If Peru’s Los Saicos aren’t the first punk band, they’re pretty close!
10:21 am
If Peru’s Los Saicos aren’t the first punk band, they’re pretty close!

Los Saicos poster
The accomplishments of Los Saicos, a rock band from the district of Lince, Peru—it’s in the country’s capital, Lima—are mighty impressive. They were together only from 1964 to 1966 in their initial run—they released only six singles and never put out an album, but their “Demolición” was the biggest hit in Peru in 1965, and they had their own national TV show while they were still active.

They had a raw, garage-y sound, apparently achieved without ever hearing any authentic garage rock from America—they did, however, know about all the big British Invasion bands. Plenty of people have claimed that they really invented punk—I’m not so sure about that, see below. Legs McNeil says they did, and The Cramps’ Lux Interior adored them.

There’s little doubt that a big heaping of credit ought to be heading in their direction. How unsung are the Saicos? Even the exhaustive doesn’t bother with a bio or any other context-setting before listing their discography.
Los Saicos
A huge part of the Los Saicos (yep, pronounced “Psychos”) aesthetic derives from the balls-to-the-wall shouting of frontman Erwin Flores. Without that, they’re not all that much different from other garage-y bands—except for their nihilistic lyrics, of course. According to Flores, their first show in front of a posh audience was initially met with stunned silence—and then, after a pause, rapturous applause. You can get a vicarious thrill just by reading those bleak song titles—like “Salvaje” (Wild), “Camisa de Fuerza (Straitjacket), “Fugitivo de Alcatraz” (Fugitive of Alcatraz). 

Everyone agrees that “Demolición,” a faint cousin to “Surfin’ Bird,” is the standout. What’s it all about? Why, blowing up the train station, of course! “El entierro de los gatos” is a terse ode to the act of killing and burying cats. These guys do not mess around.

“El entierro de los gatos”

In 1966 they broke up. It appears that they compressed the whole unfortunate arc of being in a great rock band into just a couple of years. After two years or so of close proximity, the four members had gotten sick of each other, and after breaking up they weren’t in contact with each other for decades. (It appears that there was no great conflict, in truth—just fatigue and a desire to move on to other matters.) Their great shouter Erwin Flores ended up moving to the Washington, DC, area, where he got a job at NASA; he currently works for a pharma company. (Whatever happened to blowing up the train station??)

The claim that Los Saicos invented punk has the unfortunate effect of emptying punk of political content—at least arguably. Those Saicos guys must have been alienated and frustrated enough to write “Demolición,” sure, but playing an early gig for “the Emmys of Peru” with an audience full of media contacts doesn’t sound all that punk—unless your definition of punk begins and ends with Malcolm McLaren.

And say what you will about McLaren, that guy understood the context he was working in and who the enemies were. The Ramones may not have been quite as angry as the Sex Pistols, but to say they saw their project through to the bitter end would be putting it mildly. The thing that punks don’t do is quit the band before Year 3 is out and then get hired as a technician for the U.S. government.

It seems to me that what Los Saicos actually invented, roughly, was a form for punk rock. They cracked that code, they understood that simple chords played with vigor and anger could resonate, was valid. The content was a different matter—even if Los Saicos did tune into the destructive ethos as well. That part would have to wait until a disgust and alienation (and media reverb) that could only be found in the desultory, dingy London and New York of 1975 with a little Situationist pixie dust sprinkled on top.

I wouldn’t say they invented punk because you can’t invent a genre in a vacuum and then spend forty years in obscurity. With inventing comes the territory of influence, and Los Saicos didn’t have that much influence north of the Equator. But they’re close enough to merit the discussion, for sure. I think of them as the Godfathers of Punk.

Curiously, Flores himself perhaps has the best perspective on this. In the documentary linked below he says, “Never in my life would it have occurred to me to call our music punk. We were proto-punk, not exactly punk. … We were predecessors to punk.”

I highly recommend this charming and deftly produced 13-minute documentary. I don’t know if there’s material for a feature-length documentary here, but I could watch those fellas talk all day long.

Posted by Martin Schneider
10:21 am



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