The Rise Of Hardcore Punk In Southern California

Southern California in the late 70s; a sunny palm tree lined utopia filled with mellow feel good vibes and feathered haircuts. Its image of glamour and contentment, we were told, was the envy of the rest of the world. But behind those well-manicured lawns and green plastic welcome mats, there was trouble in paradise. The fantasy lifestyles they portrayed in the media were often a far cry from the realities of California's inner cities. Meanwhile, suburbia was on permanent lockdown with overzealous law and order types fearful that their squeaky clean streets would become soiled with urban-like strife should they let their guard down.

Great efforts were made in numerous suburban communities to keep "undesirables" (Hispanics, Asians, Blacks, "freaks" etc.) out, or make them feel unwelcome. There, consumer conscious families struggled to keep up with their neighbour's ("The Joneses") spending habits. Work and getting ahead superseded all other activities. Inner city parents worked hard as well, though were usually blessed with far fewer financial rewards. On the local music front, musicians without backing were being discouraged from performing their own originals, and were reduced to playing cover-heavy sets with which the audience would be familiar. Around early 1977, a few maverick-minded groups started to appear, that while often musically dissimilar, had in common the desire to strip the music of its bloated excesses. Proto punk, garage, and power pop groups with influences ranging from the Stooges and Runaways to Seeds and Modern Lovers such as the Zippers, Motels, Imperial Dogs etc, frequently found themselves playing to audiences that just weren't ready for anything even remotely rocking the boat.

Hard rockin' proto-punks the Mechanics, from Fullerton in northern Orange County, played to audiences more interested in hearing Zeppelin covers than watching a bunch of Joes dressed in auto mechanic coveralls with a manic frontman, who delighted in hurting himself, ala Iggy, and assaulting the audience. Mechanics' guitarist Tim Racca would end up having his unique style influence numerous punk guitarists, though usually via Adolescents/Christian Death/DI guitarist Rikk Agnew, as few punks knew of the Mechanics outside a small group of Fullerton locals.

Around the same time the Los Angeles South Bay birthed the Weasels, another hard rockin' band, who were noted for their rather un-PC song sentiments. These included beating a cheating girlfriend with a metal rake ("Beat her with a rake and make her pay for her mistake") and another song called "Concrete Man" extolling the virtues of paving over Mother Nature - not groovy at all.

By late 1977 a small, dedicated Los Angeles punk scene was underway, populated by geeks, freaks, gays, ex glam-rockers, artists and other outsiders. A Scottish ex-pat named Brendan Mullen would eventually stumble upon an unused piece of Hollywood real estate that could be utilised as rehearsal/club space and was soon dubbed the Masque. Masque bands included the Weirdos, Controllers, Skulls (several members going onto Wall Of Voodoo), Flesheaters, X (the most commercially successful of the Masque groups), Bags, Eyes, Germs, Needles And Pins, Deadbeats, Nervous Gender (a strange, hedonistic, somewhat industrial group, which featured Irish skinhead Edward Stapleton), Screamers, Catholic Discipline (fronted by cynical French ex-pat journalist for Slash Magazine, Claude Bessy), Fear, Shock, Gears, Dickies, Alleycats, and (not too) many more.

The crowd that congregated there could be cliquish at times, and outsiders were sometimes snubbed. In some ways it was the same treatment they themselves had been subjected to growing up. No matter how paternal they felt of their small dysfunctional home, they could not keep people they felt had little in common with them from digging their scene.

During this same period lots of smaller less exclusionary scenes began to spring up around Southern California. The South Bay gave rise to neo-psych beach punks the Last (whose "Bombing Of London" and "Up In The Air" on Bomp! Records rate amongst the best 7" punk vinyl Los Angeles County had to offer from the late 70s through early 80s) and future hardcore torchbearers Black Flag, who drew little enthusiasm from the Masque crowd. The San Gabriel Valley produced Silver Chalice, fronted by wildman Kim Kommet, whose party antics included chugging bottles of vegetable oil and straying violent diharrae into a plastic bag in front of stunned hippies.

