I was fortunate enough to grow up in the time of Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez. Unbeknownst to 5-year-old me, Latino representation in movies was hard to come by in the early ‘90s. The Sandlot character was one of my first favorite movie characters, and until recently I had no idea how important he was to my cultural identity. The band Audio Karate had the same impact on me in the early ‘00s, especially as a young Latino getting into punk rock. The band broke up over a decade ago, but last week announced they would be reissuing their debut LP Space Camp on vinyl. Shortly after, punk legends Descendents announced that Audio Karate would be reuniting to join them on tour this summer. To celebrate, I thought we should make their first single off Space Camp, “Nintendo 89,” our SOTD.
Punk rock has long been an institution of diversity. From Ron Reyes of Black Flag to the entire essence of Suicidal Tendencies, Latino culture was very much embedded in the Southern California scene. As punk rock hit commercial success, Latinos were represented by guys like Mike Herrera from MxPx and the dudes from Fenix Tx. Audio Karate was the first band, however that really felt like dudes I grew up with. The band hails from Rosemead, California, but they embodied their Chicano heritage it spoke to me all the way in central Texas. While they never reached the level of success of the aforementioned bands, they were just as important to me in terms of representation. Their music video for “Nintendo 89” is a testament to that.
The song starts off with this playful guitar riff that fades from stereo L to R mimicking the sound of an Ice Cream Truck rolling through a neighborhood. Then the power chords come in, intermixed with some octave chords that was a staple of the pop punk sound of the early aughts. The intro changes up further with a stop and guitar octave feature that is contrasted with some heavy palm muting. The guitar work is what always struck me as a teenager.
While the switching between palm mutes and octave chords wasn’t anything new, the riffs always sounded cool without being overbearing. They were cool riffs to learn on guitar that weren’t entirely difficult but still fun to play. The guitars also add emphasis to the lyrics as a verse line ends they release the palm mutes as an exclamation point to the statement. The band is so in sync that you really get the feel that they’ve been playing together since they were teenagers.
Audio Karate was a beacon of hope for a young Chicano kid who wanted nothing more but to write and play songs with his friends. Like Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, Audio Karate provided me with the representation of my cultural identity I had no idea that I wanted or needed. Check out “Nintendo 89” on Spotify and Apple Music.
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