When Punk Came out to Confront the Idiots in Power

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By Federico Gómez Levitanas

The Birth of Punk in Argentina and the Story of Los Violadores

A selective summary and review of El Nacimiento del Punk en la Argentina y la Historia de los Violadores, Cavanna, Esteban M., Interpress Ediciones, Buenos Aires 2001, 144 pages.

Also, see the tranlsation of the manifesto Los Violadores published in the magazine El Porteño, translated by Federico Gómez Levitanas.

I think I speak for many punk aficionados when I say that due to the socio-political context in which Argentina’s Los Violadores existed, they deserve a book of their own, as well as a leading role in one of the chapters of a comprehensive book about punk in Latin America, which is still waiting to be written. And because information in English about Los Violadores and Argentine punk in general is scarce, I would like to provide English speakers interested in the band’s history a short summary of the early years of the band, as they appear in this book. My condensed biography lacks the polyphonic intention of the book author’s: as Cavanna clearly states, his aim is “not only to provide a catalogue of those times but also to give privilege to the personal tone of the protagonists over the damage caused by coagulated ideologies that the general public—led by the media and habits—always tried to maintain” (142). But until a translation of the book is made, interested non-Spanish speakers will have to settle for my reduced, one-dimensional version.

Thanks to vague mentions of punk in the heavily censored Argentine media, already in early 1977 a few young Argentines heard about the change in sound, aesthetic, and attitude in rock that was taking place in the UK. (It should be kept in mind that since March 24, 1976, Argentina was ruled by a bloody military junta.) High school student Hari B. was one of those, although he had the additional luck to experience it firsthand during a trip to London that very same year. Soon after returning to Buenos Aires, he put some ads in a music paper looking for fellow local punkers managed to establish contact with some of those very few individuals aware of and interested in the new raw side of rock. Those recently forged friendships led to the formation of Los Testículos in 1978, who played their first show before the end of the year. Their second gig took place some months later but was quickly shut down by the vice squad, with band members and part of the audience arrested (and, according to some, even tortured) despite the known fact that no drugs were found there. The end of Los Testículos came in late 1979, when most members decided to change the band’s name to Los Violadores, which caused singer SS Genocida, who oppossed the change, to leave the band.

By January 1980 Los Violadores found a new singer and played their first two shows for a dozen misfit kids. But the semi-clandestine nature of the new singer’s life, which related to his father’s political activities, forced him to quit soon afterwards. That departure left guitarist Hari B., drummer Gramática, and bass player Beto Villaverde as a trio, with the latter also performing vocal duties. Soon enough their rehearsals became a center for the modest (although increasingly growing) Buenos Aires punk rock community, with Gram ática giving it a voice through his Vaselina fanzine.1 During that year, other punk groups were formed in the different Buenos Aires neighborhoods, its suburbs, and cities in the capital’s periphery; at the time, Los Laxantes already shared shows with Los Violadores. Another new, yet sadly short-lived band, Los Inadaptados, was at the time kicked out of a venue due to both the racket they made and the political nature of their lyrics. Los Violadores, still the punk scene’s center of gravity, had no time to lose, and when Beto decided to leave the band in order to become a cop, Stuka was soon recruited to take over bass duties. The band even made an attempt to support megastars The Police in one of their sold-out stadium shows in Buenos Aires. Obviously, being a relatively unknown band, with a shocking name,2 lacking even a demo and, to top it off, looking pretty menacing, they didn’t get the gig. But they still managed to gain something from the live performance of Sting & Co.: while throwing leaflets for an upcoming Violadores show during The Police set, Stuka was attacked by (real) policemen, which was spotted by (fake) Policeman Andy Summers, who angrily kicked one of the cops, an episode that became legendary in the annals of Argentine rock and a memory that even one of Summers’ band mates recently recalled.3 Soon after Stuka’s arrival, singer Pil Trafa quit his rockabilly band to join Los Violadores as well, and with him the line up that within a year would record the band’s first (and best) album came into being.4

But several months before recording their debut, they managed to gain infamy due to a riot occuring at a show they played in the University of Belgrano, where they succeeded in pissing off both hippies (for insults directed towards the “Woodstock generation”) and some army conscripts (for their “anti-patriotic” rants) in the crowd. The battle between the different factions led to many arrests, police brutality, and torture of some of the band’s members and their fans. It also led several rock writers and people within the Left to consider them no more than a bunch of violent morons, if not nazis.5 But bad publicity is still publicity and in any case, the negativity of the press and the “Old Guard” of Argentine rock toward the band did not stop Los Violadores from becoming one of the most notorious outfits in the underground music scene, which was expanding and conquering the public spaces that the crumbling dictatorship could no longer control. And during the military regime’s last endeavor to prevent its dissolution, Los Violadores were in fact one of the few bands who from the beginning were against the Falkland/Malvinas war and saw it as no more more than a bloody yet clumsy attempt for the military junta to (re)gain support. Only when the democratic elections removed the military from power, in late 1983, was their debut LP was finally released. Their audience then grew considerably, a process that continued at least until the late 1980s when they were selling tens of thousands copies of their later records not only in Argentina but also in countries like Uruguay, Chile, and Peru. As the music they did after 1985 falls more within what we could call “mainstream rock” than punk rock, I will abstain from commenting on their later years.

