Component is a section of Aux.Out. for one-off pieces, special editorials, and lost orphans of the music discussion. Today, Zachary Lipez introduces us to Mexican punk label Cintas Pepe, which Lipez considers one of the most exciting in the world.
Americans’ interest in other countries, their cultures, and their tragedies is intermittent. That’s not to say that solipsism is an exclusively American trait, but as an American, M. Night Shyamalan twist, being snide solely about American solipsism is my only justifiable lookout. While not entirely self-involved, we tend to bop around as political dilettantes at others’ crises and fill our iTunes as collectors of international music. One day we’re Charlie, and the next we’re into highlife. Our passions are facile and fleeting.
I say all this not to place myself on some sort of higher moral plane than my fellow Ross and Rachel archetypes (I’m not; I’m deep as a puddle at high noon) but rather to express in the starkest terms that when I say Mexico City punk label Cintas Pepe is one of the most exciting labels in the world, I don’t mean the world besides London, Los Angeles, and New York. I mean the world. And when I say that emotional investment in Cintas Pepe is rewarding, I mean long term, like Sub Pop Singles Club long term. The label has only existed as a physical reality since 2010, and yet I wait for every release like a credulous child waiting for his Sea Monkeys to hatch.
What makes Cintas Pepe so compelling is their curating. The label, a two-man operation of Yecatl Pena and Luis Villarreal, aka Kuble, put out the already famous (within the confines of punk) compilation Brutales Matanzas, which introduced the English-speaking world to such essential bands as Mexico’s Inservibles (whose take on hardcore makes it almost impossible to discern the songs from the feedback until a violent, nihilistic soundscape emerges), Los Monjo (Stooges/MC5-worshiping brothers from Guadalajara), Crimen (whose 2014 Discos MMM album, El Problema eres Tu, was a bracing combination of street punk and death rock, and one of the year’s best), and Peru’s snotty, smart primitivists Morbo.
The comp also included the already canonical (to my mind) Ratas Del Vaticano, whose Dave Rata plays in Tercer Mundo and looms large in the post-punk/hardcore/psych world of the Americas. They continued to go strength to strength with 7-inches and albums by beloved fucker uppers Tercer Mundo and pure weirdo pop for impure weirdos by Cremalleras. Being properly self-loathing punx, the two men would probably recoil at such hyperbole, but that’s their problem. This shit is essential to everyone who cares about rock in the 21st century, though I’ll concede that the notion of “essential” is definitely not punk.
Yecatl and Kuble, both in their late 20s, met eight years ago and bonded over a shared love of goth (they both wrote for an online goth forum) and “noise, tacos, and a good night of drinking Anis del Mico.” Both their fathers are engineers; Yecatl’s mother works with troubled teenagers, and Kuble’s is a schoolteacher. “We got into punk thanks to things like Marilyn Manson and Lacrimosa,” says Kuble. “One thing leads to another; one day you’re a 12-year-old with a Dragon Ball Z T-shirt playing Age of Empires II, and the next you’re ragingly beating the drums in a hardcore punk band. It’s just life, dude.”
They formed the label in 2009, and it took a year to raise the money for their first release. “We’re both from Mexico City, although we live at opposite sides of the city,” says Kuble of his relationship with Yecatl. “It takes about an hour and a half to reach each other’s homes, but somehow we manage to get things done. At this shithole, traveling these kind of distances is common. Yecatl studied biological anthropology, but he realized it sucks, and now he’s into illustration and graphics. He’s great at it … I’m a biologist, but no one needs such a thing in this country, so I’m unemployed. We’re currently seeking some way to avoid poverty and guarantee ourselves a future with dignity, because things here are getting harder every day.”
The success of Brutales Matanzas came as a shock. The review in Maximumrocknroll (still in print and still the closest thing to the Bible that secular punk is likely to embrace) was euphoric and echoed by practically everyone on the Terminal Boredom message board. The comp’s limited run sold out almost immediately. This was no small matter, as there was limited distribution, and you had to order directly from the label and deal with the vagaries of the Mexican postal service (I had two copies lost en route). “We were indeed surprised about it,” says Kuble. “We couldn’t believe that 300 copies with awful hand-screenprinted covers in a terrible paper caused such a fuss, although deep inside we knew the comp was amazing. We all loved the bands in there. We were glad people out of Mexico had a chance to listen to them. Down here in Mexico, just like every release, no one gave a fuck.”
