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April 21, 2016

Los Punks: We are All We Have

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Angela Boatwright - 2015
Vans Off the Wall, Fusion, AOP Production

Taking a brief turn away from my usual beat.

My interest piqued here mostly because of my own interest interest in punk rock, living in New York City, and seeing a few shows at CBGBs in 1975 and 1976. I moved back to Denver in early 1977 where the people I knew thought this music was weird. I went to a very small club where the Ramones played in Denver. Ray Manzarek, keyboard player of the Doors, sat next to me during the Ramones first set. He was there with his band, Nite City. I'd like to think that Manzarek saw the light during that set as he later produced the first four albums of the Los Angeles punk band X. My introduction to X was Penelope Spheeris' documentary on the L.A. punk rock scene of 1980, The Decline of Western Civilization, which introduced me to another band, Black Flag.

All this is a roundabout way of acknowledging that every band in Los Punks sounds like a variation of Black Flag. That is to say that you have fast, heavy beats, thrashing guitar, and words shouted out to the audience. I'm not sure why that is because historically punk rock has embraced a certain amount of variety. Maybe there's an orthodoxy I'm unaware of in the Los Angeles music scene.

What is intriguing about Los Punks is listening to the stories of the musicians and the music promoters. Concerts are set up in back yards or in the few venues available, set up by enterprising teenagers or younger adults in their Twenties. These are concerts by and for Hispanic youth in the poorer parts of metro Los Angeles. For the musicians and most of their audience, it's a way of expressing their anger, their frustration with a life that offers limited options.

Looking beyond the exaggerated mohawk hair cuts, pierced noses and tattoos, the participants in this documentary articulate why they are attracted to the music, and what it has meant for their respective lives. One of the brightest, Gary Alvarez, is taking time between graduating college and going to law school, performing with his band, Rhythmic Asylum. If there is a star, that would be Nacho, a beefy young man who promotes shows with his older sister, Natalie, and performs with his band, Corrupted Youth. As a promoter, Nacho has to also mediate between concert goers who get into fights, as well as keeping the peace within the neighborhood when the police are called in on occasion.

The documentary takes place in the minority neighborhoods of Los Angeles. The musicians here are motivated by the opportunity to express themselves, a form of artistic expression, or at the very least, a constructive vent for anger. Even if the music played is of limited appeal, the film is worth checking out for the portraits of the musicians, promoters and fans. As one twenty year old punk put it back in 1965, "the kids are alright".

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Posted by peter at April 21, 2016 02:41 PM