“IT’S A BROTHERHOOD. You could be dropped off in any random city, see some guy rocking the same shit you like, and as soon as you meet them, they’re your friend,” says local heavy metal DJ Jon “Chains” Grunstein Medina.
He’s referring to the immediate connection between metal fans. We’ve all seen them: those loner metalheads hoofing it down the street or sitting on the bus. There’s at least one in every country, every city, every village, every corner of the Earth. The proud ones wave their flags high. They rock patched-up denim vests or leather jackets, and the most indecipherable, offensive, and evil band T-shirt they can find. They’re not trying to rub squares the wrong way or make onlookers question their religious beliefs with the confrontational, satanic imagery littered on their person. They’re just being themselves. Since metal is predominantly an underground musical movement, one has to work doubly hard to find people who share their interests—that’s why it’s so common for metalheads to display their taste for all to see.
Whether or not you empathize with the metalheads roaming about, you must know they’re just like you. They’re looking for a place to belong, a place where they can congregate and converse with likeminded folks. They want to make friends, start bands, or put on their favorite Judas Priest record and bang their head until their lips turn blue in a room full of cronies doing the same.
Now that we’ve met this universal metalhead, let’s pretend they just moved to the US from another country, they know nobody, they’re a minority, and there’s a language barrier separating them from the general population. Finding the metal scene they hold so dear could be virtually impossible.
Medina and Wes Cueto, AKA DJ Wes Craven, want these lost metalheads to find the community they’re searching for. In 2014 they put together the first Latino Metal Night at East End. The idea was to spin records that spotlighted Latino, non-English-speaking metal bands to draw members of the Latino community who might not be as in-tune with the local scene—the result was basically a big headbanging heavy-metal party.
“It’s a community-building thing,” says Cueto. “It’s more than just being about Latinos and people of Hispanic decent. I feel like most ethnic backgrounds, like Russians, Greeks, Italians, everyone is into that big community thing. Look at the Greek and Polish festivals in town. It’s always fun and people have a great time whether you’re part of that ethnic group or not. It’s a fun way to bridge cultural divides.”
Medina and Cueto are pleased with how the night has developed since 2014: “The first one was kind of a flop,” says Medina. “But the next year a mess-load of people showed up—a lot of people from Beaverton and Hillsboro. People we’d never even seen before.”
“People brought their grandmothers out to the last one,” adds Cueto, describing a Latino punker with charged hair who waltzed in with his abuela in tow.
Excited about the second year’s bigger turnout, Cueto and Medina decided to push the third Latino Metal Night even harder. They created a branded Facebook page for the now-annual event, and decided to book live bands with Latino members like local thrashers Excruciator and Maniak instead of just spinning records. After noticing that Katon W. De Pena (vocalist of legendary Los Angeles thrash band Hirax) had posted on Facebook about his recent DJ gigs, Cueto decided to send him an invite.
“I shared it with Katon just so he could see some of the events we’ve done in the past, and as soon as I sent him the invitation he sent me one of those Facebook message calls. All of the sudden I’m on the phone with Katon from Hirax and he’s like, ‘Hey Wes, tell me about these DJ nights. This looks really cool!’”
The next thing Medina and Cueto knew, De Pena was booked to come up and DJ, bringing even more clout to this year’s Latino Metal Night.
“It’s like a brotherhood that we have. We need to bring more fans of this music together,” says De Pena. “The thing that I’ve always found solace in is the heavy-metal community. I’ve always been welcomed with open arms. That’s the best thing about heavy metal, the unity between the heavy-metal fans. My favorite thing, besides listening to the music and going to concerts, is when you see another heavy-metal fan, and you just know. You have that look when you see each other, and it’s like, ‘What’s up? We’re both metalheads!’”
De Pena says all are welcome to Latino Metal Night, because “if it says metal on it, it’s open to everybody.
“It’s great that they’re so proud to call it Latino Metal Night, but I think we all have to be open-minded enough to go check it out and learn,” he continues. “That’s the biggest problem with the whole world right now. Nobody is willing to learn or change. We gotta check out each other’s cultures because it’ll open us up to not being so ignorant.”