Gnarly Charly Is Just Your Average Anarcho-Punk Chicano Bike Activist
Activist-anarchist-cyclist-rocker-gymnast Gnarly Charly seems to have arrived from another dimension, one where the laws of gravity and the rules of society don't apply. The 28-year-old's multiple creative callings make for an impressive résumé — leader of "bike punk" band Pedal Strike, de facto jefe of an underground cycling sect, designer of wild traffic-punk streetwear, builder of chopped lowrider bicycles (he rides what he calls a custom "Resistance to the Man, Rolling Chicano Power Kinetic Sculpture Machine"), gymnastics instructor for the city and a paragon of parkour capable of eye-popping feats.
He was born in Highland Park, to parents who were "first-generation Mexican Chicanos, originally from Michoacán," he says. "I got into skateboarding and it opened everything — skateboarding is a gateway drug! There was no ocean where I grew up; I rode concrete waves. And from there I got into punk, DIY culture, just being extreme at everything at a very young age."
Skateboarding introduced him to punk and DIY culture, as well as an attitude that carries him through all his endeavors. "As a skater I wasn't afraid to take a fall," he says.
Skating also led to gymnastics, which in turn led to the world of parkour. "It's literal freedom; you can do anything. And parkour is a discipline, not a sport — it's a way of life. And it all combines when I perform with Pedal Strike."
Pedal Strike deliver an idiosyncratic, high-velocity sound intensified by Charly's eye-popping handstands and back flips. "I always say I'm like a cobra and the boys are the snake charmers. I get hypnotized, open up, and I can do anything."
Charly's no mere bandstand show-off. "I did a stint on the Cypress Park Neighborhood Council," he says. "I wanted to hear what the community needed, but what I really learned about was bureaucracy. I had a lot of ideas about land use, open spaces, pop-up playgrounds, community gardens, but — red tape, yo. We did get the first Rio de Los Angeles Music Festival done, that was something."
The all-day free event, presented by the neighborhood council in Rio de Los Angeles State Park and featuring half a dozen bands plus the Xipe Totec Danzantes Aztecas dance troupe, was no small achievement. But Charly's community vision goes far deeper.
"On the council, I learned a lot about the system," he says. "Of course I wanted to be more radical. I follow anarchy — it was 'infiltrate and hide in plain sight.' So I've been doing the Bartertown festivals — the first was down in Joshua Tree — and afterward I thought I'd like to do one in an urban setting."
Gnarly Charly astride his "Resistance to the Man, Rolling Chicano Power Kinetic Sculpture Machine"
These no-admission, anything-goes, word-of-mouth eruptions of tribal merrymaking are vintage Charly. He'll prep the site using found material such as dried river cane, spread the word among his wildly disparate underworld cohorts, and see what happens.
At the last Bartertown, held at abandoned freight switching facility Taylor Yard, "We had about 100 people, fire spinners, a bow-and-arrow workshop," Charly says. "I invited my circus family, the Trace Deep Parkour crew, the punk community, my Northeast Alliance activist homies. It's an urban primitive movement."
Charly still has one foot in the legit system, inspiring youth all over the county as an instructor for the Department of Recreation & Parks' kids gymnastics pilot program. He does all of his activities, official and off-the-grid, with a singular philosophy.
"Activate the land that's usually just rotting," he says. "Open your eyes to a new way of life in Los Angeles; that's the Pedal Strike agenda. Live in the moment and document it with your soul, not with Instagram."
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