Also from the San Gabriel Valley, but always thought to be from Huntington Beach in Orange County as they had more of a following there, were the Flyboys. The Pasadena/Eagle Rock area on the very north-western end of the San Gabriel Valley was home to the tastefully named Child Molesters, who penned cleaver lines like "Jailbait jailbait, I just cant wait, 13 is my lucky number", and "I'm gonna show you whose the boss, when I make your face a total loss". To add to the crudeness, they used a photo of a future member of the Speed Queens and Strong Silent Types, who happened to be the very underage sister of one of their friends, for the record sleeve.

Ventura County churned up the sensitive stylings of the Rotters and their good time ditties like "Sink The Whales" and "Stevie Nicks (Sit On My Face)". Long Beach, at the most South-eastern tip of Los Angeles County, produced the Suburban Lawns, one of the more popular bands of the era, who experienced limited "new wave" crossover success with tracks like "Gidget Goes To Hell". The Suburban Lawns had a rehearsal pad and lots of the Hollywood bands came down to play/party with the Lawns.

Other early Long Beach notables were the Stingers (who eventually mutated into the highly strange and original electro punk outfit Unit 3 With Venus, after husband and wife Patti and Henree recruited their eight-year-old daughter Venus as their vocalist/front person), and Rhino 39. Yet more rumblings from Fullerton came via the Naughty Women, guys who dressed in women's clothing and barbed wire. Bringing in tow local tough and future Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness as their roadie/physical defender, Ness was known to fearlessly punch it up on the street with middle-aged construction workers and other he-men who were less than ecstatic with the Naughty Women's lack of masculine attire.

Another Fullerton group the Middle Class were probably the first hardcore band in the world, playing at thrash tempos with thick buzzsaw guitars as far back as 1977! By the time a hardcore scene had gelled, rather than basking within it as one the founding bands, the Middle Class wanted nothing to do with hardcore or its violent adherent. They instead retreated into a more rhythmic, slightly Gang Of Four-based groove, producing a second 7" and great, though somewhat overproduced, LP.

The most frenzied and downright volatile action was just getting started in the Orange County suburb of Huntington Beach, as locals, later known as HBs, were later decried for not playing nicely with other scenes. One thing is for certain though, HB produced some of the most catchy and fearsome bands of the era. The first HB bands were the Crowd, Voyeurs (who penned their tender ode to necrophilia, "Love In The Morgue", long before TSOL recorded "Code Blue"), Isolation (who became the Klan), Mnemonic Devices (very arty, owing more to Roxy Music than the Ramones or Sex Pistols), and the Outsiders.

The Klan wrote misogynist though ultimately unforgettable songs like "Chicks and Politics" and "Cover Girls" and the Outsiders served up plenty of thick muscular guitar, but hands down the Crowd trumped all the other local groups when it came to hook-laden hyper-upbeat punk. They were frantic yet memorable, and unlike many of their other fellow HB punk brethren, the Crowd never possessed an excess of violent, drugged-up, "live fast die young" ethos, which ultimately led to the Crowd's longevity. Soon more bands followed - including the Screwz, Vicious Circle, Non Fascist, Gestapo, Social Task, and later TSOL (to be fair, only half the band were from HB, the other half Long Beach's eastside), Blades, Vandals, Hated, and China White, amongst numerous other short-lived bands.

Unlike the Hollywood contingent, the HB punks were less informed by the arts, and way more physical and testosterone-fuelled. HB punks met harassment from non-punks and matched it with brute force. Vicious Circle doubled as a gang also known as Vicious Circle. When the hippies living at the same apartment complex as Steve from Gestapo decided to assault Kirk Mosher of No Crisis with a frozen mackerel, they clearly could not have fathomed the reprisal it would bring an hour or so later. A few phone calls saw members of two prominent HB punk gangs, Vicious Circle and the Wayward Kanes Skinhead Army (HB's answer to the Sham Skinhead Army), quietly enter Steve's apartment through a back window. Lured back to the apartment door the hippies had no idea what lay in wait. They had the surprise of their lives when dozens of armed punks came rushing forth to trash the complex and wreak physical mayhem, in the process chucking all of the hippies' possessions along with the hippies' girlfriends into the communal swimming pool. Needless to say, Steve found another place to live.

In another incident, when HB punks outside a party that the Klan were playing were threatened with a beating by a couple of longhairs, who were looking to impress the girls they were with, dozens of punks came running and chased one of the longhairs up a river jetty. They then threw him off onto the rocks below, which broke both his legs, making the front page of the local newspaper.

