Interviews

A culture of freedom – an interview with Lisbon band SCARS OF BABYLON

SCARS OF BABYLON promo shot
Some of the members of SCARS OF BABYLON have been involved in their local hardcore pounk scene for almost 2 decades. Their new project and recent debut record ‘Two Thousand and Sixteen’ was created in a strictly DIY manner, recorded, produced and spiced up with an artwork created by the members themselves. The record has quickly become one of my favorite ‘smart’ hardcore releases this year and it is my pelasure to give you yet another insightful interrogation conducted to learn more about the hsitory of local independent art communities, its patterns and current activities of its veteran members. There’s too much back and forth about who’s finding fulfilment in the DIY independent artist scene, and here’s our newest document to break down its facets and hopefully uncover some interesting facts.

Live photos by Daniel Gomes.

Hey guys! Thanks for sharing some time with IDIOTEQ. How are you? How’s Lisbon?

Hi Karol, we are glad for this exchange of words and thoughts with you and IDIOTEQ.

We are fine, and Lisbon is also doing ok, besides the social issues the sunny days still bring out a smile in people.

Cool! You’ve been a part of in your local punk scene for as long as there has been such movement, right? What was your first introduction into hardcore?

Not really, some of us have been involved for 20 years, others have been a little bit less. The punk/hardcore movement in Portugal has been around since late 70’s and early 80’s with bands like CRISE TOTAL, KÚ DE JUDAS, MATA RATOS and many others before and after.

Some of us got introduced into hardcore in the early 90’s and throughout with local bands like CENSURADOS, X-ACTO, NEW WINDS, RENEWAL and other Portuguese bands as well the more known international bands during that time like DOWNSET, SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, RATOS DO PORÃO, SICK OF IT ALL, etc. We all came from different backgrounds before we started knowing the local underground hardcore scene in Lisbon and knowing each other from going to shows and having mutual friends.

Are both your spirit and the state of the scene today just as intense as back in the 90s?

Things have changed a lot. During the 90’s, the punk and hardcore scene in general (at least in Portugal) seemed to be more focused on politics and also you had more people doing zines and distros, especially because during those times things were not so based on the internet perspective and that meant that you were not so opened to trends from other countries (specially from the US).

For instance, I remember shows back then were all about stage dives and having fun without any violence at all, any kind of violent behavior was reproved by almost everyone in general, and later some friends went touring with TIME X in Holland and brought some tapes from shows there with kids doing windmills and other kind of mosh moves. We were absolutely shocked, how could they be so violent in the mosh pit…. nowadays that is a common thing here.

Right now hardcore here seems to be more based on the music itself instead of being an alternative from the common society, were you can be in touch with other perspectives of life being both political or philosophical. In the 90’s you had a lot of bands talking about veganism, straight edge, anarchism, feminism, and so many other things.. nowadays is just lyrics about broken hearts and middle and high class white kids pretending to be tough guys from the guetho.

There is still a strong underground movement here, but the knowledge and political aspect of the scene itself has faded a lot. With this band we are trying to bring that 90’s spirit back, because for us it still makes sense to use Hardcore as a counter culture that can change people’s perspectives about life and society like it happened to us during that time. Through our music and lyrics we try to show that there is still a lot going on in the world that has a great impact in our day to day lives, being the food we eat, the things we buy or even the way we deal with each other.

Video: TIME X’s last show in Lisboa.

What were some of the first bands that stood out in terms of their authenticity?

This is a hard one, but for the first wave of punk bands during the eighties we have to go with CRISE TOTAL and KÚ DE JUDAS. These were the bands that really stood out during that time and helped to put the Portuguese punk scene on the map and grabbing the attention of many young teenagers during that time, not only because of their angry and raw punk music but also because of their political lyrics and mainly their performances live, some of them (during the Rock Rendevouz festival) entered to the highlights of the Portuguese punk scene.

In the early nineties we have to choose CENSURADOS (featured members from KÚ DE JUDAS and PESTE E SIDA) because they were the first Portuguese band to bring Punk Rock into the masses in Portugal and specially because they are still one of the best punk bands ever, due to their composition and lyrics.

