ShitKilling is my business and business is Heavy.

IMG_0644Earnest, authentic hard core music, for me, speaks to the part of us that feels good when we say, Fuck you. Or Fuck off. Or fuck that. ShitKill is all of the above and it feels great. Listening to their self titled, self-distributed CD, I feel confident that I could throw a chair through a Starbucks Window while beating up a bunch of nazi skins with one hand. There is something serious in how Damien Moffit (drums) and Josh Musto (vocals and guitar) communicate musically; it’s tight, it’s threatening, and considering they’re all under 21 years old, it’s only going to get sicker, heavier, faster, darker. Joined by Danny Chpatchev on guitar and Karina Rykman on bass, everyone who makes Shitkill, angry; the media, religion, God, the government, rules, and maybe even you, better watch out.

I had a vision of blasting ShitKill on 20th and 6th while burning Donald Trump in effigy, and our rock and roll church was reborn out of the ashes of naked consumerism. All of our holy sites came back, CBGB’s, the Roxy…read this interview to find out why. Oh, and fuck you.

TNL: Where did ShitKill come from? Did you all meet at THOR (Tomato’s House of Rock)?

Josh: Damien and I went to school together from 4th grade on. We had a strong bond over bands like Slayer and System of a Down…and then we played in a couple bands together in 8th grade that didn’t get too serious. We all got together at Smash Studios, it started out with 8 people. Five of us were on guitar…

Damien They were people we kind of knew from high school, like “Hey you guys can sort of play instruments, right?”

Josh: One by one they each sort of dropped off or we kicked them out and weeded it down to four. We wrote a bunch of terrible, terrible music, and then the songs started getting better and we figured out what we were doing. Danny actually wrote our first riff.

Rykman: I remember that very clearly.

Josh: We kept coming up with songs, they started out kinda silly. We had a tune called “Hot Dog Man.” That was pretty good.

Danny: A little bit peculiar.

Josh: We got our shit together, a little bit. Before that, I started going to the School of Rock, in 2007. I was 13, that’s where we met Tomato, who is now our manager. That’s where I met Danny. ShitKill started in 2009.

Danny: At Guns vs. Motley Crue. *

*Shows at THOR organized around a theme so students could perform covers live.

Josh: The first time I was ever on stage, I wore this really long sleeved shirt. I didn’t realize that was a rock violation and it muted out my strings when I tried to do finger tapping. It was a nightmare.

Damien: I was there to support you. I was the School of Rock supporter.

Josh: We started rehearsing and rocking. Our first gig was somewhere in Hudson, New York at an open mic night at a bar and it was just me and Damien. We played 2 SOD covers and our song “Goatrape” that we don’t play anymore.

We played on a float going around a Flag Day parade in Hudson and I think we scared the shit out of everybody there. I think we had 2 songs.

Damien: Yeah, we were still playing covers. We played Master of Puppets –

TNL: Are you guys particularly close to Flag Day? Is that a very important holiday for ShitKill?

Damien: My dad used to live there. I think he thought it would be funny to have this metal band being rolled around.

Josh: It was a bunch of patriotic guys with the hats and the flags and then us.

Damien: Playing lyric-less Metallica. We didn’t have a mic. We were looping the songs. We thought the float was just going to go the whole time. But there were stops and slowing down.

Josh: Us falling off the thing. We started doing that. Karina was our first booking agent. She booked us a whole bunch of shows at Don Hill’s.

TNL: No way! How old were you when you were booking at Don Hills?

Rykman: At the time I was booking ShitKill, I was 15, 16? That was fun. I knew some people at Don Hills, I was in a band called “False Arrest” that played several shows there when we were 13 or 14 years old. And I knew how to hustle the system which was, ‘Oh yeah, we can draw 60 people on a Sunday night.’

Josh: We did three of those shows in 2009/2010 before the place shut down and kinda learned how to fuck up really badly and recover and play. Not to have a guitar with a Floyd Rose cause it will break, and, always bring back up. We learned a lot from playing there.

Around the same time, THOR (Tomato’s House of Rock) started, and Tomato invited us there. We started rocking together, we recorded a bunch of Shitkill songs over the summer and did and EP with him. Tomato started getting us opening slots. We opened up for Paul Di’anno of Iron Maiden at BB Kings, we opened up for Anvil at Highline Ballroom. We played with Possessed and Six Feet Under and Twelve Foot Ninja. Tomato, our manager, has been awesome.

Damien: He’s like our “not douche bag” manager. You take a manager, and you take out the parts that make you hate your manager, and there’s Tomato.

