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Punk: The Same in Any Language

Something unusual will happen this weekend. Thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of music lovers will hear the music of a local Latino rock band. This is unusual because the music of Latino rock bands, especially local ones, is rarely heard by so many people at once. Not on the radio. Not in person. And certainly not in CD stores' listening booths.

Is it the "Spanglish" lyrics? Or the mix of traditional instrumentation and rhythms with contemporary gadgetry and production? Or the way most music mediums (e.g., radio, live clubs, record stores) get turned off by minority-mainstream work? Whatever it is, it won't mean shit when Watcha Tour, the Latino answer to Lollapalooza, comes to town. Locals Los Skarnales will fulfill the prophecy.

The band is a bridge between mainstream music buyers — who by now must be sick of Jennifer Lopez's ass-shaking and/or Ricky Martin's poor attempts to stay in key — and smart, worldly, proactive music consumers; those who know great music isn't always what MTV or the Buzz spoon-feeds us. Using ska beats as its hook, Los Skarnales suckers delightfully oblivious young punks into its sound. Once the band has the listener firmly by the collar, it blasts him with oom-pah-pah rhythms and south-of-the-border posturing.

Brain-dead rock critics (mostly white, middle- to upper-class males) try to describe the music either by comparing it to something uniquely "American" (i.e., "Bruce Springsteen meets the Chihuahua from Taco Bell") or by relying on the music's native tongue to make the point (i.e., "this music got huevos"). This is all unnecessary. Los Skarnales is like any other popular music band in the world and deserves to be seen as such. Working a dead-end job, going out on weekends, tinkering with cars, getting laid and even conspiring against the establishment make up most of the band's songs. That they're in a foreign language shouldn't throw people/fans/critics. Good music is good music is good music.

Comprising seven members, most of whom live in or are from Houston, Los Skarnales started out five years ago as a straight-ahead Spanish punk trio called Desorden. It was only after realizing people wanted bilingual pop that the band converted to its present sound: loud, fun, rockin' ska for all. The band's latest and only CD, Vatos Rudos (Pinche Flojo), reflects the sound of the latter.

"The attitude is punk," says lead singer Felipe Galvan, 24, "but that's what we need up there in front of, ya know, lots of white audiences most of the time."

Punk is an obvious stance for a minority band like Los Skarnales. The genre is proletarian in nature, the collective voice of the common man or whatever. In punk, everybody's on the wrong side of the law/government/their parents. And when you have brown skin, straight dark hair and almond-shaped eyes, you're liable to get even more shit from authority. That's where Los Skarnales steps in.

"People are very open-minded, and they respect it, though," says Galvan. "I think they're getting the best of both worlds, you know. Lots of Mexican teens and Mexican-American kids are 'Americanized.' Like my mom, she listens to mariachi music, and lots of kids, they come home and they're like, 'What the hell's that shit?' They don't appreciate it."

Galvan, who appreciates ethnic music as much as anything Americanized, got turned on to punk by (who else?) The Clash. He picked up one of the band's CDs for $2 at a pawn shop when he was teenager. He has been a fan ever since. "[The Clash was] very versatile," he says. "They weren't 'just punk.' They did different things. And that's what we try to do, too."

And though most of the fans at Los Skarnales shows are white, the band's message never strays. It's not uncommon to see a young punk get up on stage at a Los Skarnales show and sing along with the lyrics. Spanish, English, Spanglish, whatever. Which isn't to say there aren't mixed crowds. In fact, a Los Skarnales show is racial harmony in motion. Anything closer would have a life-size model of Jesus hovering over it.

Los Skarnales performs Sunday, August 8, at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion with Fishbone, Atomic Fireballs, Illya Kuryaki, Chris Perez Band, Los Mocosos, Royal Crown Revue, Molotov, Cafe Tacuba, South Park Mexican, Titan and more. Gates open at 3 p.m., show begins at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $15. Call (713)629-3700.

Off-White Album

Copper Records wants to pay tribute to the Beatles. The Houston-based record company is soliciting material for its upcoming Off-White Album, a spin-off of the Fab Four's classic (never officially named, but known to all as The White Album). Copper Records president, Darrell Clingman, wants to remake the 1968 gem song-for-song. All 30. He plans to echo the original's eclecticism by inviting any and all types of musicians to contribute. As of last month, he had already heard from nearly 70 interested folk. "And I haven't even talked to my people yet," says Clingman, noting he has personal contacts with Marshall Crenshaw, Bill Lloyd and Matthew Sweet. Once the bigger names sign on, Clingman says, others follow. "A lot of pop guys like the underdog, which is what I am," says Clingman. "And they know my stuff's quality. I only release about three [records] a year, not 20 like some other guys, but I really work at it. My reputation is very good. I always get good reviews. I'm not a huge seller, but I think I have a high 'cool quotient.' " Surprisingly, most artists are interested in covering the unpopular material on the record, according to Clingman. "No one wants to do 'Back in the USSR' or 'Birthday.' I've been getting a lot of requests for more obscure things, 'Happiness Is a Warm Gun' and all that." For consideration, send a finished DAT to 9850 Pagewood, Suite 201, Houston, Texas 77042. Deadline is September 1. And, yes, Apple Publishing — the long arm of Beatles song licensing — will exact its fees. But Clingman says bands can still expect a reasonable royalty rate.

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