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Growing Up Punk in Mexico in We Are Mari Pepa

It doesn’t matter that Iggy Pop endorses Carnival Cruises, or that Ramones-style crunch chords now power Top 40 country hits. Today punk is whatever you need it to be when you’re at the age that you need it. And it’s endlessly localizable: In its blurt, the giddy Swedish school girls of Lukas Moodysson’s recent We Are the Best! found not just the pleasure of revolt but also a chance to seize a political high-mindedness they found lacking in their parents, even if the only song their band bothered to write was an attack on their gym class.

On the other side of the Atlantic, in the Guadalajara of Samuel Kishi Leopo’s sweet (but sharper-edged) We Are Mari Pepa, gangly teen boys take up guitar and drums to shout about what matters most to them, too. Their band, Mari Pepa, manages two songs before the film ends. The chorus of the first they bellow in English: “I wanna cum in your face, Natasha!” Only after the aggro shock-comedy of that can they admit to more tender feelings: “Because I love you!”

In both films, punk is an identity, a chance to vent, a thing to do for kids not into sports — and not successful, yet, at love. Unlike those principled Swedes, the boys of Mari Pepa are horny and rude, often dispiritedly so, catcalling strange women and calling each other “faggot.” (Bass player Moy, played by Moises Galindo, gets that because he’s spending too much time with a girl.) Writer/director Leopo makes no apologies for this collective nastiness. Instead, he presents it as a default mode for communication among the film’s middle-class boys, all motormouthed and inexperienced; not one of them can make it through a conversations without claiming to have had sex with someone else’s mother. It’s a stage of development, and Leopo suggests, in the final reels, that the band’s sympathetic songwriter Alex (Alejandro Gallardo) may be growing out of it.

It’s at a party full of kids he doesn’t know that rangy Alex seems to realize he might need to move on. A girl asks why his band is called “Mari Pepa,” and his answer is honest — and just a touch abashed: ” ‘Mari’ is for ‘marijuana,’ and ‘pepa’ is a reference to the female genitalia.” After that, he can’t quite bring himself to meet her eyes, but then she and Alex stand together in a state of glazed expectation as a band much more accomplished than his wails on. Eventually, Alex plumbs up a courage not unrelated to whatever urged him to write that ode to Natasha’s face. He leans in to kiss the girl whose face he’s too shy to look into.

The story is slight, but the film is full of such miraculous moments of life. Scenes of Alex lounging around his poster-collaged bedroom suggest the primalness of such private spaces. It’s a chrysalis stickered over with what it is he hopes to become. Early on, we see he’s taped a photo of his face onto the head of Joey Ramone. More powerfully still, he’s hung a sliver of mirror over Ramone’s brow in another photo — as Alex looks into it, his eyes peer out of the face of rock’s great gawky beanpole. Alex’s only adult guardian, his silent and God-fearing grandmother (Petra Iniguez Robles), gives the bedroom the stink eye; in one of We Are Mari Pepa’s few plotlike developments she strips the walls bare after hearing a preacher insist that “Hotel California” — and by extension rock music itself — demands thralldom to Satan. But she can make distinctions: She leaves up a still of Michael Jackson palling around with Paul McCartney, the latter in a smashingly sensible 1983 sweater.

Unlike We Are the Best!, Leopo’s film is no period piece. It’s set in the eternal now of punk adolescence, a time that seems never changing yet gets stranger every year. In their rehearsal space, the Mari Pepa boys have hung up a Beatles poster, and they’ve scratched their own band name on it. For them, the Beatles are punk, pretending not to be afraid of sex is punk, being young and dumb and not especially committed to anything is punk. In the opening scenes, after some half-assed skateboarding, Alex urges the rest of Mari Pepa to get serious about prepping for a battle of the bands. They work at it, for a while, until Moy gets too distracted by a beautiful One Direction fan, and drummer Rafael (Rafael Andrade Munoz) gets caught up with college applications. The contest comes up a couple times, but by the end, even Alex hardly cares. A movie about a band that never even gets to the kind of show that climaxes every other movie about a band? That’s punk, too. We Are Mari Pepa is a sweaty, urgent, beautifullyhonest bliss out.