Josh: He helps boost morale a lot of times when we need it. He’s got the vision and he’s really in it with us. I see a lot of bands who don’t have someone like that and I feel very lucky we do.

 

 

TNL Is it difficult with being under age? I went to an all ages ShitKill show at Hippie Cafe and it was packed.

Josh: There have been a couple of shows where nobody showed up because the shows were 21 and over and we didn’t know anybody 21 and over. The kind of shows we’ve been playing have been opening slots at bigger shows that can be all ages, so it hasn’t been that much of a problem. The fact that most of these venues are 21+ like Mercury Lounge and beyond, every bar, we have played at some of them. It really has a negative effect of the metal scene because kids are the most powerful market obviously. And if kids can’t get in, what’s the point?

Damien: There’s countless shows of ours where I’m inviting people in our building and other adults that I know and they’re literally like, ‘I’m an adult, I have work in the morning! It’s past 7 pm and my kid’s gotta go to bed.’ Its’ shocking how much of the scene really is teenagers and young adults.

Josh: There are so many kids in the city and you see them at Mastodon shows and Gojira shows, but then they can’t go see local shows at Mercury lounge or Fontana’s or Trash bar, and those are great venues but the fact that the law is so strict in NYC, has a negative impact on the scene because everyone’s afraid of getting arrested.

TNL: Right, there are all these strange rules now, you can’t crowd surf… on the one hand, I guess I can see it, but on the other hand that’s so weird that they’re going to legislate how you rock out.

Josh: It’s so not rock and roll.

TNL: I was your age when I was listening to the music that you’re playing now. I didn’t realize that metal had this kind of staying power or that it would be attractive to young people 20 years later. Just because I grew up with it, I see it as older people music. So when you talk about Slayer, I wasn’t even 10 when Slayer came out, so it’s wild to hear how they influenced you. What was your attraction to metal?

Josh: The first metal band I liked was System of a Down which was Damien’s fault. He pulled me over during soccer practice with a cd player in 5th grade. He was like “Dude, you gotta hear this and he played “Cigaro” and I never heard someone say the word “cock” in a song before. And I was like “Holy Shit!”

Danny: For me it evolved from other things. Avenged 7 Fold was sort of like a gate way for me. From then on, I moved into Slipknot and Pantera. When I first heard Slayer, I didn’t really like them, I was like this is too much. It’s gradual, You start appreciating heavy stuff, heavier stuff. There was a time I didn’t want to listen to Nirvana, I was like, “this isn’t heavy, I don’t want to listen to this shit.” You start loosening up, and you realize, this is good, this isn’t really that good. In terms of just style and originality.

Damien: I had a weird and diverse musical upbringing. My mom was into 70’s airy, spacey funky music. I was always hanging out with my dad while he was lifting in his bedroom and I grew up listening to Helmet and Black Sabbath, weird cool crazy metal music. I can see it: in the living room it’s my mom’s music, in the bedroom, it’s crazy metal music. Something about going back and forth, I can like what ever I want.

But playing metal music, it has a lot to do with me playing drums. The drums are this crazy instrument where you just hit shit. That’s what metal does, it hits you. You hear a riff and you’re like, Holy shit I can feel that.

Karina: The power and the energy. I play in several bands, but ShitKill is the most fun because you get to attack your instrument, and just go fucking nuts on stage. I love that.

It’s not that I only listen to metal, I listen to a whole bunch of stuff. I was born in ’93, and I was a conscious human in the 2000’s and being a conscious human in the 2000’s and not in the midst of punk when it was big or not in the midst of thrash metal when it was big, it has allowed me to draw influence from all kinds of shit. Yeah, I listen to Dinosaur JR, and I listen to Slayer, and I listen to Black Flag, but I also listen to Donna Summer and Ween and the Allman brothers without being bound to one thing,

Danny: Just appreciating music-

Karina: I fucking love heavy metal, if that was the only thing I listened to I wouldn’t appreciate it, I like contrast.

Josh: There are so many bands that are so derivative of 3 bands, everyone’s a Pantera clone or a Lamb of God clone, I think it’s very important for us to come at it from a much more musical perspective.

Karina: You can always tell, especially with a metal band that has super limited influence, they’re kind of trapped almost and don’t have any ideas that come from any where else.

Josh: We still rip off metal bands, it’s just harder to tell.

Karina: If I was alive in the summer of ‘69 and I was only listening to Donovan and super hippied out shit… then you get more into a box. It’s kind of cool to be making music and thinking about music now after all that shit has happened, so you can draw on different genres.

