I admit it. I have lived in the San Fernando Valley for my entire 18 years, and I had no idea that the gold certified recording artist, Bad Religion came from my neighborhood, or that the punk scene existed here.
The Valley is known for heat and uniformity, not art. But it once had a happening punk subculture, and was home to a handful of clubs dedicated to playing the music. Their numbers are now down to one. Still, when I embarked on a search to find out what happened to punk, many fellow students told me that it’s not dead in the Valley.
“It’s really thriving right now,” said Graham Steele, a rising senior at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences (VAAS) and member of the band Sad Park. “The Valley’s doing really, really good with all these artists and all these new musicians coming up.”
The DIY aesthetic of holding and throwing backyard concerts is at the core of punk ethos and are embodied in the scene as it exists in the Valley. Musicians there are most often found playing in backyards, or on Soundcloud, an online platform for streaming and sharing music.
“The Valley is just kind of hot and nothing really crazy [goes] on, except for going to the mall,” Graham told me. “Then that gets boring so you’re like let’s go to a party and watch a ton of bands.”
Another place to watch those bands is in school — Sad Park was one of 5 bands that performed at the VAAS Music Fest, held at the academy.
Jackson Rau, a rising junior and the drummer for Sad Park, said the movement was “never going to really be dead.”
Jessica Schwartz, an assistant professor in the musicology department at UCLA who teaches a class titled punk “Punk: Music, History, Sub/Culture” and is a member of the queer-core group Riot Girl, said that while punk’s decline in popularity may result in people saying it’s “dead,” there are still thriving pockets.
“There’s this idea that punk is the underground and once it comes above the ground, it’s dead, it breaks,” Schwartz said.
Mark Melleka, who recently graduated from my high school, belongs to a band called Lucifurnace, which sounds hard-core and angry. Songs on their demo include “Bush Did 9/11” and “Martial Law,” both of which feature the genre staples of screamed vocals and government criticism.
To Schwartz, the signature lyrics of distress and pointed anger represent punk’s core. “Because there is so much wrong still in society, we’re still struggling for a lot of different types of equality,” she said.
As long as there is discontent, there will be punk.
“It’s a movement on a small scale and it happens on every little suburb where there’s musicians or artists,” Melleka said.
In recent years, no transcendent punk bands have emerged from the Valley. Melleka does not see any new talent emerging — but that may just be part of his cynical punk ethos. “Do I think any band’s gonna be famous in the punk scene?” he said. “ Absolutely not.”
For now, the talent and sound remain underground and exclusive to Soundcloud’s and backyard party attendees’ ears.
“Punk is dead,” Melleka told me. “it’s gonna be dead.” But that does not mean it’s not alive in my part of the Valley.