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TOUCH ME, I’M FAMOUS

After years of taking pictures of celebrities such as Karen O. and Iggy Pop for publications including Rolling Stone, Vice, and Vogue, photographer Aliya Naumoff is letting us get in on all the fun. In her new show, Perceptions, Naumoff, who learned the ropes as an assistant to David LaChapelle, presents her images in an interactive multimedia experience “that allows the viewer to explore the distance between the intimate portrait and how it is perceived through the media.” Viewers are encouraged to touch the plastic oil-filled sticker on the image to reveal a portrait of one of her many famous subjects beneath the distorted layers. Which celebrity will you uncover?

Wed., Aug. 7, 7 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. Starts: Aug. 7. Continues through Sept. 11, 2013

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Five Free Full-Length Troma Musicals To Watch This Halloween (When Your Power Is Back)

If Mother Nature hasn’t already shaken you to the core, and you find yourself in need of a good scary movie this Halloween, New York’s Troma Studios have got you covered. Most known for the cult classics The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Troma holds the distinction of being the world’s longest running independent film studio. They’ve recently uploaded over 200 of their films for free viewing on YouTube, some of which are musicals (or is that musi-kills?) which perfectly fit the budget of anybody looking for a great soundtrack to go with their scares. We’ve gone through their extensive catalog and have chosen our five favorites.

Cannibal! The Musical 1996
Years before he won the hearts of Broadway and took home multiple Tony awards for The Book of Mormon, “South Park’s” Trey Parker took his first crack at a musical with his college film Cannibal! The Musical. A legitimately delightful romp featuring original music, all composed by Parker himself, Cannibal! The Musical is the most fun you’ll have learning about the cannibalistic Colorado legend Alfred Packer. Underground film fans will also love the cameo by the late Stan Brakhage.

Rockabilly Vampire: Burnin’ Love 1996
Can’t decide if you would rather watch a vampire movie or something with Elvis? Let Troma solve that problem for you with Rockabilly Vampire: Burnin’ Love. The story of a girl trying to prove Elvis exists, who falls in love with a veritable doppelgänger for “the King,” who turns out to be a vampire–it’s the ideal love story for people who didn’t find the Twilight saga to be particularly swingin’ enough.

Frostbiter: Legend of the Wendigo 1996
The late Stooges guitarist and frequent Iggy Pop collaborator Ron Asheton stars here in Frostbiter: Legend of the Wendigo. A winterized re-imagining of the Evil Dead films, Frostbiter contains all the dark humor and gore you would want from a bone-chilling isolationist horror film, with the perfect mix of a great soundtrack and stop-motion animation that makes for ideal holiday viewing.

Superstarlet AD 2000
A post-apocalyptic Rocky Horror Picture Show, John Michael Montgomery’s Superstarlet AD is the tale of an Earth dominated by tribes of burlesque dancers who fight off cavemen in search of the pornography of yesteryear. The distinctly Memphis soundtrack makes Superstarlet AD a memorably catchy venture through one of the most glamorous wastelands in cinema history.

Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead 2006
Troma president Lloyd Kaufman was at the helm of this horror-comedy-musical which continues the studio’s tradition of environmentally-conscious messages with biting social commentary. Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead in an honest-to-goodness musical critique of the fast food industry that contains fun, original songs as well as the best reference to Ice Cube’s The Predator album you’ll see in a movie this year.

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Iggy Pop Taught Mike Watt How To Be A Better Bassist

By Katherine Turman

Mike Watt is a jack of all trades, and master of most. Since founding hardcore punk legends Minutemen in 1980 and contributing the phrase “We Jam Econo” to the cultural lexicon, the bassist and “spieler” has added much to America’s left-of-center musical landscape. From the two-bass band dos to late 80s-early 90s alt-rock heroes fIREHOSE to solo albums featuring the likes of Eddie Vedder, Adam Horovitz, Dave Grohl and Thurston Moore, Watt is seemingly never without a new-fangled idea and the guts, talent and cool friends to wondrously implement it.

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His muscular playing and flexible mind earned Watt touring spots with both Jane’s Addiction and The Stooges. And Mr. Iggy Pop has taught Watt a thing or two. “Ig has big time learned me to be a better bassist,” he says. “Sometimes we caught up in our operating of our machines and can’t see the big picture. Ig’s taught me lots about this, like a conductor in some way. His ethic about working a gig where he devotes everything to being there for that gig and nothing halfway or sleepwalking. The moment is everything and essential–not to be taken for granted. Some of this reminds me of [late Minuteman guitarist] d. boon, for me a special kind of integrity.”