TNL: When I was growing up the metal scene was the dominant thing, Metallica came out…everybody I talk to, no matter where they’re from, they’re like “and then I heard ‘Blackened’ and my life was changed forever.” So my generation had a definitive movement. Now, looking at the music scene there is nothing I see as the defining trend. I was in High School when PE came out and that was so ground breaking.

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Karina: We get to pick and choose from a huge scope of great music, I remember where I was when I heard Master of Puppets for the first time, I remember where I was when I heard Licensed to Ill for the first time, 2 very different things, but I love them both.

TNL: When I was working on UnBlock the Rock, I always wanted to have a female presence on stage, and it was always you and Jennifer Hernandez of Escape. In New York City! And then I met Jessica Pimental of Alkehine’s Gun who wanted to participate but she was so busy. So there were 3 women that I could find in NYC who knew how to play metal. Was that ever intimidating or scary to you, the metal scene being so male dominated?

Karina : To be straight with you I had very few female friends my age, I only had older female friends, and I continue to live that way. So to me, whether I was playing music with dudes or just hanging out, it was kind of just the people I was hanging out with. The whole reason I started playing in the first place was my friend Bobby during 8th grade recess threw a guitar in my hands and taught me how to play. I was like ‘Holy shit, I can do this? Let’s do this!’ I started playing punk cause it’s easy to play and just kept going. I recently heard someone say, ‘I’m not a woman in music, I’m a musician in music,’ I kind of dug that. I’m just trying to play like every body else is, and trying to do a great job.

TNL: So, ShitKill comes together in 2009, tell us about the name.

Damien: It was in Hudson NY where my dad lived at the time and it was just me and Josh going to do an open mic.

Josh: We didn’t have a name, I think your dad put us down as “Children of Metal”. We had a whole bunch of terrible names, like “Blind Justice.”  We were driving up and looking at these signs, Fishkill and Sawkill, and Catskill, and you know what? Shitkill, just for the day, wouldn’t that be funny?

A lot of people we know tried to get us to change the name because they said no one would book us, but people are still booking us still.

TNL: Has it been an issue if you’re advertising a show on SOU and they can’t say your name on the air?

Danny: We had that one show in Long island and they listed us as Scrumkil.

Josh: At this point, it’s got to be more good for us than harm.

Damien: Even if we were on some talk show, it’s just got to be funny enough.

Danny: Because as soon as you say the name, people always ask, “Oh, so what do you play and how did you come up with that name?”

Josh: It’s an instant conversation everytime.

TNL: So what are your aspirations?

Josh: We want to play loud rock and roll music for a lot of people a lot of the time.

Damien: The aspiration is to share the craziness and the fun. Hopefully there’s enough money involved to stay alive. That would be a nice feature.

Josh: I assume I’m going to be eating ramen noodles for the rest of my life and I’ve made peace with that.

Me: After you opened for EHG the other night, Jimmy Bowers told you your future was bright. The music you played that night sound much more hard core than the music on your cd, is that a direction you’re evolving in?

Josh: I’ve been getting into a lot more hard core music, we’re kind of drifting a little bit, we’re finding out own thing.

Danny: It’s also the last sequence of shows we’ve been playing.

Josh: Metal played with that real disgusting evil raw energy, that’s why Slayer was so great, because they were into Minor Threat and Black Flag and Dead Kennedys. To me, that’s what makes it real.

 TNL: Was there a moment where you were like, this is it, this is what I want to do!

Damien: When we played in the THOR show at the Highline Ball room, and we were introduced…normally, clapping and screaming is next but that was the first time it all blended together into this roar. Hearing that sound, maybe that wasn’t the moment, but hearing that sound was, it was great.

Josh: Everytime you get on stage, whether there are 3 people or 500 people, getting up there and putting my foot up on the amp and getting my sound and screaming in the mic, I’m more comfortable there than any place in the world and I can’t imagine a scenario for my life where I don’t try to do that everyday. I don’t know if there was a moment I decided that, I just knew.

Danny: It’s always the most recent amazing thing that we do, whether that’s a show or a new song we wrote, it grows on top of what we already have. That keeps you going. There’s so many other things that I do, music is just not something I’m willing to give up.

Rykman: Going back to the H20 show at the Gramercy, and we shared backline with everyone and we had the entire stage. I hadn’t felt that feeling of being able to run around and occupy the stage…it just felt so fucking good. And the DRI show recently, a couple of songs I looked up and the place was crazy and people were going fucking bananas…

Danny: there were moments during DRI where I would reach out and shake hands with people I didn’t know, it was crazy

Josh: A guy came up to me at a ramen joint on 52nd and he was like, “Hey Shitkill, you guys were awesome! Just the fact that people know our name, that’s kind of amazing to me.”

