“I think within the past 12 years there has been a new wave of underground postpunk bands worldwide. San La Muerte has existed since 2012 to try to bring these bands together in front of a Texas crowd.”
The first San La Muerte Fest in 2012 was an eclectic affair: There were straight-up goth bands (Spiritual Bat, Deadfly Ensemble), postpunk acts (Guilty Strangers), experimental/world music acts (Soriah), and even a neofolk band (Awen). In the years since, the fest has honed its focus onto new and veteran deathrock, dark punk, and gothic rock groups from around the world. San La Muerte’s 2019 iteration, which is occurring in Austin next week, features German darkwave pioneers Pink Turns Blue as well as cult Texas post-punk legends Lung Overcoat in addition to other bands from as far away as Chile (Diavol Strain) and Hungary (Padkarosda). Behind it all, principal organizer Robert Flores says the ultimate goal is to create a sense of musical community for those who like dark music in the Lone Star State.
San La Muerte has a decidedly Tex-Mex feel, too, and the fest has always aimed to shine a spotlight on the important Latino heritage of the region amidst the broader musical celebration. San La Muerte’s name is itself a play on the cult of Santa Muerte (“Sacred Death”), the female goddess of death revered in Mexican and Mexican-American folk religion. Drummer Robert Flores has done time in Monica Richards’ backing band, the experimental act Sullen Serenade, and currently drums for LA deathrock act Christ Vs Warhol, who played at the fest in 2017. This wealth of musical experience has informed much of the direction of the fest since its inauguration seven years ago. Below, I spoke with Robert about what this year’s postpunk fest has in store, why it moved to Austin from San Antonio, and what its future looks like.
San La Muerte organizer Robert Flores was interviewed by Oliver for post-punk.com in September, 2019.
What year is this for San La Muerte? When did it start? And what prompted you to do this fest to begin with?
Robert: San La Muerte started in 2012. At first I wanted it to just be a show with touring bands that were going to hit San Antonio or Texas on the same dates. But I just ended up doing a one day event out of it and calling it San La Muerte for my love of Santa Muerte artwork and culture. The first one was more goth than broadly postpunk. I was actually touring with world-renowned Tuvan throat singer Soriah and we needed a San Antonio date, and the rest is history. I think there was like 50 people at the first one. I skipped two years after that because I started touring a lot. And when I was in France I went to a fest there called Unpleasant Meeting Festival and that inspired me to do the same here in Texas. Every band at the small fest in France was mind-blowing. Lineups were unreal. The Mob, Tanzkommando Untergang, Spectres, Hagar the Womb. It was like I couldn’t wait to see the next band and the next one, etc., etc… So when I came back the States I was really excited to start something. I already had the name but I needed the bands. The next San La Muerte in 2015 had bands like Anazasi, Cemetery, Fangs on Fur, Crimson Scarlet, and it made a dent. Again, the crowd was small but the people that were there knew what was up. The following year it blew up to 400 to 500 people attending.
How has the fest changed over the years? What was the original mission of SLM and has the mission changed over time….?
Robert: Like I mentioned earlier, the first one was way more goth. And it just mutated into what it is now because of my love for post-punk and goth music and punk since I was a kid. I think within the past 12 years there has been a new wave of postpunk bands worldwide. Bands that currently tour and put in the work. I just came in at the right time. I think the original mission has and always will be to bring people and bands together. I honestly never thought it would get this recognition. I get messages and emails saying thanks for doing this. I just feel that this part of the region in the States (that is, Texas), we don’t or never have really gotten a fest this focused on dark postpunk, punk, and darkwave-type acts. If the mission has changed over the years then I can say it has changed for the good. The reason I say that is that I never thought I would have bands from all over the world come to San Antonio, Texas of all places! People spend money on flights and hotels or whatever just to check out the fest, and that, to me, is my payment.
It looks like the fest will be in Austin this year. What brought about the change from San Antonio to Austin?
Robert: LOL! Good question. I love San Antonio. I would represent it any way possible and I hope somehow (like my friend said) I put it on the map. I really don’t like saying that because I don’t want to come off as conceited or some b.s. like that. But—to make a long story short: The two San Antonio venues I was working with on this I’m not working with anymore. I won’t get into the details but all I can say is that San Antonio needs to pull their weight. If they have something fucking great going on they should embrace it and support it and take care of it. I really didn’t want to move the fest because the fest originally is from San Antonio. But I also wanted to try something different. Austin is about one hour from here and has a huge music scene. Probably one of the biggest in the US. I have connections in Austin and I want to see what the change does for the fest and especially for the artists involved, which I think will be positive.
