Punk rock in California
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Since the late 1970s, California has had a thriving regional punk rock movement. It primarily consists of (but is not limited to) bands from the Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura County, San Diego, San Fernando Valley, San Francisco, Fresno, Bakersfield, Alameda County, Sacramento, and Lake Tahoe areas.
Los Angeles had a very strong glam rock scene in the early 1970s, mostly centered on the club Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, run by Rodney Bingenheimer, who later, as a disc jockey for KROQ's Rodney on the ROQ, did much to promote LA punk bands. Many figures from this earlier scene would play notable roles in the later punk scene.
Starting in 1976, following recent releases of recordings by punk bands such as the Ramones, a number of punk bands formed in the Los Angeles and Orange County area. Among these bands were the Flesh Eaters, the Weirdos, the Germs, the Controllers, the Skulls, Sid Terror's Undead (the first horror punk band on the West Coast, then simply known as the Undead), the Outsiders, the Detours, the Slashers, the Crowd, the Angry Samoans, the Simpletones, the Chiefs, the Hated, Voyeurs, Idols, the Screws, the Shakers, Agent Orange, Fourth Reich, the Lubricators, the Dils, Black Randy and the Metrosquad, Catholic Discipline, the Go-Go's, the Alley Cats, Kommunity FK, the Screamers, the Dickies, X, the Zeros, the Bags, the Plugz, the Consumers, and their successors, 45 Grave.
Many bands also formed in the San Francisco Bay, including Crime, the Avengers, the Nuns, the Mutants, the Units, Flipper, Negative Trend, the Offs, the VKTMS, AlieNation, SVT, No Alternative, (Impatient) Youth, Dead Kennedys and Self Abuse (San Jose's first punk offering). California punk of this period was musically very eclectic, and the punk scene of the time included a number of bands whose sound strongly crossed over to art/experimental punk, new wave, electropunk, rockabilly, deathrock and hard rock.
Emergence of hardcore punk
In 1978 in Southern California, the first hardcore punk bands arose, including Middle Class, Black Flag, Vicious Circle, Fear, ANTI, and the Circle Jerks. Hardcore bands and fans tended to be younger than the art punks of the older LA scene and came mainly from the suburban parts of the Los Angeles area, especially the South Bay and Orange County and San Diego. This resulted in a rivalry between the older artsy "Hollywood" scene and the hardcore "suburban", "surf punk", or "beach punk" scene. Those in the "Hollywood" scene often disliked what they saw as the musical narrowness of hardcore and the violence associated with "suburban" punks (the South Bay and Orange County punk scenes had a particular reputation for violence), while the "suburban" punks looked down on what they perceived as the lack of intensity of older "Hollywood" bands (the Germs being a notable exception with lead singer Darby Crash) and the fashion consciousness of "Hollywood" punks. The Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, shot in early 1979 and early 1980, documents the period when the older LA punk scene was being completely taken over by hardcore and features performances by bands from both scenes. Decline was filmed in part at punk shows sponsored and promoted by David Ferguson, who in 1979, formed CD Presents, a recording label that would record and promote a number of pioneering groups from the California punk scene. Ferguson and CD Presents organized New Wave 1980, the first festival gathering and showcasing punk bands from all over the West Coast.
By 1979, hardcore had displaced the Hollywood scene and become the dominant expression called hardcore punk in both Northern and Southern California. By this time, many of the older punk bands had broken up or become relatively inactive. A few, such as The Go-Go's, The Dickies, and X, went on to mainstream success (in some cases, X, almost abandoning punk entirely), while a few others, such as The Dickies, embraced hardcore completely.
In the early 1980s in California, hardcore was the dominant form of punk and aggressive music. Many considered T.S.O.L. to be the definitive hardcore band of the time with sold out shows of 5000 people regularly. Other notable hardcore bands active in that period included, The Middle Class, Circle Jerks, ANTI, Black Flag, The Adolescents, China White, Agent Orange, The Vandals, Doggy Style, Love Canal, Wasted Youth, Social Distortion, D.I., White Mice, Verbal Abuse, Dr. Know, The Mentors and NOFX in Southern California, and Dead Kennedys, Fear and The Black Athletes in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Though hardcore became dominant during this period, punk also began to diversify. Agent Orange as well as The Go-Gos, The Hated, The Detours, The Simpletones, The Slashers, The Vandals, China White, all had noticeable hardcore party surf rock influence, while the Angry Samoans were strongly influenced by 1960s garage rock. Other bands like Social Distortion, The Joneses, Tex and the Horseheads & D.I. became popular by playing a form of Punk Rock which was influenced by simple rock n roll and didn't use the ultra-fast beat of some of the hardcore bands.
