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Machetres is a fitting name for a punk trio taking a radical stance: It’s Salvadoran slang for a joined machete and G3 rifle, which was the common weapon of the military in El Salvador’s drawn-out civil war. The D.C. band’s debut, however, offers surprisingly easygoing, organic punk from three young menwho go simply by Lilo, Cris, and Ben Gwith fervent political concerns and thrash-metal seasoning.
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Rather than scorched-earth political punk, the group plays music that sounds more like a hippie-punk catch-all, allowing for its players’ ease with Latin folk themes, metal riffs, and the kind of street ska you hear in Berkeley, Calif. “We play what we like,” says Lilo, the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist. It helps a lot that Lilo used to do sound for his father’s Latin group and for Brazilian guitar players, which fed his musical interests: “Maybe unconsciously you receive all that influence and apply it.”
Lilo hammered out his chops as a teenager on El Salvador’s west coast, playing in punk-metal bands. His guitar makes “Sympathy” stand out on Machetres’ new three-song 7-inch record; the song suggests the group could cultivate a mainstream alt-rock sound.
“They know about the punk scene down there” in El Salvador, he says, where the kids caught wind of Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Bad Brains from “a tape of a tape of a tape” bootlegs. Playing anywhere he could in his home country (often in front of schools and in public parks), Lilo was labeled “satanic” by the locals. His gigs often ended with an abruptly pulled plug. When he arrived in D.C. in 1997, he began playing with drummer and vocalist Criswho is from Chile, and whose father ran the Latin American Youth Center’s music programas the LAYC Band, before the group took its current name to open Fugazi’s 10th anniversary show.
The trio also takes its politics into the community, performing in the street-theater group of the D.C. Immigrant Coalition and playing a lot of benefit gigs. The 7-inch, released via Dischord and Brick Thrower Records, comes packaged with more politics (literally) than the band’s smorgasbord of punkified genre rock can match: a lyric booklet page that provides a heads-up about questionable raids by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, a subject on which the Clash circa ’78 would have certainly weighed in. Lilo says the group’s song “Spiders” (not included on the record) is more pointed: “We wrote it against every racist person, every anti-immigrant law. It has no lyrics, but it’s through the music that we express all the anger we have.”John Dugan
Machetres plays at its record release party (with the Rondelles) at DCCD Friday, Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m.