There are still plenty of people out there who think rock is dead, but anyone who’s been following the oft-overlooked sounds and scenes in Latinx punk and other underground subgenres knows otherwise. A thriving community for this music remains, no matter how much older generations choose to ride the nostalgia train and ignore the new scenes and sounds bubbling up across Latin America and its diasporas. Preserving the sense of community forged in these spaces is more important than ever, especially in this era of heightened racism, misogyny and xenophobia, and with more women and people of color leading the way in the scene.
This list cuts across region and genre, capturing the sounds we believe are leading the pack in different diasporas. Selected by our editorial and freelance staff, these are the top 10 punk and garage songs of 2018.
Aliment - "Flesh and Gold"
Everything the Girona, Spain band did this year was striking. From the art that accompanied the releases to their actual music, nothing about Aliment seemed to suggest they left anything up to chance. Three years since their last big release, “Flesh and Gold” indicates that the band is making up for lost time, imbuing new maturity into their songwriting and making their work more compelling, dramatic, and much more punk. Taking their cues from the spikier corners of post-punk giants like Devo and Wire, the trio apply a sense of atypical musicality into a hardcore groove, and sprinkle it with dissonant guitars that update this unnerving rock genre into the present. Aliment offer targeted anger, an emotional release that zeroes in on sentiments we might not find the words to express. They start a racket, and we can see ourselves losing it in the pit. It could well be the sound of so much frustration over the senselessness of our times, where violence and injustice seems to be hanging in the air. –Marcos Hassan
Perra Vida - “Célebres Plumíferos”
You can taste the anger and adrenaline from the first syllable Diana Matos screams into the microphone: Matos and her partners in Perra Vida are not here to play. The lyrics of “Célebres Plumíferos” rail against those who stand silent against injustice and repression, the consequences of inaction turning to shit because of the celebrated feathered creatures that give the song its title. In an era of heightened racism, misogyny, homophobia, white supremacy, and far-right mobilization, “Célebres Plumíferos” transcends Perra Vida’s specific political context of Peru, becoming a universal anthem for all marginalized folks. The band’s musical approach matches the song’s lyrical content – raging chords, hardcore breakdowns, crust punk guitars and riot grrrl-inspired vocal power – but as much aggression as there is, the message arrives loud and clear. It doesn’t dilute their criticisms with melody, but rather reinforces it. Lyrically, the song ends in doubt rather than sloganeering, suggesting that without thoughtful action, screaming about injustice will only do so much. –Marcos Hassan
Ladrones - “Tropimuerte”
Songs about partying are, on the surface, simply odes to good times. But considered in context, you might find that partying is political – like on “Tropimuerte,” from San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Ladrones. Existing in that undeniably fun sweet spot of punk and rock ‘n’ roll fusion, where pogoing, slam dancing, or moshing all make sense, this dedication to the island’s tradition of el jangueo could easily go unnoticed for what it really is: A declaration of individuality defying any demands for conformity.
We know that rigid gender roles and normative sexuality translate to diminished or altogether obliterated rights for anyone who isn’t a cisgender, heterosexual man, and that their enforcement facilitates rape culture. Women who are out by themselves at night are “asking for it.” Queer people who publicly display their sexuality to any degree are provoking straight people. If you’re a trans person who can pass as cisgender, any violence that comes to you is a result of having deceived someone. Folks whose gender presentation doesn’t fit the societal standard quo are subject to the same cruelties.
There’s no such thing as a place where anyone is completely protected, but the spaces where we come together in rejecting those oppressive rules outright are safer ones – and that can include communities concentrated in nightlife, like San Juan’s independent music scene. “Tropimuerte” is a way of carrying your chosen safer space with you everywhere, of embedding in your state of mind that you should never apologize for being who you are while you do exactly what you want. We only wish we could blast the growl of singer Valeria Sánchez – “Y si la paso cabrón no tengo que disculparme” – into the ears of the people who uphold a society that makes it dangerous to live those ethos literally, and everywhere. –Jhoni Jackson
Triángulo de Amor Bizarro - "O Isa"
Spain’s Triángulo de Amor Bizarro kicked off their 2018 EP El Gatopardo with an energy and conviction that was rare in guitar-based music this year. “O Isa” marries cold, damp, dark post-punk to appealingly noisy, propulsive garage rock, and works in a ghosty dub digression that somehow perfects the track. Its gothy snarl sets the tone for the rest of the four-song postcard from the veteran noisemakers, which is saturated with a pleasant chill that settles into the bones even as its grimy motor braces you against it. The EP finds the band shifting into a slightly new voice and sharing some of the most memorable songs of their career.
