Modern punk’s power woman
- Behind Mexican band, Le Butcherettes’ stormy music is a remarkable singer and performer
- Despite their aggressive performances, Le Butcherettes’ band members are a bit old-fashioned in their habits
In their early gigs beginning 2007, the two women who then made up Le Butcherettes, a rock band from Guadalajara, would dress up in blood-splattered aprons and have raw meat, blood, and once even the severed head of a pig as props on stage while they delivered their power-packed punch of punk to audiences in Mexico. Their appearance and the props were meant to shock, but, according to bandleader and singer Teresa Suárez Cosío, who goes by the Teri Gender Bender, were also a way of protesting against the chauvinism, misogyny and discrimination that the two women faced in the underground rock scene in Mexico.
And, with four studio albums to their credit (the latest, bi/MENTAL, was released on 1 February), Le Butcherettes’ gigs are still designed to shock—blood and gore appear frequently on stage and the performance is nearly always raucous. As is their recorded music.
But gloriously so. Le Butcherettes’ music is a brand of uncompromising punk, with Cosío’s singing, songwriting, guitar and keyboard playing as its vital centre. In the 12 years of the band’s existence, she has been the only constant member, while other band members have kept changing. Cosío was born in the US to a Mexican mother and Spanish father but moved with her family to Guadalajara, where Le Butcherettes was formed. Their music, which has at its core the essence of punk’s no-bullshit, minimal style, also draws upon other genres—Los Angeles’ underground beats; Mexican mariachi; funk; noise; and post-rock sounds. Cosío’s lyrics deal frequently with gender issues: forced marriages; violence against women; and the discrimination they face.
On their third album, A Raw Youth (2015), she sings about sex slavery in a deceptively melodic song, Sold Less Than Gold, whose powerful lyrics don’t pull any punches. Incidentally, that album also features Iggy Pop on one of the tracks, and the former guitarist of Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Frusciante, on another.
Le Butcherettes makes noisy music—they are, after all, a punk band—but it is replete with pop hooks and draws frequently from other genres to offer a sound that is nearly always appealing to the ear. And, of course, there are the lyrics that take up hot-button gender-related issues. At shows, Cosío’s performances can be wild. Some years ago at the Coachella festival, she climbed a light rig barefoot, and she frequently jumps into the audience and crowd-surfs while singing. But she is also a versatile singer, gifted with a punk-ready voice that can shriek, snarl and hiss, but one that is also capable of delivering sweet, gentle melodies—with lyrics that are often scathing.
Cosío, who is 29 and now splits her time between Guadalajara and El Paso in Texas, began work on the new album, bi/MENTAL, after a traumatic and violent fight with her mother, who suffers from a mental health disorder. References to parental mistreatment (her father died when she was 13) have surfaced several times in Le Butcherettes’ songs. On bi/MENTAL, it seems her tumultuous relationship with her mother has reached a point of no return. On strong/ENOUGH, one of the songs on the album, she sings, “My heart is headed out the door/ Don’t need your abuse no more/ Won’t take your disrespect/ I’m smart enough, grown enough/ My heart is headed out the door," in what sounds like a reference to leaving her mother. In the official video for the song, she appears dressed in red and with a red streak across her face, and the lyrics are delivered in a pop-meets-punk style that has all the attributes of quickly becoming an ear-worm.
Despite their wild and aggressive performances, Le Butcherettes’ band members are a bit old-fashioned in their habits. For instance, the current line-up of four—besides Cosío, there is Alejandra Robles-Luna (drums), and brothers Riko-Rodríguez-López (guitars and synths) and Marfred Rodríguez-López (bass)—live communally like bands in an earlier era would do, and they alternate between Mexico and the US. Their journey has been a struggle. In Mexico, as in many other places, the music business and labels, strongly prejudiced against women musicians, were inclined to dismiss them or give them a raw deal. The shocking props that Cosío adopted were a protest, a “screw you" statement aimed at such discrimination.
The themes notwithstanding, Cosío’s lyrics sound like poetry. On struggle/STRUGGLE, she sings: “Let’s steal from anything/ Everything resembling law/ We don’t really believe anything/ Everything the sky tells us." As in the past, guests grace the new album, and, on the first track, spider/WAVES, the iconic former front-man of American punk band Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra, 60, does a spoken word interlude. Another early punk icon, Alice Bag, sings on mothers/HOLDS. On bi/MENTAL, Cosío’s songs are about breaking family ties; changes; and farewells. Often, such themes can make songs seem self-pitying or maudlin. But Le Butcherettes is a punk powerhouse that can transform those sentiments and emotions into punchy arena-rocking tunes.
Le Butcherettes’ music is like the unleashing of a musical storm. A storm at whose centre is a vocalist with incredible energy and power.
First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.
THE LOUNGE LIST
Five tracks by Le Butcherettes to bookend this week
1. ‘spider/WAVES’ from ‘bi/MENTAL’
2. ‘father/ELOHIM’ from ‘bi/MENTAL’
3. ‘Sold Less Than Gold’ from ‘A Raw Youth’
4. ‘Henry Don’t Got Love’ from ‘Sin Sin Sin’
5. ‘mother/HOLDS’ from ‘bi/MENTAL’