Yeah, I know, this is supposed to be about the BIG, and I do mean, almost too BIG, Rock en el Parque (Rock in the Park) 3 day festival going on in Bogota, Colombia right now. And I did hit it, hard, early til late and was duly impressed… but it was Metal Day yesterday. Hard core, cram the mic down your throat and make animal noise metal and I just don’t dig or get that music, but evidently some 30,000 Colombians do, so who am I to judge?
But Punk Outlaw is not about the metal scene, though I recognize the connection. I just don’t feel I have enough material to give Rock en El Parque a good solid review yet, so I’m gonna hold off until after today when they have some punk and ska bands playing.
Instead, I’m gonna tell you about something infinitely more exciting (to me at least) which was a punk show close to downtown Bogota which went from 4pm in the afternoon yesterday and was still going strong when I left this morning around 1AM Bogota time.
I met my amigos from the excellent Medellin punk band and the show’s headliners “Los Suziox” at their hostal in the La Candelaria (historical downtown) area of Bogota around 8pm and we headed over to the show around 9pm.
If you’ve never been to Bogota, La Candelaria is where you want to stay if you are there to appreciate authentic Bogota culture. Or if culture means nothing to you, stay in Zona Rosa and hang among the more upscale Rollos (people from Bogota) and have restaurants and nightlife at your fingertips (but be prepared to drop more $).
We taxied over to the venue which was easy to spot because of the numerous folks with mohawks, spiked and colored hair hanging out. My amigo, Jorge, from ColombianPunk.com guided me into the venue safely which was accessed by a very narrow stairway and one tightly controlled, tiny door which led to the 2nd story party space.
It was crowded already and in violation of every U.S. (and probably Colombian) fire code you could think of. Trust me, I thought about that a few times during the night, making imaginary escape routes in my mind (using one of the two open windows and jumping if I were lucky enough to get to them w/o being trampled was the best I could think up). Luckily, I didn’t need a plan “b” for fire, but I did for other scenarios.
What can I say about the bands, I only got to witness two of them as the night felt completely unstructured, despite the printed up agenda. Los Suziox was scheduled to play at 10PM but by the time I left at 1AM or so, they were probably going to go on around 3 or 4AM at the earliest, if at all the way things were progressing.
The bands played as long as they wanted and that was cool with the crowd which amazed me with their pure intensity and stamina. How can they go 110% full force like that for hours and hours on end and not lose one ounce of intensity?
I know, I know there are going to be some jokes about “hey man it’s Colombia, there is a thing called cocaine” and yes, I’m sure that occurred for some folks but the vast majority, no. They were simply too damn drunk.
But among the incredibly intoxicated people were others who were drinking nothing stronger than water. Straight Edgers perhaps or perhaps like me just trying to keep their wits about them in this chaotic environment.
The ages varied wildly (from early teens to 40s maybe even 50s, who knows) but most of the crowd in their 20s and 30s I’d say. Mostly male but plenty of hard core females mixing up in the most violent punk pit I think I’ve ever witnessed and I’ve witnessed a few.
Jorge stuck with me for the first part of the night, guiding me back to where the bands played and what little bit of space there was for video taping the action. I had my big High Def Sony Camera with light kit, which was a good idea because the lighting was dim.
But it was simultaneously a bad idea because that camera looks AND is fairly expensive. I wasn’t fearing theft as much as I was fearing some over zealous punk ripping off the microphone or light kit, or probably more likely spilling beer or aquadiente (Colombian Liquor commonly referred to as “FireWater”) all over it.
After about 3 hours of witnessing the madness that is called a punk show in Bogota, it became impossible to shoot with the big camera and I lowered my goals to simply protecting it (and me) from destruction.
I ended up shooting video with my small digital still camera my last hour or so. The following video is from some footage shot at the end of MY night from a band who, though I have no idea their name, played a good hour and half and as you can see, the crowd’s enthusiasm didn’t wane a bit.
I love punk music, the punk lifestyle and in general, get along with punks I’ve met from all over the world. But there is something truly special and unique about the punk scene in Latin America and in particular Colombia. The intensity and the length of the intensity just can’t be matched. At first, it’s very intimidating environment. But later, many punks come up to you and ask questions about why you are there and some to even take photos with the visiting “Gringo” with the camera and to welcome you to their world.
All in all the punks in Bogota were very welcoming and friendly and if I spoke Spanish better, I’m sure I’d have made even better connections. But after it became plain I was no longer going to be able to shoot and the camera was in danger, I decided it was best to go find my friends from Colombian Punk and Los Suziox.
For about 20 minutes, I made my way from the front of the room to the one and only back entrance, with the camera taking a beating. Throughout the night I had seen quite a few people I had interviewed before (Johnny, AKA Finnish Punk, who made the trip from Cali, Colombia) and several others from the Casualties show back in December, but now no friends or familiar faces were to be found.