The compilation served as a mission statement for what would follow, the documentation of what the label considered important: the best friends in the best bands. Or maybe the friendship came first, and they’re just lucky that they’ve collected such a sick crew. “Most of the bands,” says Kuble, “are friends from Mexico City and other cities in Mexico like Puebla and Monterrey. We all knew each other and had gigs together in the past here and there. We’ve grown distant with some of them for diverse reasons, but it’s cool to hang out with them every now and then. We heard the Peruvian bands before and liked them a lot, so we got bold and thought, ‘Fuck it, let’s ask ’em.’ They were happy to be part of this!”
Outside the safe confines of Brooklyn, USA, there’s often a degree of violence porn in the world’s interests. With an aesthetic that incorporates the chaos that surrounds them, Cintas Pepe might appear to fixate on violence. While that’s perhaps not a misreading, it certainly doesn’t give enough fair shake to the actual music. The bands on the label are certainly chaotic, and the art is informed by a palpable sense of despair, but none of the bands work solely on that level. Inservibles are fixated noise to the point of high art, and Morbo’s songs veer from Velvet Underground cool to Sonics rawk in a moment. But being no better than anyone else, I did ask about the “situation” in Mexico and how it plays into the label’s worldview. The question itself can be dehumanizing, reducing the label to a story for wealthy record collectors to sigh at. Kubel’s answer was as caustic as the question deserves:
“We’re human, and we do have feelings. I’m positive. Yecatl sometimes talks about the way people talk about Mexico on the US and European tours. They’re mainly curious about the way we live down here, and mostly, there’s been really stupid questions and the classic ‘Yeah, dude, I totally understand. We also live in scarcity and injustice too here in the first world.’ I think they have no fucking idea. I understand we’re associated with such things; we do live in a very violent and unfair country. The reality here sometimes seems like a big, sick joke. It’s all about death, poverty, humiliation, indignation … every day there’s something frighteningly new: political reforms designed to fuck us up even more, death pits full with dozens of beheaded or skinned corpses, crimes committed by the army and the police, scandals involving politicians, and criminal activities such as prostitution, drug dealing, pedophilia, misfeasance, you name it.
“I think [the political situation] is a big influence. The current sociopolitical situation has affected us negatively in the moral and economic trade. Some people out there think we make a lot of money with the label, but we actually have a lot of trouble keeping this ship floating. Banks are merciless vultures willing to take the few pesos we reserve for releasing records, customs just fucked us up a few days ago, the mail is fucking deplorable in every way, and on top of that, unemployment and badly paid labor keeps bringing us down. But we don’t have any intention of stopping or giving up. Sometimes these bad times inspire us to keep going with our heads up.”
Mexico is currently on US media’s radar because of the brutal murder, supposedly carried out by members of the Guerreros Unidos gang, of 43 students in a rural teachers’ training college in Iguala. The murder and the inattention initially paid to it by the state sparked national demonstrations that, like Ferguson and the Eric Garner protests in the US, were about far more than just the killings themselves. Endemic state and gang violence in Mexico has reached a tipping point where the untenable has become intolerable. That much of this violence is fueled in large part by American gun production and our demand for narcotics (cocaine and marijuana especially) should go without saying.
“We’ve been at protests, but luckily nothing has happened to us,” says Kuble. “Things are getting crazy here, though; there’s violence and repression at the protests. Last week the police beat innocent and peaceful civilians, and there’s infiltrated agents posing as anarchists causing trouble to discredit social protest. Everyone wants the president to quit, but obviously this goes beyond the president, and I’m not sure he’d quit at all. Anyway, if he does quit, the oligarchy will still be in charge. I don’t know. It’s a very complex thing, man. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
I’m hesitant to imply that the punk of Cintas Pepe is somehow “punker” than music from other places. That serves no purpose other than diminishing the struggles of anyone I’m not currently writing about and plays into the odious notion of “punk was better under Reagan,” where art is somehow a morbid competition where the suffering of millions is made palatable by the sweet, sweet Circle Jerk tunes we reap from it. That’s bullshit. While the mayhem around the men who run Cintas Pepe by their own admission informs the label and the music that it puts out, no “realness” is a substitute for talent. Down that road inevitably lies the misery tourism we would do well to avoid.