Black Flag, T.S.O.L., The Middle Class, Fear, D.I., The Adolescents, Detours, China White, Suicidal Tendencies, D.R.I. and others influenced later metal bands like Anthrax, Slayer and Metallica. These hardcore bands also created a crossover sound. The genre of thrash and early metalcore grew out of this fusion.
The hardcore scene, particularly in Los Angeles and Orange County, gained a reputation for violence due to the formation of several hardcore punk gangs. These gangs were predominantly white and would do a lot of violence to anyone who got in their way, even beating up and shooting at black gangs in Watts. Some of the earliest gangs formed in 1977-1980, among them the Burbank Punks Organization (BPO), the Lords of Destruction, Vicious Circle, FFF (Fight For Freedom), the LMPs (La Mirada Punks), Circle One, East Los Angeles' ESPs (East Side Punx) and the L.A.D.S. (LA Death Squad). Also, the SKUNX in Northern California. Reputed violence at punk concerts was featured in episodes of the popular television shows CHiPs and Quincy, M.E., in which Los Angeles hardcore punks were depicted as being involved in murder and mayhem. In the early 1980s, punk concerts increasingly became sites of violent battles between police and concertgoers, particularly in Los Angeles, but also in San Francisco. Henry Rollins argued that in his experience, the police caused far more problems than they solved at punk performances. At one point, Black Flag was under heavy surveillance by police convinced that the band was the cover for a drug ring.
Cities like Sacramento, Lake Tahoe and neighboring Reno, Nevada followed San Francisco and Los Angeles, creating their own underground hardcore scenes. Local promoter Stuart Katz brought punk rock to Sacramento in the early 1980s starting off with shows in auditoriums at McKinley Park. Katz eventually opened Club Minimal in South Sacramento, booking early hardcore acts such as Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Flipper, Crucifix as well as local bands such as Rebel Truth, Square Cools, Organized Crime, Child Support, Tales of Terror, and The Vacant. Club Minimal and Katz became a target of the Sacramento Police Department and was constantly being shut down. Katz made it a cat and mouse game with the police by having the bands play before the cops arrived to shut down the show. The city and the Police Department eventually were able to shut down Club Minimal, yet Katz did not go out without a fight. Katz arranged a 60s style peaceful protest inside the lobby of City Hall, joined by more than a hundred punk rockers. The protest made the cover page of the Sacramento Union.
By the mid-1980s, many of the major punk acts such as TSOL, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and Dead Kennedys, had broken up, although some older hardcore bands such as D.I. and The Adolescents continued on and released new material throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. In 1988, Bad Religion reemerged from a hiatus with their third album Suffer. However a new generation of bands emerged, influenced by their early 80s predecessors. This new scene would produce bands such as Doggy Style, ALL, Chemical People, SPLNTR, Guttermouth, Jughead's Revenge, Lagwagon, The Offspring, Pennywise, Face to Face, and Big Drill Car, and in San Francisco, No Use for a Name, Jawbreaker, The Lookouts, and the Swingin' Utters.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, San Diego was home to a burgeoning post-hardcore scene centered on bands like Pitchfork, Rocket From the Crypt, and Unwritten Law. Several of these bands played important roles in the so-called math rock movement.
In the late 1980s the Bay Area punk scene began to flourish. In '87, Matt Freeman and Tim Armstrong (future members of Rancid) started ska-punk band Operation Ivy. Other Bay Area bands were Mr. T Experience, Isocracy, Screeching Weasel, and Crimpshrine. Over the next 20 years the Bay Area punk scene formed such influential punk bands such as Green Day, Swingin Utters, Rancid, One Man Army, The Forgotten, The Bodies, AFI, and Dead to Me.
While many of the second wave bands still retained the speed and anger of the first wave bands, others focused on a more melodic Ramones approach featuring lighthearted lyrics about relationships and other non-political situations.
In the early to mid-1990s, bands like Bad Religion, Social Distortion, The Offspring, Green Day, AFI and Blink-182 achieved large-scale success, being played on MTV as well as mainstream radio. Up until that point, only alternative format FM stations like KROQ 106.7 in Los Angeles, KWOD 106.5 in Sacramento, 91X in San Diego, Live 105 in San Francisco and Channel 92.3 in San Jose, as well as local public and college radio stations played punk music.
In the early '90s there was a southern California punk rising that focused on the original sound developed by the likes of The Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Misfits. Some of the bands that started this change back to a more streetpunk 1977 style were Cell Block 5, The Exploding Fuck Dolls, The Stitches, U.S. Bombs, Schleprock, Agent 51, FISHHEAD, and John Cougar Concentration Camp. This new style would later influence bands like The Generators, The Briggs, Time Again, Die Hunns, and also re-fueled reunions of old school bands like Youth Brigade, The Descendents, Screaming Bloody Marys (Dr Dream) and even some Black Flag performances.
