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.
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.
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.
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.
15. Cold War Kids
I saw them at the Wiltern in 2013, where they sounded slightly less annoying than on KROQ, which plays “First” so many times that Cold War Kids have become Maroon 5 for people who vaguely remember Ben Folds. They deserve recognition because when I was in college, around 2007, they were part of what I considered to be the college rock of my generation.
OFF! are basically a gateway drug for anyone who still hasn't discovered the warlike sound of classic L.A. punk. Over the years, frontman Keith Morris has become the scraggly and permanently vexed answer to Henry Rollins — the grumpiest, talkiest and most vitriolic veteran L.A. punk. OFF! are also a supergroup that doesn't come off like propaganda, as guitarist Dimitri Coats and Morris are engaged in one of punk's loudest bromances.
13. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
I'm convinced Alex Ebert is a CIA operative, or at the very least the indie rock David Koresh. What confuses me is why so many people dislike Edward Sharpe, or their former member (and muse) Jade Castrinos, who was voted out of the band in 2014. They lost something when they lost her, but Ebert's shamanic performances always felt emotionally honest at a time when indie bands began to dress like 19th-century train conductors and farmhands — and for that reason alone, his band earns a spot on this list.
12. Dum Dum Girls
Three bands, on separate wavelengths entirely, were responsible for a cultural shift that became the modern girl group. They were Vivian Girls in Brooklyn, Best Coast in L.A. and Dum Dum Girls, which began as a solo project of Kristin Welchez in L.A. in 2008, where she converted GarageBand beats into dark, guitar-driven pop songs. She left for New York in 2012, where she quietly created a pathway between the darkness and the light as the most stylish band to ever emerge from the garage-rock genre.
11. Silversun Pickups
They were the breakout band of the Silver Lake Spaceland scene of the ’00s, which by 2006 was feeding popular culture with overpriced thrift-store fashion and sticky rock songs like “Lazy Eye.” Their debut, Carnavas, influenced countless male-fronted bands to sound vaguely feminine, or like a less-depressing Smashing Pumpkins.
10. Best Coast
Remember when New Yorkers would ridicule bands from Laurel Canyon for being too lazy? Best Coast dealt with some of that attitude when they released Crazy for You in 2009, which is probably the catchiest rock album on this list. They're also the only band on this list whose GPS coordinates are as fundamental to their appeal as their lead singer's ability to rhyme “lazy” with “crazy.”
They're L.A.'s more goth-y Sonic Youth (except they're better songwriters, by far), which is a base-level observation of their appeal. Carla Azar's also the coolest, most commanding drummer to emerge from the scene, with a talent that's beyond freakish and a look and attitude that are ridiculously stylish, the fusion of Meg and Jack White into a rhythmic space alien.
8. Burger Records
Launched in 2007 inside a strip mall a few exits from Disneyland, Burger Records has propagandized its weed-friendly worldview into a kind of cultlike obsession that's become a SoCal punk analog to Deadhead devotion. Burger revived cassette tape culture, nurtured the careers of countless L.A. rock bands and left a stain on the L.A. scene that's comparable to Sub Pop in the Pacific Northwest, or Lookout in the East Bay. A lot of bands could have taken this spot, everyone from Gap Dream to King Tuff, but Burger was behind the L.A. runs of those and countless other bands.
Honorable Mention: In the Red Records
Larry Hardy's label has been around for decades, but he's been instrumental in the recent success of several key L.A. rock bands that could have been on this list, such as Meatbodies and Wand. In the Red also has been the driving force behind the garage-rock revival of the past decade by pushing bands like Thee Oh Sees, who get more play on Henry Rollins' KCRW show than any other current band.
7. Rilo Kiley/Jenny Lewis
They were indie-pop darlings who befriended Elliott Smith and proved that child stars could be rock stars, thanks to lead singer Jenny Lewis. Their indie-folk sound influenced Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino, who basically aped Jenny Lewis with a distorted guitar. Then Lewis went solo and became one of the most brutally honest and powerful songwriters of the past decade — the template for every California girl with a guitar, everyone from Best Coast to Danielle Haim.
6. Ty Segall
Along with players like Jay Reatard, Ty Segall introduced the guitar solo into modern garage rock. If only he were more focused after releasing Manipulator, his turning point, which is arguably the best rock album of the past five years. If only he had been more like Jack White, and less like Buckethead, who's released 283 different albums — a rate of production Segall won't ever match, but he's not too far off. Which begs the question: How much more of Ty Segall can we have without running out of patience? Then again, he's always one album away from being on the cover of Rolling Stone.
5. Mika Miko
They're the most indirectly influential band on this list and yet, somehow, like X-Ray Spex or Bratmobile, they never got the credit they deserved. Along with No Age and Abe Vigoda, Mika Miko will always be remembered as a band that made the Smell famous. They were that scene's most popular all-girl band — a silly term to use in 2017, but even if Mika Miko never gave a fuck, it mattered then, and it laid the groundwork for L.A.'s feminist rock revival, a scene that would soon be filled in by bands like Best Coast, Dum Dum Girls and Bleached (which includes Mika Miko's Clavin sisters).
4. The Growlers
Via Costa Mesa, and down into the belly of Echo Park, The Growlers are the party band that grew into a traveling circus of psychedelia that influenced Burger and Lolipop Records and even spawned their own festival, Beach Goth. It's a zonked-out, uniquely Californian vision of bleached blond hair and drunkard culture that many bands have imitated but none have managed to reproduce. Lead singer Brooks Nielsen draws the kind of devotion among Growlers fans that Jim Morrison once did. And they've built their cult following without a single album review in Pitchfork.
3. Ariel Pink
He's become a supervillain in the L.A. music scene, who's been accused of being a speed freak, a misogynist, a psychopath, an abuser of countless unnamed ghostwriters and an offender of more social-justice warriors than Ted Nugent. He's the trashy Hollywood version of Frank Zappa, or Captain Beefheart, a master shit-starter who's collaborated with or produced some of L.A.'s best underground acts.
They graduated from playing the Smell in 2008, when Moses Campbell opened for them, to opening for Taylor Swift and becoming the biggest band L.A. has developed since (probably) Guns N’ Roses. They're rockers, which seems to get lost in their mainstream success as the Jewish Partridge Family, Valley girls in a hit-making family band, which inspired some nasty jealousy and unfair Wilson Phillips comparisons. They once struggled to score a residency at the Echo, but now Haim probably will outlast every other band on this list.
1. No Age
If Michael Azerrad ever writes a sequel to Our Band Could Be Your Life, there would be a chapter on No Age, an egoless punk band that put the Smell on the map by featuring it on the cover of Weirdo Rippers, in hindsight one of the most influential punk albums of the past decade. They followed that up by nurturing a DIY culture that bred CalArts kids into touring rock bands, show bookers, visual artists and label heads. They became our protest music against corporate interests and bad taste. Their DIY fundamentalism has become the blueprint for every L.A. band that followed, and while No Age never had a hit like Best Coast, or Haim, their very existence has kept L.A. a bit less Hollywood.