This article was born out of sheer frustration.
Despite decades of witnessing and participating in what I thought was a thriving scene of bands, gigs, and general hellraising, I kept hearing from people no more than a few miles away that they had no idea an eastside punk scene existed. This was usually remedied with a conversation and a homemade cassette “compilation” of tunes culled from personal copies of demos and such.
Things became more problematic when the academic world and a few eastside scholars, historians, and musicologists began creating and perpetuating a largely mythological narrative of the area’s punk history posited solely around an eight-month period in 1980, two-to-three bands, and the Vex—and they were even fucking up that legendary club’s history. Attempts at getting anyone within that vacuum to listen to, let alone acknowledge, the fact that East L.A. punk’s story was bigger and more complex proved fruitless, at best resulting in a dismissal that amounted to anything outside of that small window of time as historically insignificant. Never mind that a number of bands that went on to be quite significant, in their estimation, were rooted in the scene’s larger history—it simply didn’t exist as far as they were concerned. Flummoxed, I decided to bypass the academic circle jerk and use the time-honored fanzine tradition to piss in their pool. With Todd’s urging and help, I pulled together the following article for Razorcake #3 in 2001.
The version presented here is a revision of a revised version subsequently featured on my pal Peter Don’t Care’s Nihilism on the Prowl punk history website in the mid-’00s, partly to correct and update some of the band information (and included the Looters, at Shane White’s request), and partly to counteract an unauthorized version that somehow made its way onto the web and was being incorrectly attributed to someone else. Some stubborn errors on my part continued to exist in both versions. For example, although initially picking up in a passing conversation with Todd Spitboy that Chicano Christ was an alter-ego of sorts to Econochrist, I later found out this wasn’t true, but somehow failed to correct it in the Nihilism version. I’ve cleaned up what errors (and some snarky comments) I could find and again updated some of the band information.
Outside of that, I’ve done my damnedest to resist the urge to completely overhaul the article and have instead left it largely as it was—including all the bits I now, some eleven years later, find a bit embarrassing, which is no small feat for someone with a brutal perfectionist streak. Those interested in the original version can find it archived in the “Back Issue PDFs” section of this website. I also suggest you take a listen to podcasts #61 and #65 while you read it.
I mention this in the article’s body, but I feel it’s important to stress that this was intended to be a primer on East L.A. punk and not a definitive history. Numerous bands and sub-scenes I wanted to include were left out because of the dearth of information I had available at the time, and so many more have graced the neighborhoods’ backyards and halls that I don’t believe THE definitive history can be written, though I have tried to contribute to A history in subsequent writing and film pieces, efforts anchored on my own experiences, more expanded in scope and hopefully more inclusive.
As for the East L.A. punk scene itself, it continues on, ebbing and flowing as generation after generation draws inspiration from punk rock, with the current crop of kids commanding a huge and nebulous amalgamation of sub-scenes covering punk, street punk, goth, hardcore, psychobilly, ska, grind, and pretty much any other genre you can think of. Technological advances have made it a lot easier to promote gigs and network, and the recording and releasing of music is well past the days of boomboxes and cassette demos. The backyard gigs continue weekly, with many bands not afraid to pop off and play gigs in other cities, states, and even countries. Punk-friendly clubs are cropping up, and even a new incarnation of the Vex has opened its doors in recent months. To appropriate a line from a song by The Crowd, “the old is the new, now the new is the old,” and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way. —Jimmy Alvarado, east side punk por vida, 2012
Dedicated to the Memory of Jason “Boomer” Escobedo
We get to the gig around 9:30 p.m., a pack of twelve or thirteen kids with spiked hair, faded denim jackets covered in a chaotic splash of color and band logos. Assorted cases of beer in tow, we walked more than a mile through neighborhoods often hostile to people like us to pay three dollars and stand in a backyard filled to capacity, get drunk, and raise a little hell as our friends line up in varying band formations every half hour or so and tear through their sets. Their efforts are lit by a single lamp strategically placed on the makeshift stage at the back wall of the house. After a little searching, we find the other heads from the neighborhood—who came to the gig in two carloads—in the far corner of the yard with a keg between them.
We are collectively the punks from City Terrace, but we are by no means alone in the backyard. Kids from Montebello, Huntington Park, Highland Park, South Gate, Alhambra, El Sereno, Monterey Park, and other areas have also come out tonight to see the Stains, who are rumored to be making a rare appearance. I make my way through the crowd, can of Bud in hand, place my very scrawny self squarely in front of the stage, and begin heckling the members of Side Effects, who are friends from Whittier.
“You guys are too stupid to play and your drummer is a gimp,” I shout at them through the din of tuning instruments. Behind me, another critic chimes in with “Go back to Whittier you has-been scumbags.”
Their singer smiles. “Glad to see you guys, too,” he deadpans into the microphone. Their drummer four-clicks and, as the band begins their first song, the backyard erupts into the sea of ritualized violence we call dancing. Many fall to the ground, but are quickly picked up by watchful friends and relatives. Somewhere in the middle of the set, I make my way back toward the keg, parched, sweaty, and loving every minute of the night. Two bands later, my brother informs me that he’s talked one of the bands into lending us their equipment and that we will be playing after Anti-Social, who are currently onstage. We find Scott, our singer, and make our way back toward the stage. Anti-Social finishes and we tune up the borrowed instruments. Scott introduces us as “just another band from East L.A.” and we begin our set amidst a hail of reciprocated insults from the members of Side Effects and a shower of wasted beer.
EAST LOS ANGELES: A PRIMER
“We’re the ones that have been neglected / Conformity never accepted” —Black Jax
East Los Angeles has long been the bastard child of Los Angeles proper, which extends from the bridges that cross the Los Angeles River to the Pacific Ocean (officially, the eastern border of Los Angeles City is Indiana Street, which is in the heart of East Los. Except for the LAPD, few Angelenos seem to acknowledge this fact). Everything on the eastern side of the river, since the beginning of the last century, has been viewed by the population on the Westside as either squalid, dangerous, or simply someplace decent people would not be caught dead in, day or night. As a result, vast amounts of people on the west side of Los Angeles have never set foot in East Los Angeles. Conversely, much of the population east of the river has regularly made trips over the bridges, serving as a source of cheap labor for the city’s businesses and more affluent residents.