And we saved the best for last: X-ACTO, this is the band that changed it all. This band was probably the first Portuguese punk/hardcore band to speak about animal rights, straight edge and other topics that were matter of laugh and teasing within the punk scene, and I know they had to struggle a lot to gain their respect, especially during those times (early 90’s) were most punks and hardcore kids thought that those topics were against what they had assumed as punk rock and hardcore (hard drinking and doing drugs, etc). This band not only started the modern hardcore movement in Portugal, but were also a major influence to many hardcore bands that came after (NEW WINDS, TIME-X, RENEWAL, etc) and their music and lyrics changed the lives of many people. Later they formed another band that was called Sannyasin that also stood out and is still today a influence to many people that are still in love with this scene.

Who are some of your favorite modern artists, labels, venues and promoters to have come from Portugal?

Currently there are some good projects coming from Portugal. Our current favorite venue is “Disgraça”, they promote a lot of shows and have a big space that has a room for shows and in other parts of the building they also do vegan meals, films and documentary projections, debates, etc. This project is totally D.I.Y, made by the kids for the kids and is based in Lisbon. Hellxis is from Lisbon as well, and they organize shows and also do a record label. For other parts of the country there is Out of Sight Crew from the Algarve district and they have be doing an amazing job there, and from Caldas da Rainha and the center region there is Pé de Ladrão bookings, that is runned by our friend “Gatuno” that also plays in a angry punk/hc band called BAD.

For Porto and North side of Portugal there is Copilot bookings that have been doing amazing shows and are currently one of the few promoters doing punk and hardcore shows in that region of the country.

For labels we would like to highlight Salad Days Records that is a project from our friend David (he also plays in a band called CLEAN BREAK), that has been running this label since 2009 and has being very consistent with vinyl and cd releases from both Portuguese and international bands, doing everything D.i.y. and has been part of our community for a very long time.

For bands, we decided to choose only currently active bands like LODGE, SHAPE, REALITY SLAP, NOT ENOUGH, LINEBACKER, SELFISH, DEVIL IN ME, FOR THE GLORY, ALBERT FISH, ARTIGO 21, BACKFLIP and SOMBER RITES. Our drummer is a lot into metal (the rest of us also like some dark shit hahaha) so he would like to shout out these bands as well: SINISTRO, DOLLAR LLAMA and THE TEMPLE.

How did this first become a passion of yours? I mean, was there an initial incident that made you think that you were ready to create my own stuff now,” or is all of this a fortuitous coincidence?

We all had other bands, and some of us still have, besides SCARS OF BABYLON. It’s normal when we have a great passion for music that we feel the need to create something from our own. All members of this band have been involved and making music since the teenagers years, and was something that grew with us, but this band was started by a coincidence.

Jorge and Artur had been friends for some time, but never played together. Artur hasn’t been playing for years since his last band broke up, and he felt he probably wouldn’t be playing in a hardcore band anymore, until Jorge left his old band and had the idea to ask Artur to start a band with him. They both felt happy because they always had the similar tastes in music and also had a lot in common in terms of believes and ideas, and it felt natural for them to work together. Later they asked João to play drums, and the other João to play bass and that’s how this band was born.

Every step felt natural, both the writing of the songs as well as the band members, we had the concern to form the band with the priority of having people with good personalities that can really can get along. And we are proud to say that we are friends that are enjoying playing music together and share all the experiences that this band has been providing us with each other. Plus we all have a lot of music chemistry and everything comes out very easily, we wrote the 7 songs of the two thousand and sixteen ep in only 2 months and recorded and released it all by ourselves and besides playing live we are also currently writing new songs.

Tell me about other bands and projects you’ve been involved in throughout the years.

Jorge (guitar) and João (bass) are currently playing, besides this band, in a youth crew oldschool hardcore band called NOT ENOUGH. Jorge also played in BREAKING THROUGH, GHOSTDOWN, AWAKE and AIM (with the exception of GHOSTDOWN all were old school hc and youth crew bands).

João played in some punk bands from his hometown, they were called NO WAY OUT and the other was TODAY’S LESSON and he also played in a hc band called HARD TO DEAL.

João (drums) had some other bands as well: HOKA KEY (metal), THE NUTTY PEA (ska/funk) and SUPRAH (rock).

