“For a lot of young people and people who have been involved in the scene for a long time, it’s an escape, like a therapy almost.”
On any given night in South Central, Boyle Heights, or East LA, you might see a line of kids with Mohawks lining up at a backyard fence, and think “Why?”
“Most outsiders don’t know about the scene,” Angela Boatwright said about Los Angeles’ flourishing underground punk scene.
Boatwright just completed her latest documentary, Los Punks: We Are All We Have, an outsider’s view into what’s going on in today’s underground punk scene in Los Angeles.
She has a long history of photographing punk bands—first as a teenager in Ohio, and then in New York for the next 20 years—but Los Punks is Boatwright’s first feature length film.
“Los Punks focuses on individual characters that participate within the backyard punk scene,” Boatwright said. “These are shows that are thrown in backyards and alleyways and anywhere you can find an electrical outlet and a place to be. They’re not regulated, these are not at venues. There are kind of no rules, anything goes.”
When Boatwright moved from New York to Los Angeles, she began searching for her new group of friends within the city. Her friend Ron Martinez, of renowned street punk band Lower Class Brats, invited her to a show, where Boatwright said she was blown away.
“I saw so many kids, so many young people,” Boatwright said. “In New York, there’s a scene, but in my opinion, the scene is much smaller. I couldn’t believe how many people were there to see the band with the spiked hair and all sorts of amazing style, so I started researching. LA has a really strong history of punk, but I wanted to know what was going on today.”
What Boatwright found was a tightly knit community of people passionate about heavy music. Her film paints this picture in a number of different lights from mosh pits to in-depth interviews with various punks from the scene telling their stories about what punk means to them.
“For a lot of young people and people who have been involved in the scene for a long time, it’s an escape, like a therapy almost” Ily Cortez said. Cortez, 23, fronts the thrash metal/punk/hardcore band CXA.
“Music has been a big impact on my life because I come from a place where not only did I grow up in the ghetto going to these backyard shows since I was 13, it helped me at a lot of levels like getting rid of drug addiction because I chose making music over drug addiction and other things I was doing at the time. I think it’s like that for a lot of people,” Cortez said.
Alex Pedorro, one of the primary punks featured in the film, expands on this theme in the film: “I never would have discovered there was a reason to keep living, that other people felt the same as me, that I wasn’t alone [without the scene].”
“I imagine this is what a lot of young people call home.”
One of the primary characters the film follows is Gary Alvarez, a young man who used to have a Mohawk but had to shave it off for work. Alvarez introduces viewers to his family, shows us around the one-bedroom apartment where they all grew up, and fills viewers in on his plans to work, pay for law school, and eventually become a lawyer, all while playing his music about his experience.
“My influences are past experiences: I come from a history of drug addiction and suicide issues and spending time being locked away in an institution for a while including jail,” Cortez said of her drive to make music. “A lot of my influences come from just being the voice of women in third world countries that get battered, abused, murdered, raped. The voices of animals that get hunted.”
The documentary’s focus on individual characters is as diverse as Boatwright notes the scene itself is. “Punk is for everyone,” Boatwright said. “It appeals to working class people for a lot of obvious reasons. It’s empowering, it gives people a voice. But it really is for everybody with an alternative way of thinking and a different approach.”
“There’s a lot of Hispanic kids but I’ve met kids from all races within the scene,” Cortez said of the scene’s diversity. “We’re talking about all over LA. My band for example, all of us are different races except for me and the bass player are both Mexican.”
Boatwright and Cortez both emphasize the importance of the music above all else. “It touches me in the heart, that Latino punk rock scene, because that’s where I grew up,” Jorge Herrera of The Casualties said during an interview for the Los Punks film. “That’s where I came from. I see myself as part of that because we come from very low income families.”
At one point, Los Punks shows different punks playing music, moshing, making out, climbing onto sheds, fighting, and picking each other up, all in one scene.
“I imagine this is what a lot of young people call home,” Boatwright said of the punk scene.
Cortez notes that she came up on the scene as a young girl, starting to go to shows at the age of 13. “I have so many memories, but one of the best ones was I was in the middle of a pit and I was singing,” Cortez said. “[The pit] was all dirt so there was dirt flying into my mouth, and some dude crashes into me and sends me flying almost 10 feet. I almost hit the drum set, and I just kept the note, I just kept screaming the whole time. And people picked me up and they were like ‘dude, that was awesome, you just kept the note the whole time.’”
Cortez’s band CXA plans to release an EP split later this year. In the meantime, Cortez plans to keep playing as many shows as she can and will continue her work with her day job at San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission.
Author: Sarah Stickle
Sarah Stickle is a budding artist manager, Vermonter, politics junkie, and terrible bowler based in Los Angeles.