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Alexis Gross

Cute photos of LA’s Latinx metalhead community

We hit up Los Angeles to talk to underground metal promoter Daniel Dismal about the city’s diehard love for metal

“Whether it’s punk, hardcore, ska, goth, death rock, hip hop – Los Angeles and the youth within its borders have always been at home with subversive, against the grain music,” says Daniel Dismal. As the founder of Church of the 8th Day, Dismal has been promoting underground metal concerts in Los Angeles for over 15 years and seen the evolution of the city’s scene first hand. “A lot of times, music that’s gone the way of the dodo is still relevant within Los Angeles county. It’s not that the kids in these areas are behind the times, they just have an unending amount of love for the music they hold near and dear to their hearts.”

Dismal grew up in Los Angeles, playing in various bands over the years and witnessing “the absolute never-say-die dedication that the fans have” while immersed in the city’s scene. When his bands started playing in Mexico, he noticed that fans south of the border demonstrated a similar degree of dedication. It’s what prompted Todo es Metal, a recent concert staged as part of Red Bull Music Academy’s first LA festival that united rock bands from Southern California with their Mexican counterparts. “I feel that when people don’t have things come to them easily, they show more support to the things they love,” Dismal continues. “I’m not Hispanic myself, (but) I see just how much these kids go through to support the music and the bands they love. It’s truly-awe inspiring.”

Co-curated by Dismal with RBMA’s Adam Shore, Todo es Metal brought a mammoth lineup (Mictlantecuhtli, XLesionsX, Scrapmetal, Blue Hummingbird on the Left, Volahn, Letum Ascensus, Sadistic Intent, and Terrorizer LA hailing from the US; Thanatology, Disgorge, and Transmetal from south of the border) to the city’s historic Los Angeles Theatre. “Extreme/underground metal is very popular among Hispanic kids in Los Angeles,” asserts Tlaloc, bassist for Mictlantecuhtli. “Granted, it’s not as popular as mainstream music, but its popularity has grown tremendously throughout the years. Seeing young metalheads walking around Los Angeles with extreme metal shirts on is definitely more common than it was perhaps 10 to 15 years ago.”

Tlaloc stresses the importance of diversity within the scene. “Seeing musicians of similar ethnic backgrounds as us has filled us with a strong desire to strive for more,” he says. Additionally, he cites the growing number of women involved in the city’s metal community, many of them having “taken to starting their own bands” in recent years too.

“I’m not Hispanic myself, but I see just how much these kids go through to support the music and the bands they love. It’s truly-awe inspiring” – Daniel Dismal

“For us, being a Mexican band that is a part of the California scene, the best thing is how big the Hispanic community is within metal,” says Dr. Bautista, a member of Ensenada group Thanatology and a real-life doctor off-stage. “There are many options and invitations for us from plenty of promoters, who are doing a lot of work to help this scene.”

Not only is LA’s scene large – large enough to sell out the 2,000 capacity Los Angeles Theatre – its members are also intensely loyal to the bands they love. “A lot of the fans will spend their last dollar to support a band they love,” says Dismal. “They travel from all over SoCal, drive up from Mexico, come in from Arizona, just to see a band – while having to be back at work the very next day.” The torch is constantly being passed between the generations, too. “I got into metal in the mid-to-late-80s, and I started promoting in LA back in 1997. I still see a lot of the same fans I saw back when I started.” Not that the scene is full of old fogeys. Dismal refers to the continued involvement of “kids from the 2000s, who are now adults” in the community, as well as a new generation of fans. “I can sit at a show and see three generations of LA metalheads in one room – supporting an old band, a band that’s hitting 10 to 15 years, as well as a brand new band on the scene. It’s insane.”

Of course with any active music scene, there are continual issues to be dealt with. LA’s metal community is being hit by the same issues afflicting underground movements the world over – notably venue closures, and the influx of big money and private developers into previously deprived populaces. “Being a venue owner that tries to do things the right way has never been easy,” says Dismal. “It’s easy for some fans to be discouraged by the never-ending changes going on.” Venues like Complex and the Knitting Factory hosted touring bands for years, and their closure was more than just a loss of a gig location. “People got used to seeing shows there, they knew the neighborhood, the venue, the staff, what to expect – but now, things are up in the air. It threw everyone for a loop.” Dismal adds that “there is a thriving backyard party scene,” but even those shows, “fluctuate between the areas they’re thrown in. There’s just a constant state of flux right now and people can become discouraged by that.”

“Hearing and feeling the stage rumble from that massive sound system was simply amazing – that feeling followed by the roar of the crowd at the end of a song is indescribable” – Daniel Dismal

There are also financial with booking bands from south of the border to play in LA, particularly when it comes to acquiring performance visas. “The US does not make it easy for anyone from a foreign land, whether it be Mexico or abroad, to come over and perform as an artist on US soil,” Dismal sighs. “Even if a band has the money to pay for said visas, they can still be denied for a multitude of reasons.” In the past, a lot of bands were able to come across as tourists, but over the years that has been cracked down on. “Though bands were able to come across as tourists in the past, bands from areas away from the border towns had to travel an immense distance just to be possibly turned away at the border, which was never financially feasible for anyone.”

Tlaloc puts it more bluntly. “The main barriers are economic and political,” he says. “Venues have trouble covering their overheads when tons of metalheads aren't pouring through their doors to watch bands.”

Todo es Metal, then, offered a rare opportunity to bring these artists together into one room. “An event like this was long overdue for the Los Angeles metal scene,” says Tlaloc. “Hearing and feeling the stage rumble from that massive sound system was simply amazing – that feeling followed by the roar of the crowd at the end of a song is indescribable. But just hanging around all night and talking with the other bands and people in attendance is a highlight unto itself.”

“For us it was a rather grateful experience,” says Dr. Bautista. “There were a lot of highlights, but I think (my favourite moment) was seeing and listening to more than 2,000 fellow Latin Americans singing ‘México Bárbaro’ by Transmetal in a single voice.”