This thought crossed my mind while I was doing the dishes today, an activity that, for some reason, I actually really enjoy for it allows to ponder and reflect upon things. I had just read some kind of corny and predictable mainstream article about how "old-school" - if not almost disgustingly "vintage" - the early 00's were, and it bothered me, probably more than it should have, but it did leave me with a feeling of unease. It seems that, although we live longer, because of the insanely constant technological innovations, things and ourselves ironically get symbolically old far quicker. With technology becoming so entangled with generational cultural practice and identity, a decade-old device is already seen as somewhat belonging to another time, like a relic or an artifact that will become valuable again as soon as its actual relevance and convenience are obsolete. The past has never been so recent and nostalgia is a flourishing business. To see twentysomethings bemoaning the disappearance of shite mp3's is quite baffling if you think about it. But I suppose that, faced with change and its dramatic speed, we all tend to reminisce about the past (even if it is objectively and chronologically close) with rose-tinted spectacles and boast about it, especially since our epoch glorifies even the most trivial of a consensually sanctioned past. I personally blame our own compulsive narcissism, the masochistic obsession with ourselves and the modern propensity to dramatize our egos...
And then I was basically done with the dishes and I made myself some coffee. I am not prone to nostalgia and I don't think things were better before. Some things were but other sucked and I generally prefer to think about it in terms of cycles and circularity rather than linearity because it feels more sensible and because it makes me look smart (or a smartass, depending on your perspective). But of course, just like everyone, it happens that I have Proustian madeleine moments and the acquisition of Claustrophobia's demo was a delicious one (you didn't seriously believe that my directionless rant would not serve an introductory purpose, did you?).
I remember it very clearly. It was in October, 2013, and La Fraction, Klee Benally and a band called Gerk were doing a benefit gig in Paris. I was, obviously, familiar with La Fraction, a band I have always enjoyed, but I was rather intrigued by Gerk. It said "Crust Punk - Argentine" on the flyer and, since the glorious days when crust bands would happily cross paths with the French capital had been over for quite some time, I was enthusiastic about seeing Gerk, a band I had never heard of. And they played a fine show, undeniably, very intense and energetic, and they were wearing gorgeous lucha libre masks which made me like the performance even more (I am a wrestling nut and I have no shame) and fear that one of them was going to pass out because of the heat. Were they a crust punk band? Absolutely not. They certainly delivered a tight set of super fast angry hardcore with a lot of tempo changes but the music was pretty much crust-free (truth be told, the crust genre is so misunderstood in France that a lot of people cry "crust" as soon as they hear harsh vocals and fast music...).
Being in a rather good mood, I decided to take a look at Gerk's distro. You do not get to see Argentinian hardcore punk bands play every week and I wanted to see what they had brought on tour and, maybe, get a record or two, to support the band. So I was browsing through the cd's (they were mostly cd's as I recall it) and then, out of nowhere, I bumped into this one.
The crust detector went mental...
As you know, I am a crust fanatic and, although I have grown far more demanding and rigorous with my crust with time, I have a fondness for the old-school take on the genre that is unbreakable (to the point of silliness, I will be the first one to admit that). I was awestruck. There was a band, obviously of the metal crust variety, that had a cd with a cover saturated with crust references, that I had never even heard of or read about. I am not saying that I know every crust band in existence, since that would be impossible and, honestly, rather unpleasant when one considers what passes as "crust" these days, but I do pride myself in being quite knowledgeable about the old-school crust subgenre (or stenchcore, if you like). Now, I realize that it sounds like a terrible pick-up line and I would be the first to run for cover upon hearing it in real life. But I nevertheless spend a lot of time scouting the merciless world of the internet for quality crust music, often getting knocked out but always getting up again. But there I was, confronted with an enticing band I knew nothing about, but which was, looking at the rather cheesy "crustier than crust" cover, clearly right up my proverbial alley. And I absolutely loved that feeling. It took me back a few years before, back when the internet had not yet spoiled the mystery and the excitement of discovery, in those years when I was gleefully clueless about crust and looked starry-eyed at distro tables, asking the person running them what this or that band sounded like, then proceeded to read the thank lists to see if I could spot familiar names and then watched the artwork closely to check for actual clues about the musical content. The method was not infallible, by any means, and some bands had names that could trick you, like Anarcrust, who were not really crust (I have made peace with them but it did take some time), but I was enthralled to bring home records from bands I had never listened to, not quite sure if I was going to like them or not.
Of course, if I didn't check a band's sound all the time before getting their record, I could still feel the same, but then, there are so many new ones that one cannot just buy candidly all the time and of course my tastes have become far more articulate and I am now fully aware of which records I want to own physically and which ones I am comfortable just having a passing acquaintance with...
Realizing that there was a peculiar geezer who had been staring at that one record on his table, the distro bloke finally asked me, with some awkwardness as I remember it, if he could help. And yes indeed, he most probably could. He told me that Claustrophobia was a newish band from Buenos Aires and that it was their first record. Obviously, I took that one home with me, beaming with childish joy and self-indulgence. I mean, the cover had a zombified crusty punk with an Axegrinder top and a bow and arrow, with two sloppy human skulls at his feet and hovering crows in a post-apocalyptic sky over his head... How could it go wrong?