In 1989, Social Distortion signed with Epic Records becoming the first band from the scene, since The Dickies in the late 1970s, to get a major label deal. Their album, simply titled, Social Distortion became a minor hit with four singles "Let It Be Me", "Ball and Chain", "Story of My Life" and a cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" all charting on the Modern Rock Tracks top 25. In 1993, following the success of Social Distortion, Bad Religion were signed to Atlantic Records and reissued then-current album Recipe for Hate for the label that same year. Unlike Social Distortion however, Recipe for Hate initially received mixed reviews from music critics but brought the band a little success, peaking at #14 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart.
Also in 1993, Green Day signed a deal with Reprise Records and released their first major label album Dookie in 1994. Dookie became a huge success, peaking at #2 on the Billboard top 200 album chart and selling over 20,000,000 albums worldwide, and over 10,000,000 in the first year alone. Shortly after the success of Dookie, The Offspring's album Smash achieved similar results selling over 16,000,000 albums. However Smash unlike Dookie, was released by independent punk label Epitaph Records, and paved the way for other independent punk bands to achieve success. Blink-182, having already released their debut album Cheshire Cat, were beginning to gather a following in San Diego and they would soon grow, along with The Offspring and similar bands to achieve massive mainstream success in the late 1990s.
Soon thereafter, Green Day and The Offspring, were joined by Bad Religion, NOFX, and Rancid, whose respective albums Stranger Than Fiction, Punk in Drublic, and ...And Out Come the Wolves, were all certified Gold or Platinum (with the first being released on Atlantic and last two on Epitaph). Also during this period, ALL, Face to Face and a reunited Circle Jerks were all signed to major labels, Interscope, A&M and Mercury respectively.
The success of these bands also led to success for Southern California ska punk bands like No Doubt, Sublime, Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, as well as Northern California ska punk outfits like Smash Mouth.
The proliferation of punk concerts and albums in California generated a like proliferation of flyer and album cover art. Some of the artists involved in producing art for the early punk scene later went on to greater notability. Mark Vallen, a painter and graphic artist, was associated with the early LA punk scene; his work was featured on a number of fanzine and album covers. Gary Panter was also closely associated with the early LA punk scene and produced The Screamers distinctive logo. Raymond Pettibon (brother of Greg Ginn of Black Flag) was similarly associated with the LA hardcore scene, especially Black Flag and The Minutemen, producing Black Flag's distinctive "four bars" logo. Winston Smith, a San Francisco collage artist, was associated with Dead Kennedys and also did a piece of artwork named "God Told Me to Skin You Alive" for Green Day's fourth album Insomniac.
- 16th and Mission BART - San Francisco, 1990s-2000s
- 40th Street Warehouse - Oakland, 1990s-200Os
- 924 Gilman Street - Berkeley, 1986–present
- Al's Bar - Los Angeles, 1979-2001
- The Allen Theater - South Gate, 2000s
- Anti Club - Hollywood Early 1980's through 1990s
- Balazo Gallery - San Francisco, 2000s
- Barrington Hall - Berkeley, until 1984
- The Barn - University of California, Riverside 1970s to present
- The Bel-Tower - Fresno, 2010–present (semi-defunct)
- Burnt Ramen - Richmond, 1990s-2000s
- Cafe Infoshop - Fresno, early 2000s–present
- The Casbah - San Diego, 1989–present
- Cathay de Grande - Hollywood, 1980s
- Chain Reaction - Anaheim, 1980s-present
- Chatterbox - San Francisco, 1986-1990
- Che Cafe - San Diego, 1980–present
- Chinatown Youth Center - Fresno, late 2000s–present
- Cloyne Court - Berkeley, 1980s-2000s
- Club 88 - Los Angeles, 1977-late 1980s
- Club Cocodrie - San Francisco, 1990s
- Club Minimal - South Sacramento, early 1980s
- Cobalt Cafe - Canoga Park 1990–Present
- COCO Club Los Angeles 1982-1984 6th & Spring DTLA
- Crest Theater - K Street Mall Downtown Sacramento, early 1980s
- Cuckoo's Nest - Orange County, 1978–1981
- Danville Grange - Danville, 1990s-2000s
