When people think about concerts in Southern California, many visualize driving up Highland and Cahuenga for a show at the iconic Hollywood Bowl, as the breeze travels throughout the hills.
People shuffle through five different security lines. Some stop by the artist’s merch trucks. Others even explore the Hollywood Bowl museum before walking to the designated seating entrances for every section.
However, for many pop-punk and hardcore fans in L.A. and Orange County, it’s a different sight. They know they’ve come to the right place when they can see a lengthy line of people, dressed head-to-toe in black attire, wrapped around the block to cram into a small venue.
Chain Reaction in Anaheim is a venue that many fans of the rock and hardcore genres visit weekly to see all kinds of up-and-coming bands.
“You know what type of show you’re gonna get. It’s personal, intimate, punk rock and sweaty,” said Oliver Baxxter, lead singer of pop-rock band Broadside, who recently played at Chain Reaction. “Whereas somewhere closer to L.A., a lot of times it could just be people from labels and people who don’t even really care about the scene.”
It’s one of the many DIY venues that Southern California has to offer, loved greatly by fans and artists alike who started out playing and going to intimate shows there.
“I started going to shows when I was 12, so the first time I went there was when I saw Allstar Weekend, they were one of my favorite bands. It’s kind of a nostalgic venue for me,” said Yising Kao, a local concert photographer.
In 2020, Chain Reaction closed its doors due to the pandemic, as did all the venues in Southern California. With no timeline of when live shows would return, the venue struggled to stay afloat.
Fearless Records President and venue owner Andy Serrao said he and venue manager Kevin O’Connell put their own personal money into paying the venue’s rent, doing everything they could to keep it open.
Once bands got word of the possibility of Chain Reaction closing permanently, many banded together and helped fundraise to keep the venue open. They made t-shirts and took donations that went directly to Chain Reaction.
According to the Orange County Register, bands such as Stick to Your Guns, Terror, Knocked Loose, Counterparts, Rotting Out and Year of the Knife sold out 300 T-shirts and 75 hoodies they custom-made to save the venue.
Chain Reaction also partnered up with Violent Gentlemen, a Costa Mesa-based apparel company and Anaheim’s BlackCraft Cult clothing company to make limited edition T-shirts and zip-up hoodies.
Serrao said that Hot Topic and a number of alternative music labels offered helping hands during their closure.
“The people who saved the venue were the artists that made the venue, truly. Artists that made the venue successful and made the venue by playing the shows and bringing their fans and audience there, they’re the people that are like ‘yeah, we aren’t gonna let this happen, we’re gonna save Chain,’” Serrao said.
Formerly known as Public Storage Coffee Lounge, the venue opened in the late 1990s, later rebranding to the Chain Reaction name.
Many come back to Chain Reaction for the scene experience in its purest form. The intimacy of a venue with so much history is, for some, what separates Chain Reaction from other venues that people frequent in Hollywood.
The venue was considered the starting point for many bands to get out of their hometowns, such as Avenged Sevenfold, Pierce The Veil and Fall Out Boy, who are now playing arena shows today.
Playing the venue has become a goal that most pop-punk bands have when they start touring, even for non-American ones.
“It kind of felt like something we had to do,” said Jayden Seeley, lead singer of Australian pop-punk band With Confidence. “Playing it felt like we became part of its history in a way, being a part of that wider community of bands coming up and playing Chain Reaction. I think that was incredibly important and meaningful.”
The venue doesn’t shy away from offering a nostalgic and intimate experience.
Walls are covered in vintage t-shirts from bands that have played there over the years, such as My Chemical Romance, State Champs and All-American Rejects. A bright neon sign with the venue’s name is hung on the stage wall. And there are no barricades blocking the mutual energy exchange between artists and fans during the sets.
It offers no doubt that the venue brings a sense of home to every artist that plays a show there, drawing them back in for more shows in the future.
“When our booking agent was starting to put together venues and the routing for this tour, he asked if we wanted to play in L.A. or in Anaheim, and all of us unanimously said Anaheim,” said Domenic Reid, guitarist of Broadside. “I’d much rather play here than anywhere else.”
Chain Reaction’s reputation of being one of the most iconic places to hold live shows still holds up great today. Nearly every casual punk music listener knows the name when they hear it.
“We kind of just do our own thing. The genres we like, whether that’s pop-punk, or hardcore, metal and alternative. That’s kind of it,” Serrao said.
Everyone who works at Chain Reaction has at some point been on a tour and understands the scene from all angles. Serrao says that they run the venue around their pure love for the punk music scene and everyone in it.
The experience at Chain Reaction is never changing.
From the early 2000s to now in 2022, people still open mosh pits to their favorite punk songs, carry crowd-surfers and go home counting the bruises on their bodies after the show. Some leave with bloody knees and noses, as a souvenir from the night’s endeavors.