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  • I clearly remember my childhood hyperactivity: I remember jumping up and down on my parents’ couch while watching Robert Plant and Jimmy Page´s 1990 Knebworth Festival performance of “Rock & Roll” (which I called "Lonely, Lonely") on VHS cassette. My body was unable to control my emotions.  I started throwing up. "What is this music?”, I remember asking myself while tearing my child-sized acoustic guitar into pieces (This was before I knew that’s what you were supposed to do during those Grunge years!). My dad gave me a copy of Led Zeppelin I on vinyl when I was five years old. My mom wasn't sure if that was such a good idea.

    In 1971, President Luis Echeverría Alvarez perpetrated the Corpus Christi Student Massacre, also known as "El Halconazo" (The Falcon Operation). The elite “Halcones” hit squad was a private army that was above the rule of law. They showed no mercy on the young protesters and even took to murdering their victims as they laid down on emergency room operating tables for treatment. The government - fearing further uprisings - immediatly repressed all aspects of youth culture. Long hair, rock magazines and rock concerts were outlawed. This ban was in place for a decade and was finally lifted when Queen were allowed to perform in Puebla and Monterrey in the Eighties.

    "Chopo" is a Mexican nickname for the poplar tree. It´s also the name of the Museum Univeritario El Chopo. In 1980, the museum hosted a month-long swap meet for Rock music fans to trade memorabilia. The event became so popular that they allowed it to continue every Saturday on the street. It was named “Tianguis Cultural del Chopo” or just, "El Chopo”. “Tianguis” is the pre-Hispanic word for, “market”. Long-haired rockers with leather jackets gave the Museum a bad image. So, the event relocated to a rough neighborhood, where Punks got into fights with local drug-dealers for territory. One such incident turned into  in a riot that ended with a girl getting killed. In 1987, the market was established in the spot where it is today. I was born that same year.

    My dad is really into the Blues. So, when I was nine years old, he started taking me to the buy hard-to-find records and bootlegs. Before the Internet era,  Chopo was the only place in the country where you could find things like that. I was around twelve when I started buying, selling and trading records, emptying my school backpack of notebooks and loading it with CDs. I quit the Star Wars Fan Club. This was my New Church.

    Over the years, I met characters like "El Jagger" (a trader who looks like a brown skin version of Mick Jagger); “El Muni”, a Native-American-looking rocker obsessed with The Beatles (he recently passed away); and, “Rafa”, a magazine collector who lives on a couch in a warehouse filled with old newspapers and periodicals. El Chopo remains the truest symbol of counterculture in all of Mexico. For almost four decades, this place has been the only place where this culture can survive. Today, rockers, punks, goths, ravers, crusties, skinheads, hippies, metalheads, rastas and every tribe in between, flock there in packs every Saturday. There is no place like this in the rest of the world.

    Yesterday, I went to El Chopo in order to find a Ministry t-shirt. I was completely fixated on this idea especially after reading their vocalist, Al Jourgensen´s crazy autobiography. Suddenly, a pack of riot policemen surrounded a gang of punks. Dozens of metalheads, rastas, goths and skaters started recording the incident with their cellphones. The kids moved in closer, making the police so nervous that they soon walked away. On my way back home, wearing my new t-shirt, I read the news on my cellphone. An armed commando squad wearing police vests interrupted a Human Rights activist party in Xalapa. They cut people’s faces with machetes because tomorrow is Election Day. I’m pretty sure this is not what my dad expected when he gave me that Zeppelin record all those years ago. But somehow, amongst these mohawks, corpse-painted Black Metal heads, and lost kids dancing aimlessly while sniffing glue, I feel completely safe.

    I listen to a lot of heavy stuff lately: Dark Fortress, Sylosis, Code Orange, Napalm Death and Brujeria. When I go to El Chopo, I get to talk to people about these bands without feeling weird. "Life is chaos, man", says Jourgensen. 

    I really wish there were more places for people to feel safe in the never-ending chaos that is Mexico.
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