Contrary to popular belief, East Los Angeles has never been a solely Mexican area. While it has been identified as the largest Mexican city outside of Mexico, much of L.A.’s Japanese, Italian, Black, Jewish, Chinese, Russian, and Central American populations have also called parts of East L.A. home through the years. In fact, Los Angeles’s noted Fairfax District was the result of the area’s Jewish community moving west from Boyle Heights following the influx of other minority groups into the area. The more inquisitive reader can find out more about the area’s history in the book East Los Angeles: Anatomy of a Barrio, by Ricardo Romo.
On the whole, the general attitude of Westsiders toward the Eastside seems to be that aside from “safe” areas in the San Gabriel Valley, such as Pasadena and San Marino, the Eastside simply doesn’t exist as part of Los Angeles. Tourist guides that tout the virtues of Hollywood and Venice warn their visitors to avoid dangerous areas like East and South Central Los Angeles, especially at night, and when local publications like L.A. Weekly refer to the “Eastside,” they are actually referring to Silver Lake and Echo Park, which are still west of downtown. It is true that places like East and South Central Los Angeles can be dicey areas, but they are no more hazardous than celebrated tourist traps like Hollywood Boulevard or the Venice Boardwalk.
While it is easy to blame the rest of the county’s aversion to East Los Angeles on the ominous specter of racism, and its origins were no doubt based on the dominant white population’s racist attitudes towards their non-white neighbors, it has since mutated into something less sinister over the course of generations. Gone are the days when the Mexican population, not allowed on the beaches, instead took their families to water-filled rock quarries and aqueducts with names like Marrano Beach and Sleepy Lagoon. Still, the aversion on much of the rest of the county is still very much alive. While most of the population probably forgot long ago the overtly racist reasons why East L.A. was such a bad place to be, they have nevertheless retained the fear that was the end product of the racism.
As a result, the efforts of Eastside artists, from painters to writers, actors to musicians, are rarely recognized. For every Los Lobos, Anthony Quinn, or Vicky Carr, there have been a hundred Ruben & the Jets, Mestizo, Con Safos, and so on. Many bands found it nearly impossible to play outside of the neighborhoods., Forget about playing a coveted club date in, say, Hollywood. This bias is equally true of the Los Angeles punk scene. Most, if not all, of the L.A. bands that the average punker has heard of are from Hollywood, Orange County, or the South Bay. Many East L.A. punk bands had a hard time getting gigs with their Westside counterparts in the early days and things haven’t really changed much.
East L.A. bands are still often seen as less “real” and often dismissed as “taco punk” or some other stupid slight. One review of the local band Union 13 consisted of the reviewer trying to figure out how a punk band from L.A. could exist without his knowing it, followed by a dismissal of them as some sort of made-up group the label owner concocted to cash in on the “Spanish Rock” craze sweeping the nation. In actuality, the group had been recording demos and gigging in East Los Angeles’s backyard party scene years before the release of their first album. Early bands that did manage shows outside of East Los Angeles and released vinyl often had to rely on connections with the movers and shakers within the “real” L.A. punk scene. For example, East L.A. group The Brat’s debut EP, Attitudes, was released on Tito Larriva’s (of the Silver Lake-based and Hollywood-affiliated band the Plugz) Fatima label and the record’s lyric sheet was handwritten by X’s Exene Cervenka.
Even worse, East L.A. music historians have been equally culpable for slighting the work of the area’s punk and underground bands. Every few years, some Chicano musicologist or music historian will try to put out the “definitive” history of the East Los Angeles music scene. For the most part, their efforts are commendable. Once they get to the section covering the East L.A. punk and underground scene, however, their work is suddenly anemic. The two bands usually mentioned are the Brat and Los Illegals and, according to many of these books, serve as the alpha and omega of East L.A.’s punk scene—nothing before, after, or in between exists. If they do mention any other punk bands, they find bands with ethnic names or members from other areas and try to lump them in with the others (e.g. the persistent tendency to place the Plugz or Chula Vista Chicano punk band the Zeros in with their East L.A. counterparts; the reference to Chicano Christ, whose members were from Long Beach and points further south, in the book Land of a Thousand Dances).
East L.A. has long been home to a large, vibrant punk and underground music scene, one as diverse and exciting as any of Los Angeles’s more celebrated scenes. It has somehow prospered despite virtually no radio airplay, precious few formally released works, almost no labels, and a few short-lived clubs. Like many of its more famous counterparts, the East L.A. scene has long been comprised of many smaller scenes that freely intermingle with each other. Although elitism and infighting between bands, fans, and scenesters are abundant, they have rarely impeded the basic tenet of the efforts of those involved, which was to have as much fun as possible by any means necessary.
What follows is in no way an attempt to serve as the source of every punk band that has plugged in and made noise in a garage east of the L.A. River, nor is it to serve as some sort of “definitive history of a scene.” Rather, look at this long block of lettering as an introduction to a scene that was and is populated by a whole host of denizens that most likely never knew existed. I had hoped to include profiles of many more bands, but unfortunately was unable to do so due to friends who have been lost over time, those who have died, those afflicted with terminal flakiness, or just a general lack of interest on the part of those I called to participate.
Due to the dearth of related material on the subject, much of the information here comes from more than twenty years worth of memories spanning hundreds of parties, gigs, and fights in assorted backyards, clubs, rented halls, living rooms, and other subterranean hellholes. While it is true that I have played in many bands over the course of the last twenty years, the intent of this article is not an arrogant attempt to highlight my personal efforts as a musician. I know full well that my efforts are no more or less important than those of others. Punk was and is a hands-on type of subculture where everybody involved plays an active part, so as a result, much of the history of punk in East L.A. and my own personal history are interrelated.
The reader will note that Los Illegals and the Brat are not represented here. Their exclusion is in no way intended to dismiss or disrespect their efforts. They’ve been the primary focus of all things “punk” in East L.A. long enough and have both been well covered elsewhere. It’s someone else’s turn now.