Inviting certain HBs and their bands to party at your place meant holes in the walls, cigarette burns in the carpet, looted valuables, urine in the mouthwash, and who knows what else. When faced with this invasion into "their scene", many of the older Hollywood crowd turned their noses up at the aggressive new wave of suburban and beach kids but it did not matter as the suburbs had the momentum to carry Southern California punk into the next decade and beyond. Slowly, the majority of the early Hollywood crowd filtered out, moving onto sub-genres of underground music such as post-punk, neo-psych, art rock, death rock, and even rockabilly, while some left the scene altogether. Bands of note stretching the boundries of punk into less hardcore territory included Bpeople, Monitor, Human Hands, Dogma Probe, Savage Republic, Afterimage, Red Wedding, Wild Kingdom, Ju Ju Hounds, Salvation Army (forced to change their name to the 3 O'Clock), 100 Flowers, Leaving Trains, Super Heroines, and Kommunity FK.

The Fleetwood in Redondo Beach and the Starwood in Hollywood would play host to numerous early punk/hardcore groups, as well as sidewalk punch-ups and police riots. On one of the final nights of the Starwood, with fisticuffs raging in the parking lot, a security guard lay stabbed and bleeding in the club. Law enforcement had been looking to nail Starwood owner Eddie Nash for racketeering, eventually indicting Nash and well endowed porno stud Johnny "Wad" Holmes for a grizzly multiple homicide known as the Wonderland Murders. Nash and Holmes would beat the murder rap, though Nash would do time on other charges.

Another club with an open door policy to hardcore punk around this time was the Skeleton Club in San Diego. The (perceived) violence of the Masque had been somewhat playful rough housing, as opposed to the real bona fide violence of the beach kids. Surviving and prospering ex-Masque band X began to distance themselves from hardcore. Few of the Masque bands would end up making a comfortable transition over to feeling at home in the rowdier hardcore scene, apart from Fear and Germs, and even Germs vocalist Darby Crash was not totally at ease with the violence of which this newest audience was capable.

With Darby's suicide, this only left Fear, who embraced hardcore's early nihilism and thrived on its open physical hostility. Fear liked to egg on audience members and see what happened, and what happened was not always pretty, though for Fear it was all about having a laugh even if their audience did not always understand that. In one instance it led to a member of Fear being hospitalised, the result of a savage thumping.

If hardcore needed a figurehead to despise it was about to get just that. With the "Red Menace" chipping away at the globe, the threat of a potential nuclear World War Three loomed large. Recession was underway and a well orchestrated "oil shortage" had seen gas-guzzling US family sedans lined up for blocks awaiting the privilege to purchase their ration of overpriced fossil juice. America had lost the Vietnam War and had sand kicked in its face by Iran. In the wake of these international de-pantsings, Americans were looking for someone who talked tough, battled organised labour, and booted "deadbeats" off of welfare (though apparently not the billionaire welfare recipients in the military industrial complex). Ronald Reagan smiled like grandpa, and would restore America's pride and "family values", whilst declaring catsup a vegetable for school children and that trees caused more pollution than automobiles (as result of failing to understand the difference between carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide). Punk artist Pushead immortalised America's new leader on the front cover of Wasted Youth's debut 12", "Reagan's In", the album that set the blueprint for "generic thrash" before there was generic thrash.

Wasted Youth had spun out of an earlier Mar Vista group the Runs, which counted among its members Sean Dunnigan - who would go onto play in the Skoundrelz (with infamous Dogtown skater Tony Alva) and the Discharge-injected Against. A group that would spring up from the nearby community of Santa Monica was Sin 34, with future punk film-maker David Markey on drums. The next city down the coast was Venice, which gained a heavy rep for the metal-infused Suicidal Tendencies, and their rampaging gang-like "Suicidal" following, and the far0less metallic Neighborhood Watch.

