"Electro Shock" CD (Orfeon Videovox CSM-237)
Dangerous Rhythm's first 45 is legendary among collectors and aficonadoes of bad music. Few knew it existed prior to Johan Kugelberg's 2004 Ugly Things article on "Primitive Shit Music," which admittedly was among the inspirations for this online magazine.* Like many of the records the Kuge has made famous over the years, what people have imagined it to sound like and what it actually sounds like are rather divergent. His pithy post-Bangs prose, which is addictive but not always exactly descriptive, has left many collectors thinking they know what they seek when in fact they know not. And that fact has proven to be fodder for further writing, mocking the malformed taste and spendthrift habits of record collectors he himself has inspired. So let's be clear: despite top billing by Mr. K the Dangerous Rhythm 7" is not the holy grail of sandpaper-on-strings, sticks-on-crates, captured-on-a-broken-tape-recorder-from-down-the-street-during-a-riot, bizarro, unhindered-by-talent punk rock. The ultra-primitive music of Shit-Fi dreams, like, say, Sekunda or Four Plugs or Bestial War or Teenage PhDs, is nowhere to be found on that first 45 (nor on their more well-known and more easily obtainable 12" and first LP). But the record is for that reason no less deserving of its reputation (and, I suppose, price tag on today's world market).
Most importantly: Mexico's Dangerous Rhythm produced the first punk record in Latin America, in 1979. The next-closest contender outside Mexico is Lixomania's single, from Brazil. That notable slab already verges on hardcore, but after the moment of hardcore's emergence in the North Atlantic.** Thus, on vinyl at least, hardcore leapfrogged punk rock in Brazil, but in Mexico the first hardcore records were something like four years late. The lesson is that unlike in the First World, one cannot deduce the Third's punk history from the vinyl-release archive. Anyway, among Latin American countries, Mexico and Argentina are the ones where rock has been and still is considered the primary and quintessential form of youth rebellion and expression. I would hazard a guess that the reason for this phenomenon lay in their similar (though not the same) experiences of rebellion in the 60s that provided a cultural opening followed by deep political repression in the 70s, which meant that rocknroll provided an outlet while other more overtly political avenues were blocked. Most of the bands of the 70s, however, were not explicitly political as a consequence of repression. One of the results was a depoliticization of rocknroll as the repression lessened in the 80s. Of course, as in other countries, punk rock provided the exception (metal to some extent too). To digress further, the exception provided by punk rock, I argue, differs importantly depending on national context but also highlights the links across national contexts emergent in the 1970s and 1980s. Today in both Mexico and Argentina, rock classics of the US and UK are actively beloved (from the Beatles to Guns N Roses) to a degree greater than in the countries of their origin. And contemporaries of classic US rock bands, like Mexico's El Tri or Argentina's Pappo's Blues, remain national heroes. But I suspect these traditions will weaken in time.
Back to Dangerous Rhythm. They formed in March 1978, with a Cuban singer nicknamed Piromaniac and three Mexicans, including Johnny Danger, Rip Sick, and Marcelo. The single came out in 1979. It has three tunes, one of which is a cover of the Rolling Stones (the song—"Stray Cat Blues"—that grabbed Kugelberg's attention). That cover, sped up by about 77 notches, indicates their link with classic-rock culture but whether it represents an homage or a farce is left for the listener to decide, as in so many cover versions of punk's first wave around the world. In Mexico, with the national obsession with rock, where Dangerous Rhythm stood should be clear from the anecdote related in this CD's liner notes, about the band's participation in a mass burning of disco records. One would love to know more, particularly as today's critics of the punk explosion can't help but point to its opposition to disco as evidence of its lunkheadedness, if not worse. Anyway, given that the band sang in English and was able to travel abroad to imbibe the punk explosion as it occurred, it seems that they came from bourgeois backgrounds. As usual in these cases, we can be grateful that rich kids had rich parents who funded the kids' hatred of their parents.
Now, lest I give the wrong impression: this record is far from professional. And it's punk as fuck. In fact, this record should have far wider appeal among punk rockers, even those who barely dabble in the primitive. Indeed, it would have fit in on, say, KBD #4, had the compiler not been too focused on Northern Europe and the USA to even consider the existence of such a thing as a tasty treat from Mexico DF. Wink wink nudge nudge. Piro's snot drips off the grooves. The bassist and drummer, well, let's just say they ain't exactly in the same time zone. And the guitar sound, if not fully of the type that makes grown record collectors weep, is something to behold: annoying and cheap but clearly looking to get laid anyway. The guitar solos are overdubbed and dropped in like a turd in Keith Richards's punch bowl. I can almost hear the true rockers, with their idiotic fantasies of stardom via talent, shaking their greasy mops in disgust. Even though all three tracks are inept punk exemplars, the under-a-minute "No No No" (see below) with its juvenile wanna-fuck lyrics and speedy tempo, is enough to force you out of your mother's basement, on a plane to Mexico, and to Tianguis Cultural Del Chopo, bearing a wad of pesos and shreiking "Busco el primero disco de Dangerous Rhythm" at anyone with even a shredded Frankie Goes to Hollywood LP in the bins. Unfortunately, it won't work. Trust me.
After 15 or so years of what most would consider pathological record collecting, as well as tape trading and, uh, mp3 downloading, there are not many punk records from the halcyon era that I still have yet to hear. For a long time, Dangerous Rhythm's first 45 has been not only a top want in terms of desiring the rare vinyl but simply in terms of getting to hear the damn thing. When I first found out about the record, I tracked down a French zine writer who had written an article about the band very early on. Despite asking politely, the answer I got was firm: the record was not leaving that particular collection. Then one popped up on eBay. I got outbid, by someone with whom I had corresponded in the past. He promised to dub the tracks for me as soon as he finished medical school or whatever. Years went by. Nothing. Then a Spanish pal claimed that he had met a dude in Madrid from Mexico who had a copy that he would sell for a reasonable price. That didn't mean it would end up in my hands, but perhaps I would finally hear the record. Then the Mexican guy stopped writing back. I have a suspicion it's because Kugelberg found him in the interim. (It turns out that said Mexican guy is the one responsible for this CD.) Finally, a certain MRR columnist won a copy on eBay for two bills buy-it-now. He sent me mp3s. The rest is a story of me luxuriating in the shit.
The tracks on this reissue CD were recorded from a mint copy of the vinyl, which is probably the only way to have done it. I would have assumed the original master tapes are long gone, but to my great surprise the CD includes three bonus tracks. These are alternate takes of the 7" tracks. They have infinitesimal differences from the released versions, but for the pathological, this is pretty cool. Plus, it allows the listener to hear the 7" twice essentially without getting up out of the hammock and hitting play again.
This CD also includes the "Electro Shock" 12". I had heard that record long before hearing the 7". Like most punkers, if you've never heard the 7", you're likely to think the 12" is a great example of snotty 70s gear, as Tony From Hawaii would say. It's not particularly gonzoid, but it's a keeper. In comparison to the 7", though, it seems a bit staid and predictable. There's a twinge of the twang that would be the downfall of the first LP, on which it becomes a Clash-y, Red Rockin' downpour. (And don't even bother with Ritmo Peligroso, when they changed their name and tried to make it big.) By the way, while in Mexico, I learned that there are two completely different pressings of the 12". I won't divulge the details here, but let's just say you probably don't own the rare version.
** Also, check Lixomania's CD put out by Speedstate a few years back for an early acoustic demo track that is truly Shit-Fi to the max and warps heretofore enunciated definitions of punk.