Pancho Guevara, Drummer for Peruvian Punk Pioneers Los Saicos, Passes Away

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They say a band is only as good as their drummer, and in the case of Los SaicosPancho Guevara, this is especially true, considering they are one of the first bands in history to be driven by the hardest rhythm imaginable.

Pancho Guevara passed away Monday, May 18th, as posted on the band’s official Facebook fan page. According to a source, an unnamed terminal disease was responsible for Pancho’s passing, although no official cause has been given. His death coincides with the bands 50th anniversary, and ten years since the passing of another Saico, Rolando Carpio.

Los Saicos invented punk long before someone in the UK thought safety pins made for great fashion statements. Guevara, Carpio, Erwin Flores and César “Papi” Castrillón were a bunch of teenagers who came together in the Lince section of Lima in 1964 to write some of the rawest rock n’ roll songs in existence. By 1966, they had broken up, leaving behind a body of work consisting of only six singles with their respective b-sides and no official album. Although their fuzzed out, growling music might seem extreme for their South American 60s background, they were a national sensation, a fixture on TV and radio, and teen idols who left sold out gigs in their wake. They are probably the most influential band in Peruvian rock. Their 12 songs are frenetic, distorted odes to love, nihilism, and horror set to the most monolithic beat and chord structure known to man. And all 12 of those songs are brilliant: “Ana,” “Camisa De Fuerza,” El Entierro De Los Gatos,” and especially “Demolición” have met few matches since.

For the past few years, it has become increasingly common to refer to Los Saicos as the true fathers of punk rock, but that can be a little misleading. Neither the Ramones nor the Sex Pistols formed after hearing Los Saicos. But they were some of the earliest producers of the sound that would come to characterize punk, and for decades, they were a secret trapped in Perú, known only to diehards and record collectors who prized their bootleg reissues as the holy grail of three chord genius. Los Saicos didn’t put Perú on the map, either. it wasn’t until the reissue industry and mp3 blogs took hold on the music panorama that Los Saicos gained some of their well deserved international recognition: they reunited to tour for the first time, they have been subjects of a few documentaries, and even bands all around the world have recorded cover versions of their songs.

In retrospect, Los Saicos were a product of their time, a Latin American band of teenagers inspired by the Beatles and Elvis to make hair raising music of their own to get people on their feet and girls to notice them. Still, this is too reductive to do them justice. Los Saicos played original music in Spanish when the rule was to translate whatever U.S. or Brit hit was riding the radio waves at the moment. More importantly, they upped the ante by playing music that resembled an exposed nerve of teenage angst and barely containable sexuall energy; they were punk because they wrote and performed their own music with disregard for how loud or fast things were “supposed” to sound. Essentially, what Los Saicos did was a personal expression of human repression, which is pretty much what punk is, not about white kids sniffing glue or flipping the bird at the queen. It’s also why the style won’t disappear in a whirlwind of clichés, and why Los Saicos remain peerless.

Personally, I don’t remember the first time I listened to Los Saicos —I was late to the game, probably a download from a “semi legal” mp3 blog— but I do have a very vivid memory regarding the band: the time I saw them live. It was in 2011 at downtown club in Mexico City, a former social social club in shambles that held something like 1,000 people, and it was filled to the rafters. Something like 30 contemporary garage bands opened and all seemed stiff and boring once the Peruvians took the stage, looking like your uncle who loves talking for hours on end about what you and your friends are up to. Everyone went nuts and sang along to all of their songs; and then they played “Demolición” and that’s when all hell broke loose (you can watch the video of this show at the end of the playlist). Nobody stood still; either they were dancing, moshing or bobbing their heads to the rhythm, and all were smiling and singing along, screaming about tearing down the train station. The band members were ecstatic, beaming the whole time. And then, after almost three minutes, it was over, but then they took the stage again and played “Demolición” a second time, and the crowd couldn’t have been any happier. Here they were, Los Saicos, well past their adolescence, playing a destructive, anarchic song to a crowd of happy campers, turning that energy into one joyful memory for all involved. Now tell me that’s not punk.

None of this could have happened if the foundation of their sound wasn’t a well oiled beast of a machine, so here’s to Pancho, a true historic figure. May he rest in peace.