Sunday, May 24, 2009

"This scene, it's something to live for:" an interview with Intifada


The word “Intifada” has become damn-near ubiquitous over the past several years. Loosely translated, it’s Arabic for “uprising.” Since the beginning of the second Palestinian mass rebellion in 2000, it has re-entered the English lexicon as a slogan for all kinds of resistance. So, it’s not really surprising that four guys from Chicago’s thriving hardcore scene would take it up as a name for their band (a quick search online will reveal that they’re not the only ones who’ve taken the moniker). It’s a fitting word for their music: defiant, frenetic, unpredictable, and sure to put a frown on the face of anyone who adheres to the least bit of tradition.

But when I sat down with drummer Alberto, guitarist Joey, bass player Oak, and vocalist Noe, they made clear that the band’s name isn’t just vague propaganda. One of the more recent additions to the WindyCity’s diverse array of punk bands, they were more than happy to delve into all sorts of deeper ideas regarding their origins, their attempts to overcome divisions within punk, and the relationship between the personal and political in their music.

Billet: How did the band get together?
Noe: High school. We met each other individually and we started introducing each other to one another.
Alberto: I first met Noe when I skipped my band class in high school. I was chilling with my friend Manny, and he ran in a circle with this cat (Noe), so he introduced me. I knew Oak from just seeing him wear a punk jacket…
Oak: I was the most punk to begin with. I was like the punk punk with the mohawk and the jacket, and all that shit…
Alberto: Yeah, so I knew Oak and he introduced me to Joey…
Noe: We just started hanging out…
Oak: Yeah, and me and Joey had this Screeching Weasel kind of band called the Hendersons. And then me and Noe had this street punk band called The Defiled. And then these guys, everybody else but me, started Intifada with two other different bassists, and they were trying to get some shit started. They all kind of knew me, and their original bassist couldn’t make it to the first three shows, so they asked me to play in his place, and I just ended up being part of Intifada.
Billet: So you usurped him. [laughter] When was all this? It was ’05, right?
Noe: Yes.
Oak: Summer of ’05.
Billet: We were talking earlier about how your sound has evolved a lot since then…
Noe: Yeah, it’s developed so much, and we’ve gone through so many phases. Our first stuff, I think we can all agree, was definitely a bit more original, and then with everything else we took a lot of influence from the stuff we were listening to.
Oak: It was weird because these guys were playing, like, fast… really fast hardcore before we even started listening to really fast hardcore, and then we tried to play that. And then—I don’t know, dude—our new stuff is all over the place and crazy. It’s just some crazy shit! Every fucking band and every genre I’ve listened to is mixed up in my mind, I’ve formulated this sound, and it’s coming out in our new stuff.
Joey: Imagine this, okay? Punk rock, hardcore, in the lotus position… [laughter]
Billet: Oddly enough, that seems about right. Now, hardcore has kind of this undeserved stereotype, especially from outside the scene, as being an angry white kids thing…
Oak: Ha!
Noe: It’s true, though. It’s true, because it’s in the ‘80s that it blew up and it was all the white kids—except for Bad Brains. But it was all the white kids and then, I don’t know, some time around Los Crudos (recognized as one of the first Latino punk bands in Chicago) that shit just flipped around.
Alberto: Yeah, that was one of my biggest influences was that during the ‘90s, Crudos was setting up stuff in the hood because they weren’t getting invited to North Side shows and stuff like that. So, you had the whole DIY Latino explosion right here.
Noe: Actually, we’re all North Siders.
Alberto: Yeah, we’re all North Siders. Everbody thinks we’re from South Side (which is predominantly Black and Latino). But there’s Latinos in the North Side too. I’m from AlbanyPark. All the Guatemalans live there, so…
Billet: That actually leads me to the next question. Where are all you guys originally from?
Oak: Born and raised Chicago, straight up. My parents are from Thailand so I’m Thai by descent. But straight up, live in the same house I was born in.
Alberto: I was born in uptown Chicago, and lived here all my life. My parents are of Guatemalan descent, both of them.
Noe: Yeah, I’m the only one with a story. [laughter] I was born in Mexico. I came here when I was about seven years old.
Billet: What part of Mexico?
Noe: Guadalajara. I was born there. I came here. I went through all the legal bullshit, and I was lucky enough to get all my papers and all that stuff. About three years ago I became a legal citizen, and I’ve been living in HumboldtPark for about thirteen years now.
Joey: I was born in Kenya. [Lots of laughter because he obviously wasn’t.] No, I was born in Chicago. I don’t even know where I was born. I think I was born somewhere in the South Side.
Billet: Now, Chicago is a bit of a unique city because it has a Latino punk scene that is a scene unto itself but still relates to the broader hardcore scene. And you guys, I’m assuming, see yourself as part of that.
