Saturday, July 20, 2024

Black Saturdays at the Punk Market: Tianguis Cultural del Chopo

Every Saturday morning, just outside the Buenavista subway station, darkness converges on the semi-rough streets of near-north Mexico City.

The overwhelming blackness – in hair, jeans, t-shirts and general attitude – gathers for Tianguis Cultural del Chopo: “The Punk Market,” “The Metal Market” or “The Goth Market,” depending on your distinct, specified affiliation. 

“El Chopo” is a weekly flea market dedicated to the somewhat fringe arts often associated with the general lack of color: books on Satanism and black magic; underground films; bondage-inspired fashion; and records and t-shirts from classic rock to severely piercing heavy metal. 

El Chopo originally sprung up in 1980 just outside the Museo Universitario del Chopo, with a small group of hippie-leaning artists, poets and musicians, as a place to trade books and LPs that were often hard to find in Mexico.

As is the case with many of Mexico City’s weekly tianguis, demand grew beyond available space, and the market moved to Calle Juan Aldama, where it now runs alongside the beautiful Vasconcelos Library.

rockers at el chopo
The kids’ mom declined to be in the photo saying, “I’m not a rocker like they are.”

Throughout the 90s and 2000s, the market began to bend more toward goth, punk and metal, while these scenes gained momentum as the more outwardly countercultural movements of the time. Until today, when young kids opening their eyes to the darkness for the first time mix with semi-practiced teens and old-timers in their 40s and 50s who’ve been committed to the scene for years. 

El Chopo is the spot in Mexico City to show off your best gear – leathers and chains, stylized eye makeup and decades-old t-shirts from obscure bands that have long since disbanded. If you can “pass” at Chopo, your legitimacy is beyond question.

The biggest draws at the market these days are the screen-printed knock-off t-shirts, almost always in black, from mainstays like Metallica and The Ramones, to lesser-known Japanese metal bands, and anarchist punk and ska bands from around the world.

As this is Mexico, the skull is king and the logo from American horror punk favorites, The Misfits, is always in heavy supply. 

The shirts are generally well-made and can run from about 50 to 250 pesos, the price rising with the intricacy of the design. Classic band logos are interspersed with homemade Chopo originals, like a soft Renaissance nude above the sharp-edged logo of Norwegian black metal pillars, Burzum.

Toward the back of the tianguis is the Radio Chopo stage, appropriately situated directly in front of an electrical substation, the veritable pulse of modern Mexican metal, punk and heavy electronic music. Up to five bands and DJs perform weekly – giving viewers a chance to see renowned bands for free, and smaller bands a chance for exposure to a pre-made audience.

The CD and LP swap at El Chopo offers an opportunity to try some rare Mexican rock music for a good price.
The CD and LP swap at El Chopo offers an opportunity to try some rare Mexican rock music for a good price.

The shows usually begin at around 11:00am, which can make for an interesting sight of sweaty longhairs headbanging to death metal in the blazing early afternoon sun.

Directly in front of the stage are the roving LP, CD and cassette tape swappers, carrying crates and bags overflowing with American and British rock classics and harder-to-find underground Latin American punk and ska.

These guys (yeah, almost all guys) are in it for the love and offer the chance to dive into some rare Mexican psychedelic gems like Zig Zag, Grupo Nahuatl and Peace & Love for as little as 100 pesos.

Some of the vendors have been collecting records since long before El Chopo began and trading since its inception, so it can be a great opportunity to hear stories from the 60s and 70s, when they were true outcasts.

They were shunned in the streets and their concerts regularly shut down, when the “normal” citizenry found it just fine that the police should beat the hell out of the freaks: the good ol’ days.

• Tianguis Cultural El Chopo runs every Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm on Calle Juan Aldama, between Mosqueta and Luna, in Colonia Buenavista, Mexico City.

This is the 17th in a series on the bazaars, flea markets and markets of Mexico City:

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