Beloved punk frontman Martin Sorrondeguy lands in the city this week for the launch of his new photography book, and pays tribute to Toronto queer icon Will Munro.
A quick Google search of the name “Martin Sorrondeguy” will yield YouTube clips, endless interviews and profiles, and, more appropriately, digital shrines of admiration. You’ll find images of a man holding a crazed stare, performing feverishly, clad in short-shorts and suspenders, or in a sleeveless tee and jeans, or in his leather-daddy finest. I’m not a devout follower or a fan of punk, but I know enough to know that his fans span at least a generation. They’re obsessed with him, and now I’m one step closer. After a career spanning over two decades as a member of the bands Los Crudos, Limp Wrist, and, most recently, Needles, Martin Sorrondeguy has earned a page in the history books of both queer musicians and punk’s modern dissemination. He’s a big fucking deal, okay? Trust.
Sorrondeguy remains a beacon of the underground punk scene, even as it evolved into sub-genres like “queercore” or passed through the so-called “post-punk revival.” Indeed, it feels like the word “punk”—from the music to its allusions—has been on repeat lately, and not just in the myriad think pieces on Pussy Riot. (I think of STAIN, Toronto’s new-ish monthly mash-up of underground acts that push and blend punk with gender-bending theatrics.) The Uruguay-born, Chicago-bred performer, then, is a combination of all that, a saintly deliverance for self-discovering teens and a kind of living legend in the foreground of it all. Perhaps a simple word like “trailblazer” is the best descriptor. Sorrondeguy is a lot of things to a lot of people, people who were around in the days I was buying Britney Spears records. He’s a vocalist and a songwriter. He’s a filmmaker. He’s the head of his own independent record label, Lengua Armada Discos.
Sorrondeguy is also a photographer, a hobby fostered on the road. On Wednesday (Nov. 7), he comes to Huntclub (709 College St.) to launch Get Shot: A Visual Diary from 1985-2012, a collection of photographs that track the global expressions of punk through his travels over five continents. Inside, you’ll find shots of sweeping scenery, or a foggy Eiffel Tower. Friends hanging out. There’s the love and the confusion of growing up. Rebellion, too. Most endearing are images of the friendly aggression and raw performances that capture the very heart of the punk movement, the very soul of a live show. On his way to the 416 from the 514, in a car full of friends “that reminds him of his time on the road,” we chatted about punk life, his new passion, and his fond memories of Toronto’s own queer legend Will Munro that will make you want to cry.
Tell me about your new photography book, Get Shot: A Visual Diary.
The book is a detailed look at my travels as a punk and being in a band from 1985 to 2012. It’s a series of work that features portraits of people, and the places that we visited around the world. It’s 250 pages. There’s some old negative work that I shot in the ’80s and ’90s and then it moves to digital. It’s a project I’ve been working on for two years.
Your Montreal launch was on Saturday night. What were some of the reactions or thoughts you heard?
It was a last minute offer to do something, so I just unexpectedly showed up, but we had a great crowd. A lot of the feedback has been really positive. Before Montreal, I was in Chicago and then Oakland, California, so [it was] a great chance to see reactions. In the book, you get a lot of the live shots of bands and screaming faces and that raw energy, but you also get a very different glimpse of what’s behind the music. The response to those shots has been amazing and most interesting. They create a lot of intrigue—those shots are not of a band, it’s about something else. So a curiosity happens.
What prompted you to starting taking photographs? What do you get from photography that you don’t from performing or being a vocalist?
I always had an interest in photography, and I loved the Polaroid camera I was given as a child. When I was finishing high school, my family pitched in and bought me a proper camera and I began taking film. It just developed from there. You miss a lot while being on stage and performing; you miss the reactions. It’s a very different perspective of what happens in a show. With photography, you get to catch a lot of details that musicians miss. There was a point where I was playing with bands and I had [disposable] cameras I would use to take photos of the audience while on stage. The nature of the music and that scene is so fast and high and happens in a flash.
I’m in the middle of this book, Please Kill Me, about the oral history of punk music. Members of The Velvet Underground were talking about how Lou Reed’s parents hated that he was hanging out with “undesirables” and making music. What drew you into punk?
I realized, after going to all these shows as a teen, “Why am I not grabbing a mic or instrument and doing this?” We always dream about performing or being an artist as a kid. The first time I ever tried it, my friends thought I sucked and I thought I sucked. The second time I started a band and just went for it. As for punk, it’s so much about the crowd—there’s a really deep relationship between the music and the audience. There’s a really amazing thing that happens; it’s very participatory. And I wanted to provide that same sort of energy back to the audience. When I was very young and first saw punk, it was very aesthetically pleasing and shocking and exciting and scary. I was always sort of drawn to it, and once I explored it and saw that raw aggression and passion, I thought, “Yeah, this is for me.” I didn’t see that in any other music. I knew I could never be an opera singer or whatever, and I thought punk was something I could be a part of. Someone’s going to be into it, I thought.
When I read about you and your bands Los Crudos and Limp Wrist, there seems to be this tug-of-war between “straight edge” and “queercore.” How would you describe the movement that is “queercore”—both socially and musically?
Queercore is an umbrella term for people who played underground music, coined in the late ’80s and early ’90s. There were so many queer musicians that were starting to organize themselves, and book shows, creating a network. “Straight edge” was really macho, and people cringed at the idea of having a gay straight-edge band, so we wanted to fuck with that, and people still seem to define us under that, though. There’s still a lot of queer kids in punk and hardcore, and I don’t know if they would use that term “queercore” to define what they’re doing—it’s setting it apart.
You’re dedicating proceeds from Wednesday’s Toronto launch to the Will Munro Fund for queer people living with cancer, and there’s even a picture of Will in the book, right? What was your relationship like?
There’s actually two photos in the book. When someone says “Toronto” to me, I don’t think of the CN Tower, I think of Will. When I was there last summer, it was the first time there was a Toronto without Will. It was being around those familiar places and people, but not being around him. I couldn’t really process his passing. Will was a very huge part of Limp Wrist in the context of Canada, in bringing us here. He photographed our first record cover. We fed off each other, he was highly creative and loved the aspects of music and art, so it was easy to connect. He is definitely missed.
What’s the one thing you’ve learned about the world, or about life, in all your travels and putting out Get Shot?
Through this book, I saw things that I had seen before or not paid attention to, realizing I had really cheated myself. There pictures I thought were terrible turned out to be gems, like the cover. I learned that what we don’t pay attention to is why we should always keep looking.
Not Dead Yet presents Get Shot: The Photography of Martin Sorrondeguy on Wednesday (Nov. 7) at Huntclub (709 College St.). All proceeds will be donated to The Will Munro Fund. Exhibition runs through Sunday. Free. Doors at 8 p.m.