The Ramones planted the seeds for a rock & roll revolution in a country that had been for too long in the grip of military dictators. Their fans became known as “Ramoneros” and are still revitalizing the punk scene today.
The Ramones first arrived in Argentina in February 1987, and built a relationship with the national audience over the next decade. They ended up playing 26 shows in Argentina over the next ten years, capped by a massive goodbye show at River Plate Stadium in 1996. During that time, they planted the punk seed and then harvested a crop of fans, known as Ramoneros.
Onstage you saw four leather jackets, knee-hole pants, and loudspeakers cranking out a raw sound. In the audience, you saw heat and passion and thousands of young people with homemade T-shirts containing the Ramones’ badge drawn in indelible marker. It was a great picture, ya know! These ingredients were the cosmic fuel that changed the local cultural scene forever.
Roots of the punk scene:
The first sign of a punk movement in Argentina could be found in April 1978 among the letters to the editor of Pelo, a popular rock magazine. In an earlier issue of Pelo, an article had insisted that the punk movement was a foreign concept to Argentina. One reader took heated and heavy exception to that idea. The words from the letter made an instant impression on all who read them: “The punk movement in Argentina exists because I’m here and I’m one.” The letter was signed with the pseudonym “Hari B” (real name: Pedro Braun). Using a pseudonym was a wise choice because the country was, at that time, going through the bloodiest chapter of its military dictatorship. But the brave statement of this impetuous kid also invited other voices to share their punk experiences with him.
One adolescent took “Hari B” up on his offer, writing him, “I want to communicate with you, write me back soon. Bye punk friend”.
Both teenagers eventually met and began to listen to, and memorize, Leave Home, the second álbum by the Ramones.
“When I listened to the first song, ‘Glad to See You Go’, I thought, ‘this is awesome’,” declared drummer Sergio Gramática. Perhaps the uptempo and frenetic sound did something in his cerebellum that changed his way of feeling music forever. Then, Gramática and Braun formed Los testículos (The Testicles), generally regarded as the first Argentinian punk band. In their earliest show, they yawped:“¡Hay que volar con lo establecido!” (We have to cut off what is established!), a song that also contained some Sex Pistols references.
Soon after that, the group changed their name to Los Violadores (The Rapist). They saw the punk movement as avant-garde, breaking structures and changing ways of experiencing life. The members of Los Violadores knew the new name was appropriate when the authorities started giving them grief about it.
In the documentary film about Los Violadores, Ellos son (They Are), Pedro Braun said, “I had the chance to fly to London in 1977 during a significant period in the original punk movement, and I was fascinated. I was very identified with their claims.”
Other Argentinian punk bands began to form. These pioneers of punk included Los Laxantes (The Laxatives) (1979), Alerta Roja (Red Alert) (1979) and Los Baraja (1981), which was the first group to perform on Argentinian TV. All of these bands were influenced by the Sex Pistols, the Dead Boys, and the Clash.
“Represión”(Repression) was a punk anthem released in 1981 that became the signature song of Los Violadores. Hector Chalar, aka “Pil Trafa”, the singer and composer of the song, explained that the song was inspired by how Argentinians were numbed by football, asado (BBQ) and wine.
But the anthem that really immortalized the band was “Uno, Dos, Ultraviolento” (One, Two, Ultraviolent), written by Stuka, who wanted the song to sound catchy and innocent, even though the lyrics supplied a hidden meaning. For inspiration, he used the Nadsat dictionary in A Clockwork Orange [both the novel by Anthony Burgess and film by Stanley Kubrick] and the fact that the movie was banned or censored in some countries. “Uno, Dos, Ultraviolento” was an instant hit, the first punk melody to cross the gate of the ghetto.
Los Violadores opened three shows for the Ramones in Obras Sanitarias Stadium.
Argentina’s new wave of democracy in the 1980s swept in another wave of punk bands, including Diana Nylon (1980), Sissi Hansen (1982), Argies (1984), Todos Tus Muertos (All Your Deads) (1985), Flema (1986), Attaque 77 (1987), Doble Fuerza (1987), Sentimiento Incontrolable (Uncontrollable feeling) (1987), Minutos (2 minutes) (1987), Sin Ley (Without Law) (1988), El Otro Yo (The Other Me) (1988), Gatos Sucios (Dirty Cats) (1989), Fun People (1989) and Bulldog (1989). All of these bands shared a bond with the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Todos Tus Muertos, however, were initially influenced by hardcore punk bands like the Dead Kennedys and Bad Brains.
The new spirit of openness in Argentina also allowed space for anarcho-punks like Comando Suicida (1984) and Enema (1984), known for being “too much punk” for Buenos Aires’ scene. Enema once played a gig at Cemento, a nightclub generally regarded as the bastion of Argentine rock & roll, opening for Todos Tus Muertos. However, the club owners decided to let the headliners open the show out of fear that the audience would destroy the place if they didn’t.
A third generation of punk groups, in the 1990s, included Bien Desocupados (Well Unemployed) (1990), Loquero (Madhouse) (1990), Katarro Vandalico (1990), Cadena Perpetua (Life imprisonment) (1990), Superuva (1991), Embajada Boliviana (Bolivian Embassy) (1992), Pilsen (1992), Las Manos de Filippi (Filippi´s hands) (1992), Expulsados (Rejected) (1993), Shaila (1994) and Eterna Inocencia (Eternal Innocence) (1995).