Integrity is an apt adjective for Watt as well, as he tours with his Missingmen (since 2005: Tom Watson, guitar, vocals; Raul Morales, drums) in support of his hyphenated-man opera, the tale of a mid-50s punker (Watt) that concludes the operatic triptych that began with 1997’s Contemplating the Engine Room. “I didn’t mean for the parts [of hyphenated-man] to tied together in a linear way but what could I do? In a sense it’s supposed to be more like a wheel than a choo-choo train,” Watt explains. “The drama in hyphenated-man is existential and [not involving] any other characters except myself, though I don’t hardly use the “I” pronoun in it. The piece deals with what I find a trippy part in my life–a sickness that pert-near killed me.”

New lease on life or no, one of the reasons Watt remains an arresting performer who deserves the reverence of a packed house is his current take on the long-ago “econo” ethos. Back then, “punk in the U.S. was very small and you really had to love it and do what you had to do to make it happen,” he reminisces. “I feel those ethics we got into back then still apply now, especially if autonomy is important to you, and it is to me. That’s where the comfort is, not being afraid to let the freak flag fly or feeling like a dick for lame compromises.”

If you miss the uncompromising Mr. Watt this time round (not recommended), fear not, the next few months finds the indie icon releasing an album cut in Italy with Italian musicians; output with guitarist Nels Cline and Greg Saunier of noise band Deerhoof, plus and about a million other pet projects. For someone who still jams econo, Watt is one prolific spieler.

Friday, October 12, Mike Watt + The Missingmen, The Bell House, Brooklyn, 7:30pm Doors / 8:30pm Show / $13 adv / $15 dos

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ROCK ‘N’ SHOOT

With his camera in hand, British photographer Mick Rock has had access to a life most of us dream about—full of glamorous parties, celebrities, and all the debauchery that comes along with it. Also known as “The Man Who Shot the ’70s,” Rock has captured some of the most iconic images in rock history, such as the cover for Queen’s Queen II, which was re-created in their classic music video for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Rocked, an exhibition of Rock’s photographs, features some of his most memorable images of Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop as well as never-before-exhibited candid shots of Bono, Lady Gaga, and more.

Mondays-Sundays, 10 a.m. Starts: Dec. 13. Continues through Dec. 28, 2011

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Fucked Up

Nothing says “Internet dating sucks” quite like seeing the six-person hardcore troupe Fucked Up spaz out at what’s being dubbed as a “Not-So-Valentine’s Show” at NYU. The group’s concerts are notoriously chaotic, as hirsute, overweight frontman Father Damian (who’s gone by the name Pink Eyes) is known to lunge half-naked into the audience, Iggy Pop style, to break the fourth wall and maybe crack a few smiles. At last year’s ATP, he flicked Cocoa Puffs into the audience–which, when mixed with sweat, made for a deliciously disgusting mosh-pit hazard. With Double Dagger, DD/MM/YYYY, and No One & the Somebodies.

Fri., Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m., 2011

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TIBET FOREVER

Seems like old times—the 20th Annual Tibet House U.S. Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall brings back artistic director Philip Glass, and he again promises a powerful and unexpected lineup: Bajah + the Dry Eye Crew, Gogol Bordello, Tenzin Kunsel, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Regina Spektor, Pierce Turner, and, of course, himself. You’d be hard-pressed to find these folks in the same room for other causes; preserving Tibet’s unique culture brings out the spirited.

Fri., Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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Islands+Jemima Pearl

Montreal indie-poppers Islands cut loose on their third LP, Vapours, using Auto-Tune (on “Heartbeat”), lush percussion, and (gasp!) the occasional major key. While they didn’t necessarily make a better record than 2008’s moody, occasionally contemplative Arm’s Way, they certainly made a record that will sound better when played live. Opener Jemina Pearl, former frontgal for Nashville garage popsters Be Your Own Pet, followed a similar path on her solo debut, Break It Up. She sounds positively giddy on “I Hate People” (which features Iggy Pop) and, similarly to Islands, has an instant single in a song called “Heartbeats.” With Toro y Moi.

Thu., Nov. 5, 8 p.m., 2009

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Jemina Pearl Is Finally Her Own Pet

Jemina Pearl is congested. She punctuates conversational pauses with coughs trailed by an apologetic “excuse me,” hardly resembling the fearsome, fearless lioness her old brat-punk band, Be Your Own Pet, made her out to be: the psycho hose beast given to brute-force food fights, bouts of psychological/emotional extremism, and devil-may-care, cross-town bicycle jaunts.