Slightly inland, members of Caustic Cause and Hated Principles called Culver City home, while Discharge devotees Why? hailed from Inglewood. To the south of Venice was a string of communities referred to as the South Bay, which saw an explosion of punk, post-punk and hardcore band activity from the end of the 70s through the early 80s. Bands included the Earwigs, Detonators, Toxic Shock, Anti, Mood Of Defiance, Hari Kari, Ill Will, Civil Dismay, Nip Drivers, Disposals, Alter Boys, Con 800, Peer Group, Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, Instigator, Patriots, Circle Jerks, Overkill, Descendants, and many many more.

The Dancing Waters in San Pedro was one of the clubs where you could witness the musical prowess of many a South Bay band. Long Beach/Lakewood area birthed (or partially birthed) tons of great groups during that time period, including the Falling Idols, Modern Warfare, Modern Protest, Godhead, Regional Confusion, Inner Peace, Secret Hate, Crewd, Young Americans, Conservatives, Red Beret, and more than I would have room to mention.

Due east of Long Beach was Seal Beach, hometown to Funeral (future Tex And The Horseheads members) and First Offense. Yet further down the coast and into the Orange County beach communities was Civil Disobedience, and the Suspects from upscale Newport Beach and Political Crap from Costa Mesa, a band featuring infamous daredevil skateboarder Duane Peters.

Other Orange County (OC) bands who decided to spread their own brand of debauched chaos in their various communities included - Eddie & The Subtitles, Convicted, Lost Cause, Idle Rich, Dischords, Omlits, Channel 3, Pig Children, Aethetics, Dead End Kids, Dead Skin, Sexually Frustrated, Der Stab, Saigon, Turmoil, UAT, Negatives, Birth Defects, 51st State, Mox Nix, Citizen Fear, and the name but a few.

The Coockoo's Nest in Costa Mesa played host to many of these unruly musicians, and was precariously situated next door to a cowboy bar named Zubies. Tensions between the clubs patrons often exploded into violence, which the Vandals satirised in their song "Urban Struggle". A young punk could find himself beaten unconscious with a pool cue just for making the mistake of trying to purchase a pack of smokes at Zubies. Under pressure from local authorities, proprietor Mike Roach left to host shows in Anaheim, and the Nest became the Concert Factory under new management.

Moving further south we enter San Diego County, which locals refer to as "Slo-Death". SD bands of mention were Personal Conflict, Sacred Lies, Manifest Destiny, 5051, Skullbusters (with their pre-teen vocalist), District Tradition, Standbys, Battalion Of Saints (SD's biggest hardcore export), Men Of Clay, and Ministry Of Truth. Up in the Riverside County community of Moreno Valley were local nutters White Flag, whose band leader Bill Bartell was closely allied with the Germs crowd, and had a moustache that would make a cop proud. Deeper into same county came Palm Desert's very own Target 13, whose ode to Los Angeles KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenhiemer became his radio show's opening theme song. On to San Bernardino County, where the most notable bands were the Reactors and the Sins. Travelling west to the eastern portion of Los Angeles County, we come upon Mad Parade from Pomona.

The San Gabriel Valley and foothill communities bordering the Angeles National Forest had a thriving scene as well - Modern Industry, the Abandoned, Red Brigade (aka Kent State), Decry, Catch 22, Moral Decay, Verbal Abuse (not to be confused with the San Francisco Bay Area via Texas band of the same name), VDB, and others. East Los Angeles and surrounds had the infamous Vex Club, started by Willie Herron (Los Illegals), which originally operated out of a space owned by the Catholic Church, but when HBs threw chairs through the windows and destroyed art at a Black Flag show, the once understanding nuns pulled the plug on any future gigs.

Over the span of a few years the Vex moved to several locations and featured a who's who of the era's hardcore bands. The Vex was located in a poor working class, mostly Hispanic barrio, and was set up with the idea that if local bands were having a hard time getting gigs/attention outside their area, then the Vex would draw those same people from outside into their community. Many of the local bands tackled issues of race and discrimination in their lyrics (though not all of them) and featured predominantly Hispanic line-ups. It was a tough uphill battle to get taken seriously, but bands like Thee Undertakers, Stains, Brat, Odd Squad, Crankshaft, the aforementioned Los Illegals, and Circle One managed to attract some attention outside their community.

