As a nu-metal head in the late ’90s at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, I was probably the only one displaying a love for bands like Korn, Slipknot and Fear Factory in a sea of Black Flag, Pennywise and Circle Jerks shirts and patches.
I was well aware that the South Bay was a mecca for punk rock, and contained within its limits a cacophony of sounds that would forever be part of hardcore punk’s lineage dating back to the late ’70s and early ’80s. That spirit survived through the ’90s and 2000s, and on to today, with some seminal bands that not only put the South Bay music scene on the map but also are responsible for some of the most iconic and influential music in all of punk.
The South Bay was not quite south enough to be part of the OC punk scene, but it was never quite part of the scenes in Venice and Hollywood, either. But that didn't stop some of the bands we're about to list from taking over clubs and venues all over Southern California in their heyday — and many are still going strong today. These are the all-time best punk bands from the South Bay.
10. False Alliance
False Alliance formed in 1998 while guitarist-songwriter-and-vocalist Danny McElwain was still a student at Mira Costa High School. Taking cues from old-school favorites like Dead Kennedys, Adolescents and The Germs, False Alliance paid homage to their elder punk-rock heroes with volatile, personal and political lyrics and music, and an accessible yet nostalgic '80s hardcore punk sound that gained the band a fan base across the South Bay and Southern California. Since forming, the band has been off again and on again, and undergone various lineup changes. Over their hundreds upon hundreds of shows, the constant has been McElwain. The band’s early days were filled with backyard and teen-center gigs with up-and-coming bands like Guttermouth, AFI and Avenged Sevenfold. Since then, they've played shows opening for bands like The Dickies, The Dwarves, The Weirdos, Fear and TSOL.
9. The STDs
Hermosa Beach–based punks The STDs are keeping alive the legacy of Pennywise and Black Flag. Though they never became millionaires or mega-rockstars, they march on for the love of the musicand for the community of Hermosa Beach. They perform hardcore punk at its best, full of fury, rage and distorted melodies in every song. Formed in 1996, the band is made up mostly of locals and continues to play all over the South Bay, as well as Long Beach, San Bernardino, East L.A. and beyond. One has to wonder: Does the name represent anything besides the obvious? After much searching online, there is no clear answer. Does it mean Surf Town Dudes? Or Surf Till Death? Could it mean something more nefarious? The only way to find out will be to meet a member and ask him yourself.
8. Smut Peddlers
This band formed in 1993 in Redondo Beach and took the sounds of rock & roll, hardcore and punk and coagulated them all to win fans among skaters, surfers and street punks. For nearly a quarter of a century, the band has been known on the local punk and hardcore scene to throw wild shows. For years, they remained relatively unknown outside Southern California, and it might have stayed that way, until their music was used by the Jackass franchise, both in TV episodes and movies. Their fast-paced, aggressive sound provided the perfect soundtrack for Johnny Knoxville and his gang to do their stunts and beat the shit out of one another. Thanks to the Jackass publicity, the band has toured the United States as well as Europe and South America over the years, but still calls the South Bay home.
7. 98 Mute
Another punk band from Hermosa Beach, 98 Mute formed in 1993, part of a second wave of South Bay punk bands who continued the traditions of their ’80s precursors. Alongside peers in bands such as Pennywise, the band’s agility and melodic skills were mixed in with fierce speed and heavy guitar, producing a slightly metal-influenced, skate-punk sound that fans loved. 98 Mute features drummer Justin Thirsk, brother of later Pennywise bassist Jason Thirsk, as well as guitarist Jason Paige, bassist Doug Weems and singer Pat Ivie. Since the late ’90s, 98 Mute has toured with bands like The Offspring, Bad Religion, Pennywise and Blink-182. The band released four full-length albums before disbanding in 2002, but they are back by popular demand, recently reunited at the Hollywood Palladium for a string of shows with Pennywise.
