Punk Boricua

(Puerto Rican Punk)

“A free street rather than the consumer warehouse.

Dissonance, rather than good taste.

Repulsion, rather than attraction.

All discarded and cheap things,

rather than new and expensive ones.

Thanatos, rather than the libido.

Amid nostalgia’s shady road, all stupid, empty,

foul-smelling and putrid things interfere;

in other words: PUNK.”

Punk rock is a music genre that emerged in the 1970s. Punk bands rejected the perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock. Their songs are short and fast-paced, hard-edged melodies with shocking vocals and often include political anti-establishment lyrics. The heart of punk lies in their DIY ethic: from producing their own music to zine culture, punks found a way to grab the world. Punk originated from early 1970s New York, eventually travelling to the United Kingdom, Australia and the rest of the world. By the 1980s, punk found itself in Puerto Rico. 

Put simply, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States as of 1952. Under the commonwealth formula, Puerto Rico is neither a state of the U.S. nor an independent country. It has a popularly elected governor and legislature, but its residents are exempt from federal taxes, have no voting representatives in Congress,  and may not vote in national elections. By the 1980s and early 1990s, were a tempestuous period in Puerto Rico’s history, and the sharp economic fluctuations of these years hit the island with the impact of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The hurricane devastated the island, already suffering from the recession in the U.S.  By 1986, unemployment on the island rose to over 22%. A failing economy, an American exploitation of puerto rican citizens, and an unsure future became the perfect mixture that resulted in a necessary youth-oriented counterculture.

The punk scene in P.R. first started with bands playing covers of popular music such as Dead Kennedys, The Clash, Circle Jerks, etc. These spaces, such as now-closed La Tea and Shadows Café, allowed people to form a community based on similar interests in music, art and ideology. As the music spread throughout the island, most notably in the west and San Juan, original music started emerging. Bands like Golpe Justo and La Experiencia de Toñito Cabanilla$$$ helped forge these punk spaces. Because the island is relatively small, this community of punk boricuas prospered. These bands usually had to travel thirty-plus minutes away to maybe make ten dollars each. To them, it was about being authentic, having fun and jodiendo (running amuck). There wasn’t a hierarchy between bands and their fans, instead, people treated each other the same. The fan was the artist and the artist was the fan. 

By the early 1990s, the punk scene started dwindling with the rise of rock en español. Bands like Los Enanitos Verdes and Maná were the craze. Locally, this new wave began to take over punk spaces. Rock en español was less about the message and more about maintaining a “look”, policing who could enter those spaces. As the punk rockers of the 80s grew older, the younger generation took the future of counterculture within the island into their own hands.

Writing this 40 years after the rise and fall of el punk boricua, I feel a lot of promise as to what the island has to offer besides mainstream reggeaton. As music evolves and new genres form, the post-hardcore and indie rock scene has found a home. The shows these local bands play at are always bustling with people, both young and old. As the original punks dubbed it, La escena (the scene) is being kept alive with shows every weekend, ranging from Mayagüez and the surrounding areas, all across the island to San Juan. Bands like Los Petardos, Dan Siego, Davila 666 are just a few of the many talented artists in the island. Although la escena isn’t limited to punks anymore, now present is a prospering diverse community of musicians, artists, activists and allies alike. 

Joel from La Experiencia de Toñito Cabanilla$$$

La Tea show flier

Spotify link to Puerto Rican Punk Music:

Written by Sofia Alfaro

Comments are closed