Eyewitness account from Santiago, Chile
April 26, 2015
The Doom show on April 16 will mark a before-and-after point for the punk scene in Santiago. No one expected a customary rush on the door to result in four dead and over a dozen injured. Lots of people are grieving. There is a lot of blame-seeking. People are worried about the future of the scene. Although there have been many (often conflicting) accounts published in Spanish, only trickles of information have come out in English. As a gringo who doesn’t speak Spanish natively, I have tried my best to piece together an overview from other published accounts, conversations with trusted friends, and my own first-hand experience. The most important thing to take away is that there are STILL people in the hospital who need financial support. Please go to the following website to support the families of those who died and the people left with incredibly high medical bills: tinyurl.com/helppunks
Everyone knew the Doom show was going to be big. In the days leading up to the show, I had a lot of friends talking excitedly about it, while in the same breath complaining about the door price: 15,000 pesos (about $25 USD). Some very basic background about punk in Santiago: punk is BIG, most punks are poor, and they don’t like to pay a lot for shows. It’s pretty normal to see a crowd of punks haggling for a group price at the door. Lots of people I know were talking casually about showing up early and seeing if they could get in for free by means of avalancha. La avalancha – the avalanche – is a tactic utilized here to get into big shows without paying. People gather near the doors of a show, and at an opportune moment they rush the door, forcing their way past the bouncers and/or cops. All stadium-size punk festivals, of which there are a few every year, have avalanchas.
On the night of the show, I got to the club about an hour after door time. Nevertheless, there was a crowd of seventy, eighty, a hundred punks out on the sidewalk. Some had tickets and were just drinking with friends before the bands played. Some were waiting for the right opportunity to rush the door. Others were just waiting to see what would happen, eyeing the eight or so skinhead bouncers with uncertainty. At one moment, a group of about four cops passed through the crowd to talk with the bouncers. They didn’t get to talk for long though, because a steadily growing barrage of insults, bottles, and other projectiles started to rain down upon them. The cops took off and things calmed down, although every now and then someone would throw something towards the bouncers.
In the crowd, a punk tried to fight a metalhead who had just arrived. It looked like they had some prior beef. People pulled them apart, but when the metalhead went to turn in his ticket, the punk attacked him again. This was right in front of the bouncers, who were all taken off guard. At this moment the crowd rushed the doors and pushed the bouncers back. This was la avalancha.
The club is subterranean, and the entrance has a wide staircase that leads down to a landing. The bouncers retreated to the landing, and started to beat back the crowd with bats, pipes, and tasers. I couldn’t see the violence very well, but I could tell something was happening down below. The crowd at the front recoiled back, smothering and suffocating some of the people in the avalancha. I don’t know how long this went on for. It felt like a long time, maybe thirty minutes? But it could have been shorter and just felt long. Eventually, the desperation of the folks at the front got communicated to the rest of the crowd, who moved back and opened up a path for bodies to be carried up to the sidewalk.
When the crowd opened up, what I saw was horrible. There were over a dozen bodies, unconscious and injured, all over the landing. Lots of blood and lots of water. Friends I trust have told me that the bouncers were hosing people down with water and shocking them with tasers after they were soaked. People were trying to resuscitate the folks without pulses. One by one, most of the injured were carried up the stairs to the sidewalk. Some punks got into the middle of traffic and forced a city bus to stop. A number of the injured were loaded onto the bus and taken to the hospital, while some refused to move and just wanted to remain on the sidewalk.
At this point I decided to finally enter the club and look for the friend I had come with. Inside, lots of different stories were already circulating about what had happened on the street above: “Somebody died, man.”
“The cops came and they’re rioting up there.”
“It was weird, when I got here there was a bunch of shit on the stairs and I just walked in without having to pay. What happened?”