 

Catch ShitKill July 13, 2014 at The Emporium in Patchoque NY, opening up for Coldsteel!

More info: www.shitkill.com

 

Rock UnBlocked

Like most great revolutions, UnBlock the Rock (UBTR) was conceived in a kitchen by two women. A logo was designed, letters were written, phone calls were made, beers were bought and held up ceremoniously before being joyfully consumed. It was determined that we would bring metal band Escape from Cuba to the United States for the first Cuban metal concert on US soil.

Jennifer Hernandez and I, the women in that kitchen on a chilly morning in February of 2011, initially met in 2007, on a sweltering August afternoon in the apartment of Alejandro Padron, the drummer of Escape.

“Vamos hacer vecinos,” she told me, “We’re going to be neighbors.” She was referring to the fact that her father, world famous percussionist Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez lived in NJ, and she was in the process immigrating there, as part of a policy of family reunification. I thought she said something about a piscina, or a pool. Elated I replied, “Oh! Que rico!”

 

That fateful August, I was in Havana to photograph Escape. The month before, I was documenting a trip through the US with Pastors for Peace (PfP), an activist caravan comprised of donated school buses, stopping in cities all over the US, collecting medical equipment and educational things to bring to Cuba, openly challenging the US imposed travel ban. The travel ban, imposed in 1963, prohibits Americans from spending money in Cuba and receiving gifts from Cubans while there. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, (OFAC), considers the purchase of a ticket to Cuba spending money. Americans can travel to Cuba with a special license for what may be considered journalistic or religious reasons. In a move toward greater democracy, the Obama administration recently began to allow Americans to travel on chartered tours, controlling how you travel and who you talk to.

I would like to say here that I’ve traveled freely to many places with histories of human rights abuses and terrible leaders, like Cambodia and South Africa and Newark, NJ, without the hindrance of US government sanctions.

PfP organizes caravans against the travel ban, and has done so faithfully for the last 24 years. I was proud to be a part of a resistance movement that challenged a segregationalist, unevolved policy. However, even if I was on the bus, I couldn’t jump on the bandwagon that Cuba was the best place in the world ever.

In American mainstream media, Cuba is a prison/paradise, Fidel is a saint/the devil. There is only this tired dialogue of left and right, volleying back and forth frozen in history. In major publications, documentaries, literature this is the range of expression, the only 2 options to understand Cuba-US relations, presented as democratic debate.

The US provokes Cuba and thrives on this drama, causing crisis on the island all the time, their actions making the Cuban government’s grasp on their people tighter. The US portrays itself in American media as victorious, benevolent, and magnanimous by offering Cubans immigration policies ensuring that just by arriving, (unlike Mexicans, Haitians, Dominicans or Guatamalans, Belgians, Japonese, etc. etc.) Cubans are eligible for citizenship within a year.

Any real objective presentation of truth regarding Cuba is lost in the narrative that is necessary for both governments to perpetuate their policies. Where is their justification for either policy, US or Cuban, when it is widely reported that in a friendship that was born in mutual illegality, two women made a decision while eating breakfast on a chilly February morning to proceed according to love and friendship? That, one born in Cuba, and one born in NJ, under systems that both propagated ill will towards the other’s government, would come together, and with no money or resources, fight to bring a heavy metal band from Havana to the United States. And that people would join them. Lots of people. Good looking, interesting, talented people. What political purpose does that serve?

When I first met Escape in the summer of 2007, I was a recovering leftist. I was emerging from an immersion in Marxist politics that stifled debate and made everything relatively unfun. I was introduced to the members of Escape, and to the burgeoning metal movement in Havana when Patio Maria (Cuba’s CBGB’s) was shut down and Maxim Rock had not yet opened up. I spent a month photographing Escape, and our friendship, illegal in two countries, would prevail, with limited contact for the next 2 years.

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When you arrive in Cuba, you must stay in a state sanctioned hotel or pension. To live with a Cuban, if you are a foreigner, you must obtain what is referred to as “A Declaration of Friendship”. To prove you are friends, you cannot go to the immigration office and say, “Alejandro’s father makes me coffee every morning”, or “Justo’s mom taught me how to make Pan de Rico” or “Yando said something funny and it gave me great joy.” This is not sufficient proof of friendship. The presentation of photographs, smiles wide and gleaming do not qualify.

Jenny and I applied for a “Declaration of Friendship” in 2009 when I returned to Havana to shoot “They Will Be Heard”, a documentary about Escape. At the immigration office in Havana, after her address and personal information were dutifully written down and recorded, surely to be presented to the Committees in Defense of the Revolution, to ensure I did not live in her home, it was declared we were not friends enough.