Reaching back to the Middle Ages for inspiration, the opening track is a bitter but poetic indictment of the reign of Isabella I of Castile, tracing the shadow of her rule through to the present day. Referencing political history is a standard move in the post-punk playbook, but getting fully medieval is unusual outside of metal. In the case of this song, it raises eyebrows in just the right way, and makes an unsettling point about the lasting effects one leader can have during their time in power. –Beverly Bryan
Los Mundos - "Amantes de la Sangre"
While the eyes and ears of the music cognoscenti usually linger over Mexico City, the northern metropolis of Monterrey remains an untapped haven of talent and diversity, boasting vibrant rap, reggaeton, and punk scenes throughout. No conversation on Monterrey is complete without a nod to Los Mundos, the duo comprised of Chivo Elizondo and Luis Angel Martínez. Their latest album, a 40-minute pummeling titled Ciudades Flotantes, highlights the band’s fascination with psych, doom, and sci-fi, coming together as a defining mission statement in “Amantes de la Sangre.”
The track is a devilishly seductive love letter to creatures of the night, empathizing with the blood-sucking proclivities of vampires and their ilk. Embracing his inner Nosferatu, Martinez sings of Christian symbolism and deliciously throbbing necks all the while Elizondo’s hellish and melodic riffs pour from a roaring guitar. It’s astonishing just how appealing Los Mundos are able to make the prospect of feasting on a warm stream of blood, but for a band that has crafted a concept album based on the works of HP Lovecraft and are currently recording their next record in an abandoned mine, “Amantes de la Sangre” is just another excellent day at the office. – Richard Villegas
Alice Bag - “77”
If this year felt like a bunch of passive aggressive backwash about who could be more un-asleep, Alice Bag had the antidote. No cheesy memes or hard-to-follow speechifying can be found in “77,” just a very honest, guttural scream about making less than men for doing the same damn job. Off her cutting album Blueprint, Los Angeles’ punk grand dame rages against the inequities of the the pay gap over an unrepentant wall of guitar chords, neatly presenting some satirical situations to illustrate her point: “I asked my landlord for discount rent/He said ‘Oh no little lady — pay 100 percent.’” A delightful accompanying video modeled on the Dolly Parton film classic 9 To 5 forecasted the album’s release, including the song’s featured artists Kathleen Hanna and Allison Wolfe (with Shirley Manson thrown in for good measure). A note on why it’s essential that Alice keep on shouting: though the 77 cents figure is accepted by some as the amount that white, non-Latinas make compared to their male peers, the American Association of University Women estimates that non-white Latina women are paid far less — only 53 cents to the non-Latino white man’s dollar, by the group’s count. –Caitlin Donohue
La Armada - "Unquenchable"
With lyrics that alternate between English and Spanish, Chicago punks La Armada produced one of 2018’s most urgent protest songs in “Unquenchable.” The band’s raw metal-meets-hardcore sound belies a sophisticated (and dead-on) lyrical critique, summarizing the sinister design behind the U.S.’s seemingly unquenchable appetite for putting black and brown people in cages. The song focuses on the criminalization of immigration and creeping expansion of the U.S. prison industrial complex to include the mass incarceration of immigrants. Simply but effectively, lead singer Javier Fernandez analyzes the purpose and mechanics of systemic racism. In a strangled whisper, he asks, pointedly: “¿Quién promueve la xenofobia? ¿Quién lucra del odio racial?” And what is behind it all? Put succinctly: “Profit.”