A BRIEF PERSONAL RECOLLECTION OF EAST L.A. PUNK LIFE
The first time I remember seeing the phrase “punk rock” was in a 1980 issue of Creem. I bought the magazine because of articles on the Pretenders and Devo, who, at the time, had replaced my prior fascination with Kiss and other related hard rock bands. The classified ads in the back of the magazine had repeated references to punk rock T-shirts, sunglasses, and even an ad for a “punk rock,” one of many variations on the ridiculous pet rock craze that swept the United States in the late 1970s.
I went to an alternative school (as in an “alternative form of education,” according to the hippies who founded the school in the ‘70s) in Highland Park. Like many of the kids who attended this school, my younger brother and I were bused there. We lived in an area of East L.A. called City Terrace. Through some of the other kids in school, I soon learned about punk and a whole world of bands I had no idea existed. They were bands with strange names like the Weirdos, Germs, Go-Go’s, Flesh Eaters, and Black Flag. I also learned of a radio station with some DJ named Rodney who regularly played these bands. My brother and I began listening to Rodney’s show every Saturday and Sunday night.
The first punk group I ever saw was the Alperheads, a joke band named after a classmate who was one of the editors of Ink Disease fanzine. The bass player for the Alperheads was Shane White, who would later became a member of the Rip Offs. If memory serves, the band practiced their three-song set only once the night before their gig and they played only that one show, which took place in our school’s recreation room. Two of their friends, who snuck onto the campus just to see them, began pogoing, bouncing up and down to the beat, laughing the whole time. As the Alperheads crooned the mantra, “We are young, we are bold, we are Alperheads / Nobody loves us but our mothers” to the three half-learned chords that made up the music, I couldn’t help but think that they were the worst band I had ever heard. But something about the noise they were making, and the attitude with which they made it, piqued my interest.
I didn’t begin wearing many of the stereotypical punk accoutrements until a couple years later, but my involvement in the scene began not long after that show in the rec room. Although neither of us knew how to play an instrument, my brother and I started our first band sometime in the summer of 1981. My gear consisted of an acoustic guitar. To make it “electric,” I took a cheap condenser microphone, wrapped it in toilet paper, plugged it into an old movie projector, and then shoved the mic into the sound hole of the guitar. The sound that resulted, besides the incessant feedback, was similar to two trains colliding in the middle of an earthquake. My brother screamed at the top of his lungs. We made tapes and gave them to friends. It was fun. A couple of years later, we borrowed some real equipment from an aunt, talked a schoolmate (a Chinese girl with no apparent sense of rhythm) into playing drums, and played Dollar Night at the Cathay de Grande in Hollywood with Mad Parade, the Membranes, the Steps, and the Factor. I also began writing for friends’ fanzines and made frequent failed attempts at starting my own.
My brother and I soon learned that being a punk in East L.A. was no spring walk in the park. More often than not, it involved suffering through catcalls, incessant hassling from parents, police, and principal alike, running from people bent on our destruction, fighting, beatings, concussions, and bleeding. Soon enough, though, we found other punks in the neighborhood and we all began hanging out together and going to shows. Together, we all started bands, supported each other’s efforts, wrote for each other’s magazines, ingested staggering amounts of illicit substances and malt beverages, and put on our own shows.
THE WRITTEN WORD
Of the many fanzines that popped up over the years, the two that are best known by punks outside the East L.A. area are Ink Disease and Pure Filth. Both were very influential, outspoken, sometimes brutally honest in their likes and dislikes, and often painfully funny to read. As a result, both also had more than their share of both worshippers and enemies.
Ink Disease was started by started by Rachel Siegel, Antonio Lopez, and Ivan Morley, but was headed by Thomas Siegel and Steve Alper for the majority of its existence. The zine, based in the Mount Washington area of Northeast L.A., was mostly national in scope, but the occasional feature could be found on their friends’ bands, like Armistice and Truce. In its early stages, Ink Disease was similar in style to many other fanzines of the time, with chaotic layouts, poorly reproduced photos, and the like. In addition to interviews with bands and record reviews, one could find reviews of old movies that were playing at Pasadena’s Rialto Theatre, copy clipped out of various newspapers, “The Adventures of Punk and Pop” comics and Brady Rifkin’s bumper sticker reviews. As it gained popularity (at one point rivaling L.A.’s flagship fanzine Flipside), its layouts and text became more coherent and the general vibe of the fanzine became considerably more focused. Ink Disease continued into the 1990s. Distribution later became more sporadic, first hitting newsstands quarterly, then annually before it finally disappeared.
Pure Filth was a different beast. It was the brainchild of Shane White, Ralph Balcarcel, and the enigmatic Carl Bellows. Pure Filth was unashamedly regional, outspoken to the point of insulting even their friends, elitist, crude, and funny as hell. The only thing painstakingly laid out was usually the cover, which featured women whom the editors deemed sexy. Past that, the reader was left to his/her own devices to figure out what was going on. Following an entirely handwritten first issue, the magazine’s text was typeset on an old typewriter with missing keys, laid out in whatever direction seemed interesting to the person laying it out, and then Xeroxed en masse.
The bands interviewed were usually unknown outside a small circle of people, and the interviews themselves often quickly degenerated into recordings of situations having nothing to do with the band’s music. Typical questions ran along the lines of, “Some people get up at the crack of dawn. Whose crack do you get up to?” As for the magazine’s other contents, the reader could wade through Ralph’s semi-autobiographical “Adventures of the Hookermeister;” “On Skinheads,” a list of their friends who either were or would soon be suffering from male pattern baldness; a sometimes painfully personal gossip section; diatribes on how Flipside and punk rock in general sucked; reviews of literally anything; and assorted toilet humor comics. When Ralph, Shane, and his brother Jason packed up their band and moved to the Bay Area, they took Pure Filth with them and continued to put out issues until it became a little more popular than they were comfortable with, at which time they packed it in and Shane began writing reviews for Maximum Rocknroll.
There were, of course, other great fanzines from the Eastside, including Multiplication of the Typical Joe, Outcry, and Thrasher’s Digest, most of which started out strong and then sort of petered out after a few issues. All, however, were essential in helping to inform those few readers inside and outside the area of what was going on in the neighborhoods.
