Photo by McKenna Thurber
El Camino Real Charter

Sweat and static: punk’s return to the Valley

In the back alley of a small music venue in the San Fernando Valley, Jack Zisfain showed off his favorite jacket.

The piece’s thick, leather base was difficult to glimpse through his collection of buttons, 34 to be exact, including one decorated with a caricature spider. It read: “Don’t bug me.”

He grinned proudly while adjusting his charcoal-colored mohawk, which rose 5 inches above his head.

The 16-year-old designer is one of hundreds of teenagers who frequent Friday night punk shows in the Valley. The “scene,” as Zisfain and his friends call it, thrives in small music venues and attracts individuals whose fashion stands out.

img 8318 Sweat and static: punks return to the Valley
Photo by McKenna Thurber

The sound of guitars consumed the quaint and dark interior of White Oak Music and Arts as Zisfain and his hair entered. Red spotlights scanned the room, revealing a sweaty vocalist, screaming indiscernible words into a microphone. He crouched to shove audience members in the front row, encouraging them to form a mosh pit.

Bodies collided.

In 1980, young punk bands Bad Religion, Circle Jerks and Adolescents headlined Valley shows. However, when their growing popularity sent them on world tours, they left the intimate Valley scene behind. Not far after, punk’s presence there waned.

Musicians who attend the same high schools as those successful bands are now reviving the scene.

When the first set of the night ended, dozens shuffled out of the room, some clad in pinstripes or leather, topped off with strikingly dyed hair. Styles in the scene vary significantly; a few teens wear black all summer, others prefer to shop in the children’s department, buying T-shirts that contrast with their torn black jeans.

The more shows they attend, the more their styles evolve.

“A lot of the fashion does inspire me,” said Madisen Allred, a 17-year-old with a shaved head and affinity for glitter. “I see a lot of outfits that I enjoy here.”

Next to her stood a boy wearing a lace corset and another in a grey jumpsuit, cinched by an industrial chain-turned-belt. She grinned as she showed off her favorite shoes: a pair of thrifted black platforms with fivepoint stars etched in glitter on the toe. Their 3-inch-tall soles help her to see the performances more clearly.

In the last year, Friday night shows in the houses of fans and band members have grown to fill local venues. Fezfest, the scene’s most popular show, summoned over 450 teenagers on July 15. Twenty-three bands played in a studio room, a small structure in the parking lot and the music store’s lobby — sometimes all at once.

When the next band, No Parents, began, steam rose from the densely-packed crowd. Sweaty hands pushed against the weight of crowd surfers as they were passed to the back of the room.

img 1750 Sweat and static: punks return to the Valley
Photo by McKenna Thurber

Mosh pits grew and dissipated while audience members stepped outside to cool off and make friendly conversation.

“I wouldn’t know half the people in my life if I didn’t go to shows,” Zisfain said, embracing friends to his left and right. “Friday nights just mean more.”

The scene has helped him and others feel confident in experimenting with their appearance while solidifying friendships.

Even though they forcefully slam into each other in mosh pits, the kids of the Valley scene share water and cigarettes between sets. Some share clothes and shoes, too; two girls traded outfits for Fezfest.

When the final band left the stage, security guards shooed teens out. Some carried their platform boots and leather jackets, which they had removed to stage dive, in hand.

Zisfain returned home at 1 a.m. He rinsed the product from his mohawk, which somehow survived hours of thrashing in the crowd, and went to bed.

In the bathroom, his collection of hair gels sat on the countertop, waiting to be used next Friday night.

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