Inside El Chopo: Mexico City's heavy metal heaven

Inside El Chopo: Mexico City's heavy metal heaven

Photographer Freddie Miller captures the long-running flea market where alternative subcultures go to thrive.

Walking along the mural-lined streets of Tianguis Cultural del Chopo – a flea market in Mexico City – feels like entering a subcultural mecca. Known locally as “El Chopo,” the market on Aldama Street in Colonia Guerrero is open every Saturday from 11am to 5pm, when it’s overtaken by a throng of young punks, ageing metalheads, purple-haired emos, goths (or “darketos”), skaters, skinheads, anarcho-punks and more.

Walking towards it from the subway, you start to see increasing numbers of cut-off denim jackets covered with patches and badges, leathers with gnarly hand-painted tributes to favourite bands. Camo, long hair, tattoos, piercings. Lots of people are wearing MÖTLEY CRÜE x Def Leppard t-shirts (their world tour will hit the nearby Foro Sol later that night and the sense of anticipation is palpable).

Vendors line the sides of the walkway, crammed closely together, selling all manner of wares from CDs and records to posters, patches, band t-shirts, leathers, Dr. Martens, fake Fred Perry, bondage gear, bootleg skate stuff, bongs, Slipknot-esque masks and teddy bears with bloody fangs and evil eyes. Harder stuff is up for grabs too, with covert murmurings of cocaine, marijuana, and peyote from tough looking guys placed throughout the thoroughfare.

Navigating through a dense area of the market, which has a more anarcho-punk and socialist feel than the mainstream rock vibe near the entrance, you emerge at a clearing where a stage has been set-up right in front of an imposing electrical power plant. A local metal band is energetically playing and working the crowd, their frontman wearing a red boiler suit. An old rocker in the crowd turns to me and says: “Man, it’s not like how it used to be here. It’s much smaller and more commercial.”

He was hinting that El Chopo had kind of 'sold out’ – an age-old subcultural catchphrase thrown around any scene that breaks through to the mainstream and loses its edge, when major labels and big corporations realise it can be monetised.

Despite this, you get a real sense of ‘scene’ here, and I notice plenty of El Chopo '42 Aniversario' t-shirts. Though it currently caters for more modern subcultures, the market has been going for decades, originating during the 1980s as a countercultural trading spot for hippies and other subversive people to exchange music, literature and philosophies outside of the mainstream. It began to cater for the harder genres of rock and metal as they rose in popularity, but that sense of counterculture remains at the heart of El Chopo. Celebrating their most recent anniversary, their social media posts read: “At 42 years old, we continue on La Ruta, and always demanding to go against the mainstream, El Chopo is from the neighbourhood, it has been made in the street, and rock has forged it.”

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