The occasional punk club did pop up in East Los Angeles—Stage One, Bit of New York, Brooklyn Theatre, and the Tropico, to name a few—but most were short-lived. The club that survived the longest was the Vex. The Vex, started by Los Illegals vocalist and muralist Willie Herrón and Joe “Vex” Suquette, began as a series of bi-weekly shows on the second floor of notable East L.A. arts center Self-Help Graphics. In its early incarnation, the Vex coupled Westside punk and underground bands with their Eastside contemporaries, as well as poets and performance artists. It soon became a focal point for the punk scene in Los Angeles County.
When fans attending a Black Flag show rioted and effectively destroyed the venue, it was forced to move to multiple locations around the area for various reasons before finally settling in an old discotheque in El Sereno, where it lasted until 1983. The lack of a steady club scene in the area, not to mention the virtual impossibility of most bands obtaining a slot at any of Hollywood’s clubs, led to the rise of the backyard party scene. The mechanics were simple: find someone with parents who were either gullible or out of town, make flyers, pass them out at larger shows at the Olympic Auditorium, Fenders Ballroom, and anywhere else you could, show up at the house with a couple of kegs of beer, play, dance, fight, leave when the cops crashed the party, and find someplace else to finish the beer (usually an alley close to home). For three bucks or less, one could see—depending on when and if the cops showed up—anywhere from one to eight bands play.
A steady network of backyards began to build, places with names like Bird and Cornwell, First and Velasco, Beastie’s Pad, Boo-Boo’s House, Joe’s Pit, Flipper’s Pad, and the Dustbowl (so named because a stifling cloud of dirt would rise every time a slam pit started). One could soon find a place to go on any given weekend. Many of the places lasted years and the parties themselves were usually wild, drunken, sometimes violent affairs. Most, if not all, of the bands got paid with money or lots of free beer. Few complained about this arrangement.
SHUT UP AND PLAY
As with any other scene, East L.A. bands were plentiful and often short-lived. Some were brilliant; others were absolutely terrible. However, all were respected and encouraged to make as much noise as possible. The bands were also very incestuous, and it wasn’t uncommon for one person to be in four or five different bands at the same time with three other people, all in the same predicament. Few of the bands ever saw the inside of a studio and even fewer ever released a proper record. Most made demo cassettes on either a four-track recorder or a ghetto blaster, copied them onto cheap tapes, and passed them out to friends or sold them. A handful of other would-be music moguls sometimes took these demos, picked a few songs from each tape, recorded them onto other cheap cassettes, and passed them off as compilations. The following is an incomplete list and brief descriptions of some East L.A.-area bands active from 1981-1990.
Please note the emphasis on incomplete.
A.D. Do—An early to mid-‘80s Highland Park group. This band included Benny Siegel and Morgan Hunt, both of whom were responsible for Multiplication of the Typical Joe fanzine. Inspired by the same sense of humor that permeated their fanzine, their early recordings were of a “fun” nature, but as the influence of DC hardcore bands like Minor Threat and Faith became more prevalent, they developed a harder edge. Aside from a few garage demos, their only other known appearance was on the Flex Your Mom compilation cassette, of which there were less than thirty “legitimate” copies. In most recent years, Benny has been a longtime member of the band Useless. Morgan moved to Humboldt County, where he was a member of the bands Letterbomb and Forced Failure and, as of last contact, worked as a glass blower.
Anti-Social—Originally a non-band that would get their name on flyers and then not show up to play, “because we’re anti-social.” Heavily influenced by Bad Religion before it became fashionable, the band was started by guitarist Manny and his brother Charlie after Manny quit Copulation. They released a couple of demos and garnered a pretty sizable following before throwing in the towel. During the 1990s, Manny played in the Deutschmen, Revolution 9, and Media Blitz for a time. Anti-Social re-formed in recent years, is now based in the San Jose area, gigging again, and can be found on all the usual music/social networking sites.
Armistice—One of L.A.’s early “peace punk” bands. Taking many of their political cues from Crass, Crucifix, and the like, they tried to get L.A.’s notoriously apathetic punk scene to care about something. Noteworthy members included drummers Aaron (of kiddie punk band Mad Society), Sard (later in Black Jax), and guitarist Ivan Morley (later of Iconoclast and currently a noted artist who uses non-traditional media as “paint”). Their only known recordings were a live demo recorded at Roxanne’s Club and some tracks on the Rock for the People of Highland Park compilation cassette.
Black Jax—The best band ever to come out of Monterey Park, in my humble opinion. Their sound was a mixture of English punk rock circa 1977 and early ‘80s Orange County hardcore. They didn’t have a bad song in their set. Singer Pogo commanded the stage like a pro, emoting every line while bouncing all across the stage. Although the band officially broke up in 1986, they reunited occasionally for gigs, and Pogo fronted all-new lineups through the following two decades before passing away in 2008. A collection of two early demos was legitimately released on disc in 2001 by Wankin’ Stiphs Records. A rumored album of later demos has to date not materialized.
Bloodcum—Two members of this band were supposedly related to members of speed metal band Slayer (in actuality, only bassist John Araya, brother of Tom, is), so they were often facetiously referred to as the “Slayer Brother Band.” The early work of this Huntington Park band was aggressive hardcore and, although they later introduced more of a metal influence into their sound, they managed to retain their punk edge and a sense of humor, as evidenced by songs like “Harassment by Farm Animals.” Over the course of their initial four-year run, Bloodcum released a couple of 12” EPs on Wild Rags Records and a couple of demos. From the mid-‘90s until 2002, guitarist Robert Tovar played with Blues Experiment, a band affiliated with L.A.’s “Chicano Groove” scene, while other guitarist George Hierro joined members of FCDN Tormentor in Out Of Reach. John Araya and Our Band Sucks guitarist Gabriel Bocanegra played together for a time in the band Dogmatic. Like many of their peers, Bloodcum reformed in recent years (although without John Araya, who now lives in Canada and is playing with the band Thine Eyes Bleed), and were gigging regularly. They have since broken up.
