CHICAGO — Los Crudos, a much-lauded punk band from Chicago, has always been about community, so when lead singer Martin Sorrondeguy realized that 2016 marked the band’s 25-year anniversary, he knew the occasion called for more than a traditional music show. “What I didn’t want to do was just put all the attention on our band,” he said. “I wanted to do something that featured more of the art, culture, activism, and politics, and everything that was kind of happening at that time. … And pushing the art that came out of our scene, but also that moved our scene.” Desafinados (or, roughly translated, “To Be Out of Tune”), an exhibition and series of events celebrating the band’s history and their greater community, opened on September 30 at Co-Prosperity Sphere.
Punk trickled slowly into the neighborhoods where the members of Los Crudos lived, Pilsen and Little Village, mostly Spanish-speaking enclaves in Southwest Chicago. Wall text from the exhibition explains that young punks would “run blocks just to catch up with other weird looking kids to ask, ‘Hey, you’re into punk!?’” The first punk show in Pilsen took place in 1987, which is where the Desafinados archival material begins. (Los Crudos was active initially from 1991 to 1998, and resumed playing shows intermittently in 2006.) The exhibition is largely historical, and it does a superb job of illustrating exactly what the band is about. Fliers advertise benefit shows for a host of causes and organizations: the Children’s Health Foundation in Chiapas, Proyecto Hablo (a local domestic violence organization), Mumia Abu Jamal’s legal defense fund, and a show collecting food as admission for local food pantries. “It’s such a huge part of our scene to do benefit shows and support causes,” said Alice McGorty, one of the exhibition organizers.
“There were all these levels of stuff that were going on,” Sorrondeguy said. Los Crudos was known for playing shows in unconventional venues, bringing different parts of the community together. “Bring your laundry,” reads one flier, for a show held at a laundromat. Many shows took place at Calles y Sueños, an arts space in Pilsen known for showing controversial work. “We saw punk in the approach of the space and we were drawn to it,” reads text from a zine accompanying the exhibit. One show at Calles y Sueños, “Cabaret Rojo,” featured Los Crudos, a Latina drag queen, and a folk singer.
Los Crudos, whose lyrics are almost entirely in Spanish, helped pave the way for dozens more Latinx bands in Chicago (including Eske, Sin Orden, and Condenada) and beyond. These bands addressed a host of issues they didn’t find reflected in other punk communities, like immigration, gentrification, and deportation. One photo in Desafinados shows José Casas, Los Crudos’s guitarist, wearing the first-ever “Ilegal y Que” T-shirt, the title of one of the band’s best-known songs. Another is “That’s Right We’re That Spic Band,” their only song in English. In an old YouTube video, Sorrondeguy tells the audience that he wrote it after hearing that someone referred to Los Crudos that way. “I want the gringos to understand what we’re saying,” he says of the English lyrics.
“Before the Los Crudos era, punk rock was pretty white … and pretty male and pretty bro,” McGorty said. “Punk rock, I thought, was supposed to be about giving voice to anger, for people who are marginalized in one way or another.”
Putting Desafinados together meant culling materials — record covers, T-shirts, lyric sheets — from various people who have been involved in the scene. “I think some people are going ‘You want that? Really? You want to exhibit this?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is really important’,” Sorrondeguy said. “There’s just this … spirit that comes through some of these items. … When you put it all together it starts telling this really amazing story of what was happening here, things that were kind of moving us to organize ourselves and unite under these issues. It’s really beautiful to look back at that.”
The Desafinados organizers I spoke to were clear about the importance of the exhibition. “Obviously because this is a scene based on music, this gets most of the attention,” McGorty said. “But there is also this amazing artwork.” For Sorrondeguy, the reasons for organizing it were twofold. First, taking control of the story helps ensure it gets told the right way. “There’s a lot of revisionism that happens,” he said, when outsiders take control of the story, be it academia or other institutions. “I feel that we, from within, have to stand our ground and say, ‘No, we’re going to tell this story of what happened.’” More fundamentally, making sure the story gets told at all is crucial. “Somebody has to document it,” he said. “Or, if not, it does get forgotten.”
In addition to the archival materials, local artists have their work on display. Lupe Garza-Martinez, the drummer of Sin Orden, has a collection of doom-laden illustrated fliers and show posters. Local artist Diana Solis contributed whimsical drawings. Brothers Ricardo and Juan Compean have included a customized foosball table, made to represent US–Mexico immigration issues. Sorrondeguy, who also holds an MFA, has two black-and-white photographs in the exhibition.
While fine art can seem at odds with the punk ethos, for Sorrondeguy, the two have always been linked. “Art is sort of like a bad word to punks,” he said. “That’s because it’s tied to very sort of classist ideas, and money. There’s a difference between art and the art world.” For him, the creativity inherent in punk is the same whether it’s expressed visually or audibly. “Art always comes out of the underground,” he said. It goes hand-in-hand with the DIY ethic that’s so important to the community, no matter how badly neglected these parts of the city can feel. “Despite the fact that things seem sort of bleak at times,” he added, “people are still doing things, starting bands, making art. And for me this is a true testimony of a community that is resilient.”
Desafinados continues at Co-Prosperity Sphere (3219 South Morgan Street, Chicago, Illinois) through October 8.