Alberto: Well, we definitely started off as part of the South Side label—Southkore, that’s run by Benny from No Slogan—and that’s actually because Noe’s brother played bass for No Slogan. So, I guess that’s how he got introduced: Noe seeing Southkore shows. You know, it was a spot for Latino bands to play because Chicago’s really segregated as far as a city—always is, always was, probably will be always. It’s always that you’ve got your anarcho-punk kids on the South Side, your straight edge kids, your Latino scene scattered everywhere.
Noe: You do what you can, though. I mean, just last week, we had a couple of straight edge bands playing with La Armada. They just came here a couple of years ago from the Dominican Republic…
Joey: With a lot of weed…
Noe: Yeah! I mean the biggest potheads were playing a show with the biggest names in straight edge hardcore here in Chicago. It’s definitely good to see that, but there’s still a divide. And like Alberto was saying, there always will be, I think. We can do as much as we can do, and hope that it works out.
Alberto: I started setting up shows here in Chicago about a year and a half ago. So, obviously, at first I would hook up my friends, the bands I knew and was tight with. But then I started realizing that I was pretty sick of this segregation bullshit—all the bands playing their own little scenes, and kids weren’t coming out. It didn’t have a name back then, but right now it’s called Inner-City Hospitality.
Joey: Where you get a handshake and a shank. [laughter]
Alberto: Yeah, exactly… Welcome to Chicago, man! [mimics stabbing someone] No, but what I try to do usually is mix bands from all over because, obviously, in every scene there’s cool people, and there’s good bands. So we don’t want to segregate that. We want to bring it all together. It’s my little skewed view of unity, but at least I’m doing something.
Noe: When you put on a show like that you can definitely bring in a good crowd and hopefully they all get along. And for the most part get along pretty well.
Billet: Chicago is also a big hub for the immigrant rights movement, nationally, after it sprung up here back in ‘06. Have you noticed, since that movement, a bit of a breaking down of those boundaries?
Joey: Well, I was a major figure in the Black Power movement in the ‘70s. [laughter]
Billet: Oh, so you came straight from Kenya into the Panthers? [more laughter]
Noe: No, but honestly I can’t say how it was before, because it’s word of mouth. You know, like Alberto was saying with Los Crudos. They had to bring it into their crowd, but I think there’s definitely been an improvement since then. And let’s face it; these past eight years it was commonplace for everyone to hate a common person. Hate really brings people together, as bad as that sounds…
Billet: When you have a common enemy…
Noe: Yeah, but it’s true. And I definitely think it’s gotten a little easier for people to mingle.
Alberto: It’s always that segregation. I mean, even just how Chicago is built—you go to a block and you’re in a Latino neighborhood. You go a few blocks south and you’re in a Polish neighborhood. You go a few more blocks south and you’re in a Black neighborhood…
Noe: And then you’re in Gold Coast…
Alberto: Exactly! Then you’re in some yuppie-ass hood! But for the most part, what I’ve been trying to do and what these guys are trying to do here is really just trying to bring the people together. It’s something hard to do, but if you’re not taking that initiative, nobody’s going to do it. Still, you see all these shows with the same people putting it on, and the same shows will be the same few bands every time.
Oak: Also, it’s hard because we’re pretty much the youngest. All those scenes—the Latino scene, the straight edgers, South Side—were around before we were arriving. We just kind of jumped in. Like I said before, I started as a street punk kid and I went to street punk shows, and I realized after a year that it was fake. None of the kids were actually involved in anything; it was like a party scene. I really didn’t see anything going on. Then Noe invited me to ChicagoFest, and I saw the scene—the real scene! It blew my mind! And I was like, “Holy crap, I want to be a part of that.” Even though it was all segregated before, I never saw that. I saw it as “the real scene” and “the fake scene.” To me, even though we see it from different views and we’re all different, we’re all working together and we’re all a part of the same thing. We all live in the same city, and although there is segregation, I believe we can always work together. That’s the way I’ve seen it, and even though we’re the youngest, I feel like we have the potential to pull everybody together because I’ve always seen past all that shit.
Billet: A name like Intifada conjures up a lot of images of political resistance. Has that affected your activity as a band?
Noe: It’s sad to say, but we have to confess to it: We’re not as politically active as we would like to be. When we first started, when Alberto first approached us with the name, we took no political stance to it.
Joey: It sounded cool…
Noe: Yeah, it sounded cool. And then there were other bands that were like, “Fuck them. Let’s show ‘em up.” [laughter]
