The South Bay sound is as furious as ever, with a new generation carrying on Black Flag's furious legacy.
By Heidi Siegmund Cuda, Special to the Times
Eyes closed, facing the crowd, Alex Flynn of 1208 rips into a fierce anthem called "Next Big Thing." In front of him, a wiry mix of Redondo Beach surfers, punks and skaters sing about the sinister music industry right along with him, even though 1208's album, "Turn of the Screw," won't be released for four more days.
The group is one of a new generation of South Bay punk bands, a generation weaned on a musical history that started in the '70s with punk legends like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. Nearly three decades later, the beachside scene is as alive and tight as ever. Almost everyone at the 1208 show is wearing T-shirts representing local bands: Instigator, 98 Mute, Pennywise, Prop 13, the Deviates, Toys That Kill. Chances are, the guy moshing next to you is in a local band, or friends with the band or on his way on stage. The club --- Latitudes, a beer-soaked nightspot on the pier --- feels like a family affair. And it is. Flynn is punk rock royalty: He's the nephew of Greg Ginn, the founder of Black Flag.
"In the beginning I was afraid of it," Flynn says. "Black Flag is such a big band to live up to."
In the South Bay, punk bands actually stress over living up to the legacy. So much of the scene is about what came before it, and lately, there has been a rush of young groups supported by the veterans. So much so that more clubs are opening their doors to punk rock.
Some of the revered old bands, including the Descendents, the Humble Gods and the Last, are back in action. And thanks to a Redondo Beach studio run by members of Pennywise, a lot of young groups have begun to record. In recent months, West Hollywood nightclubs started taking notice of the beach town bands. The Cat Club, the Roxy, the Troubadour and the Key Club are all booking "South Bay Surf Punks" nights.
"South Bay bands are raw, unpretentious and full of sound and enthusiasm," says Sean Healy, whose company SHP books shows at the Roxy, the Viper Room and the El Rey Theatre. "They are just so fresh and energetic and aren't coming at it from the typical showcase standpoint."
Still, apart from 1208 and the Deviates, the new South Bay sound is mostly local. Pennywise guitarist Fletcher Dragge believes it's too early to say if the new bands constitute a third wave of South Bay significance on par with the '80s scene and the '90s resurgence led by his own group. But he says that on the local level, it's as strong now as it's ever been, with a wealth of activity, including at his Stall No. 2 studio, meant as a place for young acts to record in a professional but affordable setting.
"A lot of bands are unknowns, don't have records out and are just playing parties," Dragge says. "But it's a strong little scene down here. That's the cool thing about the South Bay scene: The bands aren't that interested in being bigger and selling hundreds of thousands of albums."
Jeremy Perryman is whipping the locals into a frenzy. Wearing a flipped up cap and white suspenders, the singer for the Hermosa Beach hard-core band STD's, is shouting the battle hymn of the new punk republic:
"I don't care what you say. South Bay! South Bay! We just wanna surf and play --- South Bay! South Bay! South Bay's where I'm gonna stay."
It's a punk rock free-for-all, as shirtless knuckleheads in the pit push and shove each other to the point of exhilarating exhaustion. The STD's are headlining an afternoon party at Naja's Place, a dockside bar in Redondo Beach. The STD's --- which, some say, stands for Surf Til' Death --- launch into a gutterpunk version of "Light My Fire."
The STD's proudly wear their old school influences on their sleeves --- nearly every band member has the four-bar Black Flag icon tattooed on his arm. "What I see in old school is raw attitude," says Joe Hobi, the drummer. "It's about putting your cards on the table and saying, 'This is who I am.' We like to bring back the savage, raw, in-your-face kind of music."
Not surprisingly, Ginn is a fan. "I think STD's is really fun," says Ginn, who also owns SST records. "They seem to have a really good time and real good sense of community."
The STD's "destroy" style is just one South Bay flavor. There is also "emo," the emotional, passion-punk style of 1208, and more recently, "screamo," a wailing version of emo, represented by Saint Angeles and Shotblue. Add reggae-punk, led by Too Rude and Second Nature, and the straight-ahead sound of the Goods, fronted by a rare female, Katrina Hoffman.
"The South Bay's always been a vital hotbed for punk rock," says Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, who owns Epitaph Records, the label for Pennywise, the Deviates and 1208. "It just seems the stuff that comes out of the South Bay is a little bit more intense, just one notch more. It's just part of the culture."