The song, which comes from the quartet’s second album Anti-Colonial Vol. 1, is also one of the LP’s most musically interesting tracks, incorporating folkloric rhythms like palo and gagá from the Dominican Republic, where the members of La Armada were born and raised. The band has been experimenting with blending Afro-Caribbean styles into their hardcore sound for some time, and in “Unquenchable” the result is both a poignant carrier of the song’s message and unlike anything heard in punk or metal, this year or any year previously. – Beverly Bryan
Cremalleras - "Nada Que Decir"
Cremalleras’ speed is a trained kind of breakneck, each furious track its own reprisal against a specific source of oppression. Together, the individual scouring bursts of Mercado Negro, the Mexican duo’s June LP, feels like a blueprint for dismantling society by destroying it altogether. Its unremitting feminism is contagious and invigorating.
So when Cremalleras released a split cassette with Heterofobia, of which drummer Dani is a member, finding “Nada que decir” was a surprise: It’s markedly more melodic than anything else they’ve released. And there’s no apocalyptic imagery (plagues, ashes, infections), unlike what they previously employed. Instead, this is a straightforward requiem for all the gifted cassettes and records collecting dust at the house of a former partner who never bothered to listen to them even once. And Violeta isn’t even fighting to get back this lot – instead, she waits in silence for this person’s inevitable exit from their day-to-day thoughts.
How does “Nada Que Decir” contribute to the patriarchy’s destruction? We could argue that the music lost to the terminated relationship might be, like most Cremalleras tracks, ready tinder for feminist fires. But let’s not. Instead, “Nada Que Decir” should be a reminder that those who work to engage feminism in defying and thus breaking down harmful, exclusionary, and violence-enabling norms have lives, too. We cannot expect 24/7 activism from anyone; it’s not a sustainable way to live. Your favorite feminist punks are also actual people, and like anyone, they have memories of relationships in need of purging, and cassettes and records they’re still bummed about losing. – Jhoni Jackson
Zeta - "Completar"
Venezuelan experimental punk collective Zeta have built an outstanding international network of multidisciplinary artists and fans across the world in their 15 years of existence, which has allowed them to play over 200 shows in 2018. If you consider them the sons of Venezuela’s complex socioecomonic crisis, which has forced them to leave their home country, it makes sense – they are hungry to blur borders through their music, and their latest record, Magia Infinita, is their most emotionally raw and honest effort to do just that.
“Completar,” the second single off Magia Infinita, encapsulates both the essence of the whole record and Zeta’s core sound and vision. The song’s thunderous drumming and Afro-Latino percussive elements evince the band’s mestizo musical identity, and its hardcore growl is the ultimate vehicle to convey their message of resilience, which, as Ecuadorian troubadour Ricardo Pita says, reminds us of our own mortality and propels us into action. Zeta refuses to let hardships bring them down; instead, they use them to fuel their journey. “Completar” functions as the hand of a friend that helps us get up from the mud, and considering what 2019 holds for us, we could definitely use it. – Cheky
El Shirota - "Desobediencia"
Estado de México’s El Shirota has a remarkable career trajectory. Starting out as a carefree and jittery garage rock outfit, over the years, they have ripped their music up and stitched it back together in a brutish fashion. Their 2016 self-titled, all-black cover EP kept things dangerous, thanks to straight-ahead burners and experimental psychedelic jams that didn’t sacrifice their power. In 2018, they dropped a twin release – same number of tracks, same cover art, recorded in the same sessions – and opener “Desobediencia” makes it clear this is an even bigger beast. The newest Shirota album has less division between three-chord chuggers and feedback-drenched excursions, as this song makes clear; what starts as a bass-heavy evil romper soon degenerates into a noisy lurch before switching back to the original structure. They incorporate black metal tropes into their noise punk aesthetic, adding a new dimension to the skronk. While mainstream rock is adhering to proven formulas and respecting elders for nostalgia’s sake, El Shirota is showing how guitar-based music can be just as thrilling and groundbreaking as other contemporary genres, all while recognizing the movement’s roots. It’s this sense of innovation that promises they’ll be at the forefront of punk and other subgenres of rock for the foreseeable future. – Marcos Hassan