For the writer tasked with classifying, ranking and co-opting the punkness of our local scene — in a listicle, of all things, the journo's tawdriest scheme — there's a sense of duty, combined with an undeniable desire to judge the cool kids. But I've fraternized enough to build some allies over the years, among them some of the most credible punk-rock minds in L.A., everyone from Furn Zavala at Amoeba Music to Randy Randall of No Age (who recommended No Parents). Erudite clerks at Origami Vinyl and Permanent Records even offered suggestions.
Still, the task of being the decider requires a brash willingness to antagonize angry punks in celebration of L.A. punk — not unlike the time I declared L.A. to be more punk than New York.
For three years, I've been compiling a list on my cracked-screen iPad titled “Punk Bands in L.A.” A few of my faves have called it quits while I was in the process of making this list, such as NASA Space Universe. Others simply weren't geographically fitting (i.e., not from L.A. but the 'burbs). Then, without revealing my intentions, I created an unwitting review committee, which included the aforementioned names, East L.A. backyard punks, Ventura punk rock O.G. (emphasis on the “G”) and DIY show promoter Scott Porcho, skinny jeans at the Smell, East 7th punks and others too numerous to mention.
The point is this list was devised in the wild, over the course of several moons and through the eyes of several chieftains. I started with about 80 bands and cut that down to 20.
Here, then, is a finely curated list of the best punk bands in L.A., ranked to seduce the reader along the numerical strand between 20 and numba' one — not a contest, OK?
Sounds like: Hardcore-meets-rap communicated through a cybernetic warlord wired with Bad Brains punk and slow-motion punches to the fuckin' face.
More: New Jersey transplants with tribal warpaint who get butt-naked during shows, sample Black Flag and WWE entrance themes and cause riots.
Sounds like: Animated version of The Circle Jerks produced by “Weird Al” Yankovic working off a playlist composed of Screeching Weasel, The Dickies and Anti-Flag.
More: Comedians from Salt Lake who moved to L.A. and transformed into a Mormon missionary duo supported by a robot on bass and drums; L.A. now has two fake-Mormon punk bands led by pranksters. (See also: The Mormons.)
18. Terminal A
Sounds like: Industrial cabaret-goth forged by Factory Records and modernized through an L.A. punk mutation influenced by The Screamers, Nietzsche and Suicide over electronic beats.
More: Minimalist synth-punk duo of Colin Peterson (vocals) and Lee Busch (guitar) is L.A.'s most theatrical and genuinely interesting byproduct of the Part Time Punks scene.
17. Neighborhood Brats
Sounds like: Melodic hardcore bleeding Adolescents and Avengers, with aggressive nods to Henry Rollins juxtaposed by bouncy pop, like The Ramones doing “Pet Sematary.”
More: After breaking up in January, the Brats announced reunion shows for 2016. Singer Jenny Angelillo lives in Long Beach and gives no fucks: “I just want to play punk rock, drink coffee, get a tan, do push-ups and get rad … you can fucking quote me on that.”
Honorable mention: Bad Cop / Bad Cop
Sounds like: Lookout! Records–inspired pop-punk with roots in skate and the ferocious appeal of Angry Amputees (the former band of Bad Cop's Stacey Dee), NOFX, The Distillers and Good Riddance.
More: With members across L.A., San Pedro and the OC, Bad Cop / Bad Cop's geographical manifold didn't allow me to add them to this list. But for Stacey Dee's raspy punkness and the furious drumming of Myra Gallarza alone, they deserved to be on this list. They're also rising stars on pop-punk stalwart Fat Wreck Chords.
16. No Peace
Sounds like: Heavy attack of '80s hardcore from England muffled with thick death growls that conjure pure violence lit by rotating police sirens.
More: Their first demo just dropped two months ago. There's no Facebook, or label, just a logo that looks like a crust punk's interpretation of Ghost Rider.
14. Joyce Manor
Sounds like: Pop-punk circa early-2000s Warped Tour that scratches that itch for Jawbreaker, without feeling like an old sweater from college that smells like sadness.
More: Barry Johnson (guitar, vocals) and Chase Knobbe (guitar) got drunk in a Disneyland parking lot in 2008 and decided to start a band. Their last record clocked in at 19 minutes — which makes it easy to memorize and sing along to, like an animated Disney classic that's bruised by punk.
Sounds like: A DC comics supervillain as played by Courtney Love, minus the sandpaper growl. Imagine, for a moment, what Kim Fowley would have created had he been given access to Area 51, a vile of acid and a demented ballerina.
More: Right now, Kim House is the most polarizing figure in Echo Park. For that reason alone, she's acutely punk, and a recent residency at the Echo proves she's ambitious enough to turn her performance art into something blindingly inspirational.