Where did you get the name “San la Muerte”? What is it supposed to represent as far as the character of the fest, and is there anything specifically Texan, south Texas, Latino, etc etc about it or that you wanted to emphasize with the name? If so, what?
Robert: I’m big into the Santa Muerte culture and artwork. I love it and I surround myself with it at home. I find peace and comfort in it. The reason the fest is called San La and not Santa is that I wanted it to have a connection where the fest is held, which was, until this year, in San Antonio. So I kinda did my own take of Santa and San, to make it into San La Muerte. Also, yes, I usually name a lot of my projects in Spanish because of where I come from and how my mentality thinks 70% of the time. San La Muerte is the fest, Punkitos Photos is my photography label—which is what my mom used to call me when I was a kid: “Punkito”! I still remember when my mom had a stroke years ago. And in the first days after the stroke, it was painful because she lost her sight and some of her memory, which she regained later with time (her memory, that is). I was in Los Angeles at the time. And when I went to visit her I walked in her room and she asked who I was—and I remember asking her in Spanish, “Quien Es?” In English that means, “Who is it?” And as soon as she heard my voice she started crying and said, “Mi Punkito!” That is what I call my photography label. It’s not ’cause I take pictures of punks or punk bands—hahaha! Most ppl think that. It’s what my mom used to call me when I was kid.
Also, I was in hardcore punk bands in the 90s—Fronterrorismo and Vicio, which sang in Spanish. Songs about our culture, about our fucked up system in the US, and what we as Mexican-Americans, Latinos, or Chicanos have gone through living in this country. Our families, traditions, etc., etc… So, yes, I guess you can say the name of the Fest reflects a lot of my culture and how I think.
Who are some of the acts that you have playing this year and how hard was it to get them all? What happened with 1919 — will they make an appearance?
Robert: 1919 will not becoming. Unfortunately, they had to cancel all their US shows, not just this fest. They’re great guys but they’re going about things a different way as far as coming to the US in this era. It is possible to tour the States—very possible. As you can see, there are bands from Europe and other parts of the world that have been touring the States recently. And they’ve all been going about it legally. It might be expensive or take a while to process, but it’s very possible. So, maybe next year 1919 will be able to come, but if they do they need to get started on it ASAP.
Pink Turns Blue is the main headliner for Friday, Sept. 27. And so far the tickets are selling, so I would jump on buying them if I were you.
Also, Diavol Strain from Chile is playing on Saturday, September 28th. I’m pretty excited to see them. But my main focus—and no disrespect to the other bands—is Padkarosda from Hungary. Best band I’ve heard in a while. They’re a 3-piece and it’s just insanely good. I’m actually driving them on a West Coast tour after the fest. We are hitting L.A., Oakland, PDX, Vancouver, and Seattle. Most of these bands weren’t that hard to get. Some of these acts are touring throughout the US anyway. And I’ve been doing this for a while already, so it gets easier and easier over the years. It’s like I know what to expect, what to do, and what not to do.
What are some of the lesser-known acts on the bill this year that you feel aren’t given enough credit or that deserve to be heard more? Are there any acts on the bill that you think never get the attention they deserve?
Robert: One band I’m excited to see (besides Padkarosda) is Vice Device from PDX. I love this band. They were recommended to me by Adam of Deathcharge. But I can’t wait to see them. They’re an electronic 3-piece, dark atmosphere. Lung Overcoat is one band I can probably say deserves a lot more credit than they get. They’re an 80s band from San Antonio, Texas who are reuniting only for this fest. Without bands like them, South Texas or San Antonio would not have much history within the genre. Christopher Smart, the singer and guitar player of Lung Overcoat, has been in the music scene for a long ass time. He currently tours and plays with Chrysta Bell, the singer and Twin Peaks actress who’s collaborated with David Lynch on several projects. So he’s still doing his thing. He also runs and partially owns a guitar shop here in town called Robot Monster Guitars. Lung Overcoat will be playing before Pink Turns Blue on Friday, Sept. 27.
It seems you have a philosophy of trying not to have repeat acts every year. For example, you don’t like bands to appear more than once or twice at the fest. Isn’t this hard to do when you feel like there are local acts that might be good to have on the fest again? How do you make the decision to have acts only once or twice, and has this led to any misunderstandings?