So this is what we did.

We campaigned for Cuban metal for the last 2 years. We used FaceBook. Twitter. YouTube and Vimeo. And you know what? The right people showed up at exactly the right time. The ultimate rock and roll liberator, Monica Hampton, producer of “Heavy Metal in Baghdad”, brought in legendary guitar player Alex Skolnick of Testament and both organized tirelessly without any compensation. Local bands like Darkness Descends and BroHammer and Iratetion played benefits to raise money. Awesome bartenders hooked us up with metalicious venues like Three of Cups to host cocktail contests. We ROCKUPIED City Hall in Jersey City. Tomato and Karina and Faisal and Alex and Dean and Ismael learned “Simbolos de Libertad” by Escape (Faisal learned spanish!) and they rocked the shit out of it in City Hall, where all the photography of the band was hung. (I was told months later by someone who attended, “It was LOUD! You could hear it from blocks away.”)

 

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UnBlock the Rock with members of Alex Skolnick, Faisal Talal, Monica Hampton, members of Iratetion and Darkness Descends, and Firehaze.

 

Elan Trybuch appeared at a bar stool next to me one night and graciously and amazingly designed our beautiful website. (Look at it, here! www.unblocktherock.com) David Peisner, the author of The Red Menace, an article about Cuban metal in Spin, solicited great tracks for our benefit CD, “The Red Album” and was instrumental in getting visas for Escape to perform at SXSW. Alicia Zertuche performed the herculean feat of organizing frikis, or Cuban metalheads via email, (virtually impossible) and US congressmen to make the visas manifest the week before the SXSW. The Supersuckers, Black Tusk, Eyehategod, and other killer bands donated tracks for “The Red Album” to raise money. Bill Martinez advised. Talented people photographed and shot and edited our amazing propaganda. WSOU joined forces with us. ShitKill and Dave Dreiwitz and FireHaze performed at various venues. All in the name of Cuban metal.

Democracy wants to be born.

UBTR is a new voice, championing those Cubans, true visionaries, who adopted a language of resistance that was born out of the blues and transformed by disgruntled working class kids through out the western hemisphere and translated it into their own, embodying metal riffs with Cuban history and identity so complex that even Alex Skolnick and Chris “Tomato” Harfenist, both accomplished musicians, had a hard time mastering the rhythm of “Simbolos de Libertad.”

 

Listen: The US erected a fake wall in the middle of the ocean in 1963, the Cubans retaliated with their own fake wall banning The Beatles (!) Cubans who heard Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” in 1986 didn’t necessarily speak English but they understood completely the language of rebellion. Young Cubans start to emulate and adopt and transform metal culture in the mid ’80s and early 90’s when Brothers to the Rescue was shot down over Havana and Bill Clinton signed the Helms Burton Act tightening the embargo, the USSR falls and the Special Period ensues. The walls grow taller and that infamous 90 mile stretch of Atlantic Ocean becomes a vast graveyard where most likely, the original sound engineer for Escape, Bryant Rodriguez was buried a year ago when he tried to take advantage of America’s favorable immigration policies.

On March 10th, 2013, Jenny and I took a taxi to LaGuardia airport to fly into Miami and greet Escape. It’s hard to convey the sensation of walking in communion with your dreams.  Even now, reflecting on seeing Escape walk through those doors into the Miami airport, my skin is jumping, I feel electric. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for 3 years,” I told Yando, lead singer of Escape. “Tracey, I’ve been waiting for this moment for 28 years,” he replied.

What a beautiful thing we all did.

 

My hope is that Obama, in his last term, will just lift the blockade altogether. If the US isn’t provoking Cuba, the Cuban government has no pretense to demand Declarations of Friendship, they have no enemy to protect the revolution from.

As of now, Escape, along with Ancestor and Agonizer, is in Miami, doing what they have always dreamed of doing, performing live in front of new audiences. UBTR is in the process of bringing them to NYC before the band, all or some, return to Havana. Alejandro called me yesterday about performing in NYC, “Is it possible?” he asked, then, immediately, responding to his own question “Of course, everything is possible!”

Of course everything is possible. It’s our time.

 

Tracey Noelle Luz

March 31, 2013

 

 

Spain, Stocks and Rock UnBlocked

When I read the news of Spain’s youth taking over the streets, I had my typical these days reaction which was to bounce up and down in my seat and contain the energy surging in my veins that wanted me there, now, into the hopeful and encouraging FB status and link that maybe some would comment on. Boo.

But as a recovering lefty activist, I was inspired to see people redefining their movement to change the world outside of the left/right paradigm that has dominated the discussion of class politics for the last 50 years.

