The 30 Best L.A. Rock Bands of the Past Decade
It's a pervasive canard in music: Rock is dead. The popularity of hip-hop and EDM are indicators that the Fender Strat is no longer in vogue with the youth. It's a canard because it assumes that rock & roll, in its refusal to become "hip," has become pastiche, or that today's rock bands give a shit about pandering to youth culture, 20-something music critics or Vice editors. They don't.
Those same pretentious editors and critics never saw Ty Segall shred four nights in a row at the Echo, or felt the anxiety when FIDLAR nearly ignited a riot one night in 2012, or witnessed the religious revival of a Growlers show, who have became The Grateful Dead for bleached-hair millennials.
In L.A., the past decade has been dominated by a brand of rock that experiments with GarageBand and shamanic psychedelia, while augmenting punk with Chicano and feminist rage. The alleged cultural bankruptcy of rock & roll never reached our shores, where we now have more venues for live music than we've had in decades, built on the backs of rock bands who met at DIY spaces like the Smell, or found their voice during buzzworthy residencies at the Echo, or kept punk alive at Alex's Bar.
In looking back at the last decade of L.A. rock, I held my nose at nothing. The only snobbery you'll sniff out is my belief that the electric guitar is America's greatest cultural export. I lassoed my rockism by asking for help from a few tastemakers, who forced me begrudgingly to include a few bands that would never have made my personal playlist.
This is also a microcosm of the L.A. music scene of the past decade, so bands like Guns N’ Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who mostly affected the scene in the ’80s and ’90s, won't be listed here, though a few survivors from earlier eras who have stayed active and relevant made the cut.
30. Steel Panther
Their apologists tend to ignore the fact that Steel Panther have caused more damage to ’80s metal than Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages. Their critics, mostly feminists and retired hair-metal rockers, think they're an unfunny tribute to an era when the guitar was a giant cock extension. They're also the Sunset Strip's most polarizing comedy act since Pauly Shore.
Death Valley Girls
29. Death Valley Girls
They formed in 2013 as an Echo Park backyard band, with Hole's Patty Schemel behind the kit. After a few lineup changes, DVG spent the next four years barnstorming across the States and seducing the ear of Rodney Bingenheimer. They've also had one member committed to a mental institution — which is the rock & roll equivalent of getting shot in hip-hop.
28. Sissy Spacek
For years, John Wiese's grindcore project have blurred the lines between fine art and chaos. A few years ago, they played a 17-minute set inside an electronic dance tent — with a broken bass guitar and pissed-off drummer — which was the musical equivalent of Carrie turning her quaint prom into a human barbecue.
Warpaint's Theresa Wayman
For nearly a decade, they've been L.A.'s polished answer to Phish, which made them the perfect vehicle for KCRW's gentrification of rock. Once you get beyond their squareness and obsession with floral patterns, Warpaint are probably the most musically complex indie band on this list.
26. L.A. Guns
If there's no expiration date for the Second Amendment, then L.A. Guns will endure, with or without Tracii Guns (now reunited with his namesake band, at least for now). They've basically outlasted everyone from their generation and cemented their position as the unofficial house band at the Whisky a Go-Go.
25. HOTT MT
They're the most ambitious psych-rock band in L.A., who stalked Flaming Lip's Wayne Coyne into a collaboration in 2012, and quietly dropped a track last year they produced for Kesha, without permission from Dr. Luke. They referred to the leak as "musical terrorism," a bold statement by the landlords of L.A.'s most interesting art space, Non Plus Ultra.
Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead
Honorable mention: Lemmy
Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister has his own statue at the Rainbow Bar & Grill. He earned his spot there by burning a hole in their video poker machine and his Rickenbacker bass, as he used his cultural capital to keep the Sunset Strip breathing during the suffocatingly dark days of the ’00s.
24. The Muffs
The Muffs plugged back into the millennial mainframe by signing to Burger Records in 2014 and reverse-engineering themselves into a DIY band. Weezer released a tape on Burger that same year, which was a publicity stunt, while The Muffs became a fucking Burger band. I once saw them play an unpretentious set at the Satellite in front of a few hundred people — no rock-star shit, just melodic punk and Kim Shattuck's iconic caterwaul, which has outlasted the pipes of Brody Dalle and Courtney Love.
23. Blazing Eye
They're the only legitimately frightening hardcore punk band in L.A., a byproduct of the East 7th Punx scene, whose founder once threatened to kill me. They're also the city's only hardcore band that appeals to both Vice writers and actual Mexican street gangs.
22. The Mae Shi
They were the most musically disruptive band from the Smell's mid-aughts scene. Some would describe The Mae Shi as a CalArts project disguised as an indie band, or a spastic take on "college rock." They'd even toy with their audience, or play with them by throwing a colorful tarp over them during a sing-along — a stunt they performed at the Smell that cements their status as the weirdest band on this list.
21. Dead Sara
When the musical duo of guitarist Siouxsie Medley and singer Emily Armstrong — my pick for best rock singer in L.A. — dropped "Weatherman" four years ago, Dead Sara seemed destined to revive the spirit of classic rock. They're also a self-identified "hard rock" band, which seems like a bad marketing move, but earnest as fuck, like Armstrong's chest-pounding yell.
Since releasing their first EP in 2006, Intronaut have become the most respected prog-metal band in the city. They've taken a complex template of fusion breakdowns, freakish drumming and heavy power chords and created a sound that's often difficult to market to metal fans. It's dynamic, funky and, some would argue, the most interesting of any modern L.A. metal band.
19. Cherry Glazerr
Born out of the bedroom of a 15-year-old named Clementine Creevy, this band has been upgraded, several times, from a cheeky high school band named after a KCRW radio host into the expression of Creevy's dark side. Cherry Glazerr's guitar-wielding founder has gone on be a model for Saint Laurent’s former creative director Hedi Slimane and act in Amazon's Transparent, which has made her both the golden child and the black swan of L.A. indie.
They've become less edgy since singer Zac Carper got sober in 2015, but between 2012 and 2014, FIDLAR were the most dangerous garage-rock band in L.A., selling out the Echo and headlining Burgerama during the buzz of their debut, which turned many of the city's youth into cheap beer-drinking cokeheads. At their peak in 2013, FIDLAR were the last L.A. band that really fucked up the kids, when "Fuck It Dog, Life's a Risk" was being taken literally.
17. The Bronx
For a white L.A. punk band to begin moonlighting as a mariachi band, during the height of gentrification, without getting the shit kicked of them, is reason enough to warrant inclusion on this list. But when The Bronx became Mariachi El Bronx, they never disrespected Mexican culture; they paid tribute to it, and over the years, whether they were playing the Warped Tour or FYF, The Bronx have been our working-class answer to those New Yorkers who think all we Californians do is grab brunch and repeat freeway directions.
16. Joyce Manor
They're an emo (or "pop-punk") band that's managed to reach beyond the soapy DNA of the genre, help revive its next wave and gain favor with indie kingmakers like Pitchfork. Which is remarkable, because Joyce Manor are from Torrance, a part of the country Brooklynites would nuke if they could find it on a map.
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