Martin Sorrondeguy"Just good hardcore."
Portrait by Mateus Mondini
Martin (pronounced Marteen) Sorrenduguy has spent a lifetime dedicated to breaking new ground in american hardcore. Having played in countless bands since the early 90's, he is best known as the lead singer of Los Crudos, one of the first spanish speaking hardcore bands and Limp Wrist, a staple in the Queercore punk movement. He's also the director of Beyond The Screams: A U.S. Latino Hardcore Punk Documentary (1994) and Get Shot (2012) a collection of images dating back to 1985 documenting his experience in hardcore and the individuals that make it happen.
You were born in Uraguay. How old were you when your family moved to Chicago? Did you experience a major culture shock?
I was very young when we moved here from Uruguay. The biggest challenge I recall was linguistic: we did not have a handle of English. It took time for us to grasp the language. In grammar school there were other students who were dealing with similar issues. The school had a very sink or swim attitude about language.
Was that part of the reason you started Los Crudos?
I had this idea of doing a project, a band that would sing in Spanish about issues that people faced as immigrants, or as the kids of immigrants. We were all from the South Side of Chicago and there were issues of violence, gangs, poverty, as well as other issues on a national level. So the idea was to do a band that was playing very aggressive music with a positive message. I found some guys in the area and spoke to them about this idea and they were into it. That’s how Los Crudos started.
This also relates to your documentary, Beyond The Screams.
Beyond the Screams was my thesis project while I was in school. The documentary focused on the Latino/Chicano punk scene in the U.S. It looked at the issues that fueled a lot of the lyrical content within that particular scene in the early 90s'.
Were you out when you were in Los Crudos?
Los Crudos was when I actually came out. Limp Wrist was sort of the manifestation of my gay self through punk.You just went on a tour with Los Crudos in South America. What’s it like in South America regarding queer identity?
So much has changed for the better in Latin America in terms of queer identity. At this point, I had already gone on tour with Limp Wrist so the public that supports this type of music was aware of my queerness. My return with Los Crudos was completely fine. Everyone knows I am gay so there was no issue with that.
But no heckling or anything like that.
You know, it happened maybe once or twice, I just kinda felt sorry for those people because they were really the odd person out. It was like, why are you here? It even happened when Limp Wrist played in Australia this past year where a kid from an opening band was like “You bunch of faggots,” and everybody was just kind of like, “What are you doing?” I had to laugh because I was like wow, I feel really sorry for this kid because he’s definitely gonna get an earful from his scene, you know?
I’d heard that Gary Floyd had to deal with homophobia from H.R. when the Dicks toured with Bad Brains.
I mean, H.R. from Bad Brains I think is just crazy, you know? I don’t know how much of it is homophobia. I just think he’s insane. Last time I saw him perform, the ironic thing is I was with my partner and we were watching them. My partner, not knowing anything about that band—no history, no ties to punk—just looks at me and he goes, “Martin, is that singer gay?” I was like, “Oh my God,” because he was reading my mind—I was thinking the same thing when H.R. was up there doing his mannerisms and everything. My gaydar was just going off. I’m like, okay, what is he doing? What’s going on here? I mean, for somebody that’s been known and notorious for being homophobic in the past, it just kinda makes you wonder, you know.
Limp Wrist started as a straight edge band. Are you still straight edge?
I had been straight edge long before Limp Wrist existed. When the band came together we were all straight edge. Then, over time people kinda change and things change, and we’re not straight edge. Even though we were straight edge, we didn’t have these ridiculous sort of rules that a lot of these hard line kids were imposing on themselves. It didn’t make sense to me. I’m one who believes I’m not gonna squeeze myself in that sort of box that people create and say, “This is what this is about.” I was straight edge long before a big chunk of the kids were around—I have my own meaning of what it meant for me. The way I look at punk and the way I look at life is this: I make my own rules, they’re my rules, and I don’t expect anybody to follow them. I just was really always bothered and annoyed that people expected everyone to follow theirs. I think the punkest thing a person can do is mess with that.
It’s also important to remember that when you started, straight edge was not queer friendly.
We were a gay punk band saying we were straight edge. We knew it was gonna get under the skin of a lot of people involved in that scene, especially people who have been really hard line about stuff. For us it was fun to fuck with that.
How did you dissolve that tension?
I think the whole band believed using humor was a good way to reach people. We definitely love just being sassy, being queeny. Being super overly gay at times is for me a really nice sort of tool, if you will. It’s cool to do it and just say, “Hey, you know what, you ain’t gonna lose punk points if you’re gay. You ain’t gonna lose punk points if you’re too masculine or too feminine.” I mean who fucking cares?
And this helped to connect with a largely hetro scene?