Why is UnBlock the Rock so special? Because nothing has epitomized the left/right dichotomy more than the relationship of Cuba and the United States. And so within this very confined discussion of “No, you” “No, YOU!” Somehow, someway, heavy metal arrived on the island in the mid 80’s. Somehow, someway, the same music that helped me identify my systems of oppression arrived at the polar opposite of that system and defined another. 

We have to be friends. Cuba and the United States that is. Regardless of what Cubans think about their situation, and it’s their decision to make, it’s really ridiculous that it’s illegal for US citizens to travel there. 

I believe in free health care and free education. I believe in freedom of speech. I believe they can all exist together. I also believe it’s time for us to focus on what brings us together and start determining our future in a time when the stocks are down and Spain is rising and the middle east is figuring things out and how rock and roll figures into all of this. I believe it’s time to stop being so left you’re right and so right you’re wrong and coming up with a new ideology, a new ideology that sounds good.

So what is UnBlock the Rock? It’s us recognizing that on an island where it is impossible to find toilet paper, these people found guitar strings. It’s us realizing that if nothing else, we all have Metallica. It’s us coming out to see three great bands for 10$ and that 10$ going towards legal fees to organize Cuban hard core band Escape, featured in the rocumentary “They Will Be Heard” (the website of which, surprisingly is theywillbeheard.com) and organizing the first Cuban metal tour on US soil ever.

Come out, June 24th, at 11 pm to see FireHaze, Iratetion, and Trash Executioner at Boca Grande (564 Washington BLVD) Jersey City.

Wake up, it’s the beginning of the new world.

-
Tracey Noelle Luz, Director, “They Will be Heard”

The Flanders – Havana Connection

Growing up in Flanders, NJ in the 1980’s was a lot like living in Cuba in the first decade of the new millennium. In both epochs of my life, my friends and I ate copious amounts of pizza. We had nothing to do and nowhere to go. There was no internet, and no one had cell phones. Our pot was lame. We finagled beer and vodka and drank on the streets. We were made stronger by the Power of Metal. When I write that, it is said like thunder and each syllable is very important. The Power of Metal.

Except, in the 80’s, in Flanders, I was a very young teenager. I had no control over my circumstances. At the age of 11, my father would finally leave, which was a good thing because he took his out of control temper with him. The judge awarded custody to my mother, forcing my father to contribute the legal equivalent of pitching in here and there. We were struggling financially, and the absence of a father, not necessarily mine, made adolescence even more difficult. Heavy metal was a natural outlet. Metal united me with all the other misfits of society, and we loved the Misfits. The voice of my frustration against the injustice of my circumstances, against the suffocating feeling of adolescence, of being controlled by adults who stood in the way of my fierce determination to be self destructive, was heard through Metallica, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, Testament, Anthrax.

 

To live in Cuba means to be isolated from the world. Kind of like living in Flanders in the 80’s. There are three television channels that show Friends, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Gilmore Girls, courtesy of the state. There are three newspapers. To have access to internet, you must have permission from the government. Most Cubans do not have access to the internet.

Living in Cuba is the eternal suffocating feeling of adolescence, even when you’re a grown up. You have no control over your external circumstances. You live with your parents. In most cases, your bedroom, when you have one, the guitar player Yanio does not, bears the same decorating savvy as it did when I ripped my first centerfold out of Circus Magazine.

In Flanders, in the 80’s, when I lived with my mother, and I was angry, pictures from metal magazines, right angle to right angle, joined forces to create a motley montage of hair and heavy metal hands. Ratt, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Queensryche, with an occasional intruder like Chief Seattle because he was also righteous and had long hair. Alejandro,the drummer of Escape, has this wall, with Scarlett Johansen looking completely comfortable out of place because she knew, if given the chance, that Slipknot and Megadeath would love to be her boyfriend. She had no fear on the wall of metal.

I ripped down my photos when I became more sophisticated and slightly gothy and punk rocky and wrote poetry like most ugly girls in high school. My hair was thankful. So was my vagina, in lieu of skin tight jeans, I started wearing loose anti-objectification garb. But, I had options. There were choices. Even in culturally vapid Flanders, I could land my hands on DK and Black Flag and go through my whole Sid and Nancy worship phase. (I kid you not, I saw that movie no less than 20 times and still confuse Sid Vicious with Gary Oldman. Watching JFK was a complete mind fuck.)

