Who Are the Pioneers of Southern Californian Hardcore Punk?
If you’re looking for a place to lay the blame on the cultivation of hardcore in the early ’80s, then lay it smack dab down on the suburbs of Southern California.
From the humdrum tract housing of the Orange and Los Angeles counties came a punk roar that was utterly unique. There was no artsy posturing like the kind found at the time on New York’s Bowery scene with bands like Talking Heads or Television. There was no pretense of working class struggles like the ones found in groups from across the pond such as The Clash. This was a singularly American, no-frills yowl intent on eradicating the laid-back, lame-ass mustachioed rock culture of the time without a speck of respect or regret to spare.
Nothing is a better portal into understanding this time and place than the book We Got Power!: Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980’s Southern California, which was released by Bazillion Points Publishing just this week. Simply put, the thing is a history lesson for the novice and nerd alike, packed to the spine with pictures and essays that’ll blow the mind and flare the nostrils.
In celebration for the release of the book, we present a list of ten bands that laid the foundation for the sound and vibe of the SoCal hardcore sound. So bust out your bandanas, jack boots and spurs, ’cause IT’S ON.
The Germs were the first band to make the skateboarders and surfers of the SoCal beach communities turn down their Ted Nugent tapes and take notice to punk. Pretty soon, these adrenalin pumped kids were coming out to shows at venues such as the Fleetwood in Redondo Beach and the Hong Kong Café in Chinatown. Some were content to just wreak havoc, but some saw the crude energy propelling from the stage and thought ‘Hey! I can do that!’ And with that, the SoCal hardcore scene sparked.
The Middle Class
If you ever have the misfortune of getting stuck in the middle of a debate on who exactly was the first hardcore band, you’re sure to hear the name of The Middle Class thrown around. These three teenagers barreled out of Santa Ana in 1978 with their self-financed Out of Vogue seven inch EP and laid down the blueprint for the blinding pace SoCal punk would pick up on as the ’70s crashed into the ’80s.
At this point in history, we would like to think even your grandmother would know the cultural importance of Black Flag. The sound, the attitude and the do-it-yourself aesthetic of hardcore all falls on these dudes’ shoulders.
When Black Flag’s first vocalist, Keith Morris, left the band in 1979, he went on to form the Circle Jerks Faster than the speed of sound and snottier than a flu victims’ waste basket, this band upped the ante on the violent action found on the dance floors of SoCal and beyond.
The sound of punk coming from the Orange County in the early ’80s was truly unique. When you trace it back, you’re no doubt going to hit upon Agent Orange. Hook-laden with covert pop sensibilities and a surfy guitar bite, they are the godfathers of the O.C. sound.
Agent Orange might be the godfathers, but the Adolescents are the quintessential Orange County hardcore band. End of story.
Fronted by notorious O.C. hooligan Jack Grisham, T.S.O.L was one of the first bands out of the starting gate when hardcore took over the seaside suburbs. By the time the sound and vibe hit the rest of the country, they had already moved onto donning make-up and experimenting with synths, but there’s no denying their impact on the scene.
When it comes down to the ultimate in sun baked suburban hostility, look no further than Wasted Youth. When green scaly inhabitants take over our planet in the year 2035 and find a copy of their debut LP Reagan’s In in a time capsule, they’ll truly understand why the over privileged youth of the early 80’s were angry at the thought of breathing both in and out.
Geeky, spectacled and reeking of fish, the South Bay’s Descendents seemed the unlikeliest of candidates to carry the SoCal punk banner for as long as they have…but look at ’em. Every pop punk creampuff you can think of owes their livelihood to them.
Next to the Descendents, Bad Religion is the most well-known and longest lasting bands to come out of the SoCal scene of the early ’80s. They deliver the classic sun kissed sound with lyrics only a P could muster; which might be due to lead vocalist Greg Graffin actually holds one from Cornell University . They have delivered it to the masses with no dilution and should be applauded for that from now until the end of time.
Tony Rettman is a freelance music journalist whose work has appeared in The Village Voice, Vice, Philadelphia Weekly, Arthur, Swindle, Signal to Noise and Mean. His 2010 book Why Be Something That You’re Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985, is a must-read for any fan of heavy music and can be purchased on Amazon.