Historic East L.A. punk venue The Vex is famous for epic shows in the '80s, featuring killer L.A. and Orange County lineups, everyone from the Adolescents and TSOL to Social Distortion. The club opened in 1976, and proprietor, Joe “Vex” Suquette brought the two counties' scenes together for the first time. But the punk rock madness started to take its toll on him, and in 1984 he walked away from the club.
His absence was felt right away, and the scene started to die down. Oddly, a couple of guys claimed to be him, using his name to throw shows. They even impersonated him in interviews. But as of last fall the East L.A. native is back, throwing shows again in El Sereno at a spot called The Vex/ Arts L.A., a spot with room for 1,200 people. We spoke with Suquette not long after he'd hosted Ian Mackaye's current band The Evens, talking in his office on the second floor of the venue, next to his private gallery of rare punk rock paintings and vintage flyers. It's one of his very few interviews since the Vex closed three decades ago.
What made you want to start The Vex up again?
It's always been part of my life, there's always been a yearning to keep it going. I went in a different direction for family purposes and other different careers that I had. I became a designer and developer of properties, houses and condos. I made a full circle because of what I've been through. I know my knowledge of what I do and I decided to come back and create what I created back in the '80s. I think that it's a perfect time for everything. People always ask me “what's going to happen?” Like if I'm some kind of messiah. The truth of the matter is that the Vex is very powerful, the power of the Vex hasn't seceded from being other than that. It's going to be helpful to a lot of musicians and artists.
We are expanding possibly into Orange County, with a very large venue. Nothing has been signed, but the positive energy has been going that way and it is going to happen. We are sitting on two deals for a fine arts gallery in Boyle Heights, and also a coffee shop gallery. It's going to be a kick-ass gallery, we're really anxious to get one started.
Did you know how historic The Vex was going to be when you opened it back in the '70s?
I still don't see the big deal about it, other than the fact that I did a lot of great shows and I helped a lot of musicians and artists along the way. I think what happened afterwards is [significant]: the media that followed. It gave East L.A. a new horizon of media and exposure. That sparked off everything that is going on now. Many artists and people say that The Vex started the L.A. art scene. I can see that. I'm not saying it started it, it sparked it. If it wasn't for the bands that I got from Orange County and Hollywood and mixed them with the East L.A. groups, The Vex would have just been another place in East L.A., they were the catalysts of what happened. They created it, I just brought them down.
Let's clear up some misconceptions. Where did The Vex start?
It started in the basement of this place on Alvarado Street. It was called Navarro apartments — not at Self Help Graphics. SHG was just a venue that I needed to use to create a magazine that was going to feature the bands of East Los Angeles. Sister Karen allowed me to run those shows there so I could raise money for the publication. People call SHG The Vex which is cool, but really it's SHG. The only time The Vex is The Vex is when I'm doing shows there. Sister Karen had a lot of insight and was the catalyst for that — an amazing woman. It was not the same after she left, she was an amazing person to a lot of people.
I hear you had an impostor or two.
I know who they are, I don't want to say any names but they were going around saying they were me. I found out later on. I retired back in 1984, I got burned out man. You do shows, which aren't just about having cocktails all night long and talking to pretty girls. It's a lot of hard work, night after night, week after week, month after month, year after year of doing those shows. It takes a toll on you. Those two jokers, they created a bunch of lies, and reputable newspapers published those lies. It was a nasty mess, to me it was, 'How can 60-year-old men pull this type of shit? But at this point, it's bygones. I think what I'm doing now pretty much shows and tells people who really is Joe Vex.
Is there anything else that you would like to set straight?
I'd rather show them, that's how I've always been. I let my actions speak louder than my words. I don't do very many interviews or photographs because I believe in letting my actions speak louder than my words. I'm not into myself, just into my heart.