Metal came to the island poco a poco after the ban against John Lennon was lifted in 1966, after the first wave of rock music came to Cuba. Cubans who had the opportunity to travel to Germany or other countries of the USSR came back toting Metallica and Judas Priest. Metal did not come to Cuba from the US, as the majority of US tourists go to see old cars and marvel at the musicians in the square who play Guantanamera or Hotel California. The activists who travel there on some humanitarian mission or another tend to cling to the hip hop movement, also state controlled, extolling Martin Luther King who can’t get any peace where ever he is trying to rest, since Cubans aren’t permitted in hotels, nor or they permitted to demonstrate against these segregationist policies. Todavia.

Metal is an expression of individual liberty, explosive and furious, passionate. For these Cubans, born into the successes of the revolution and the suffering of the Special Period, they are finding their own way, despite all odds, to define who they are.

 

 

In Cuba, this is especially difficult. In Cuba, this is especially courageous. Access to instruments, practice space, electricity, social acceptance, accessories, is difficult. You are not permitted to speak freely. Escape, the band featured in this documentary, shouts, growls, screams what they feel, explosively, forcing people to listen.

Metal, the white, working class equivalent of hip hop, the trumpet, I mean electric guitar, for collective frustrations, was identified with western values and ideals by the Cuban government and seen as contraband. Cuban metalheads, frikis, were arrested for having long hair only 15 years ago. Patio Maria, Havana’s equivalent of CBGB’s, gave a home to those early bands, Zeus, Agonizer, Escape, and Hipnosis and a birthplace for metal until it was shut down in 2000.

What is so ironic, so fucking ironic, about that, is that metal led me down the path to my commitment to social and political justice. I found a deep correlation in the injustice of my parent’s relationship, the subsequent lousy divorce settlement, our financial struggle, in the themes explored in my favorite metal songs. And I loved Stephen King. (See Among the Living) I emphasized with the plight of native americans (Chief Seattle, again, righteous and long hair. The first metal head ever! Run to the HIlls, brothers!) I was concerned about the nature of good and evil, I also wanted to bring the noise. Metal, when you scratch the surface, is against the status quo. I wanted to rock and roll all night, and party every day. That first act of resistance, of realizing you had choices, you didn’t have to participate in the capitalist 80’s culture of cocaine and bad hair, yes, Cuba, the worst tenets of capitalism, were born into the consciousness through metal.

It was through metal, and punk, and hip hop, through Dee Snider and John Denver and NWA, that I became politicized and took my first steps towards becoming anti -imperialist. It was because of the PMRC (Parent’s Music Resource Center, led by Tipper Gore) and “Tales of the Witch Trials”, cassettes by Jello Biafra on his political views and why pot was really illegal, it was because of “Injustice for All”, that I became a “revolutionary” in college. It was really because my sister bought “Back in Black” on vinyl when I was 11 that I would arrive with hungry eyes and narrow perspective in Havana 15 years later. To find other metal heads, despondent and discouraged by their own society’s shortcomings, just like me. Just like me.

Two years ago, visionary and metalhead, Yuri Max Avila rallied the Cuban government for support, and Maxim Rock, the premiere (and only!) metal venue was born in Havana. Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Escape, Combat Noise, Zeus, Agonizer, or Hipnosis play. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the club closes and frikis trudge on down to the park at G and 23rd. Five or 6 people contribute towards purchasing a bottle of vodka and the night begins. Again. The same way it did the night before. A week before. Years ago.

And the Award Goes to…

A documentary film maker records the present to present the past in the future. We are the Billy Pilgrims of film making. Our schizophrenia doesn’t become apparent until the editing process, if at all.

When I set out to document Cuban heavy metal band Escape, I had every intention of approaching the film with the sterility of a German dental assistant. I wasn’t going to chug vodka with the band, for example. I certainly wasn’t going to sleep with anyone. I was going to love them from afar, like a sick relative in the hospital you don’t want to touch. I would admire, observe, cringe, document.

But, I do not have the clinical approach of a German. I possess more the unbounded love of a German Shepard. Let’s be friends, let’s be friends, let’s be friends. It’s not entirely my lack of discipline, the band was really, if I have one memory, the band was really giving to me. So, when a handful of people who have nothing except but an Olympic sense of sharing are constantly giving to you, any objective purpose is lost between “Muchas gracias!” and “Ay! Que bueno!”

And so Escape and I were friends for 9 long months. This is tremendous and rare. Americans are not legally allowed to travel to Cuba. Once they arrive, the Cuban government does not allow Americans to live with Cubans. Often, Cubans and Americans fall in love. There are countless stories of how these predestined love affairs crumble once somebody gets a green card. But true international love? Tremendous and rare.

After you shoot a documentary, you have to edit it. I am trying to “manifest” the perfect editor by abandoning responsibility. I imagine leaving hard drives on someone’s doorstep wrapped in a blanket with a note. It’s a horrendous act, and even the kindest, shyest young editors will confront you with your actions. You need to look at the footage too, they say. It’s your movie.

