Last week I wrote about movers and shakers on the current East L.A. backyard scene, but there's a long line of great and influential bands that paved the way for the sub-culture. Don't get me wrong, bands like The Brat and Los Illegals were pretty awesome, but their greatness is better documented, and, besides, I hear that backyards weren't really their primary outlet.
Here, then, are five badass bands who haven't gotten the recognition they deserve. This list includes significant groups from the '80s up until the present. Most of them don't really play shows anymore, but they'll occasionally get together for old time's sake. (Note: Thanks to East L.A. punk historian Jimmy Alvarado for his generous help putting this list together.)
To many, The Stains are considered the eastside's first punk band. Hailing from Boyle Heights, they reportedly got started around 1976. Yet strangely they have been all but erased from the historical record, usually earning little more than a name drop — if they're mentioned at all. Alvarado tells me that all of the members were accomplished musicians before diving into punk. “Their furious melding of punk and metal eschewed the Chicano intellectualism and pop conventions favored by others,” he says in an email, “and the resulting crazed fever dreams steeped in alienation, violence, and assorted psychoses influenced numerous others — including Black Flag, who once deemed The Stains 'the best band in the world' in a 1981 interview with Capital Crisis fanzine.” Black Flag released the band's sole album on their SST Records in 1983. I've seen them play in a tattoo shop's back parking lot in Hollywood — they were awesome. They're just about as original as punk can get, with a semi-dark style and a confident beat. They don't follow the status quo of repetitive power chords and pointless drum fills.
Formed in East L.A. in 1977 by vocalist Art Reyes, guitarist Anthony “Tony Fingers” Naranjo, bassist Tracy “Skull” Garcia and drummer Mike Chaidez, Thee Undertakers developed a sound and visual presentation in line with their nom de guerre. Possessing more than a passing fancy for the Ramones, Black Sabbath and horror flicks, they wore black suits and rosaries — which stood in contrast to punk's stereotypical leather jackets and safety pins. Early crowds didn't quite know what to make of them. They sang hardcore rants about acne, religion, and politics with slow, catchy tunes. They earned a reputation as one of the hardest working and most entertaining bands who performed at the legendary Vex club, garnering respect on both sides of the Los Angeles River. They recorded a full-length album before breaking up in 1982, which remained shelved until Grand Theft Audio released it on CD in 2002 as Crucify Me. A seven-inch EP, L.A. Muerte, was released soon after by Artifix Records, and the band has been semi-active ever since, averaging a gig or two per year.
The trio Skeptical Youth first got together in 2006, right on the Monterey Park border of Los Angeles. (Close enough, right? If East L.A. College can claim the area even though it's technically in Monterey Park, why can't these guys?) In any case, they practiced in their old guitarist Isaac's house, developing a uniquely relentless sound similar to that of the late UK punk band Special Duties. Their wailing guitars were backed up by the breathless clear shouting of their singer “Taller,” as he was known to those in the scene. Isaac got a chick pregnant and left the band, but their new guitarist added an extra layer of atmosphere, introducing some guitar-dominated instrumentals, and taking turns melodically shouting with Taller. Everyone made fun of drummer Mark's bouncy drumming swagger, but I like to think it was his metronome that kept the band tightly in sync. Taller went on to open up the Black Wax Records record shop on Whittier Blvd., though unfortunately it didn't last long. To this day, kids still wear their skull-ified Uncle Sam t-shirts in honor of the Skeptical Youth song, “Uncle Sam Ain't My Uncle.” Other songs that they were known for included “Same Ol' Street Punk” and the stoner punk sing-along favorite, “Motavation”.
Loli & The Chones
Loli & The Chones will “kick your ass, yeah that's right,” as they explain in a lyric. These kids from Boyle Heights were familiar with the trash-punk aesthetic, but their own sound fused Ramones-style simplicity with a hardcore attack. Their songs compared living at home to Nazi death camps, praised the virtues of make-out parties and displayed hatred of everyone from jocks to pendejos. Virtually all of their songs clocked in under 90 seconds. Following their debut seven-inch EP, Weenie Choker Rock &Roll, guitarist Chris, bassist Vince and drummer Michelle released two more singles and two albums for a number of different labels before calling it quits sometime around the turn of the millennium.
By the '90s East L.A.'s backyard punk scene was well established, with bands using it as a proving ground and an alternative to the pay-to-play scams plauging L.A. club scene. After reaching a high point around 1988-89, the scene kept chugging along before reaching another high point in the mid-1990s. Union 13 were part of a new generation of punk bands that included like Social Conflict, Teenage Rage, and Crucial Justice. Their bilingual hardcore thrash caught the attention of Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, who saw the band in a backyard. He signed the group to his Epitaph label and released their inaugural salvo, East Los Presents, in 1997. This raised their profile, and they gained fans well outside the eastside's boundaries. There have since been lineup changes, but Union 13 has managed to release four albums. They've also kept themselves rooted to their home scene by augmenting national tours with shows at La Casa Del Mexicano and, of course, backyard gigs.