It felt like I was getting shoved on purpose a bit. My imagination working overtime? Maybe. The video backpack is massive and makes me feel like I’m the clumsiest dude on the planet, knocking people in the head when I turn to the left or right. “Permiso” (permission please), “Disculpe me” (excuse me), “Lo Siento” (I’m Sorry) all Spanish phrases I’m very familiar with.
On the way down the winding, slick and crowded stairs to the one and only exit, I became a hair’s breadth from tumbling the whole way down and destroying the camera (and me in the process) all by myself.
I would have too had there not been some gnarly, mean looking punks at the bottom who were trying to leave (or enter, I couldn’t tell) who unintentionally stopped my reckless descent. They were so drunk, I don’t think they felt a thing, or at least I was silently hoping so.
Now I was in a mass of bodies trying to squeeze through a narrow door to the street. It was “no go” as the bodyguard was turning people back, not from entering but FROM LEAVING!
I started to panic. You mean I can’t leave? Now I’m really starting to get claustrophobic and for sure this camera is getting destroyed. There was definitely a shove in the back now, no imagination necessary.
There was more intense pushing and shoving, some cursing in Spanish and I had no idea what was going on or when or if I was getting out of there. I tried calling my amigos on my cell, No Signal! WTF?
Finally, after like 10 minutes of this, I made my way to the bouncer who remembered me. I told him I had to leave, had to go home and he let me out, wishing me a very polite “Buenos Noches” (Good Night).
My relief out on the street lasted all of 5 seconds because now I see it is no longer packed with people like when I first entered the show 3 hours ago. It was now deserted except for a few solitary stragglers hanging in the numerous shadows.
I’ve probably been to Colombia over a dozen times and never had one single issue. But I’ve never tempted fate before and this was not a good place for an obvious gringo (or anyone for that matter) with expensive camera gear in tow. There was no sign of Jorge or Los Suziox and what the hell is wrong with this cheap cell phone I bought?
Everyone, it seemed had suddenly been shuttled inside and that explained why it had suddenly gotten so crowded that I couldn’t shoot video.
I broke down the camera and stuffed it in my backpack as quickly as possible and set about finding a taxi, expecting a knife or gun at my back at any moment. I cursed myself for leaving my passport and emergency cash in the backpack like a rookie instead of at the hotel room.
I’ll admit I’m much more paranoid about theft these days after being robbed in Buenos Aires. Though that was a non violent kind of thing, I now get in taxis much more cautiously and am just plain wary of walking around with expensive equipment, but how else can I shoot? It has to be done. It’s a risk that must be taken. Punk Shows rarely happen in nice, rich, gringo infested, touristy areas and if they did, I’m not sure I’d want to go.
Walking to the street, I see a few, what I hope are policemen in the distance huddled around what looks like a body in the street. Hopefully drunk, not dead or injured but I couldn’t tell. I think this explains why everyone had gotten shuffled inside. The Bogota Police and the hardcore punks that make up the punk community in Bogota don’t get along. At the Casualties show in December, there was a full scale riot between the police and some punks outside the venue.
I didn’t want to get caught up in all this and spend the night in a Bogota jail or worse yet, walk away and get robbed. I needed a taxi quick! Finally I get one and now the only problem is I now had lost the business card to my hotel which is on the other end of town and Bogota is a BIG town with lots of hotels.
My hotel is Hotel Charlies Place, it’s a small but nice boutique hotel outside of the normal tourist zone. My taxi dude has never heard of it and as luck has it speaks no English and suddenly, my Spanish is MIA! What the hell?! It seems whenever I need to speak Spanish the best.. the most, it seems to abandon me.
Racking my brain, I didn’t know what to do but maybe go to an internet cafe (if they were still open at nearly 1am) and look up the address on the web or wander the streets of Bogota with, yes, I’m gonna say it once again, expensive ass camera equipment.
Taxi dude called his dispatcher and finally, we were able to determine the address of my hotel. Thankfully, at least I could recall the name probably because it’s so unusual (not too many hotels named Charlie) but there are times when the name is in Spanish and I can’t remember the name of my hotel for shit and just have the business card to remind me and show the taxi driver. I was lucky, this time.
Safely back to the sanity and solitude (sweet solitude and personal space) of my hotel room, I think back on the day; Rock en el Parque, hanging out with my old friends and making some new ones in the punk scene in Colombia.
Rock en el Parque was ok, more like controlled chaos. The Punk Show was nuts and most definitely uncontrolled chaos. And while I couldn’t live my life like that every day, uncontrolled chaos felt good for a while.
Life is crazy. We usually think we’re in control when really we are just one small reminder away from the painful realization that we most certainly are not. The punk show in Bogota felt like a celebration of that. Guttural, primitive and completely out of control.. I love it.