C.O. (Conscientious Objector)—An ultra-hardcore thrash band featuring infamous scenester Batman on vocals. Their sets often sounded like a roar of noise with only brief stops to let the audience know that they were beginning a new song. C.O., to the best of my knowledge, only recorded one demo and rumor has it that Batman has become pastor at a Christian church after years of living a very dangerous life.
The Chainsaw Blues/The Fingers—The Pure Filth house band(s). The Chainsaw Blues was originally a punk rock alter ego of sorts to the band La Triste. With the departure of guitarist Craig Tyron, the addition of Plain Agony singer Tito Lopez, and bassist Raul “Ralph” Balcarcel and Shane White’s introduction to Billy Childish records, the band rapidly became connected to the then-burgeoning garage punk scene of the late-‘80s/early-‘90s. The personnel shuffled after about a year. Brady Rifkin was given vocal duties and the band was re-christened The Fingers. Brady was later booted out, Ralph became the singer, and Becky Minjarez took up bass chores. The Fingers became a three-piece unit with drummer Jason White handling vocals when Becky quit to become a mom. After gaining considerable popularity outside of East L.A., the band moved to San Francisco and promptly broke up. Shane and Jason joined the Rip Offs and the rest, as they say, is history. The Chainsaw Blues’ recorded output consists of one demo. The Fingers released four EPs, and despite recent internet rumors, a possible anthology CD did not came to fruition.
Circle One—One of East L.A./San Gabriel Valley’s best-known, best-documented, and most controversial groups. Singer John Macias was a charismatic figure in the L.A. punk scene whose love for Jesus, hatred of police, and unflagging dedication to hardcore rubbed more than a few people the wrong way and attracted a rabid following/gang, known as “The Family.” Circle One’s music, with its frenetic beats and John’s meticulous efforts to actually sing, was undeniably powerful. Circle One’s vinyl appearances are many, including two albums, assorted compilation appearances, one 7” EP, and the more recent Are You Afraid? CD on Grand Theft Audio. This last release couples their first album with live tracks, various demos, and compilation cuts. Guitarist Mike Vallejo has since been in seemingly every hardcore band from L.A. to Oxnard and ran a recording studio and a record store, working under the name Feedback, in different parts of the San Gabriel Valley. Various other members have been in Fluf, Fifi, Black Jax, and Corpus Delecti. Sadly, police shot John to death on Santa Monica Pier in the early 1990s. Circle One reformed in the 2000s with various lineups featuring different vocalists (the most recent including original bassist Mike Ituarte rejoining the group) and remain quite active in the local scene, steadily gigging and releasing another album in 2008.
Crankshaft—Another well-known group led by the legendary Lino Lousy. Lino’s decidedly non-PC lyrical content (odes to “new wave homos,” massacre killers, and armies of the dead) no doubt caused many a raised eyebrow (not to mention destruction of punk records by irate parents), but their metal-tinged hardcore was top-notch. Most of the band’s vinyl output consists of tracks on various Mystic Records compilations, three cuts on Smoke 7’s Sudden Death compilation, and a host of demos. Lino is currently doing a long prison stretch, but some of the other members are keeping the band alive via their MySpace page, where one can find more information about the band.
The Dog’s Breakfast—An early “bedroom” group consisting of Jim Vavrik and brothers Shane and Jason White. They recorded one known demo, which dances a fine line between early punk rock minimalism and flat-out noise. Three tracks from the demo, “V.D. in Your Eye,” “Destroy,” and “The Children Don’t Play,” appeared on the Flex Your Mom cassette compilation.
FCDN Tormentor—From Highland Park circa the mid-1980s, these guys were early purveyors of what would become known as black metal. The “FCDN,” placed at the beginning of their name to differentiate them from another band with the same name, stood for “Fuckin’ Catastrophic Destructive Noise,” and the description definitely fit. Their sound was loud, fast, and featured the same strangled-cat vocals still popular today. They put out at least one demo, an EP on Deep Six Records, and continued to play shows well into the 1990s. Drummer Ralo went on to play in No Comment, Blues Experiment, and Ollin.
Fish Head—Fish Head, formed in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, married the death rock of bands like the Bauhaus to blues and hardcore punk and came up with a sound all their own. Song subjects ranged from Mansonesque fantasies, to hanging hippies, to telling a girl’s parents in gory detail what sex with their daughter was like. They quickly began to garner notoriety outside of the neighborhood, but after drummer Randy Rodarte moved to Berkeley, attempts to keep the momentum going with new drummer Guy failed. They ultimately called it quits, with all but John continuing under the name of Bluff Road. The band recorded one demo, a live cassette recorded at a 4th of July party exists, and a few performances were videotaped, and that’s pretty much the sum of their recorded output. A single was allegedly scheduled to be recorded by Tito Larriva of the Plugz and released on Flipside Records, but nothing came of it. Singer John got married and had kids. Randy went on to drum in the Tumors for a time, and continues to this day as one of the only original members left in the band Ollin. Bassist Ralph was booking punk shows at the Tropico Club in East L.A. at the turn of the century. Later drummer Guy still jams with his brother on occasion. Guitarist Joey is lost in the void.
The Fuckin’ Assholes—The fact that none of the members of this band could really play their instruments didn’t stop them from playing many a backyard show. Their sets usually consisted of singer Chris screaming about being a teenage alcoholic or repeating the phrase “You’re just a caca head,” while the rest of the band flailed on their instruments in wild abandon. After a while, one of the members would walk off mid-set to get a beer and someone from the crowd would go up and play. The band recorded two known demos. Most of the members eventually learned to play and went on to Butt Acne, Peace Pill, and Fish Head.
Hawaii’s Hardcore—From the ashes of No Mind Asylum came Highland Park’s premier straight edge band, although few (if any) of their songs had anything to do with straight edge. The members performed in Hawaiian shirts and had crossed palm trees drawn onto their hands instead of the stereotypical “X.” Song subjects ranged from biographies of horny old movie stars, to hating peace punks, to loving Madonna. One demo was recorded and tracks from it were released on the Rock for the People of Highland Park and Flex Your Mom compilation cassettes. Shane White and Craig Tyron went on to an incarnation of Laughing Matter, which morphed into La Triste, then The Chainsaw Blues. Guitarist Steve Stewart moved to Spokane, Washington. Singer Joe Henderson went on to write for Flipside and now works as a medical malpractice defense attorney.