The eternal, boring question of whether punk is dead, ever lived, ever mattered, ever truly loved us at all is a question best left to smarter correspondents than me. Accepting that in 2015 every single thing under the sun can and will eventually be described as “punk” is the only way to stay sane. But even in defeat, we can take wild joys where we can. We can rejoice in two dudes out of Mexico City trying to stuff some punk meaning into an environment whose cruelties are regularly misinterpreted by those just north of the border who are invested in never, ever knowing better. Cintas Pepe can and should enjoy outside appreciation, but it’s redundant to the innate value of the work that they do. And compliments don’t pay the rent. Assuage some of that blood on your hands, you adorable punk American. Purchase Cintas Pepe records like they were war bonds.
So that you can have a working overview of the fine, fine work being done by Cintas Pepe, Kuble was good enough to give a rundown of all their releases for me.
“Making the covers for all these records was a fucking pain in the ass, and we’ve lost a lot of money making these records possible. I also want to emphasize that the Mexican mail service is fucking terrible. In the end, this makes us very happy, and we feel proud of all we’ve done. Great things are coming!”
Brutales Matanzas comp: “It was born along with the idea of the label. We released it on October 10th, 2010; that is, 10/10/10. It gathers all the bands we used to play with back then and a couple from Peru. The scene here was very fragmented … I’m not even sure we could call it a scene. The paper used to make the covers is just fucking ugly, but I guess it ended working well with the shitty screen-printing and the guys in the cover who are murderers with funny nicknames … punk as fuck. We were very surprised at the positive reception it got. People still ask us If we’ll ever repress it … maybe someday.”
“The Morbo LP De Baja Calidad came out of Brutales Matanzas. We kinda wanted to release records of every band in the comp. We released it a year after the comp, a tradition that we maintained for quite some time. I had a bad feeling about this LP; I thought that very few people would appreciate it, and I was kind of right. Very few people were interested in it, but we still get mail every now and then of people asking for it, and we still have some copies. I don’t know what happened. It’s a great band and a great record, and it got a lot of positive reviews.”
“CP-003 is the Tercer Mundo EP. Tercer Mundo was formed by members of Ratas del Vaticano and Los Margaritos. It was released in 2012, an important year in the sociopolitical trade. The drug war was out of control, and everyone was shaken by all the brutal deaths … also, that year we had very polemical elections that ended in a fraud that changed a lot of things. This EP was filled with feelings toward this entire awful situation. Everyone loved it.”
“In 2013 the Cremalleras LP came out. The first thing I can say about it is that the covers are horribly screen-printed, and the front art is awful. Second, I can say that it’s a quite underrated LP. I think it’s a pretty cool record, and I also think that it’s very important that we released a record by a girl-fronted band in a country where such a thing is a) nonexistent or b) a cheesy joke. It had the same destiny as the Morbo LP, maybe because the band kind of went on hiatus. Some people asked me why we released it. They said it sucks, but I think they’re chauvinists who can’t hear anything beyond d-beat or metal-punk bands.”
“Tercer Mundo – Ser nosotros mismos: This year we ended the tradition of releasing one record per year. I think this is pretty common for young labels. It’s sort of hard to take off. Tercer Mundo recorded an LP, and we were happy to release it. Once again, the situation in the country was pictured in this record. A lot of people were expecting this LP to be released even before we thought about it. It was a nice success, and it sold out pretty fast. A lot of people here in Mexico keep asking about it. We warned everyone to get their records before they disappeared, but no one listened … as usual.”
“A few months later, that is a few weeks ago, we released the Sacrificio 7-inch, Juventud Descerebrada. It was an express release. We had promised the band to get this EP done since last year or so, and it finally came out. They also took a pretty long time to record it; they weren’t happy with it, and I think they even rerecorded the whole thing. It’s finally out, so we’ll see how it goes; I’ve got a good feeling about it.”