“I’m really into San La Muerte artwork..from my understanding is that it originated in what now is Mexico. It has a lot to do with our region, with our culture, we speak fluent Spanish and a lot of our ancestors come from Mexico and that's the other reason [that I named the festival in Spanish]. A lot of my events that I do are in Spanish for that reason, because I never want to forget where I came from or how I was raised. My parents don’t speak English, my first language was Spanish. I always try to engage the language Spanish before anything else,” explained Robert Sullen as he reflected on this past San La Muerte Fest to Sobre Sound.
“As you see my photography, I do a lot of things with bones and more on the death side of things because that's what I admire. So when I go to certain countries and do photography I do a lot of cemeteries and I do a lot of darker imagery stuff and that's where the name got influenced from. At the same time I looked at the ‘san’ as San Antonio, where we live and the ‘La Muerte’ meaning death can relate to the music but when you put it together it has a meaning for me that is very personal and spiritual the definition to me is almost sacred.”
Now in it’s third year, San La Muerte Fest took place at the Paper Tiger a few weeks ago and it’s success on a music festival scale done completely DIY is substantial. With punk and hardcore genres, there's always an air of negative stigma from mainstream society. Yet, it is DIY culture that proves time and time again that it is possible to come together as a community and make dreams reality.
It started as Robert Sullen, a seasoned musician for several bands across the country and international photographer, just trying to book some tour dates for his friend’s band in Texas back in 2012 turned into a mini festival. In 2013 and 2014,Sullen focused solely on his music but in that time he found some inspiration.
“Around 2013 I was in Paris and I went to this festival called unpleasant festival. It’s really DIY. This place was small but packed and all the bands I had been wanting to see for a long time, they played that festival. Spectrius, Tanz Commando, Elvira and the Bats, Hager the Womb,” he recalled. “The lineup was awesome. I fell in love with it. The idea stuck in my head. And I thought about how I wanted to do an event like that to where I grab a bunch of bands I like seeing and under one festival, but keeping it punk and dark. So that's when 2015 happened and it was more of what I really intended to do with the first one. The second one had more of a definition of what the festival was intended to be.”
2016’s San La Muerte was the biggest and most diverse yet as it grew to three days that included artists and bands from all over the world including Spain, Denmark, Canada, Brazil, Australia. Sullen even noted that one thing that he noticed were how many female fronted or all female bands performed and were even in attendance, something he said was refreshing to see in the the hardcore goth and punk scene. Keeping it an all ages event was also important in true DIY fashion. Sullen recalled seeing moms purchasing tickets for her kids wanting to attend and checking the show out with them.
“It was three days, 25 bands, it doesn’t seem like a lot but I hate when you go to a festival and they have 300 bands in one day. I like doing it where it’s one night and 6 bands and you get to enjoy it, it’s more intimate, it’s not a huge arena or venue. That’s my thing about San La Muerte I want to make it as intimate as possible for people to be really close to the bands and all the bands I get are DIY, punk or goth rock bands.Another big thing, everybody works as a community. I have friends that were helping me house bands and helping me with equipment, rides. It’s not a ‘buy a ticket and figure out yourself’ type of deal it’s more of a ‘you have questions just ask me. Involvement. It’s always been like that.”
Sullen solely does all the booking of the bands but is functional due to the kindness of the DIY scene that assisted him with so many things. He had 28 people stay with him at his home, ran the door and even managed to photograph almost the entire festival stating that in the back of his mind he knew he was going to be disappointed if he didn’t.
If you missed the festival or are eager to reflect back upon it, on Saturday September 1, Sullen will be showcasing the photography he’s taken at all 3 San La Muerte Fests in an exhibit titled 'Cortado y Fotografiado' for one night only at Highwire Gallery that includes band portraits and the high energies radiating off them during their performance. All prints will be for sale and there will be zines of his personal photographs as well.
Though still exhausted from the last Sullen said that there will be another San La Muerte Fest in the future. “San La Muerte is always going to be a DIY event, I want to make sure that that is established, I’ve had offers to go and do it in another city but no I want to keep it here because this is where I live. I believe a lot in San Antonio, especially if you want to get things done you have to go out and do them yourself.”