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Punk rock in California

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Punk rock in California

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 experimental rock scene in the early 1970s. Many figures from this earlier scene would play notable roles in the later punk scene. The experimental LA rock scene was centered around a club called the Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, run by Rodney Bingenheimer, who later, as a disc jockey for KROQ's "Rodney on the Rock", did much to promote LA punk bands.

In the mid-1970s, a wave of protopunk glam bands emerged from Los Angeles, including, The Quick, Berlin Brats, The Fly Boys, Christopher Milk, Zolar X, etc.


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 Fly Boys, The Flesh Eaters The Weirdos,( The Killer Spiders) The Germs, The Controllers, The Skulls, The Outsiders, The Detours, Fear, The Slashers, The crowd, The Simpletones, 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, ANTI, 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, Mutants, The Units, Flipper, Negative Trend, The Offs, the VKTMS, AlieNation and 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 strongly crossed over to art/experimental punk, new wave, synthpunk, rockabilly, deathrock and hard rock.

In 1978 in 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, fun party 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,( The Killer Spiders) China White, Agent Orange, The Vandals, Wasted Youth, D.I., Verbal Abuse, Symbol Six, The Mentors, NOFX, and Fear, in Southern California, and Dead Kennedys, The Black Athletes, and D.R.I. 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, Easter, 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 many other bands, were big influences on 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 because several violent hardcore punk gangs had formed in Southern California. The punk gangs were 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 were formed in 1977-1980. (BPO) Burbank Punks Organization,The L.O.D. (Lords of Destruction), Vicious Circle, FFF (Fight For Freedom), LMPs (La Mirada Punks), Circle One, East Los Angeles ESPs (East Side Punx) and the L.A.D.S. (LA Death Squad). 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 Reno (close by in Nevada) were submerged into the hardcore scene right behind cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles with punk rock exploding into an underground hardcore scene.

During the emergence of the hardcore punk rock scene in Sacramento, there were only a handful of punk rockers, hardcores and new wavers and were scattered all around Sacramento, the Sacramento Valley, in Lake Tahoe (Reno) and throughout the Sierras in small towns like Auburn and Placerville.

A local promoter Stuart Katz brought punk rock to Sacramento in the early 1980s starting off with shows in Auditoriums at Mc Kinley Park, Crest Theater, Katz was able to bring the early hardcore acts together like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Flipper, Crucifix as well as local bands such as Rebel Truth,Square Cools, Organized Crime,Child Support and Tales of Terror.

From those few Punk Rockers scattered among Sacramento mostly from Downtown Sacramento and Sunrise in Citrus Heights a Sacramento suburb, punk rock exploded like an avalanche coming down a mountain.

Katz opened his club in South Sacramento and named it Club Minimal, just about every famous punk rock band played at Minimal, Katz even booked famous acts from England to play alongside the local acts at his clubs

Club Minimal and Katz became a constant target of the Sacramento Police Department and was constantly being shut down. The cops came continuously, Katz seemed to always make 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 Katz marched his loyal punk rock army inside City Hall in front of the cameras and local newspapers and the protest made the cover page of the Sacramento Union.


Sometime in the mid 1980s, TSOL, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and Dead Kennedys, had all broken up, and a different scene was developing (Some older hardcore bands such as D.I., The Adolescents, etc. continued and released new material throughout the late 1980s and 1990s). However an even smaller scene and sound was now influenced and created by 1980s punk bands such as The Vandals, The Descendents, Agent Orange, Doggy Style, Social Distortion, Bad Religion, Suicidal Tendencies, D.R.I. (who were originally from Texas but moved to California in the early 1980s), Chaotic Noise (now known as Excel), who were all changing or re-tooling their sounds to a more bland hard rock OR at times party-rock style.

It first happened in Los Angeles and then in and San Francisco. This new scene would produce bands such as, Doggy Style, ALL, Chemical People, Guttermouth, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jughead's Revenge, Lagwagon, The Offspring, Pennywise, Face to Face, SPLNTR and Big Drill Car, and in San Francisco, No Use for a Name, Jawbreaker, The Lookouts, and the Swingin' Utters.

In Los Angeles, Bad Religion also returned after a hiatus with their third album Suffer (1988). Despite lack of mainstream success, they were about to gather a new following as well. This was also true for some bands in other areas of the state such as Sacramento's The Groovie Ghoulies. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, San Diego was home to a burgeoning post-hardcore scene centered around 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 and many of the biggest and most influential punk bands of all time were forming. In '87, Matt Freeman and Tim Armstrong of later The Bodies, AFI, and Dead to Me.

Unlike the first wave of hardcore bands who had harder music and lyrics that focused much on partying, anti-authority, destruction and politics, many of these newer bands (like Chemical People) had more of an emphasis on partying and writing songs about relationships and funny situations. Some of this stuff had a more mainstream or bubblegum-punk sound, and lyrics that focused on things like relationships and having fun—traits.

Still later on in the early to mid 1990s, bands like Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Easter, The Offspring, Green Day, AFI and Blink-182 became mega successful and played on MTV as well as mainstream radio. Up until that point, only edgy big FM stations like KROQ 106.7 in Los Angeles, KWOD 106.5 in Sacramento, 91X in San Diego, Live 105 in San Francicisco and Channel 92.3 in San Jose, as well as local alternative 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.

Notable venues

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

Notable labels

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


  1. ^ Spitz, Mark and Mullen, Brendan. (2001). We've 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

External links

  • Big Wheel Magazine, The last Punk Rock media outlet left in Los Angeles.
  • L.A. Punk History, Punk Information Directory.
  • 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 Angelese" 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,, 2006.
  • "Punk Flyers from 1977 Los Angeles" by Mark Vallen, Art-for-a Change, 2006.
  • Punk Zine Archive, – 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.
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