Photo by Will Kinser
You can’t afford Coachella, and CMJ is for squares. SXSW has become darker than dark, and Chaos in Tejas is on indefinite siesta. There’s other festivals and god knows you are welcome to go to them, but for my money the most exciting music festival is twenty bands you’ve never heard of playing a bar one mile south of the United States border, thrown specifically because the headliners are too broke and too brown to be allowed to play in America. Get thee to Burnouts En Baja Volume One, young major dude. It takes place on April 25-26 of this year in Tijuana, and it’s pretty fucking unlikely there’ll be a Volume Two.
Burnouts En Baja (Volume One) is a two-day festival being held at the TJ Art & Rock Café in Tijuana, Mexico. It consists of many of the best punk bands on the west coast of the North American continent. From the Mexican epic crust of Bio Crisis to LA’s finest pop-punk ensemble, Generacion Suicida, to up-north Canadian motorpunk monsters Proxy, the festival reps hard an alternate reality where everyone is in a spiky jacket and their back patches are in Spanish. Also the festival is being specifically held for the band Los Monjo. Because, as of this writing, America has yet to welcome them into its imperial embrace.
“To go to the US we need a VISA. To get that, you have to make an appointment and you need to pay for it, about $200, regardless if they don't approve your Visa, that money is lost. We have no credit history, do not have bank accounts, because of our age and the work we have is almost impossible to get approved for it and we obviously do not want to lose that money.”
Los Monjo is from Oblatos, one of the poorer neighborhoods in Guadalajara. Most of the band works for their father’s (they’re brothers; Monjo is the family name) Birria and Barbacoa stand. Though they have toured Europe with no problems (“Spain was very badass, but as for instance in France and Germany many people did not know us and was very dry subject,” they say of their time there), the fact is they don’t have the paperwork (they don’t exactly work on the books) that the US requires to allow a group of young Mexicans into the country. One can argue the justness or unjustness of US immigration policy and still agree that, in this particular instance, it’s bullshit. Setting aside the inherent racism of our border policy, the fact of a band being unable to tour where they are wanted solely because of the economic class they exist in is legitimately pretty fucked up.
Inequality is hardly news, but throwing a border-punk festival is a novel way to address it. Jose and Josh of Discos MMM are (besides playing in their own band, the antic and wonderful Ruleta Rusa) organizing the fest. Discos MMM is a Bay Area label that started in November of 2012, and in a short period it has released a number of the more notable punk records of the last couple years. Along with Silencio Statico, Todo Destruido, Overdose Records, and Lagua Armada (Martin from Limp Wrist’s label) Discos MMM is part of a brave new world of bilingual and trans-border punk that’s free of nostalgia by dint of youth and actual real world concerns, which also free it from the usual accusations of middle class whining. Ironically, like the Reagan years, it’s the sheer crushing evilness of the system that helps give punk meaning again—not that the system ever skimped on the crushing evilness. Anyway, the Burnout in Baja was first conceived of in 2012 when Discos first tried to help Los Monjo tour. Josh says “We saw them play and the energy that comes through, the passion, the quality of it…we thought they were such a great band,” but Jose adds, “They (the border officials) check your accounts and if you don’t have enough money, you can’t come in…it’s classism!”
The initial fest “didn’t work out” but this year is different. The aligned stars of Los Monjo’s first full length (a hella-bracing collection of MC5/Stooges freak-outs) and Proxy’s west coast tour made this year the right year for it happen. Through their pal Luzen in Mexico, the organizers have managed to wrangle all the various cats into one stable. Los Monjo, for their part, says: “It is the first time that a festival is set up around us. We have played in many places and for a long time so there is no pressure. Only a few problems we have now such as we can’t have band rehearsals at the moment. Among others.” Both the “we’re playing it by ear” and the “among other (problems)” are your surest indication that this is for sure a punk festival. They don’t call “who the fuck knows when the show will start” punk time for nothing.
The reason this festival is so exciting is while arguments about rockism and poptimism (somewhat) rage and “fake DIY” and “DIY” are thrown back by people for whom the economic and artistic stakes could, literally, not be lower; this is a festival that is clearly, inarguably, being thrown for the love of music. It’s practically insane how much this is being done for the love of music. Josh and Jose have devoted months of their lives to organize an entire festival south of the border for one band that they are very, very fond of and want more people to hear. To say this puts the going-through-the-motions, faux-counter-culture move of having Arcade Fire headline Coachella to shame is to define understatement.
Zachary Lipez told his friends he's off that mollywater at Coachella, but he's really in his room blasting Proxy records. He's on Twitter - @ZacharyLipez