So you look at the footage. It’s an interview with the guitar player who came with you to every bureaucratic ordeal possible. Whose mother, struck with Lupus and missing one leg, travels with you to immigration so you can live at their house legally. Everything he says is amazing. While you’re editing, you try to email someone in Cuba to pass along a message. “Oh, I love you all so much, not a day passes where I am not thinking of you.” Instead of returning to edit, you bask in the depth of your love, “It’s amazing I can feel this much! My heart has no limits!” Maybe you go clear your head and watch Law and Order, lost in the wonderment of it all.

So you look at the footage again. It’s another interview with a friki you mistook for the man of your dreams, your soul mate, after you decided to never sleep together again. What a douche bag. Everything he says is stupid. You check your email to see if he sent you an apology yet, and he has not. Maybe you go ahead and watch Law and Order, fuming in the unfairness of it all.

The first months of editing were like that for me. Great Adventure could not conceive of dipping and rising, careening, turning twisting, upside downing and right side upping going on in the roller coaster of my psyche. I defied physics. Meanwhile, my life was passing me by. Spring was ending, but my May was still January. Since July of 2009 and March of 2010, Mexico was my home, my sanctuary when my Cuban visas ran out. I was anticipating another trip. There was no trip to Mexico. There was no more life savings. Only passionate cover letters about working in restaurants. In Jersey City, for better, for worse.

Thankfully, in June, I flew to Chicago for a friend’s wedding. I was reminded that an entire world existed outside of my computer screen. My friend got married, and I took pictures. Freezing moments in time that she had anticipated for the last 6 months, so she too could travel back in time and remember cake and kindness and cousins.

I returned, and my editor and I, one of the best people possible I could have expected to assist me, Anna, finished our grant proposal for Sundance. We took a period of 9 months and made it 26 minutes and 37 seconds in 6 weeks. We are amazing.

In my time travel, I write letters to the future. One, in particular, I post it future Facebook, announcing a huge amount of money that we have procured for the film. The letter is poetic, touching. Many people “like” this post.

I am so happy to have this grant done, I see it as the foundation of our fundraising to procur money, but I realize that I wouldn’t have been able to be here, in this moment, without some very important people. Whether or not we are successful with this particular grant, I am sure we will be successful with many of our other fundraising efforts and I want to say thank you now, because it’s not the money so much. The money is awesome, and necessary, like water, but it is the support of everyone who has allowed me, in the worst economy since the depression, to leave my stupid job and do whatever I want, to make a movie about a Cuban heavy metal band called Escape.

I am trying to stick to a chronological order, so nobody gets jealous of when they were thanked, but please forgive me if you are further down on the list than you think you should be. Thank you to the gorgeous people at 248 who encouraged me to make this decision. Thank you Aki for my beautiful amazing camera necklace and all your encouraging words! Thank you Dan Stafford for helping me pack. Thank you Ms. Macaroni and Danikins and Nikki for storing all my stuff for me. Thank you Michael Colluci for driving me to my sister’s house and sending me a cable one year ago. Thank you Judie for changing my ticket so we could spend extra time together before I left. Thank you Pat Lambe for driving me to the airport one year ago to begin this journey. Thank you High Mountain Mama’s for all your support while I was away. Thank you Nikki for sending me green stuff so I could survive. Thank you so much Escape, but especially Jenny for being my best friend and sister while I was trying to find my way. Thank you so much Judie for flying me to Puerta Vallarta! And thank you Judie and Cliff for letting me live at your house, and for letting me live in your house when it was stocked with Whole Foods! Thank you Esteban for letting me stay in your beautiful home and being my mentor. Thank you Anjelika for buying me and Jenny my first dinner in New York after almost a year. Thank you Sinem for letting me live in your living room while I collected my thoughts and watched Law and Order basking in the insanity of it all. Thank you Nikki and Drew for amazing dinner when I got back. Thank you Negro for all your help and support. Thank you Jen for correcting my submission. Thank you LE for always keeping me in the back of your mind. Thank you Darren for finding someone to brew Escape Beer for a fundraiser and thanks to Marty, the brew guy. Thank you Chiqui for the tattoo time and the Patio Maria video and for being pretty much the reason I was able to make this film. Thank you Alioth for letting me live on your couch. Thank you Kate for help with my free money! Suzy, thank you for website advice. Thank you Diana for being an amazing roommate and friend. Thank you Eric for lending me a camera so I can breathe. Thank you Anna for not killing me. Thank you Mom. Of course. For everything.