A Thirst for information:
The book Punk: La Muerte Joven (Punk: The Young Death) by Juan Carlos Kreimer, published in 1979, became a touchstone for young Argentinians, serving as a sort of instruction manual over the ensuing three decades. Patricia, bassist for Sentimiento incontrolable, remembers,“The book was fantastic because at the moment it came out, in 1978-1979, it was the only one in Spanish that gave an outlook about what punk is all about.”
Leo De Cecco, drummer of Attaque 77, explained to Mala Difusión (an alternative rock magazine that promotes the underground and punk scenes) that it was very difficult in his adolescence to find information about punk. So, the only thing he had was Kreimer’s book and fanzines like Rebelión Rock, Resistencia or Revolución. In his view, the book, fanzines and music offered a creative context for the young and rebellious. But he also thought the punk movement in Argentina was something strictly cultural and musical, while in England it was part of a larger social and political outburst. “It’s an alternative movement, libertarian, full of rebelliousness,” he said. “And one must stay true to those principles. As much as one changes in life, I still believe in the idea of self-management, of doing things for oneself.”
“I never met an Argentinian. Maybe that’s the reason why I’m so excited about this trip,” Joey Ramone told the media on Jan. 30, 1987. When someone told him that Argentinian fans were rebellious and passionate, Joey said, “We have to see from what they want to break free.”
Johnny Ramone said he enjoyed being onstage more than being in the streets. “We like playing here,” he told a reporter from La Nacion in 1992. “The fans are the best. The only thing that bothers me is having to be locked in the hotel because they are too fanatical.”
Dee Dee Ramone was excited about exploring South America, according to his autobiography Lobotomy: Surviving The Ramones. Afterwards, he lived for a while with his Argentinian girlfriend, Barbara Ramone and her family, in City Bell, Lomas de Zamora and Banfield (áreas of Buenos Aires).
Why did these guys from Queens have such a powerful influence on Argentina, and not some other band?
CJ Ramone believes the success they had, and still have, here has a lot to do with the fact that they were normal guys, who came from shitty neighborhoods but could make tuneful and fast songs. Furthermore, the people who went to the concerts were punks but also there were regular lower- and middle-class kids and teenagers who wanted to see their idols who opened their minds, allowing them to see life as something more than going to jail or drinking with their friends in a bar. After the journalist Pablo Reyero’s first account of a Ramones’ show was published in the newspaper Página 12, the band’s fans became known as Ramoneros.
Every time Joey Ramone visited Argentina, he asked the tour organizers, “When do I go to the big nose man and the Fat man program?” He was referring to a popular national radio program that became his regular venue. Verea, one of the radio hosts, explained: “He never knew our names…He came to do radio, to play music, not to do interviews.” Eventually, Joey brought along his own music to the radio station. The selections he chose revealed a unique personality, because he mixed genres and artists in an unpredictable way, trying to educate the listening audience.
In the book Ramones en Argentina by Gerardo Barberán Aquino, Ciro Pertusi recalled how, “We dreamed about that day, we couldn´t believe it. We had fully digested every Ramones song. We couldn´t believe they were here. Not many international bands had come before them.” He added: “They blew our minds. It was impossible not to want to do the same.”
At the band’s final concert, held March 16, 1996 at River Plate Stadium, Joey exhorted the crowd, “Don´t cry for me Argentina, the party starts now!” Opening acts included Superuva, Attaque 77 and 2 Minutos, followed by Die Toten Hosen and Iggy Pop, the godfather of punk.
Iggy later recalled, “The Ramones had become pretty damn good live by that time. In the States, people don´t really know about this, but the Ramones were a phenomenon in Argentina, they were like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. They headlined a 67,000-seat stadium and sold it out and asked us to come down and open for them, and I said OK. By that time, they’d become formidable and they had a ferocious live show. It must have been 1996, right near the end of their time, and, boy, it was really rough. I mean I walked out there and out of 67,000, at least 57,000 of them were 10- and 12- year old little Ramones clones and they all had the T-shirt and all weighed about 72 pounds and they were yelling, ‘Ramon-es, Ramon-es, Ramon-es!’ Which is how they said their name down there.”
And then, the heartbreaking goodbye, with Joey saying “Adiós, amigos” in front of many thousands of ramoneros. The yelling and singing was coming to an end, but they never really left. Marky, CJ and Richie Ramone still regularly return to Argentina. “I never saw fans so loyal and dedicated like they are in Argentina,” said Richie Ramone. “Thirty years later, they are parents and they´re teaching their kids.” This is an example of unconditional love with the bands that ramoneros express every opportunity they can.
Many bands recognize the fanaticism and passion that exists in this country. In this video, you can see some compilations of “Argentinian Pogo”! Check this out!
Play punk for me Argentina:
Invasión Argentina is a new group that reunites different personalities of the local scene. They released “Play punk for me Argentina Vol. I”, in 2016-2017, a tribute of the most representative punk local bands singing in English. This year, they launched Vol. II. Why in English? They wanted to capture the essence of punk and try to give it that special touch. You can find more information on the official page of the project.
The contemporary Argentinian music scene can trace its roots back to those early Ramones concert tours. Also contributing, of course, was the energy liberated from the eradication of the repression of military dictatorship. The rage, suffering and untamed feelings as a form of expression could finally be released.
Now, above the fresh noise, unrefined nostalgia and marginal heartbeats, the feeling can find its own way and it is reborn as pure poetry.