows would get bigger in terms of size and audience assistance every year.
While Plug Plug was figuring out how to keep the band going, the rock scene in Perú became bigger than anyone could have predicted, and with it, Plug Plug’s notoriety surged. This allowed the band to find their true audience in the years since Garzo left the country, with Riveros attesting to an increasing number of people inquiring about when they would play again. “When I moved to California, Kamilo would tell me that the hot rock club would have our album in their jukebox,” says Garzo. “The last time I came back, we played at a big stage in a festival. We were booked early but the stage was big. We’re just three people! We need more people to fill the stage! [Laughs].” For their 10th anniversary, they threw a show with 12 post-hardcore and shoegaze bands from the scene—mostly their friends—that became a very important event.
Not that everything has been easy for the band. Since 2010, they have released just one full-length album, 2012’s Moo Mua Moo Cow Crazy Love, and an EP in 2015, Plug Plug (The Tape). According to the band, they have shelved two albums. During this period, the members of the band have been on different wavelengths, some focusing on work and family life. ”I got divorce in the process of recording the album, but when we were writing it I was getting ready to get married,” Riveros laughs.
Humanicomio Terraqueo, their first new material in six years and first long player in almost nine years, sees the band at the top of their game. Raging power chords inform off-kilter grooves as they explore the absurdities and horrors of our modern world. There are some straight-ahead rockers, while others point to the less refined and complicated aspect of emocore, back when the style had a bit more discord in its emotion. Opener “Sentido” sets the mood with angular riffs and exciting drum parts, “Cómplice” splits the difference between funky jitters and punk fury, “En Vano” turns the tempo down a bit but the rage and noise remain high, “Fuera de Control” adds a bit of post-punk darkness to their skronky explosions, and “A Nadie” rages hard and fast. The sound is laser-focused, yet eclectic.
As for the inspiration behind the noise, it’s not hard to pinpoint what fueled their passion for these non-conforming tunes. “Everything was going insane even before the pandemic,” says Garzo. “Fascism has returned, there’s a plastic island in the Pacific Ocean as big as a continent. So many things! It seems like humanity makes no sense anymore. Everything’s going wrong. You look at the UN’s reports and nothing’s going well, they are saying the same things we punks were saying back in the day. It’s a world disease. And the funny thing is that the songs are gaining new meanings as things get crazier because we wrote them a year ago.” Riveros likens this period to the Inkarri legend of the Inca, where a period of change in the world will cause an inversion of the order of things. “Now art is very important whether it had been pushed back in recent years.”
Regardless of what tomorrow will look like, they don’t see a future where Plug Plug won’t be part of their lives. “I make music with Garzo for the same reason I kiss my girlfriend,” laughs Riveros. “That’s what you do with that person. But we wouldn’t keep at it if we didn’t have the acceptance of other people. We can do this because we’re friends, first of all. We’re such good friends, the closest people we have in our lives, so we maintain communication about what’s happening in our day to day lives. The band is our family to the point that our last name is replaced by our band’s name.” Indeed, they famously don’t refer to their followers as fans, but rather friends, and the members of the band constantly refer to each other as brothers.
The journey of Plug Plug has been anything but typical, and that’s why they remain one of the most exciting bands to come out of Perú. Since it’s not a common history (or even common music), there’s no telling where the story will take them next. The guys have only one thing in mind for the future according to Garzo. “We’ll keep being enthusiastic about making music until we can’t.”