6. Redd Kross
Perhaps one of the most underrated and overlooked of South Bay punk bands is Redd Kross, which over the years evolved from hardcore punk to a more avant-garde, indie-rock form of alternative music. Hailing from the same city as The Beach Boys, Hawthorne, only a couple decades later (late ’70s), Redd Kross had a huge impact on L.A.'s early punk and later alternative and garage-rock scenes. Featuring brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald, the band has otherwise sported a revolving lineup of musicians; an early incarnation included guitarist Greg Hetson, who left to form Circle Jerks, and drummer Ron Reyes, who left to become the singer for Black Flag. The band’s first gig in 1980 was opening for Black Flag while they were teenagers. Redd Kross might not be the same band as when they started, but their influence looms large and they continue to perform and record to this day.
Although this band is from San Pedro, we decided to include them in this list, because San Pedro is technically considered part of the South Bay — and because Minutemen were a great band who were well ahead of their time. Formed in 1980, the band featured bassist Mike Watt, drummer George Hurley (replacing short-lived original drummer Frank Tonche) and vocalist-guitarist D. Boon. The band’s humorous, unconventional and upbeat approach to hardcore was influenced by bands like Black Flag and The Stooges, and Boon's onstage charisma and the amazing interplay between his guitar and Watt's bass quickly built them a large fan base. Then tragedy struck in 1985, when Boon was killed in a car accident, essentially putting an end to Minutemen's run. Boon’s legacy as a guitarist, singer and songwriter, however, will live on; one of the reasons Minutemen stood out among the punks of the time were the touches of funk, blues and traditional rock he brought to the band's music. The Minutemen's music was further immortalized on the MTV show Jackass, which used the opening guitar riff from their song "Corona."
Arguably the most commercially successful rock band ever to emerge from Hermosa Beach, Pennywise rose to fame from underground and took over the South Bay punk scene in the early 2000s. Formed in 1988, the band hit a chord with their skater-friendly hardcore sound and anti-authority, freedom-of-expression lyrics. By 1990, the band was signed to Epitaph Records, and touring with the likes of The Offspring and Bad Religion. In 1996, the band suffered a tragedy when bassist Jason Thirsk committed suicide. But the group soldiered on and, after years of diligently working hard, scored commercial breakthroughs with the albums Land of the Free (2001) and From Ashes (2003). Suddenly the band’s songs were in heavy rotation on KROQ, and Hermosa Beach's punk rock scene was back in the national spotlight for the first time in decades. The band rages on to this day, making music that encourages young people to open their minds and be active in this world, not just in the mosh pit.
3. Circle Jerks
This is the band formed in 1979 by vocalist Keith Morris, formerly of Black Flag, and guitarist Greg Hetson, who had left Redd Kross. From the get-go, Circle Jerks' music was in-your-face, extreme, politically charged and fast. Rivaling any other punk band of the time, the music of the Circle Jerks could be crude, but it was also exciting and dangerous and full of raw emotion. Morris was (and still is, in his current band OFF!) a very unpredictable frontman who could incite a crowd into chaos at any given moment. Circle Jerks were featured in the classic punk film The Decline of Western Civilization and are among the best songwriters from the South Bay Punk scene, influencing everyone from NOFX and Rancid to Slayer and Anthrax.
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All modern pop-punk and emo owes a debt to Descendents. Without the existence of this Hermosa Beach band, there would be no Green Day, no Blink-182, no Sum 41. But not only were the Descendents the first, they were (and still are) the band that does it best. The Descendents took the angst and turmoil of adolescent years and creatively turned it into timeless music — both angry punk tunes and and fast, melodic love songs. Vocalist Milo Aukerman might not be in his early 20s anymore, but the music is still timeless and speaks to generations of disaffected and disenfranchised youths all over the world.
1. Black Flag
Black Flag are the godfathers of the Hermosa Beach hardcore punk scene. Guitarist Greg Ginn formed the band in 1976 and has been its sole constant member. The band’s iconic bars logo is probably the most recognized band logo in the world. Black Flag began as a group of pissed-off, alienated stoner musicians. They worshipped bands like Black Sabbath, and were well ahead of their time with their mix of punk attitude and tempos and the heavier, sludgier sounds of early metal. Fans of metal and punk alike respect and pay tribute to Black Flag to this day. Whether you’re checking out the Keith Morris–fronted material on The First Four Years, the legendary albums from the band's Henry Rollins era like My War, Slip It In and Damaged, or even the less well-known stuff featuring vocalists Ron Reyes and Dez Cadena, the band’s classic catalog cannot be duplicated or replicated.