Alluding to the importance of Los Violadores over their “hippie” predecessors, Cavanna writes, “In a society used to lies, the most revolutionary turns out to be neither wordplays nor the usage of a forbidden term in a song’s lyrics but communicating the desperation of what is seen on the streets” (13). To a certain extent, he is right: Los Violadores lyrics are far more direct than anything else recorded during the Argentine dictatorship, that despite the fact that they abstained, for example, from using obscene language.6 But, on the other hand, there seems to be confusion concerning the socio-political situation and the development and ideological content of rock music in the UK and in Argentina and how they interrelated.

How rock would have develop in Argentina if the coup d’etat of March 1976 wouldn’t had happened can be the subject of endless speculation, but there is enough evidence to at least elaborate the hypothesis that the adoption of “safe” genres like symphonic rock and jazz rock in the period 1976-1982 would have become less dominant. It makes perfect sense to think that musicians understood that saying the wrong thing could lead you to being tortured and shot and by adopting genres that emphasized musical technique and, let’s say, “less menacing” lyrics they could still pay their bills while “doing their art”. Obviously, those musicians were influenced by what was occurring in other parts of the world and also felt the need to “expand” their sound and match their age. But it is also important to keep in mind that during the first half of the 1970s, Argentine rock music was heavily politicized and generated quite a lot of ideological debate, ranging from the demand of alternative channels of production and distribution of the music up to its potential for generating concrete political change and some identifying with revolutionary Left-Wing organizations such as the Montoneros and the Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP). Rock critics such as Jorge Pistocchi, Daniel Ripoll, and Hugo Tabachnik debated these aspects in early–mid 1970s rock magazines7, with musicians like Luis Alberto Spinetta calling for a revolutionary ideological definition of rock music aimed at “total liberation.”8 Though soft and boring, in my opinion, folk-rock duo Pedro y Pablo wrote lyrics which were as direct and potentially subversive as Los Violadores. Musicians like Billy Bond and La Pesada del Rock openly supported the revolutionary Left. And there are more examples.9 It is true that during the first years of the military dictatorship, rock ’s social critique was almost invisible, but besides the few attempts of keeping a political dimension in rock more explicitly, rock was also political in the sense of creating what political scientist James C. Scott calls “autonomous zones”10, spaces where the young people whom the military attempted to depoliticize, demobilize and atomize could try meeting each other to ovecome their alienation. Rock as an “autonomous zone” was considered by the dictatorship dangerous enough for it to violently repress it11 but it still continued to exist and played a minor part in the anti-military movement that began to take shape around 1979–1982. If what Cavanna means to say is that the role of Argentine rock music as an oppositional force during the dictatorship was greatly exaggerated and mythologized, then I totally agree with him. But Los Violadores early history, keeping in mind the newness of their punk attititude, can also be read as a continuation of sorts of the process of politicization of Argentine rock music that was severed for some years by a murderous regime.12 And aditionally, we should remember the fact that they had the luck of starting the band at a time when the military dictatorship was much weaker and less bloodthirsty than it was during its early years.

I think that Cavanna hits the nail on the head when discussing the hypocrisy of most “rock artists” during the Falkland/Malvinas War between Argentina and Great Britain. As he and several interviewees point out, the 1982 war ironically benefited several aging self-declared pacifist hippies and other popular musicians as it led the junta to ban all English-speaking music and forced radio and TV stations to start playing domestic rock music, something they usually refrained from even before the dictatorship. But more than that, most of the popular rock musicians even agreed to play in a festival organized by the military regime as part of their propaganda campaign for the war. Later on, the excuse of many musicians for their participation in that charade was that they did it out of “solidarity with the soldiers” and not as support for the war, although such myopic understanding of reality and behaviour hardly makes their activities more agreeable. Los Violadores and the punk/underground community were among the minority oppossed to the chauvinistic spirit that possessed most Argentines13, even many who previously were against the military. But on the other side, Cavannas mentions the fact that Los Violadores agreed to participate in dubious free festivals in Chile during the dictatorship of Pinochet, and that they played in upper-class discos in Peru in the mid-1980s, but he does not criticize nor discuss the implications of these gigs at all.

And this fault leads me to another important omission and big disapointment: Cavanna seems to be unaware or oblivious to the fact that Los Violadores’ experiences were in many ways similar to those of punk bands in other Latin American countries, most notably Brazil , Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. If it wasn’t for the two Peruvian bands that opened for Los Violadores (Zcuela Cerrada and Eructo Maldonado) and the two bands from Uruguay that also played with them (Los Tontos and Los Estomagos), the reader may be left with the impression that in the American continent, the groups from Buenos Aires were the only punk bands south of the Rio Grande. The author even implies that Los Violadores exported punk to most of Latin America , something that he would have a very hard time supporting if he really believed it. A better knowedge and understanding of the expansion of punk could have greatly benefited this book and widened the perspectives with which to analyze Los Violadores and early Argentine punk.

