Dominican Punks La Armada Dream of Hardcore without Borders
Stream the Santo Domingo-turned-Chicago thrashy hardcore band's fiery, bracingly political new album, 'Anti-Colonial Vol. 1.'
Photo by KO Photo
La Armada have built an international reputation as unbelievably ferocious hardcore band the old fashioned way: by playing countless DIY shows, starting in their hometown of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic in 2001 and continuing mostly by van after making making the move to their adopted city of Chicago. Over the years, in addition to perfecting a vicious live show, the hardworking quintet developed a unique style of progressive-yet-propulsive punk-inflected metallic hardcore that marries jumpy tempos, driving riffs, sick guitar solos, and muscular technicality, while experimenting with building songs around Latin rhythms.
Their second album, Anti-Colonial Vol. 1 (out March 30), premiered here today, features surprising, sometimes jarring, time changes that underscore the disruptive attitude of their decolonizing and anti-fascist lyrics, which criticize the politics of both the US and the Dominican Republic in English and Spanish. A perfect example is “Unquenchable,” an eloquent and powerful combination of Afro-Caribbean rhythms, chaotic post-hardcore, and biting observations on the not-so-subtle links between mass incarceration and capitalism.
"We called it Anti-Colonial because the album touches on different forms of neo-colonialism," guitarist Paul Rivera says. "It's not so much a look into the past of conquistadores and the territories they occupied, I think it's coming from a more modern place. We addressed issues like the police state inflicting harm in underdeveloped communities, the for-profit prison system and its benefiting from incarcerating immigrants, as well as subjects like xenophobia and the destruction of the environment. All forms of control and thus modern day colonialism over groups of people."
Recently, Rivera and bassist Juan “Manny” Marte got on the phone while on tour with Propagandhi to talk about their evolving sound and tell their story up ‘til now. It involves throwing punk shows in abandoned buildings in the Dominican Republic, braving red states on tour, and finding a welcoming home in the Chicago punk scene.
Noisey: What brought you as a band to Chicago in 2008?
Marte: The band started in the Dominican Republic in 2001. We did a lot of work in Santo Domingo, which is the capital, booking bands and playing shows. We ran a DIY distro for a couple of years, trading records with other bands from Latin American countries and from the US. I was scoping for cities where the band could move and continue the work that we were doing. I was really tight with some DIY Latino punk labels in Chicago, Shaman Records, South Core Records, and we had an opportunity to play Latino Punk Fest in 2007, I believe. We were opening up for Los Crudos from Chicago.
Rivera: It was an amazing experience. Chicago has one of the largest Latino punk scenes in the country, and they have a lot of bands that sing in Spanish as well, so we had a great reception when we played there. We liked it a lot and we decided it was here that we could call home.
So, when you started, you were trying to develop the scene in Santo Domingo. What was it like back then?
Rivera: We mostly started getting into punk and DIY via the internet, and from there we would discover bands, whether they were from the US or Spain or Latin America. Once we formed the band and the other bands formed, we would throw shows anywhere we could, backyards, carwashes, empty office buildings, closed down bars. The scene started to grow a bit in that way just with local acts, and a couple years into it we started inviting foreign bands, bands from the US, bands from Puerto Rico, to come play Santo Domingo. I would say during the mid-2000s it was at its highest point. A lot of people were involved in the scene and actively attending shows.
Marte: After that, the Dominican Republic went through one of the worst economic crises of that decade. It created a large exodus of young artists, a diaspora of Dominican artists migrating to other countries to continue their art. We were among that group.
Are you involved in activism or organizing in Chicago?
Rivera: On this tour we’re carrying a magazine that comes with a flexi-disc that we put together along with two other bands, a band called Thulsa Doom and a band called Disaster Strikes. We sell it to people and every single penny from it goes to benefit the ACLU. In the US, a lot of families are being torn apart. A lot of kids are facing deportation. We want to do our part to help.
Have you seen anything changing in your community since Donald Trump took office?
Marte: I have to answer that question by saying Trump is not popular in Chicago. People hate him. When he was campaigning, he got suspended in the college where he was supposed to speak because of all the people, everybody, immigrants from all backgrounds, protesting. So, he’s not popular here per se, but the way he’s run his campaign, normalizing hatred, normalizing discrimination, has opened a window for people who were kind of hiding in the caves, and now they’re coming out and saying, “The president is doing it. Why can’t we do it?”
Rivera: There are close friends that we know who have decided to up and move back to their country, just to not live in fear. At the same time, friends who are American citizens have decided to step in and maybe start going to protests, and start doing activist work or maybe just try to help out their neighbor if they can.
That phenomenon of Trump giving license to people who already held racist and xenophobic beliefs makes me think of the song “Fire” on your new album.
Rivera: We actually wrote that song before Trump was elected. As a band that is always traveling and playing very small towns in red states, we always knew that there was a very strong possibility that he could win. The song started out almost like “Hey, you should pay attention to this because this is a real threat. This is a real thing that can actually happen," and, lo and behold, it did.
Can you tell me about some of your experiences playing red states?
Rivera: Three nights ago in Indianapolis, I was letting the audience know we had that zine I mentioned for sale as a benefit to the ACLU and somebody got really angry. After the set, he came up to me and basically wanted to kick my ass and told me that anybody who doesn’t have a piece of paper, regardless of their situation, regardless of if they came here at two years old or they never committed a crime, that they should be kicked out, and that he didn’t give a fuck what anybody else said, that this is his country and so on.
What can you tell me about incorporating the Dominican rhythms palo and gaga into the song “Unquenchable” on the album? Why did you choose those ones?
Marte: It’s funny, we grew up with punk rock, kind of rejecting our own culture. When we first got into punk it was like, fuck Dominican culture, fuck tradition. Now that we’re immigrants and we’ve been living in this country for 10 years almost—you go through a process where you go back to your roots and everything you went through musically before you got into punk rock. Those rhythms that you mentioned, palo and gaga, are the quintessential rhythms of the Dominican Republic. They’re our own brand of Afro-Caribbean beats. Our drummer has been slowly incorporating them in every song that we write.
Rivera: We’re rediscovering music that we listened to, from our parents, from the speakers of the colmados [grocery stores, similar to New York bodegas] as we were growing up. We’ve just been rediscovering it and learning how to naturally apply it to the music that we fell in love with in our teens, which is punk, hardcore and metal.
What inspired the song “Unquenchable”?
Marte: We are talking about the prison-for-profit industrial complex, and specifically the criminalization of immigrants.
Rivera: We want to call out the fact that this prison system that we speak of and this proposed border wall is a huge paycheck for these companies that are building it and that, at the end of the day, this is not about keeping anybody safe or any of that stuff that they talk about. This is about making money.
The song is basically that, saying “Hey, this is what's going on” and are we going to be a compassionate society or are we going to be a society that is profiting off the misery of others?
Beverly Bryan is tearing down the walls on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.