Drive down the back streets of East Los Angeles on a Friday night, and you may hear 300 or 400 teenagers shouting, thrashing, and partying to the beat of a fast-kicking bass drum. This is the East Los Angeles backyard punk scene, as raw and do-it-yourself as it was when it first sprouted in the ’70s.
Photographer and documentarian Angela Boatright — who’s fascinated with rock and music culture and once spent 9 months following a small-time heavy metal band — recently partnered with Vans to document this vibrant scene for its “Off The Wall” series. Boatright spent months following teenagers who support a scene that doesn’t have the backing of traditional music venues.
She shared some of the photos with us here, and you can check out the rest of her work her website. The entire documentary series on East Los Angeles is available at Vans.
Concerts are held in various places, including apartment complex parking lots, backyards of residential houses, and on abandoned properties.
Many families, who have no affiliations with punk, host concerts in their backyards because they can make money from hosting and enjoy supporting the neighbourhood kids. Hosts will typically collect $US2-$3 for admission per person.
Shows can attract hundreds of kids from all over Southern California. While most are from East L.A., some come from as far as Orange County or San Diego.
Most of the kids in the scene are somewhere between 14 and their early 20s.
The scene is primarily made up of Latino teenagers, but Boatright says that kids of all races are represented.
The scene gives the kids a place to belong. Some of the teenagers have difficult living situations that they are looking to escape. As one teenager told Boatright, “It’s a way to get out of the house, forget about all this, and party.”
In Boatright’s “Off The Wall” documentary, one teenager talks about how meaningful the backyard punk scene has become. “Family is like the true meaning of what keeps everyone together. And that’s pretty much how our scene is, it’s like a big family,” she says.
At each concert, there are no set times or set lists. Shows get put together at a moment’s notice. Sometimes, they fall apart when the bands can’t find gas money to get to the gig.
Teenagers find out about the shows either through Facebook or mass texts. In order to get the invite, you have to be in the know.
Like most music scenes, the East L.A. scene comes with its own history, mythology, and current bands. The new teenagers continue the decades-long tradition by starting new bands or moshing at the shows.
The music at the shows spans the numerous different sub-genres of punk rock, from ska (an upbeat, reggae-like punk) to street punk (a faster, more relentless version of hardcore punk).
The moshing can get pretty intense, but it’s all in good fun. When someone falls, usually a group of people step in to get him or her out of the way. For many, it’s a safe outlet for the aggression and anger that the teenagers build up in daily life.
Javier Cabral, a writer for LA Weekly who has long been involved with the scene, credits the shows with keeping him out of gang warfare. “If you have long hair or tight pants, you are considered a ‘rocker’ and usually left alone,” writes Cabral.
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