As an appendix of sorts, the author offers some more insights that are interesting for those willing to get more details related to the early Argentine punk scene. Sadly, each part is just a couple pages each. The section about the conflicts between the band, fans and the police (many arrests, beatings, and even surveillance by the agents of the Argentine intelligence services) is mostly a repetition of what was already previously mentioned and discussed. Concerning how the punks got their information about what was happening punk-wise in the United Kingdom , we learn that UK glossy pop magazine Smash Hits, sold at a newstand catering to British expatriates, as being the primal source during 1979–1982. As for records, during the early 1980s, they could be found only in a couple of import shops that got a copy by mistake. Then, the person lucky enough to find and buy a record provided tape copies to the other scenesters. The list of all the shows the band played during the 1980s could have been of more value if the author would have included the bands Los Violadores played with during their early days. The most disappointing part of this appendix is probably the cursory nature of the information concerning Los Laxantes, Los Baraja, Alerta Roja, Control, Comando Suicida, and Los Inadaptados (and related underground acts like Trixy Y Los Maniaticos, Diana Nylon and Geniol Con Coca). All these bands were also part of the birth of punk in Argentina , as the books title promise to cover, and what the reader gets to know about them is definitely not enough.

mp3s: Viejos Pateticos | Cambio Violento | Represion | El Extraño Del Pelo Largo

Live at Le Chevalette club, Buenos Aires, May 13, 1981, taken from the CD “Uno, Dos, Ultravioladores”


1 Vaselina continued to be published until the mid 1980s, although Gramática left the project early on.

2 Even if we do assume that since they chose to use Los Violadores as their name they meant by it “The Violators” (as in “Violators of the law”) it was obvious that most understood it as “The Rapists”.


4 According to the book, a two-channel recording done in 1981 was released in the mid 1980s by the Peruvian label IMPSA with the title “Uno, Dos, Ultra”. I could not find evidence for the existence of that record in vinyl but it seems like those are the bonus tracks included in the CD version of 1986’s “Uno, Dos, Ultravioladores.” In late 1981 they also recorded a four-song demo that later on got them signed to independent label Umbral.

5 See the Gloria Guerrero article “Punks go home” that appeared in issue 64 of Humor (1981), pp. 92–93 (and reproduced on p. 29 of the book). That same political/satire magazine, for at least two years following that article, ran several cartoons and pieces in which some kind of link between punk and heavy metal and nazis/ military was implied. Probably the “manifesto” written by Los Violadores and which appeared in issue 22 of El Porte ño (1983) was the first sign of a change of attitude from some in the left-wing press towards the band and punk in general, although it would take some more years until those significantly changed.

6 For example, in the song “ Para que estoy aquí,” they use the tamer “hijos de perra” instead of the more common but more vulgar “hijos de puta.”

7 Beltrán Fuentes, Alfredo (ed.), La ideologia antiautoritaria del rock nacional, CEDAL, Buenos Aires 1989:87-94.

8 Luis Alberto Spinetta’s manifoesto “Música dura, la suicidada por la sociedad” can also be found in La ideologia antiautoritaria del rock nacional , p. 96.

9 In pp.92-92, Cavanna actually offers some examples of sociopolitically conscious lyrics in Argentine rock prior and parallel to Los Violadores’ existence, including some of the artists I mention. But, and this is my main point, he fails to capture the process of politicization and radicalization within Argentine rock during the first half of the 1970s.

10 James C. Scott, Domination And The Arts Of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, Yale University Press, Cambridge 1992.

11 See for example Verónica Ana Mundt, “El rock nacional y la política cultural del Estado genocida”, ponencia en las Jornadas de Jóvenes Investigadores convocada por Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo y Proyecto de Investigación UBACyT, Buenos Aires , 18 y 19 de octubre de 2002, p. 5.

12 That despite their claim they were “social” and not “political.” See their “manifesto”.

13 But it also needs to be stated that Los Violadores, like many Argentines referring later on to the war showed an ambigous and sometimes nationalist position. For example, their song “Comunicado 166” (the communiqué in which the Argentine army announced its surrender), from the “Y ahora que pasa?” album says “What was the value of that unity which did not gave us power, ‘cause there is no power when there is no intelligence, ‘cause the USA proved that the West its in i’s hands and we only noticed that when we were betrayed (…) the battle is over, they left us many dead and hundreds of mutilated and kept {the islands} in their hands (…) fuck yourself Maggie!”. Another song, this one from the “Mercado Indio” LP (1987) asks “Bombs to London or letters to London?” In my opinion, this kind of “left-wing nationalism” displayed in their lyrics can be seen as one of the elements that place them within the tradition of politicized Argentine rock.