12. The Muffs
Sounds like: Mid-'60s rock charred by the nastiest growl in the history of pop-punk, with a bloodline connected to everything from The Beatles to not-so-depressing grunge.
More: The Muffs are '90s pop-punk legends that got really famous when their cover of “Kids in America” landed on the Clueless soundtrack. They're also one of the few punk bands with as many teenage fans today as they had in the '90s.
Sounds like: Smartly minimalist fuzz that feels like daydreaming, with elements of twee and CalArts-derived punk.
More: No Age has managed to define the modern DIY ethos of L.A. The Smell is “the house that No Age built,” which means No Age is our Minutemen. Rock critic Robert Christgau described them as “punk geniuses.” I describe them as for the ages.
10. Band Aparte
Sounds like: Uncomfortably romantic synth-punk with Ian MacKaye reciting gloomy sermons written by Peter Hook.
More: During a live show, well-dressed singer Brian Mendoza likes to attack his audience, while crushing roses and shaking his pompadour like a Latino Elvis gone nutso. He's also one of L.A.'s most fearless and unhinged performers, which is refreshing in a scene littered with depressed Kurt Cobain clones.
Sounds like: Demented '60s garage-rock Frankensteined into nonsensical hardcore punk influenced by Back From the Grave and SST Records.
More: DHN9 claim to be zombies. You see, in the mid-'60s, they were the backing band for Marvin Gaye (say what?), who they claim was such a “pussy ass” that he abandoned them after a bus accident near brain-eating zombies (not true). Also, DHN9 have been destroying the L.A. club scene since 2009 (true).
8. Corrupted Youth
Sounds like: Thrash-era Metallica influenced by '90s hardcore bands like The Casualties, played really fast.
More: East L.A. backyard crew led by working-class punks Nacho and Eugene. They play fast, probably too fast, as they'd like to avoid the LAPD raiding their DIY sets.
Sounds like: Pissed-off Spanish-language punks influenced by Eastern bloc hardcore and doom.
More: Compton's Sadicos are part of the Silenzio Statico collective, which releases some great Latino punk tapes. You can grab some at Amoeba.
6. Blazing Eye
Sounds like: Japanese hardcore as filtered through the fucked-up imagination of demonic street gangs bumping Zouo and Gai cassettes.
More: They don't want me talking about them.
Sounds like: Shamelessly catchy pop-punk that combines P.S. Elliot with all the best parts of '90s Punk-O-Rama bands, peppered with emo, Blink-182, K Records and everything that made the Warped Tour a mall-punk paradise.
More: Formed in 2013 by Ali Koehler (ex–Vivian Girls drummer) as an unintentional supergroup comprised of Patty Schemel (ex–Hole drummer), Rachel Gagliardi (Slutever) and Lauren Freeman (Benny the Jet Rodriguez).
4. Sissy Spacek
Sounds like: Fuckin' intense noisecore disconnected from any particular scene, designed to be consumed live, with no permanent singer and an onslaught of noise effects and chaotic drumming.
More: The duo of John Wiese (guitar/bass) and Charlie Mumma (drums) have partnered with four different demon-voiced singers over the years, including Sara Taylor of Youth Code (seen above). Their sets are comprised of 10 to 20 minutes of nonstop noise delivered through broken instruments and a deviation from reality.
Sounds like: Dick joke–inspired National Lampoon house-party band possessed by the ghost of Darby Crash and '90s skate-punk cassettes.
2. Sex Stains
Sounds like: The post-punk rhythms of The Slits and spookiness of The Cramps as seen through blood-soaked '80s punk, along with Minutemen chops and primal yells reminiscent of Olympia's riot grrrl class of 1991.
More: OG riot grrrl Allison Wolfe (ex-Bratmobile/Cold Cold Hearts) gets acrobatic, and occasionally bloody, when she performs with her new band Sex Stains, who have a debut record set to release early next year. The talented group also includes a second vocalist, Mecca Vazie Andrews, a notable dancer and choreographer. They also have a zine called “Sex Stains: Exposed!”
Sounds like: Crashing metal in a freeway tunnel while Motörhead plays U.K. hardcore, Bleach-era Nirvana and powerviolence.
More: Obliterations formed in 2012 and released one savage full-length titled Poison Everything. They have members with roots in the L.A. DIY scene from the '90s, which means they are not to be fucked with. Last year, we recognized them as “L.A.'s Most Exciting New Punk Band.” This year, we put them at numba' one.
More honorable mentions: Death Valley Girls, Chew Toys, Melted, Lock, The Bronx, The Groms, Sloppy Jane, Rat Fist, Clutch the Pearls, Prettiest Eyes, Touché Amoré, Heller Keller, Criminal Hygiene, Stupid Life, Vision, The Shag Rats, together PANGEA, Convict, Response, Sextile, No Peace, Wand, Wavves, Endless Bummer, Social Conflict and Total Chaos.
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