Yeah. I mean, let’s be honest. The majority of the audience at Limp Wrist shows is straight people. I mean we definitely have a queer contingent who always come to see us wherever we go, but the majority of the hardcore scene that may come to a Limp Wrist show is not gay. I think that’s really awesome. I think that’s fun. We’re reaching out to people who maybe feel uncomfortable if we were being hard line and probably reject it.
I always sort of wonder where like abstinence enters into the straight edge equation.
I think a lot of the straight edge kids were really against doing the one night stand thing. When you hear Ian MacKaye talk about that in the past, he says like, “Oh, we’re not into one night stands.” Then again, you have to think about when that was, who he was, how old he was. Like he was 17, 18 when he was doing those interviews. I’m fucking 45. If I want to have a one night stand, I want have a fucking one night stand. I don’t give a shit if it bugs some kid.
It does bug some fans though?
People put a lot of faith (and I’m using that term loosely) in others, in things. If it doesn’t pan out the way they thought it was going to be, they get really bothered by that. When we were in South America, Andrew was drinkin’ a beer watching a show and some kid goes, “Hey, you’re drinking!” The kid was really let down. If I’d been there, I would have asked “Hey, do you drink?” and if he said, “hell, no,” I would have been like, “That’s good for you. Good.” I would never tell a kid “Fuck you. Grab a beer.” It just gets weird when people get really sort of militant and want to impose those ideas on other people. It’s always odd to me, you know, but it always happens.
I’ve always felt the straight edge thing was always a secondary element.
Our main focus was not about representing ourselves as a straight edge band. We definitely were talking about gay politics, gay identity, sexuality. These things were the forefront of what that band was about and what we are about. Being punks in a queer world and vice versa. We go into the mainstream gay world and we kind of feel like odd balls. We don’t know where to really fit in.
Is Limp Wrist also an alternative to mainstream gay identity?
Well, here are things about the mainstream gay scene I don’t like. I can’t stand going into some of the bars. There are just different things about my identity that might not really gel with a good chunk of the gay community. In the punk scene, we felt like some times it was too macho and too straight and too normal. We wanted to fuck with that too. We were really trying to kinda carve out a space for ourselves.
So you don’t identify any of the typical gay icons?
I mean, I think John Waters has done phenomenal shit for the gay community. People might laugh at me, or disagree. But Fucking Divine was one of the first visuals for a man who dressed as a woman. Divine’s somebody that I look at and go, “That was amazing. That person’s phenomenal.” Far beyond what somebody like Lady Gaga does. My pride comes from the oddballs that have been around from when I was younger. Sometimes I’d see something and be a little like taken aback, like “Wow, what the hell is this?” For me, that was a big deal.
Did you find any heroes in mainstream culture?
When I was younger, I remember seeing David Bowie, Klaus Nomi, and Joey Arias, on Saturday Night Live, dressed in these skirts and singing. I was like, “What the fuck? These are like men in skirts.” It blew my mind. We all have our own sort of icons, you know. Gary Floyd from The Dicks was an icon for me. Biscuit from the Big Boys was an icon for me. I think he’s awesome.
It seems like Limp Wrist over the years has sort of gotten more hairy and naked. Not that I’m complaining.
Well, I’m an older guy. I have a stomach, you know, a pouch of a stomach, and it’s like I’m hairy now. I think lately I’ve been wearing the leather cap and really tiny shorts. I think it’s important for me to put this stuff on as part of the performance for a show. There’s some early shows where I was wearing really short shorts and nothing else.
It’s a great look.
The thing is, I’m a punk. I don’t fucking care. I’m going to put myself out there and some people might think it’s hideous and that’s all right. I don’t care. Let me be the laughing stock of whoever sees it if they don’t agree with what they see, but I know there are going to be some kids and some people there who see it and go, “This is awesome.”
What is your approach to lyrics?
When I initially write the lyrics, that’s when the brain behind the song comes out. I think about “what am I trying to say here? Am I achieving what I’m going for here?” I think that’s the sort of power behind music. For me personally, when I hear something that sounds great, and then find the lyrics to be really well thought-out and intelligent—it just makes me get behind the music 100 times more.
It’s a craft learning how to write music—it’s an art. Also, depending on the genre you play in—like a house song or something—you have these beats to get people dancing. But you can also inject these really awesome lyrics to it elevate it to another level. I really like that.
Let’s talk a little bit about your band Needles. Where’s the name come from?
I kind of came up with the name. It sort of brings up different visuals for people depending on who they are. I liked the idea of something really sharp. Something that normally can scare people.
It suits the sound.
I mean, Needles is probably the most aggressive sounding band I’ve ever done. It’s the guitarist from Limp Wrist and me and two other friends of ours who’ve been playing in bands for many years. We just wanted to do a band that didn’t kind of wave any particular banner.
Just make music.
Just good hardcore. That’s what we basically have been doing with that band, and we’re happy with that.