Photo courtesy of the band's Facebook
When many hear the phrase "straight edge hardcore," a dossier of images run through their brains. Maybe they think of a bunch of skinheads in New York City charging the stage as Youth of Today guitarist John Porcelly sustains the first chord in "Make a Change." But most don't think of it as a political force. In fact, by the end of the 1990's, straight edge hardcore became devoutly apolitical, precipitated by a soured relationship with social justice when popular uprisings permeated the scene. "Fuck you and your politics," Ryan George of Carry On said. "In the real world, they don't mean shit." It's both overwhelmingly masculine and American. There may be no more testosterone-pumped album than Ten Yard Fight's "Hardcore Pride," and straight-edgers often opt for a cold can of the most prolifically Yankee drink on the planet, Coke, instead of a beer. But iTomar Control! ("Take Control") from Peru is nothing like the illustration above.
Hailing from Lima, iTC! are an all-girl, ardently vegan, feminist and progressive straight edge hardcore ball of fury. They've been front, line and centre in advocating for progressive causes in South America. And they think the hardcore scene is a catalyst for positive change. Vocalist July Salazar-Ramos wandered into the South American punk scene back in 2006, seeing veteran Peru hardcore act Metamorphosis. The 24-year old Lima native continued attending punk shows, then discovering hardcore punk bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Black Flag, whom she immersed herself in. Not long after, she found that an active hardcore scene—with bands like Urban Conflict, Courage, and Metamorphosis themselves – had been rising up in Peru. "A hardcore show is much different than a punk show," she says. "It has a family atmosphere—smaller and closer." In Peru, the hardcore scene is "small, but committed," building up from the humble roots planted in the late 90s. There was a seismic shift in the Peruvian hardcore scene in 2005 when Chilean straight edge legends Fuerza de Voluntad came to play, Ramos says. "People became straight edge, vegetarian and vegan—they became interested in influencing Peruvian society. There were more and more bands, shows, and fanzines," she says. Adding that though many of those kids are gone now, their impact remains in creating new generations of hardcore, of which she is a product.
Through the scene, Ramos found straight edge and veganism, which she devoutly applied to her life. "Before knowing hardcore, I felt that I shouldn't care about the things happening in society, just thinking about my family and friends. But I didn't realize what was happening out there had direct consequences for the people I loved. I consider veganism, the straight edge and feminism important weapons to create awareness in people—to begin to forge themselves a present and a future that's fair for all." It was with this proactive mindset that in the fall of 2014, iTomar Control! was formed. The quartet began by casually practicing Project X and Ten Yard Fight covers and later, after a few lineup changes, wrote original songs informed by the likes of Champion, Battery, Youth of Today and Chain of Strength (it's worth noting they do a mean Chain of Strength cover). Their songs mix the classic youth crew value palette of friendship and self-confidence with their stances on veganism, feminism and straight edge.
"We're a very PMA [positive mental attitude] band—we say our messages in a peaceful, non-aggressive way," Ramos says. "But we don't let it compromise the message." And they've since seen a huge change in the scene. "We see many more girls at shows. Before they were seen only as girlfriends of band members, but now they're going on their own. They're believing in the bands' messages, they're doing fanzines, making information desks, doing shows, selling food free of animal exploitation—they're taking part in a thousand ways. It fills me with joy." They're working towards a stronger scene in Peru—but the band's desire to make change goes outside the traditional boundaries of the hardcore scene as well. "I created a book club with some vegans and began to educate children. I then began an organization with a few friends on vegan education. We are working with material from an expert on animal rights laws, Professor Gary L. Francione. We've also received the support of an association in the United States called the International Vegan Association (IVA). So far we've only been setting up information tables, but we hope in the future to go to schools and other institutions to explain veganism and animal rights to people."
As for straight edge, Ramos thinks the movement has a wider role to play in Peru. VICE News shed light on Peru's war on drugs earlier this year. The country is now the largest producer of coca leaves in the world, the main ingredient in cocaine. In 1991, over a million Peruvians were cultivating coca as their main source of income. A crackdown by both the Peruvian and the U.S. government to disrupt production is now approaching its third decade. "The government, with international aid, has encouraged farmers who once grew coca leaves to grow other legal groups by giving them the facilities and assistance to enter the domestic market. These people enter the job of illicit cultivation because they live in extreme poverty, so we must look for better things to produce that can be legally marketed. Recently, coca leaf production has been on the decline," Ramos says. But she thinks drug issues in Peru are wider than cocaine, and straight edge can help. "Straight edge is crucial in educating society that the substances that harm us aren't only the illegal ones—they're the legal ones too, like alcohol and cigarettes. We should look outside this box. People think they're not drugs because they're controlled— but in many cases they end up controlling you. A sleeping mind is an easy one to manipulate, something the media and television do well."
Photo courtesy of the band's Facebook
As of now, iTomar Control! know no boundaries. The band is projected to release their debut album at the beginning of October, and will be on an upcoming compilation covering Fuerza de Voluntad and their song "Raices ii." "We have been receiving support from Germany, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. In 2016, I think we will take a trip to all of these countries. When we have the tickets in hand, we'll announce it [laughs]." When asked about the meaning of the band name, Ramos summed it up succinctly:
"Take Control means being aware. If you want something, you have to work for it. No matter if no one else believes in you—what matters is that you believe in yourself."
*quotations were translated from Spanish and edited for accuracy
Dan Darrah is a writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.