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Meet the Mother of the Thrash Scene

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Fri, May 10, 2013 at 4:15 AM

click to enlarge CREDIT W.B. FONTENOT
  • Credit W.B. Fontenot
More than 1,000 fans are expected at this year's Thrasho de Mayo festival, drawn by rising upstart local metal acts and some of the genre's heaviest hitters.

But no one expected it to get so big. Particularly not Esther Gutierrez, a housewife who put the first one together at the Whisky A Go Go in 2006. At the time, she had no idea she was helping to birth a resurgence in Los Angeles thrash metal.

"I was just a mom helping her son's band," Gutierrez explains, adding that back then she knew next to nothing about the genre. Her son, Carlos, had just turned 18 and was drumming in Fueled by Fire, a local metal group primarily playing backyard shows. "Initially, they were having trouble booking club shows because they were all teenagers," she says. "I felt for the kids and wanted to help them out."

Thrasho De Mayo's first lineup featured unsigned local groups full of teenagers. But their collective buzz -- mainly from the backyard scene -- nonetheless drew an overflow crowd to the Whisky. In fact, it's fair to say its success kick-started label and promoter interest in the L.A. thrash scene.

"It was such a major turning point for thrash in L.A.," says Warbringer guitarist John Laux, who also played on the bill that day. The group has since recorded three albums for Century Media and performed hundreds of shows worldwide with well-known acts like Napalm Death and Soilwork. "There were always backyard shows, but it was cool that local bands were packing the Whisky. That show belonged to us. It's hard to ignore something like that."

The players had an important ally on their side. Katon W. De Pena, vocalist of '80s L.A. thrashers Hirax, had seen a couple of the bands at smaller shows and offered to emcee the event. After all, acts such as Hirax, Agent Steel and Dark Angel had led L.A.'s thrash scene in the mid-'80s, and his endorsement of this new wave of Los Angeles thrash metal meant a lot.

Three of the five bands who performed that day -- Fueled by Fire, Merciless Death and Warbringer -- were signed within a year, by Metal Blade, Heavy Artillery and Century Media, respectively. Soon they found themselves spreading the gospel of new L.A. thrash and touring worldwide with name acts like Exodus and Overkill, some of whom had been slogging it out since before these kids were born.

Thrasho de Mayo itself would continue to grow as well, adding notable out-of-town headliners (like San Francisco's Heathen in 2008 and German thrashers Exumer in 2009) who hadn't played Los Angeles in years, to go along with the rising locals. In subsequent years the festival sold out both rooms of the Knitting Factory, before going on hiatus after the 2010 festival.

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