HCOT/Copulation L.A.—Without a doubt, one of East L.A.’s best hardcore bands. The name Hot Cum On Tongue was shortened to HCOT, then Copulation. They added “L.A.” to avoid potential confusion when the band found out there was a European band with the same name. Bassist/singer Johnny “Boots” Rodriguez and drummer Frank, along with a revolving door of guitarists, laid out some solid songs that came and went in a blur of anger and desperation. When Frank eventually left the band, Boots tried to keep things going, but it eventually sputtered out and he joined the Thrusters, Plain Agony, Ollin, and a later lineup of the Black Jax. The band recorded numerous demos and was scheduled to have some tracks on the aborted Flex Your Burrito cassette comp. A few Copulation songs, including “Tina Tina” (renamed “Baby”), “Fabrications,” and “What a Drag” were appropriated by Anti-Social and included on that band’s first demo, much to the consternation of Boots.
Human Retch/Six Gun Justice/Butt Acne—Human Retch was the name that we gave the unskilled noise that was the first foray into the world of music my brother and I made. Following the inclusion of a drummer, the name was changed to Six Gun Justice and survived two shows—a Dollar Night gig at the Cathay de Grande and a very small slumber party for seventh-grade girls for which we got paid a bowl of spaghetti each. After another name change, this time to Butt Acne, the band went through a succession of lineups before finally settling on my brother—renamed “John Justice” by this time—on drums, Scott Rodarte from the Fuckin’ Assholes on bass, and myself on guitar. This lineup lasted into the 1990s, when performances became fewer and Scott moved to Berkeley for a few years. Aside from a legion of demo tapes, the most recent from 1998, Butt Acne’s only official output was one side of a split cassette with Glendale band Voice Of Authority and two tracks on the first Thrasher’s Digest compilation, both released by Chicago tape label P&S Productions in the mid-’80s. The band members who floated through Butt Acne went on to join such bands as Fish Head, Tumors, Peace Pill, Ollin, and Mad Parade.
Insurrected State/No Church On Sunday—Insurrected State was fronted by Sergio, a man who frequently tested the boundaries of how much alcohol a person was capable of drinking. He would oftentimes pass out cold in the middle of a set with the band still raging on behind his inert body. The sound of the band itself was a sort of marriage of the primal approach of bands like Crass and the Mexican hardcore of bands like Atoxxxico and Solución Mortal. Once Sergio was sacked, the band recruited Art Muñoz to handle vocal duties, developed a stronger political bent to their lyrics, changed their name to No Church On Sunday and became much more charismatic and inspiring. The band recorded numerous demos. Following the band’s breakup, guitarist Julio formed Golpe De Estado, which put out a couple of EPs. Art is married with kids, but still finds time to go to gigs regularly and subsequently played bass in numerous bands, including Ollin, Bad Chile, and Tumors. One of No Church On Sunday’s numerous drummers moved up north and joined some really popular Gilman Street hardcore band. I have no idea what happened to Sergio.
Loli & The Chones—Originally called Los Firmazos, Loli & The Chones were initially heavily influenced by Billy Childish and the same ’60s lo-fi rock bands that played a prominent part in the sound of bands like the Fingers. Unlike The Fingers, Loli & The Chones charged their sound with the aggression of early ’80s hardcore, resulting in spurts of bile and venom that rarely lasted longer than their intros. Their sets were often fun, yet intense affairs. One of the more notable ones occurred at a Hollywood club in the late ’90s, where their bassist accidentally split his finger and continued playing with blood flowing freely from the wound, down his bass, and onto the stage. Loli & The Chones released two singles and two albums before calling it a day. Drummer Michelle and guitarist Chris moved on to Bitchschool. Chris then went on to the Fevers, while she went to the Pinkz. Bassist Vince has apparently gone “civilian.”
The Looters—Comprised of two-thirds of the Dog’s Breakfast and two-thirds of Butt Acne, The Looters dedicated themselves to the glorification of pointless violence, Charles Manson, and hallucinogenic substances. John and I, aka the “Flying Alvarado Brothers” (as once we were referred to in an issue of Ink Disease), supplied vocals and guitars, respectively. Shane and Jason White used their bass and drum talents to give the music the necessary propulsion. Although live performances were extremely rare, all were awash in blood and virulence. The three most memorable were the inaugural “Joe’s Pit” gig (which ended when all the windows were kicked out); the Culver City Mason’s Lodge fiasco (highlighted by John’s arrest just before the band hit the stage for trying to sneak beer in, and a riot closing the show one band later); and what’s been referred to over the years as “the New Year’s gig” (where a mentally unstable fan broke a bottle, danced around waving the shards of glass, got socked in the face by a skinhead for his efforts, and spent the rest of the night telling anyone who would listen that he saw Jesus in a lightning bolt). After approximately one year of wanton mayhem, Jason quit and was replaced by graffiti artist, DJ, and one hell of a drummer Tony Quan. By this time, however, Shane’s interest in the band waned and efforts to keep it going were for naught. They called it a day in late 1986. The Looters appeared on the Flex Your Mom comp and were slated to appear on the aborted Flex Your Burrito comp as well, and numerous demos of varying quality and a soundboard recording of the Mason’s Lodge gig were recorded and are still floating around. John and I went back to Butt Acne and Plain Agony, then separately did time in Fish Head, Our Band Sucks, Ollin, Black Jax, and Tumors. Shane and Jason went on to The Chainsaw Blues, The Fingers, The Rip Offs, and a number of different Bay Area-based garage punk bands. Tony became a well known and important graffiti artist before developing Lou Gehrig’s disease and is the subject of the documentary Getting Up: The Tempt One Story.
Malignance/The Rise And Fall—Malignance, which hailed from El Sereno, was another hyper-speed hardcore band fronted by Jaime Chavez. Their initial demos consisted of short bursts of speed and power chords. Coupled with Jaime’s obsession with a girl who refused to date him, the band’s songs were long on ill-natured humor and short on time. The name change to The Rise And Fall brought longer songs, a more metallic sound, and more serious lyrics before they ultimately broke up. While the whereabouts of most of the members are not known, Jaime is currently writing about the underground punk and metal scene, and DJs a show on KNAC, under the name “Jimmy Cabbs.”