The Stains began life as Hitler Youth, eventually changing their band name and developing into one of most musically and personally intense early Los Angeles hardcore groups. Stains guitarist Robert easily rivalled Black Flag's Greg Ginn when it came to menacing buzzsaw power-chords and wild slashing leads. Circle One also gained notoriety for their intensity and the fearlessness of vocalist John Macias, who was known to face down the police and on no less than one occasion knock one of L.A.'s men in blue out cold using only his fists. With their infamous following "The Family" in tow, John helped to put on eastside shows through PUNX, and used the proceeds to get troubled youths off of drugs and the streets, and into God.

Up in Hollywood a whole new scene had emerged separate from the old Masque one and the Cathay De Grande became the venue of choice for hardcore types. More punk gangs had risen including FFF, Hollywood Rat Patrol, KAOS, and the LADS, battling for turf against outside punk gangsters and some times each other in Los Angeles. Hollywood (and West Hollywood/West Los Angeles) bands included the Atoms, Mad Society (with nine-year-old Stevie on vocals), Rigor Mortis, Seditionaries, Urban Guerrillas, Girl Scoutz (whose GS graffiti could be spotted all over town), Men In Black, Youth Brigade, and so many more. Old school law and order police chief Darryl Gates considered punk a menace to society and the LAPD came down hard on hardcore, often with night-stick in hand.

To the north in the San Fernando Valley, hardcore raged at clubs like Godzilla's in Sun Valley, and Valley West. SFV bands were Public Nuisance, Iconoclast (Sylmar peace punks), Red Scare, Disability, VOA, Bad Religion, New Regime, and Basic Math. Still slightly west, near the Los Angeles and Ventura County line, were the Grim, Angry Samoans (survivors of the late 70s punk scene and a story all on their own, especially the pre Samoans group Vom), and RF7 (who still knock out gritty hardcore with metalicized leads to this very day). Back on the coast in Malibu, a community famed for rich movie stars and millionaire rock musicians, Don't No were getting started. They would eventually feature members from Huntington Beach and Venice.

Further up the coast and into Ventura County lay the cities of Oxnard and Ventura. Commonly referred to as "Nardcore", these neighbouring cities birthed a slew of powerful hardcore bands such as Dr Know, Suspicion, Vengeance, M.I.A. (not to be confused with the Las Vegas to Newport Beach transplants), Ill Repute, Aggression, and Stalag 13. Many of the "Nardcore" bands would end up releasing solid vinyl via Mystic Records, a label that was often referred to as the K-Tel of hardcore due to its relentless release schedule and sometimes basic packaging.

Northeast into Santa Barbara was the territory of False Confessions and the Neighbors. Other coastal towns and inland cities further north yielded small scenes in places like Santa Maria (with Assault) and San Luis Obispo (Wimpy Dicks). Bakersfield had a very small but early scene with Teen Suicide, Lizerds, and non hardcore arty minimalists, the Terrorists. Dead Youth hailed from an area somewhere inside Kern County. Until you reached Fresno and Sacramento in the San Juaquin Valley, there was an extremely good chance that limited punk or hardcore band or show activities were transpiring in many of the inland towns. Nothing to even remotely resemble the abundance of hardcore activities going on in Los Angeles until you reached Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Jose, and the San Francisco Bay Area. But that's a whole 'nother story.

So there you go - my basic overview of the beginnings of hardcore in Southern California. It's far from whole, so I am sure there are some holes, but I never intended this to be a COMPLETE history. These days in Southern California sketchy businessmen have used, abused, and perverted its original intent, but still if you look around you will find hardcore that faithfully replicates the early scene ethos, often happening at alternate and often illegal gatherings as backyard parties and warehouse shows. There, do-it-yourself anti-rock-star hardcore can still be heard, and it's still some of the most honest music ever made.

Brian Sheklian is the owner of Grand Theft Audio, a California label releasing CD retrospectives of early punk, post-punk, and hardcore groups from around the world since 1995. As a writer he has contributed to Flipside and Maximum Rock N Roll, as well as several German music publications. In his free time he likes to collect insults and talk about himself in the third person because he thinks it makes him sound more important.

2007 All copyrights to this article belong to its author and prior written consent must be given by the author to anyone wishing to post, re-print and or, publish this article, or any portion of it.

Brian "GTA" Sheklian – tMx 28 – 02/07
Contact: - Writing About Music Is Like Dancing To Architecture