Robert: I’m real picky about who jumps on the fest. It’s just a thing. I get bombarded with emails from bands or even managers or agents, but I look at what the band’s mentality is, or what they have done (not all the time), because most of the times the music will speak for itself, and I will just straight-out book them because the music is so good. And that’s regardless of their supposed “draw” or pedigree or other accolades. But, yeah, the mentality, ethos, or outlook of the band is very important. It also helps when a band has some humility along with insanely good music, and when the bands don’t even see that about themselves. I like keeping things current. I don’t like to repeat bands unless I have to, or unless a band that I really like asks me. There have been many bands I wish I could book, but either they can’t make it or I don’t have sufficient funds upfront to make it happen. But overall, I’m very satisfied with all the bands that have played SLM. I look back at the lineups from past years and sometimes I’m like, “Damn, I can’t believe they played!” or “That was a sick lineup.” But as far as repeats, it’s mostly no way. It’s just not my thing.
Is anything happening at the Beerland venue in Austin? What about the recent controversy there with them not paying their staff?
Robert: No. Beerland went through some issues with management and are not a current working establishment. I’m not sure what really happened, but we have moved the Thursday, September 26th event over to Hotel Vegas. Padkarosda will be the headliner that night. And that will be a good one. So other than Elysium and Hotel Vegas there is a third venue where all the after-shows will happen. It’s called 523 Thompson. It will be from 2 AM to 6 AM. For Friday, Sept 27 & Saturday, Sept 28. Both nites will have dark dance DJ nights, along with 2 bands. All this info and more details are on the webpage.
You play drums in the dark postpunk/deathrock band Christ vs Warhol, which only played once at SLM. Is Christ vs Warhol up to anything these days and will there be any future recordings? It seems like it’s been a while….
Robert: Steven James, who is the guitar player ( and also of Deadfly Ensemble and Faith and the Muse) and pretty much the dad of the band, has started working on the third Christ vs Warhol album. We get a lot of offers to play all over the world. But it’s hard since we all live in different regions. Elian, the singer, lives in Norway now because of studies/schooling, and the other members, Steve and Marzia, live in L.A. I live in Texas. But we’re still a band. So yeah, it’s hard to get together but we still make it happen. Hopefully, in the near future, we can play more.
Who do you think are some of the better underground postpunk, dark punk, or gothic rock acts around these days?
Robert: Well, Padkarosda is one for sure. I still remember the first time I heard them and I couldn’t stop listening. It grabbed me, made me pay attention. It’s just got a raw feel, but at the same time energetic. Very much a cross between punk, deathrock, and post-punk, if that makes any sense. Their music is beyond amazing. And they’re from Hungary! They Play SLM this year Thursday, Sept 26 as headliners and on Sept 28 at an aftershow. Molchat Doma from Belarus is another band that is fairly new and mind-blowing. Very 80s obscure electronic sounding. There are so many fucking good groups; I wish I had lots of money to bring everyone out, but I don’t—hahaha. There are a few that I wish were still around, because the small amount they put out was like a punch in the face. One of those was Maudlin, from Georgia, who later changed their name to Elysian for legal purposes. I believe SLM 2016 was their first gig ever and they blew everyone away! They are still one of my favorite bands that have played the fest. Second would be the great Anazasi from NYC. They played SLM back in 2015 and they got the whole room jumping on top of one another. And I do have to mention Moth from Denmark—beautiful people and countless great songs. Moth were amazing. These bands were amazing for the time they put in and I am grateful for them being a part of SLM.
SLM has tried to incorporate some mixed media events, with an art show, in years past. Is that happening again? I know you’re a photographer and have had quite a few exhibits. Are there any photographers, artists, writers, etc., that will have anything on display this year? Who will they be?
Robert: So I have an idea of putting out all the artwork that has been made for the fest in the past years. It’ll be exhibited it in about 2 wall size spaces. This will happen at 523 Thompson Ln in east Austin. This is where the after-parties are happening. We have a spot from 2 am to about 6 am on Friday, Sept 27 and Saturday, Sept, 28. It’s mostly for dark DJ sets so ppl have something to do after the main events at Elysium. There will be a charge, but it’s BYOB. So I’m talking about the walls; on them will be posted ALL artwork that has been done for the fest since it started. Posters, flyers, shirt designs, setlists from certain bands, photos from certain bands, ticket stubs, kinda like a history of the art part. I’m huge on art and that is why I take a bit of pride in artwork for the fest.