That culture is about as far away from the bright lights of the Sunset Strip as you can go --- which has been an advantage. Instead of trying to impress A&R execs, South Bay bands are trying to impress the locals.
"There's a lot of great bands on the scene and with the support of the local bars, they're able to hone their skills," says Pennywise singer Jim Lindberg, who has worked with Western Waste and Too Rude.
The Lighthouse Café has become a mecca for South Bay punk. Six months ago, promoter Lance Ku started booking shows at the legendary Hermosa Beach bar --- a jazz club from the '40s famous for shows featuring Charlie Parker, Chet Baker and Miles Davis, who recorded a live album from the Lighthouse.
Every Tuesday, fans can hear four bands for free, and Ku selects the best of the new school as well as veteran South Bay acts. Lately, the punk scene has spread to other Hermosa bars --- Patrick Malloys, the Pitcher House and the Hermosa Saloon. And the Lighthouse is holding punk shows on weekends. It's a lot happening in a small area.
On a recent Tuesday, PKG (Punk Kids on Glue) opens the night with a blistering set of oldies: "Gettin' Away," "Neighbors" and "Take a Chance." The band, which formed in 1984, is followed by Second Nature, a 7-month-old group from Harbor City. With a neck tattoo reading "Mom" and a graffiti-laden baseball hat worn low, singer Josh Northrop loses himself in the music. His soulful voice drops wicked lyrics to a rub-a-dub beat.
Up next is Saint Angeles, a supercharged band with a singer sporting a classic Mohawk. Ian Sutherland's ear-shattering wails cut through the sonic set --- it's like an arena show in an intimate beach bar.
Capping off the night is the Goods; in true local tradition, the band rehearses in a Redondo Beach shipping container. Hoffman boasts a big New Wave voice in a petite surfer-chick body and is one of the few women on the scene. "I do what I do and do my best at it," she says. "I've always been one of the boys."
If there's one thing the South Bay has, it's team spirit.
Ginn, who formed Black Flag in 1977, says it's important to understand there was a time when a punk band from Hermosa Beach couldn't get a gig.
"When we tried to book shows, they'd ask us what kind of band we were and we'd have to soft-pedal it," Ginn says. "We'd tell them we were a soft rock band with some jazz. There were so few places to play."
While bands such as Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac were permeating the airwaves, Black Flag was deconstructing the wheel. Fast, snarling songs such as "Nervous Breakdown" gave the boot to musical elitism.
"Punk started out as a pretty intellectual movement," Ginn says. "There were only two rules in punk rock: You can't have long hair unless you're the Ramones, and no guitar solos. But basically, it was all over the map."
In many ways, it's not surprising Black Flag was born in Hermosa Beach. The hilly seaside town has a long history of social movements. From the jazz era of the '40s to the beatnik era of the mid-'50s and the hippie movement of the '60s, Hermosa Beach was a counterculture town. By the '70s, the middle class, drawn by jobs at the oil refineries, was booming. High schools were crowded, juvenile delinquency soared and a sleepy artist community faced class warfare.
"By the '70s we felt betrayed," says Joe Nolte, the singer for the Last, Hermosa Beach's first punk band. "My generation was too young to go to Woodstock, but we had all these dreams that the '70s were going to be so great. The older kids were telling us it was gonna be one big love-in. And it wasn't."
According to Black Flag's original singer, Keith Morris, it was do or die.
"In the South Bay, we were hated because we weren't a top 40 band," says Morris, now an A&R executive at V2 Records, home to the White Stripes and Moby. "We were always the guys who got picked on in school."
By 1979, Morris was living illegally in the janitor's quarters of Hermosa Beach's famed "church," a seedy, broken-down Baptist church from the '30s that was rented out to hippies, artists and poets. Morris says the police tried to run the band out of town for years, after the shows became particularly volatile.
"That was the beginning of the end of that era of the South Bay punk scene," says Kevin Samera, who in July is releasing a documentary of South Bay punk, "Common Thread." "Black Flag was on its last run. A lot of poseurs were coming in. Clubs were getting shut down."
Today, it's still punk rock. There's still the occasional brawl. But it's the surf-punk-skater set that prevails.
"To be a part of this scene is amazing," says Chris Navarette, the singer of Profusion. "I'm at every local punk show, I'm always looking for more influences. And you know what? I feel like everything I need is right here."
Steve Hochman contributed to this report.