Byron Coley on Peru’s legendary garage band Los Saicos
¡Demolición!: The Complete Recordings
CD/6x7" BOX (MR 295CD/MR 7224EP)
|Peru is a goddamn mysterious country. So mysterious in fact, it still has no entry in Wikipedia. Actually, that’s a lie. But it might as well be the truth, because the real entry contains none of the best notable facts about Peru. For instance, on the 25th of October, 2004, Cusco, Peru was where the great John Peel took his last earthly breath. In the spring of 1970, Chinchero, Peru was where Dennis Hopper filmed his amazing cocainefueled masterpiece, The Last Movie. Peru is also the place from which crypto-folk-fascists, Simon & Garfunkel, stole the song “El Condor Pasa” (so called) which they included on their Bridge Over Troubled Condoms LP in 1970. But, perhaps most importantly (or not), Lima, Peru was the home to South America’s best garage band, namely, Los Saicos. Can you find any of these facts in Wikipedia’s entry? No fuckin’ way, Jack. Sometimes people try to slip them in, but the Peruvian Secret Service (aka the dreaded UPPU) always takes ‘em out toot sweet. Jerks.
About all you can find out on Wikipedia is that Spanish is the major language in Peru. Which is interesting, because if you plug the words “Los Saicos” into one of those auto-translators, what you end up with is “The Saicos”. In other words, “Saico” has no meaning in the mother tongue of the conquistadors. It does not mean “Fart Plunger”. It does not mean “Clitoris”. It does not mean “Analingus”. It has no sexual connotation at all. Nor, indeed, does it have any nonsexual connotation. It’s a word of pure sonics. And the sonics it puts most people in mind of are, of course, The Sonics -- the brain-destroying garage band from Tacoma, Washington, led by that spectacular tongue-athlete Gerry Roslie. This is because the B-side of the original issue of the Sonics’ second single for Etiquette was a howler called, “Psycho”.
And even though it was originally a B-side, the rapt attention paid to it by legendary Pittsburgh disc jockey Mad Mike Metrovich soon turned “Psycho” into a hit-and-a-half and fans yelled so loudly for it that the tune was reissued as the A-side of the Sonics’ third single. Anyway, “Psycho” and “Saico” share the same pronunciation, so it’s natural that some people (perhaps yrself included) might suspect that these Lima wild boys named themselves in tribute to their northern brethren. But that would be false. Probably.
...if you plug the words
“Los Saicos” into one of
what you end up with
is “The Saicos”. In
other words, “Saico”
has no meaning in the
mother tongue of the
|On page 16 of the great booklet that accompanies Munster Records’ fabulous six-single box set, ¡Demolición!: The Complete Recordings, there is a clipping from a 1965 Peruvian newspaper article clearly calling the band, “Los Sadicos”, which translates to “The Sadists”. Now, this would have been a very hip punk name, but the term sadism was on the very fringes of acceptability in those days, even back in the States. Which is why the Fort Worth garage band Larry & the Blue Notes had to re-record their proposed debut single, “Night of the Sadist” as “Night of the Phantom” (a much lousier concept, everyone can agree). Even though it was only gonna be released on the local Tiris label, Larry and the guys had heard the FCC was running a ban on the word “sadist”, so they opted to knuckle under to The Man, a priori.
And they were glad they did, since the newly cleaned-up single got picked up for wider distribution by Twentieth Century Fox (back when current Fox CEO, Rupert Murdoch, was still running a daily newspaper in Canberra, for fuck’s sake). And even though the artificially-weakened tune wasn’t a “hit” in 1965, it was subsequently chosen for the first volume of Tim Warren’s Back from the Grave series on Crypt Records, and that is heavy testimonial to undisputed greatness. If Tim had been choosing Peruvian garage tracks for his comp rather than American ones, he surely would have selected Los Saicos even if (or, maybe, especially if) they had been called Los Sadicos. But they were not. And Tim wasn’t either. Anyway, it’s possible the whole “Sadicos” thing is a canard. I mean, you can look through the rest of the 56-page booklet, carefully examining each and every page, and I don’t think you’ll find another period item in which that extra D is slipped into Los Saicos’s name. Not on a drumhead, not on the side of a truck, and not even on the lips of one of their screaming fans (yes, I am what they call “a lip reader”). So hey, it was probably a typo. A cruel one. Foisted upon Los Saicos by the Peruvian military or their minions, in an attempt to crush the popular quartet once and for all. But it failed. Perhaps this was because Los Saicos had earlier been members of a wily teenage street gang called Los Cometas. Or perhaps not.
Either way, Los Saicos released six wild singles during 1965 and 1966, and they’re all present and accounted for in the Demolición box. Although the band claims the most mundane influences imaginable (The Beatles and Elvis), the music they created has the same diseased power and frantic otherness as the early Cramps. Vaguely surfy guitar, thuggish rhythms, and vocals that sound like they’re coming through one of those little boxes guys who’ve had throat cancer use. It’s a compellingly evil sound.
Even the lesser songs, like the ballad “Ana”, which is a sorta typical ’65 teen ballad B-side, has vocals where lead singer Erwin Flores is unable to hide how nasty his voice really is. No matter how he tries to tamp it down, he sounds like a deranged pervert. Another semi-tame one, “Camisa de Fuerza” (“Straightjacket”) is akin some crude, bizarro world version of the ’65 Beatles fronted by Andy Devine’s sidekick, Froggy. And at his best, Erwin has the power to completely obliterate tongue-logic. The track “Demolición” is the Peruvian equivalent to “Surfin’ Bird” in pure post-glottal terms, and it is actually surpassed by some of the other sides here. “Cementerio” has pre-buried vocals hidden amidst a twang worthy of the Churchmice’s “College Psychology On Love”. “El Entierro de los Gatos” (“The Burial of the Cats”) is an exceptional destruction of vocal form in its many guises. I kinda think “Te Amo” sounds a little too much like a TV commercial for the brand of deodorant preferred by gauchos or something, but even that one’s pretty durn good. The only songs that aren’t top flight are the ones from the final single, where the band was falling apart before they even got to the studio. But damn -- the five singles from 1965 are some of the most weirdly-pulverizing teen punk ready-mades you’ll ever glom onto. And the presentation Munster has done with them is faultless.
Just great shit. As a famous poet once said:
So true. So true.
................................................................. --Byron Coley, December 2010
...the music they created
has the same diseased
power and frantic
otherness as the early
Cramps. Vaguely surfy
guitar, thuggish rhythms,
and vocals that sound
like they’re coming
through one of those little
boxes guys who’ve had
throat cancer use. It’s a
compellingly evil sound.
But damn – the five singles
from 1965 are some of the
teen punk ready-mades
you’ll ever glom onto.