Since SLM started in 2012, there have been some other fests popping up that have a somewhat similar angle as far as the music goes, it seems like. Out from the Shadows in Portland, Near Dark in Oakland, and the recently announced LA Dark Fest in Hollywood. Maybe Cold Waves or a Murder of Crows in NYC. And I feel like there are some others I’m not thinking of. I know you said you got the idea for San La Muerte from the French Unpleasant Meeting Festival. What’s your take on newer fests, as well as the resurgence of a DIY approach to postpunk and gothic rock in the past few years?
Robert: Well, that’s a good question. I think the resurgence is great, to be honest. I think everyone has a different perspective on the way their fest should be represented. I won’t lie, it felt good being the only one back then—LOL! But it’s great to see that more people have picked up on it. I have nothing negative to say. If fact, I wanna give mad props to the people that engage themselves in this because this shit ain’t easy. You deal with a lot and I don’t go through big-time sponsors or corporate investors. There’s a very DIY mentality behind San la Muerte. Some people get that, and some people don’t get it. I grew up with it, so it’s in me to follow its principles because that’s just how I try to do things. Near Dark works hard and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the fest and I also do speak with them on a regular basis. At times we help each other out. There’s Skull Fest in Pittsburgh. They’ve been going at it for awhile—eleven years, I think— but I know they bring in a wider variety of music. Not just post-punk or punk, but crust, hardcore, and other stuff. Erica and her crew work hard every year. Nice people. I do have to mention the homie Tomasz who runs Return to the Batcave out in Wroclaw, Poland. So, yeah, I mean it’s a good thing that more fests are popping up, fests that will push this type of music. You know all the people that I mentioned I have had conversations with or we have helped each other out and I feel that that is important. As far as the resurgence of this type of music—yeah, it’s weird. I mean, it’s great but I just don’t know how I feel about certain bands that all of a sudden come out after being absent for so long. There have been a lot of bands getting back together to play or tour. I love a lot of them … but a lot of them, I wish they would have never gotten back together. LOL! I just really wish I could hear one new or current goth band that I really loved. I miss seeing four to five people in a band and not just two people on stage with backing tracks and keyboards. That is awesome—don’t get me wrong—but I just miss seeing a whole group decked out on stage. I wish I could see the likes of a band that resembles Sisters or Siouxsie, but I have not. Not yet.
What is the future of San La Muerte after 2019? I think I saw mention you might move to California. Is this still in the works?
Robert: Whether I move back to L.A. or not, I will still be working on shows here in Texas. I have enough contacts to work with here if the move to Cali happens. And regarding SLM—I don’t really feel comfortable saying what will happen. I do have some issues here in Texas I am trying to work out with my home and that is a priority before even thinking of moving away. I love Christ Vs. Warhol. Well, I love the people in it. Steve and Marzia are like family and they are the only musicians I would move for. They are probably the best musicians I have ever played with. I want to write more music with them and live out in Cali at our own pace. I’d like to move the fest to L.A. but I haven’t really thought about it yet. So, we’ll see what the future brings.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention about the fest that I haven’t covered above? Any shout outs or things you’d like to add about the fest?
Robert: Not that I can think about at the moment. But thanks to all the people that have supported the fest since day one as well as all the people that have gone to all the “SLM presents” shows. If you are coming, try to buy your tickets in advance. Sept 26-28 in Austin Texas. Thanks to John at Elysium and Secret Oktober in Austin for always lending me a hand. Grateful for those guys. See you soon!
San La Muerte Fest occurs September 26th, 27th, and 28th in Austin, Texas at Hotel Vegas, Elysium, and 523 Thompson.
San La Muerte Fest 2019 has a website here.
There is also a Facebook page for the 2019 San La Muerte Fest here.
The full list of bands at this year’s San La Muerte:
- -PINK TURNS BLUE**** for FRIDAY SEPT 27th ***ONLY TEXAS DATE***
- – LUNG OVERCOAT (ONLY SHOW/First show in 33 years)
- – Padkarosda – Hungary
- – Blu Anxxiety – NYC
- – Diavol Strain – Chile
- – Vice Device – PDX
- – Sonsombre – VA
- – Trashlight – NOLA
- – Over – PDX
- – Vueltas – PDX
- New Canyons – Chicago
- – Scan – Austin
- – Scary Black – Louisville
- – Three Rose Charm – Dallas
- – Rosegarden Funeral Party – Dallas
- – Mass Exhibit – Dallas
- – Malpractica – Dallas
- – Slaughterstein – Austin
- – The Objects – RGV