‘Los Punks’ Doc Nails the East LA Backyard Punk Scene, According to Actual East LA Punks

Neil from CXA performs in a parking lot in South Central, Los Angeles October, 2014 ©Angela Boatwright

Punk really is “a moving target,” as zinesters Mimi Thi Nguyen and Golnar Nikpour aptly described it, and to study such an infinitely rotating kaleidoscope is an understandably difficult endeavor, making it impossible to yield totally complete results. But in Los Punks: We Are All We Have, filmmaker Angela Boatwright captures a long-standing niche pocket within L.A.’s current musical landscape. Even its subjects agree: This time, someone got it right.

To be fair, compared to some others, its idiosyncratic nature makes it easier to identify: We’re talking about a heavily Latino, unabashedly raucous East L.A. and South Central scene anchored by pop-up shows in suburban backyards. Boatwright’s first go at documenting the community was a series for Vans’ #OffTheWall campaign; in this feature-length film, however, she goes deeper, leaving no empty beer can unturned. The bands, the organizers, the sociopolitical influences — it’s all there, and presented objectively and intimately.

Three of the film’s players — Kat, Gary, and Alex — saw the finished work for the first time at Slamdance Film Festival (sort of like a punk rock Sundance) in Park City, Utah this past weekend. We spoke with Kat, lead vocalist for Las Cochinas, and Gary of Rhythmic Asylum after the screening. Here’s each of their takes on how it turned out and the process of its creation.

You just saw the film for the first time—what did you think?
Kat: It was really funny and heartwarming; I loved it.

Gary: I really liked it. It’s funny because at the end of it, I was just really inspired to continue writing music, continue meeting people, and playing in new places. It was just really heartwarming to see such a good sense of family. I was like, “Damn, I’m part of something that’s larger than myself.” I just really want to continue…and release music.

Do you think the backyard punk scene was depicted accurately?
Kat: I think for once we were actually represented correctly. I mean, I was laughing the whole time, because I felt like I was just hanging out with my friends while I was watching it. I wanted to go to a show after watching it. So I think they did a great job with it.

Kat from Las Cochinas performs at the long gone Euclid House, Boyle Heights, Los Angeles August, 2013 ©Angela Boatwright
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Were you surprised that you liked it so much?
Gary: I mean, I can’t say that I was surprised that it turned out so well. It is a really vibrant scene, and I think it’s worth documenting. I’m just surprised that so many people that aren’t into the scene took such an interest in a technically small, unknown underground scene. I think it’s interesting to see that people I have never met in my life thought my story was interesting.

Whether in a documentary or a written report, people will always complain that a scene isn’t represented correctly though, right?
Kat: Of course. We’re really all close; almost everyone knows everyone. So of course there was a few people – there’s always going to be those Debbie Downers. I think everyone was really portrayed exactly the way we are. It wasn’t really hiding any of the bad stuff we do or the stupid stuff we do…It was really great the way they put us out there the way we are.

“For once we were actually represented correctly.”

Gary: There’s always going to be a couple of naysayers saying this is a corporatized documentary, whatever, but honestly, it’s really good. It’s really unprecedented to see a documentary on the current state of Los Angeles punk. A lot of documentaries could be nostalgic, but because it’s about our lives and our scene that’s happening in the 2010s, so many people are saying, “This is amazing, and this is something that I can relate to.”

The scene is shown as its own thing, separate from the rest of the L.A. punk scene and the greater punk scene in general. Is it really that insular? Included in the film is a Casualties show that Corrupted Youth plays, but other than that, do you really not play outside your particular scene?
Kat: For the most part, the bands that you see in the backyards, once or twice you’ll see [them] on a flyer with bigger bands at venues. But for the most part, we’re just the same groups of bands playing in backyards, so we are pretty secluded.

Corrupted Youth at the legendary Dickerson House, East L.A. February, 2015 ©Angela Boatwright
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Is that intentional?
Kat: It’s not that it’s intentional, it’s just that we’re a wild group and not a lot of venues or people can handle that. Los Angeles is probaby the most rowdy group of people that I’ve played for, and I’ve played in other places. A lot of people don’t know how to take that. It kind of scares them at first. Not that we’re going to beat you up or anything, but it’s really intimidating, so I think that’s the way it’s like that.

So you stick to backyards because you’re kinda too rowdy for venues?
Gary: Because of the environment that we come from, some people are into gangsta rap, some people are into heavy metal, other people are into punk rock. It’s just raw, it’s aggressive, and it’s really reflective of the environment that we’re coming from, so why not play backyards and set them up in our houses and music that we bring ourselves? It’s just the rawest, the most genuine type of music you can get. That’s why we have to play backyards.

Do you think the documentary will change the scene?
Kat: Honestly, I have no idea. It’s kind of scary to think, like…it’d be amazing if more people got into this and the scene grew larger and we had these places to play, and we didn’t just have backyards. Backyards are always great, but there’s always chances of cops raiding them. So it’d be amazing if more people got into it and were more understanding, but I know it’s still going to intimidate people, so it’s really hard to say.

Neil from CXA performs in a parking lot in South Central, Los Angeles October, 2014 ©Angela Boatwright
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You guys do seem extra rambunctious compared to other punk scenes.
Kat: I mean, there’s always drunk egos and stuff like that, but we’re like a family. So when people come, maybe they feel a little outside, but we don’t want anyone to feel that way…We may look a little scary, but we’re definitely not.

“You can look however you want, dress however you want, act however you want.”

Is the scene welcoming to new people?
Kat: Not everyone is, but there’s a large group of us who are. Not just new people, but new bands as well. A lot of times they’re afraid to get in, you know. I know a large group of us, we’re like, “Oh yeah, come to shows.” I tell my younger sister’s friends, “You gotta come!” But it’s kinda split down the middle.

Within the scene, though, it seems really welcoming to all kinds of people, regardless of gender or age or anything else.
Kat: You know what? We kind of – we’re outsiders, in a way. Of course we have a guard up of who we’re letting in, but at the same time we’re all so different and we all have different things going on. People have disabilities, people have no parents. We’re welcoming in the sense that we’ll accept you however you are, as long as you’re not trying to get crazy or insane or anything like that. We’re accepting of everyone. You can look however you want, dress however you want, act however you want — as long as you’re not a jerk, then you’re good to go.

Is there anything you think wasn’t included in the film or deserved more screen time?
Kat: I know it sounds stupid, but I really – I do not have a complaint at all. I’m pretty opinionated…but no, I really genuinely liked everything. It would have been cool if every single band got their music in there, but that’s not possible, so there’s no complaints.

The Slamdance Film Festival runs January 22-28, 2016.

Update 1/27/2016, 9:10 p.m.: This interview previously referred to Gary as a member of Psyk Ward. Gary is a member of Rhythmic Asylum.

The New York premiere of Los Punks is during Rooftop Films on May 26 at 7pm. RSVP here for free tickets.