Misled—Taking their musical cues from hardcore bands like early Agnostic Front, Boyle Heights’ Misled was like a well-placed kick to the face, being strangled by someone’s beefy hand, or being run over repeatedly by a tank. They blazed their way through two explosive demos and numerous gigs before breaking up. George, their drummer, joined with the guitarist in an incarnation of the Thrusters in the 1990s, then did time in a number of other area bands, including Media Blitz, La Bestia, The Brat, and Thee Undertakers. He also took part in a musical project with Slayer’s Dave Lombardo.
Moral Decay—One of the area’s formative hardcore bands. It is not known whether they considered themselves an “Eastside” band, but they were from the area and had a profound influence on many of the bands that followed. Active in the very early ’80s, Moral Decay played a tight, quick brand of hardcore that was popular at the time but is rarely heard these days. In addition to a few demos, Moral Decay was featured on the Smoke 7 Records Sudden Death compilation. Members of Moral Decay went on to join a variety of bands, including the Angry Samoans, Black Jax, Crankshaft, and UXA.
Our Band Sucks—El Monte’s OBS forged a name for themselves in the late ’80s and early ‘90s by showering stages across the county with popcorn, Silly String, shaving cream, and beer. Their shows often resembled riots, although no one ever got hurt and no one was particularly angry about anything. They sounded like the bastard children of nerd punks like the Dickies and muscle-headed hardcore bands like Black Flag. Their preference for playing onstage in diapers, muumuus, sun bonnets, and Elvis costumes rankled more than a few club goers, who often showed their appreciation by throwing whatever was handy. For their efforts, OBS found themselves banned from a number of clubs, most notably the Coconut Teaszer. They were forbidden from ever playing there again following a show in which an overzealous fan covered the band, stage, monitor, microphone, and PA tower with nearly a case-worth of shaving cream. The band released a 12” EP on Nemesis Records and a number of demos. There were also stories of an offer by a then-newly established Fat Records to release a full-length, but nothing came of it. The band spent the 1990s reforming and breaking up every couple of years or so. Guitarist Gabriel went on to play in Mary’s Gone, Tumors, Godmatic, and more recently, Life After Mary. Drummer Bobby can be seen playing with the Bea Pickles’ Gator McMurder in the Coffin Draggers. Most of the OBS members at one time played in the psychobilly band the Linkin Logs. The band most recently reformed in 2010, released a second EP, Pic ’n’ Save, continue to play occasional gigs, and can be found on most of the more popular social networking sites.
Peace Pill—After leaving Butt Acne, Scott Rodarte and his twin brother Randy recruited local fixtures Beatle and Jerry to take on vocal and guitar duties, respectively. Taking their name from an old hippie slang term for PCP, the band initially sounded like many of their hardcore contemporaries. Over time, their songs leaned towards Social Distortion-influenced rock/punk. Although their faster songs were played with less frequency, older songs like “Rude Boy Go Home” and “Reggae Lay” remained in the set throughout the band’s existence. Peace Pill recorded one demo. Scott moved to Berkeley for a few years following the band’s dissolution. Randy went on to drum for Fish Head before also moving to Berkeley and Jerry joined the roots-rock band The Glasspacks. When the twins moved back to East L.A., Beatle joined them for a time in the band Ollin, the band in which the twins continue to play and release albums.
The Rejected—The Rejected, the brainchild of L7/Superheroines roadie and San Bernardino expatriate Matt Wingrove, provided contrast to the decidedly leftist hardcore scene around them by infusing their thrash beats with lyrics singing the glories of being a Young Republican and blowing up Iran. Their songs praised Matt’s favorite bands and generally gave the finger to anyone listening. The number of times they played live can be counted on one hand and they only managed to record one garage demo, but they left a lasting impression. After a couple of years in the hood, Matt moved back to San Bernardino. Singer Nancy Mancias moved to Minneapolis in the early ’90s and has not been heard from since. Guitarist Yogi Fuentes still plays his guitar and can be found lurking around Los Angeles’s finer watering holes.
Riot In Progress/A.N.U.S./No Mind Asylum—Following the dissolution of the Dog’s Breakfast, Shane White and Jim Vavrik took a stab at a more traditional hardcore punk sound. The result was Riot In Progress. They recruited Luis Zomorano (whose prior claim to fame was that he was one of the few people in the area who ever got to see the Germs perform live) to sing and Craig Tyron, a former member of local band Laughing Matter, to drum. They began wreaking aural havoc at classmates’ parties and Detox’s infamous “Shithouse.” At one memorable party, as the band played in the house’s living room by candlelight, Luis took one of the candles, set a long piece of cloth tied to his arm on fire, and continued singing as the flame slowly crept up his arm. Not long after, Jim was booted out of the band, replaced by Byl Atheist. The name was changed to A.N.U.S. (short for “A New Underground Sound”) and then to No Mind Asylum. More chaos and vandalism ensued at parties. This included a house party incident in which someone spiked all the beverages with coffee grounds, decorated the bathroom with shaving cream and toothpaste, put the homeowner’s records in all the wrong covers, and pissed into the blowdryer. There were appearances on the Rock for the People of Highland Park and Flex Your Mom compilations and then the band fell apart. Shane and Craig went on to form Hawaii’s Hardcore and La Triste, Luis went into the roofing business, and Byl supposedly went back to playing in the band The Atheists.
Side Effects/American Side Effects/Last Round Up—The pride of the 1980s Whittier scene, they sounded like a straight edge hardcore band, but their drinking exploits were the stuff of legend. After hearing that there was another band with the same name in England, they added “American” to their moniker and then later morphed into the band Last Round Up. Although Side Effects never released a legitimate album, demos of varying quality exist. Numerous members went on to either join or establish other notable bands, including The Rigs, Christian Death, San Francisco’s Oppressed Logic, Strung Up, and Sorry State.