- The Deaf Club - San Francisco, 1978–1979
- Eagle Tavern - San Francisco, 2000s-present
- East 7th Punx - Los Angeles, 2013–present
- The Elite Club - San Francisco, early 1980s
- Epicenter Zone - San Francisco, 1990s
- The Farm - San Francisco, late 1970s–1980s
- Fender's Ballroom - Long Beach, 1984 - 1994
- Godzillas - Sunland, early 1980s
- Hong Kong Café - Los Angeles, 1979–1981
- House of Blues - Los Angeles, 1994–present
- Jabberjaw - Hollywood late 1980's to early 1990's
- Mabuhay Gardens - San Francisco, 1976–1986
- Madame Wong's - Los Angeles, 1978–1985
- The Masque - Los Angeles, 1977–1979
- Mission Records - San Francisco, 1990s
- The PCH Club - Wilmington, CA 1998-2000
- The Phoenix Theater - Petaluma, 1982–present
- The Showcase Theatre - Corona, 1993 -2008
- The Smell - Los Angeles, 1997–present
- SOMA - San Diego, 1986–1999, 2002–present
- Squeeze's - Riverside, late 1970s
- Starwood - Los Angeles, 1973–1981
- Target Video - San Francisco, 1978–1981
- Raji's - Hollywood, Mid 1980s
- Valencia Tool & Die - San Francisco, late 1970s–early 1980s
- Vortex Vortograph - Sacramento, early 1980s
- The Warfield - San Francisco, 1979–present
- Thrillhouse Records - San Francisco, 2000s-present
- Trocadero Transfer - San Francisco, 1990s
- The Vex 1,2,3 and 4 - East Los Angeles with Vex #4 in LA
- Warm Water Cove - San Francisco (informal, park setting)
- Whisky a Go Go - Los Angeles, 1964–1982, 1986–present
While a few bands like Green Day, The Offspring, and AFI appear on major labels, many of the bands are signed to local independent punk labels. Many of these labels were started by local musicians as a way to sell their own bands records, but grew into labels with a large roster of bands. Some of these labels include:
- Adeline Records - started by Pro Skater Jim Thiebaud, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, and his wife Adrienne Armstrong.
- Alternative Tentacles - started by Dead Kennedys member Jello Biafra
- Asian Man Records - started by Skankin' Pickle's Mike Park
- BYO Records - started by Youth Brigade's Shawn & Mark Stern
- Dangerhouse Records - started by former Screamers member David Brown
- Die Laughing Records - Started by Screaming Bloody Marys Dave Dalton
- New Underground Records - DIY punk label
- Epitaph Records - started by Bad Religion's Brett Gurewitz
- Fat Wreck Chords - started by NOFX's Fat Mike
- Fearless Records
- Frontier Records
- Sleep It Off Records - started by punk band Less Than Jake.
- Geykido Comet Records
- Hellcat Records - started by Bad Religion's Brett Gurewitz and Rancid's Tim Armstrong
- Hopeless Records
- Kung Fu Records - started by The Vandals’ Joe Escalante and Warren Fitzgerald
- Lookout! Records - started by The Lookouts frontman Larry Livermore
- Mordam Records
- Mystic Records
- New Alliance Records - started by The Minutemen
- Nitro Records - started by The Offspring's Dexter Holland and Greg K.
- Pure Noise Records
- Posh Boy Records
- Punkcore Records
- Slash Records - associated with the fanzine Slash
- SST Records - started by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn
- Subterranean Records
- Sympathy for the Record Industry *Dischord Records Started by [Ian Mackay ]and [Jeff Nelson] from Minor Threat Early 1980's to Present
- Big Wheel Magazine, The last Punk Rock media outlet left in Los Angeles.
- L.A. Punk History, Punk Information Directory, archived from the original on April 4, 2016.
- SoCal Skankers, SoCal Punk Show Directory.
- "Hardcore Holocaust: LA Punk Report" by Glenn E. Friedman, Sounds, April 10, 1982. (Archived at Punk of the 20th Century Archives)
- Rock Photographer, Edward Colver's truly iconic photographic account is most notable.
- "Teenage Alcoholics: Punk Rock in East Los Angeles" by Jimmy Alvarado, Razorcake #3, August–September 2001 (updated for website January 2007). (Archived at Punk of the 20th Century Archives)
- Women in LA Punk, interviews by Alice Bag, AliceBag.com, 2006.
- "Punk Flyers from 1977 Los Angeles" by Mark Vallen, Art-for-a Change, 2006.
- Punk Zine Archive, Operationphoenixrecords.com. – 1980s California punk 'zine online archive.
- "The Hollywood Binliner: LA Punk," by Mick Farren, NME 1977, reprinted in Crawdaddy!, 2008.
- Photos of San Francisco Bands circa 1980
- "San Diego Punk", current news on the San Diego music scene and a 10-year archive.