Joey: We started the MySpace revolution of Intifada bands.
Billet: Yeah, I did notice a few other bands called Intifada on MySpace.
Joey: There’s like ten! [more laughter]
Alberto: Honestly, I did think about it when I chose the name because I like the theme of uprising and stuff like that. But it’s such an ambiguous term—you can uprise against whatever the hell you want. Mainly, in Noe’s lyrics, I see more of a social struggle than it is a political struggle. A lot of his stuff is pretty personal. Like he told me before, “You’ve got to change yourself before you can change anything else.”
Billet: Do you think that can dovetail sometimes: the social, the political, and the personal?
Noe: Definitely! I try to steer away from writing the political lyrics because there are a lot of bad bands that do it horribly. But the way I’ve always seen it is, politics are always social. Politics are always individual because whatever is said or whatever is working around you always affects you personally. And it’s about taking it from your perspective. Definitely taking it from your perspective within an entire community, but always starting with the individual.
Alberto: You know, we all have a common struggle. For us, growing up in the inner-city, being of color, we face certain racism, certain feelings that people have against us. But at the same time, we’re just trying to change individuals and individual thought, you know?
Billet: Between Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and the recession, do you think there is an opening or an increased interest in bands that bring the political, the social, and the personal together?
Alberto: There definitely can be a leeway into that. But again, we’re not there. We’re not experiencing it. We can never see from the perspective of some dude in Palestine who’s getting his fucking house bombed to shit every day. So you can speak out about it, but honestly, it’s not going to be the same as somebody speaking out from there.
Billet: Do you think it’s possible for bands like this to play a role in solidarity with Palestinians?
Noe: Yeah. I mean we’re playing a benefit for the School of Music in Gaza! Every show, I believe, should have some sort of direction, some sort of impact, where you can influence something. It’s nice to have an outlet where we can be angry, where we can say what we want to say and have fun, but it needs to go in a direction, too.
Billet: How did the Gaza benefit come together?
Noe: We actually just got invited. There have been a few earlier this year. This is the first we’ve been asked to. And it’s pretty cool because we’re getting a pretty good mix of the punk crowd and hip-hop crowd and everything. I’m really glad that we got invited to participate.
Alberto: I guess one of the main goals would be, you know, just don’t be apathetic. Raise concern of what you want to be concerned about, and don’t just sit on your ass and talk smack about it without doing anything. That’s a good way to approach it. If you’re going to be a band from the U.S. that can go home and not get your house shot to shit, that’s pretty sweet. You’re not there, but it’s good not to be apathetic. That’s why another thing we try to revolve around is the idea of saying what you want. Feel it from the heart, start your own band, do what you do.
Billet: Any final thoughts—the scene, your band—any last words for the good people at home?
Noe: This whole thing saved and ruined my life. [laughter] I can easily say that this whole punk thing, thanks to my brother, ruined my life forever—and honestly saved it. I don’t know where I would be if it weren’t for this band.
Alberto: I’d probably be running around in a gang in Albany Park if it weren’t for this. Straight up, this scene, it’s something that we live for. I mean what else would we do on the weekends? We’re trying to do it. And, Inner-City Hospitality—if your band needs a place to stay…
Joey: Fuckin’ self-promotion!
Alberto: No, man! I’m just saying…
Joey: Yo, man, let me tell you something: if it were not for Intifada… I would probably be a Reggaeton star right now man! [laughter] I fuckin’ hate these guys! [loud laughter] I wish that somebody would shake the fuck out of them! [even louder laughter]
Noe: It’s love…
Joey: No, but seriously, man… I can’t imagine being any-fucking-where except a dingy basement, playing on half-working equipment, and a duct-taped up guitar. That is my fucking life! Working forty-plus hours a week, that’s just in-between time really, just killing time until I play the next show. That’s all it is!
Oak: I guess all I have to say is, man… I think somebody said it before: Stand for something, believe in something, or fall for anything. Fucking find your own fucking truth, think it through and through, look within yourself, and find what you think is most worth fighting for, and follow through. In any form, it doesn’t even have to be music—in your fucking life. What you believe in the most, just do it, and believe in it, and don’t fucking listen to anybody else. Listen to yourself, listen to your inner-voice and follow that always!

This article originally appeared at Razorcake.

*****

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dope interview Al