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El Valiente

The South Texas authenticity of S.A. accordion punks Pinata Protest

By Margaret Moser, 4:20PM, Thu. May. 16, 2013

Pinata Protest punch you right in the kisser
Pinata Protest punch you right in the kisser

Oh, San Antonio. You were rebuilding your rep for South Texas rock dominance – with corazon – until Pinata Protest crashed the fiesta. Armed with blistering “accordion-powered punk rock,” the quartet debuts its latest, El Valiente on S.A.’s Saustex Records, at Antone’s tonight. It’s a Tex-Mex triumph to redefine the Alamo City.

By now you might have noticed that I’m obsessed with the longtime “feud” between San Antonio and Austin, which dates back to the Thirties and continues through the Sixties, when San Antonio was one of the jazz towns and a chitlin circuit powerhouse. During the Age of Aquarius, it was the South Texas rock mecca all major bands played. Austin was merely a small college town that booked unfashionable old blues players at the local hippie joints.

That was 50 years ago, and after Austin sashayed into the music business, bands began having to choose between the two cities. It may have boasted a seminal Sex Pistols show, but Pinata Protest was born at a time when S.A. was “trying to figure out if metal and Tejano still reigned supreme.”

After hearing a reference on S.A. radio two weeks ago about “that other town near here with the music scene whose name we won’t mention,” I decided to query Pinata Protest’s singer and accordion player Alvaro del Norte by email.

Austin Chronicle: How do you see the longtime “feud” between S.A. and Austin? Is it a bullshit notion fueled by blackout clauses in tour contracts, etc?

Alvaro Del Norte: The whole thing is funny. I like to think of the whole feud and the results from blackout/radius clauses in a similar way that the animals on the Galapagos Islands (for example) evolved from the animals on the mainland. San Antonio, like the Galapagos Islands, has been secluded from the influence of the mainstream or “mainland” and this allowed it to maintain and independently evolve its musical identity.

When big bands wanted to play South Central Texas, they played Austin, skipping over and leaving San Antonio free of all the “weird” mainstream influence. This created an environment for San Antonio to keep its culture free from the outer influence of the mainstream. In the end, Austin may have gotten the cooler shows, but San Antonio got to keep its South Texas authenticity.

In the grand scheme of things though, it actually was a good thing for everyone. Only an hour from each other, we have two very diverse cities and audiences that bands like ours appreciate. Who’d want two same cities so close to each other? If that was the case, I’d be much happier in San Marcos.

AC: What makes the accordion a good punk rock instrument?

AND: First, I’d say that using an unorthodox instrument in a music style known for having the basic setup of guitar, bass, and drums is quite a musically rebellious statement in itself. While there’s been a resurgence of folk-punk bands and a popularity of accordion use among the big punk bands, the accordion’s appearance during the band’s setup onstage continues to stir up the crowd even before a single note is played.

Second, I’d say that the bellows of the instrument make a really cool effect when they’re pulled in and out, which makes me wish I had cooler-looking bellows.

Third, I think there are lots of parallels between punk rock and the folk music button accordions are traditionally known for. Technically, and for the most part, both musical styles are built upon rudimentary chords with a catchy melody sung on top. Both styles are working-class music, with songs about struggle, revolution, love, drinking, death, etc.

Also, no formal music lessons needed here. The instruments are learned in a word-of-mouth style, or self-taught. (This, of course, is all before YouTube came along.) Somewhere along the history of rock & roll, the accordion got lost.

AC: “Volver Volver,” such a classic S.A. song. How did it become part of your set?

AND: It was an accident, actually. We were at practice one day going through “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, but that didn’t work out well. Just didn’t sound right. To break the frustration and for the fun of it, I started playing the accordion part to “Volver, Volver,” a song I had just learned how to play on accordion. The whole band joined in and immediately the song took its current shape.

We chose to keep it.

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