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, Lake Tahoe, Oakland and Berkeley 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.

In the mid-1970s from 1974 to 1975 a wave of proto-punk bands emerged from Los Angeles, including the Flyboys.


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 Deadbeats, the Skulls, the Angry Samoans, Agent Orange, 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 and the Dead Kennedys. California punk of this period was musically very eclectic, and the punk scene of the time included a number of bands whose sound crossed over to art/experimental punk, new wave, electropunk, rockabilly, deathrock and hard rock.

Emergence of hardcore punk[edit]

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.[1] 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 Circle Jerks, Black Flag, the Adolescents, China White, Agent Orange, the Vandals, Wasted Youth, Social Distortion, The Mau-Mau's, D.I., White Mice, Verbal Abuse, Dr. Know, the Mentors and NOFX in Southern California, and the Dead Kennedys in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Though hardcore became dominant during this period, punk also began to diversify. Agent Orange had a noticeable hardcore party surf rock influence, while the Angry Samoans were strongly influenced by 1960s garage rock. Other bands such as the Joneses and Tex and the Horseheads became popular by playing a form of punk rock influenced by simple rock n roll without the ultra-fast beat of some of the hardcore bands.

Black Flag, T.S.O.L., 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. 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.[2] 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. The police department shut down the club, but Katz led 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 major punk acts such as Black Flag and Dead Kennedys, had broken up. Other bands that had remained such as T.S.O.L. and Circle Jerks began to change their sound in favor of more hard rock or metallic directions[3][4] while other bands such as D.I., Agent Orange and the Adolescents continued on with their standard Punk Rock sound and released new material throughout the mid 1980s and 1990s. In 1985, Bad Religion reemerged from a hiatus and returned to Punk Rock with their 2nd EP, Back to the Known, featuring a sound that would later be continued and expanded on with albums like Suffer and No Control.[5] During this time period a new generation of bands emerged, influenced by their early 80s predecessors. This new scene would produce bands such as ALL, Chemical People, 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, Samiam, and Crimpshrine. Over the next 20 years the Bay Area punk scene formed such influential punk bands such as Swingin Utters, Rancid, One Man Army, the Forgotten, 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, AFI 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 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.

Notable venues[edit]

X 2004 concert photo at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco

Notable labels[edit]

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:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Spitz, Marc with Mullen, Brendan. (2001). We Got The Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-609-80774-9
  2. ^ Battle of the Bands - CHiPs Wiki
  3. ^ "Wonderful – Circle Jerks | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017-03-05. 
  4. ^ "Change Today? – T.S.O.L. | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017-03-05. 
  5. ^ "Back to the Known | The Answer | The Bad Religion Page – Since 1995". www.thebrpage.net. Retrieved 2017-03-05. 

External links[edit]