No, at the moment, she doesn’t so easily fit the “Wild Woman Out of Control” slot in the “9 Types of Boyfriends & Girlfriends” rubric Matt Groening conceived for his Life in Hell comic strip. Instead, we’re calmly discussing Break It Up, the twentysomething’s breakout solo debut, the title referencing both Pearl’s favorite Patti Smith song and her recent move from Nashville to NYC, along with, perhaps, BYOP’s dissolution. These day-glo yet meticulously arranged songs channel her former willy-nilly punk energy into oft-chilling, omni-rock self-examinations. If 2006’s Be Your Own Pet and last year’s Get Awkward were charmingly slapdash portraits of the young artist as a whirling, flailing dervish, Break It Up represents an attempt to evolve—personally and artistically. Thunderous, turbo-charged “So Sick” revels in BYOP’s trademark anarchic ecstasy, but it’s as much of a red herring as Pearl’s insistence, on “Looking for Trouble,” that “I feed on your nightmares/I’m living your worst fears.”

Instead, “No Good” is a study in total-breakdown disarray: “Last night’s still on the back of my eyelids/The faded embarrassments of what I did.” Blunt rocker “After Hours” vacillates between sauciness and a gnawing fear of self-destruction; the glittering “Ecstatic Appeal” is a roiling defense of Gemini-sign duality that splits the difference between No Doubt shrillness and a deft Strokes pulse. The mid-tempo, measured glide of “Retrograde” almost disguises its chilling thematic conceit: that our heroine has (or had) a split personality responsible for a serious cutting problem. “Go on, cut a little bit deeper/Let’s see how far we can go,” Pearl sings, later adding, “She says, ‘C’mon, let’s go to the edge/Let’s find out what it’s like to be dead.’ “

Pearl describes the new songs as “little vignettes” addressing things that have happened to her. “Break It Up is far more autobiographical than any BYOP stuff,” she explains. “I had to figure some shit out—I think maybe this record was me figuring some shit out. It’s like a journal entry, but you get to put it to music. It’s cathartic to put it in a song, but way too personal to talk about in person with anyone.”

To that end, “Nashville Shores” swathes her former hometown in surreal, bizarre-o non sequiturs that recall early B-52s: “Stinky skies, trash runs deep/Neon bikinis and purple hair/It’s all picked over, like no one cares/Coca-Cola kisses and sunburned eyes.” This nostalgia and revulsion commingle with a Slurpee’d guitar blare courtesy of former BYOP guitarist John Eatherly, who served here as Pearl’s co-writing partner and handled primary instrumental duties. The sentiment, of course, is hers. “I think moving away from the town you grow up in is good, for everyone,” she says. “When everyone has known you for so long, you can’t grow.”

Pearl perks up when talk rolls around to tender misanthropes-in-love ballad “I Hate People,” a duet with none other than Iggy Pop. Producer John Agnello suggested the collaboration; the Stooges frontman recorded his vocal in Miami and mailed it out. The veteran’s willingness to contribute—Pearl and Pop met briefly at a 2006 U.K. All Tomorrow’s Parties fete—moved her deeply. “I’ve been a fan of Iggy Pop since I first found out about punk, when I was 13 or 14,” she gushes. “I felt so overwhelmed when I heard the vocal, I started to cry—not only that Iggy would know who I am, but that he would like a song I wrote enough to sing on it.”

Jemina Pearl plays Bowery Ballroom November 5

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LUST FOR FRANCE

Sure, you can call Iggy Pop‘s bare-chested style predictable—but his recent decision to record a quiet jazz album and dedicate it to the people of France? Nope, didn’t really see that one coming. Pop did a trailer for his record Preliminaires (see it on iggypop.com), on which he sits poolside with Lucky, a bichon frise, and rambles about this new musical direction as a response to his feeling “sick of listening to idiot thugs with guitars banging out crappy music.” Ha-ha-ha, Iggy, you’re so hilarious! Tonight, New York Times jazz and pop music critic Ben Ratliff talks to the mellowed-out godfather of punk about Preliminaires and what he finds so troubling about the kids today. The bigger question, of course, is: Will he be wearing a shirt?

Wed., June 24, 6:30 p.m., 2009