Artur (vocals) played in FREE SPIRIT (old school hc), RISING FROM ASHES (hc/metal) and INYANGA (hardcore/crust) and he also djayed some jungle/dnb, dub and reggae vinyls under the name of DAHFIYAH SELECTA.

Wow, that’s a lot of bands!

Ok guys, so back to SCARS OF BABYLON what sort of themes do you explore in your lyrics?

In this first ep we choose to write about the struggles we see and face in Portugal. We live in a country where there is a lack of social justice, and there is also a lot of unemployment, and for the lucky ones who do work, many times they do it with precarity.

This precarity as being developing throughout the years, when it should be the other way around. The workers’ rights have been faded with the justification of a competitive economy and a so called crisis that was only created to bail out the banks that were bankrupting because of the their irresponsible management.

We also choose to talk about humanity in general, the way humans have been so focused on technology but lacking a lot of perspective on building a common good for all people, no matter the race, nationality or gender, and also animals as well.

Basically, humans are not developing so fast like the technology that has been built, and that is exchanging priorities. The real focus should be on us!

When many hardcore bands nowadays mostly talk about the crews, broken hearts and anger, we do choose to talk about our views on this world and go directly to what for us is many times the roots of the problems people face in their lives.

SCARS OF BABYLON! live band

What are your ambitions for this project?

Our ambitions are basically to maintain this band as a long time project, releasing as much music and playing live as we possibly can, this is what really feeds our souls and feelings by doing this band.

At the same time we do daydream about how cool would be to do tours with bands we love, and if we had the chance, to travel and play around the world and loose our daily jobs. But then reality strikes back, we get up, take the headphones off and check in on our jobs.

We are a hardcore band from Portugal were kids here, and mostly around Europe, only care about American bands. It’s more likely to a American band (no matter how shitty they could sound) to have a great feedback and attention, than 4 guys from Portugal in their 30’s and late 30’s. What is strange about this praising from European kids is that most American kids don’t pay any attention to European bands, but American bands here can do European tours and sell tons of merch were in their local towns back in America they don’t have more than 40 people at their shows.

This hype should be a matter of reflection, because we have so many good bands around Europe that don’t have the feedback and respect they should, mostly because they sing in their own language or don’t act/seem too cool, or just talk about important things that seem boring to the average hardcore kid that only want’s to enjoy music, mosh hard and look cool on social media.

People should value more their local bands, and I don’t mean fuck the American bands or something like that, but have the same amount of respect and curiosity for band from other parts of the world. Including yours!

Ok, so finally, what’s your own definition of punk?

For us, Punk is a culture of freedom and expression. It’s where you can be yourself and expose your ideas, especially if you are against the norm. You don’t need to be in a band, you can create your zine and other forms of art to express yourself. And for us the D.I.Y. ethic is also a very strong component of this culture and as allowed us, both as a band and also as individuals, to grow in a very independent way and has changed our lives forever.

From your current perspective, what is the value of DIY ethics in running a band? Has it become more or less important to you over time?

For us it is still a very essential component of our band, this way we have more control in what we do and also more liberty to do it.
For us the most important aspect is also the financial factor, since we don’t do any money with this band and don’t have much of a financial comfort to pay bills outside of our personal lives, we tend to do everything by ourselves.

Nowadays D.I.Y. is still alive and it is still a major factor that can make band’s and people do what they want to do, instead on depending on third factors or other people to make it happen. It is possible to have decent recordings using personal computers and cheap soundboards, learning on the YouTube how to screen print, and most importantly there are a whole hardcore community were you can communicate and link up with people to share experiences, learn more and grow ties of friendship that can really change your life and make you grow into a more independent and aware human being.

SCARS OF BABYLON cover

Ok, thanks a lot for your thoughts guys. Any final comments you would like to share?

Thanks to you Karol for taking the time to talk with us. We would like to say hello to our brothers and sisters in the worldwide hardcore community: keep your heads up and never stop believing in yourselves and connecting with each other. Peace!

Thanks! Cheers from Warsaw!

SCARS OF BABYLON Facebook
SCARS OF BABYLON Bandcamp
scarsofbabylon@gmail.com
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