Stains—The finest purveyors of the punishing sound force many of us in bands hoped to come close to achieving. That they were Black Flag’s label mates was no mistake, as the Stains were one of the few bands capable of matching and, occasionally, transcending that band’s sheer power and intensity. Black Flag did deem them “the best band in the world” in at least one fanzine interview and, according to the book Spray Paint the Walls, were Greg Ginn’s primary inspiration to incorporate guitar solos into Black Flag’s songs. Sadly, their long out-of-print EP was their only legitimate release, but there has been at least one “European pressing” (read: bootleg) of it, and rumors have abounded for years that it might be released again, along with an unreleased demo or two and a live set tacked on for good measure. Following the original dissolution of the band in the ‘80s, singer Rudy went on to front the band Corpse, second bassist Cesar (the first being the infamous Jesse Fixx) joined DC3 with Black Flag’s Dez Cadena, guitarist Robert went on to form Nightmare, and their drummer Gilbert apparently “died.” He miraculously resurrected in the late 1990s to pen the text for the East L.A. section of the book Fucked Up and Photocopied. The Stains have reformed many times in various incarnations over the decades and can currently be found playing shows across the Los Angeles basin.
The Thrusters—A great pop punk band in the Adolescents-meets-TSOL-meets-Sex Pistols vein rather than the modern bastardization of the term. Bassist and chief songwriter Mark “Mousie” Mora had enough of a knack for marrying a strong hook to sheer hardcore intensity that members of more straight hardcore bands like Copulation, C.O., Butt Acne, and Misled were glad to fill vacated positions in the band’s ranks when the need arose. Left-handed Mousie would sit on the floor in front of his amp playing his bass upside down as someone held a loose mic in front of his face, completely unafraid of the imminent danger of his being trampled to death by errant dancers slamming no more than three feet away. As with so many other worthy bands in the area, the Thrusters have never released a record, but they are well documented by many great demos and are still sporadically active to this day.
Thee Undertakers—Another often under-appreciated early East L.A. punk band, Thee Undertakers successfully bridged the chasm between the more new wave sound of bands like Los Illegals and the hardcore of The Stains and Circle One. They were on many a bill at the Vex and interviewed by Flipside and other publications. Yet, they never released anything on Tito Larriva’s Fatima label like the Brat, nor were they ever signed to a major label, like Los Illegals. They did record an album, one that accurately illustrates the musical diversity of their punk foundation and accomplished sense of tough-edged pop. Legal problems with a former manager kept it unreleased for nearly twenty years until Grand Theft Audio put it out on CD as Crucify Me, along with some demo tracks. Artifix Records released a 7”, L.A. Muerte, in 2005, featuring two more demo cuts and a couple of live tracks from a 1980 performance at the Hong Kong Cafe not available on the CD. Tracy Skull went on to play with Peace Corpse, Insulin Reaction, Lydia Lunch, Knucklebone, Tracy And The Skulls, and Kommunity FK. He currently plays in a punk covers band, L.A. 77. After the breakup of Thee Undertakers, guitarist Tony Fingers formed Play Dead and then Media Blitz, which released numerous singles, compilation contributions, and demos. Tony currently plays with Jumpin’ Jack Benny. Thee Undertakers also reformed in the 2000s and played occasional gigs throughout that decade.
THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT
Many years have passed since most of the bands listed here have graced a stage, backyard, living room, or garage, but their collective demise in no way equated to a death knell for East Los Angeles punk rock. Much has changed—some good and some bad—within the punk scene as a whole. Yet, the scene still continues to thrive in backyards and one-off clubs throughout the area. Bands like Moral Decay, Thee Undertakers, Black Jax, Strength In Numbers, and Violent Children were replaced by Subsistencia, Teenage Rage, Union 13, Marble, Tezacrifico, Los Villains, and generation after generation of new bands just as brilliant, horrible, fast, slow, funny, angry, and dedicated as their predecessors. A backyard party can still be found nearly every weekend, and someone’s always releasing their band’s latest recorded work or a compilation. Fanzines like Sal Si Puede and Real Boss Hoss still pop up with the same amount of unreliable regularity as those before them. Kids now make the most of the information age by promoting their bands and gigs on assorted websites, chat rooms, and social networking sites. Through it all, the new bands’ and scenesters’ optimism, unflagging loyalty, and need to be heard in is built of the same energy that fueled the generations before them.
That is not to say all of the old-school punkers gave up on the whole thing, got married, had kids, and bought SUVs. Some of us did exactly that. Some of us also continue to play in punk bands. Some of us took our punk influences, coupled it with traditional rhythms and radical Chicano politics, and created a new scene out of the old in bands with names like Ozomatli, Blues Experiment, Yeska, Aztlan Underground, Ollin, Quinto Sol, Quetzal, and Little Man And The Giants. Some of us became household names. Some of us are imprisoned or dead, either through our own folly or the unfortunate luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of us still keep ourselves immersed in the scene by writing for fanzines or going to shows. No matter where we are and what we’ve done with ourselves, we’re all still here, still listening to what gets us off—be it grindcore, gamelan, or Swedish disco—and are still very proud of the little bit of canvas we painted on the larger punk rock tapestry.
We make it through five minutes of our set (roughly twelve songs for us) before someone rushes up and tells us to cut the noise. The cops are outside the gate. We make it halfway through the next song before the plug gets pulled on us. I strain to look over the back fence and see the street rapidly filling up with police cars. The cops are going into their trunks, pulling out riot helmets, and preparing themselves for a little rock’n’rolling of their own. Over by the gate, the owner of the house is trying to calm the cop in charge, who seems to be completely disinterested in what the woman has to say. Things are going to get pretty ugly very soon.
We leave the stage, give the other band back their instruments, and make our way back to where the heads have situated themselves around the keg. A heated discussion ensues about exactly who is taking the keg and where it will end up. Once that has been determined, we make our way to the gate as the cops begin lining up in formation and people in the backyard begin singing “Happy birthday to you / Happy birthday to you / Happy birthday dear PIG / Happy birthday to you” at the top of their lungs. We become part of the sea of people scrambling out of the backyard. We pile into various cars and head for an alley off of City Terrac