I am not going to pretend that I am some sort of qualified expert about the Argentinian punk scene. It is actually a scene I - sadly - know too little about, although I can do a decent job humming to Dos Minutos. In the early noughties, the country had some cracking political punk bands like Migra Violenta with their fast and furious hardcore, Terror y Miseria with their angry yet tuneful brand of anarchopunk or the little-known but clearly brilliant Axion//Protesta who played a great blend of bands like Apatia No, Elektroduendes or Estigiä and managed to do excellent Crass covers in Spanish (an impressive job when one considers how difficult it is to cover Crass at all). None of these bands were crust though and, to my limited knowledge, the genre was virtually absent from the scene at that time. There were hard-hitting, fast, manic, grindy hardcore-punk bands, to be sure, but none had that specific gruff crust sound. When looking for genuine crust music from Latina América, up until the mid-00's, one mainly had two options. You could turn to Sao Paolo and its raw and chaotic grinding take on the genre with bands from the second part of the 90's like Under-Threat, Dischord, Cruel Face or No Prejudice, or you could go for the Mexican scene (mid 90's/early 00's era) and crust-infused anarcho bands like Desobediencia Civil, Regeneracion or Crimenes de Guerra, all-out gruff crustcore acts like Discordia and Inhumanidad (both are highly recommended) or the rocking crust-punk sound of Tijuana's Massakro and Coaccion. And of course, it would be criminal not to mention the longest-running crust punk band of the continent, Los Rezios from Lima, who have been delivering the goods steadily for two decades (the "Clarificacion" Lp from 2011 is really solid AND has an Amebix cover).
Thanks to several very active Latino punk blogs in the late noughties, the materials of newer bands started to emerge and spread more globally. That was when I became aware of several bands from Argentina that had crust elements in their music (to varying extents but still noticeable) like Disvastacion (sloppy but energetic raw, gruff scandicrust with some metal in it) and A Duelo Con La Vida (rough and primitive but glorious pummeling grinding anarchocrust). But it was a band called Horror Humano and their eponymous album from 2008 that really grabbed my attention, heavy and crunchy, distorted, angry grind/crust with overblown dual vocals and an ear for good short songs, a bit like a cross between Accion Mutante, Disassociate and Rot. This specific sound is rather difficult to do well and, pretty much out of nowhere, Horror Humano completely nailed it.
But even though there had already been a couple of crusty Argentinian bands before Claustrophobia, none of them had (to my knowledge, again) taken the old-school crust path yet and been so visually deliberate and exuberant about it as they were (and in actual fact, I cannot think of many Latino crust bands referring so openly to the stenchcore visual canons before 2013). As I mentioned, the artwork is ripe with referential graphic clues that indicate a high degree of crustness, arguably almost to the point of self-parody. "Sobre la ruinas de la civilizacion" was recorded in mid-2013 and co-released by seven labels (some of which, judging from the respective discographies, were probably just mates of the band giving a hand), among which Quien Calla Otorga, a label also responsible for putting out stuff from Gerk, Doña Maldad, Migra Violenta or Hummus. The object itself looks really nice and certainly not cheap. It is a pro-done cdr with a glossy insert and they even included some sort of large flyer with extra artwork in order to promote and thank the people who took part in its making, so that from the outset, it already feels like a proper album rather than a first demo.
My initial reaction when I played the cd was one of pleasant surprise upon hearing the sound quality of the production. It is heavy but clear and quite well-balanced given the template, it sounds spontaneous and aggressive with enough punky raw urgency. There are a couple of sloppy moments here and there, especially when the band tries to wander in death-metal territories, but they are few and far between and are arguably part of the genre's charm. Despite the über-stenchcore aesthetics, Claustrophobia are not even that metal. Don't get me wrong, you will find the usual mid-paced crunchy metallic parts but these are mostly used as introductions or breaks as the band opted for a decidedly fast crust tempo which was the right thing to do. Modern metal-crust bands like Stormcrow and Sanctum do come to mind, especially in some of the riffing, but I am equally reminded me of the more direct dark crustcore sound of bands like Man The Conveyor, Nuclear Death Terror and Dödsfälla and - possibly even more - of the filthy metallic crust of Campus Sterminii, early Cancer Spreading and Giuda ("Decadenza" era), especially in the arrangement of the vocals and the overall mood of the songs. Claustrophobia mostly keeps up with their "metallic pummeling cavecrust" plan but at times some elements from old-school grindcore, death-metal and neocrust do creep in and do not always work smoothly, for technical or songwriting reasons (the grind bits do function fine enough for me). This said, "Sobre las ruinas de la civilizacion" is a solid, convincing first effort that can be seen as a worthy blend of 90's gruff eurocrust and 00's stenchcore seasoned with that delightfully relentless South-American hardcore rabia epitomized and intensified by the polyphonic approach to the vocal works (to put it urbanely).
Lyrically, Claustrophobia did not go for the usual "apocalypse darkness from hell" that too many crust bands entrapped themselves in and penned revolutionary anarchistic songs, usually from an insurrectionary perspective (something not unusual for bands from that area). "Enjenadxs" is about the coercive nature of the psychiatric world, "Muerte al patriarcado" deals with the patriarchal conditioning of our selves, "Armate y se violento" is basically a call to arms for revolutionary love while "Afila tus ideas" questions the validity of the concept of "authority" in order to wage a war on authorities. Pretty intense stuff that the artwork does not necessarily reflect.
Claustrophobia are still active although I am not aware of any particular plan for a next record. And on a side note, if you are interested in quality Argentinian crust music, I would strongly recommend Ruinas, another Buenos Aires band emphatically treading along the stenchcore road (their own 2013 demo is a strong one).