Ariel Roman’s First Wave L.A. Punk Mixtape
What was your first memory of punk?
AR: It was pretty early on. Sometime before the age of five, my dad was in the studio recording an album with his band The Weirdos. We didn't always have babysitters and I would be taken to work with my dad, the recording studio. The music was always around in my childhood, I just didn't realize it at the time.
AR: My first memory of choosing to listen to punk came in fifth grade, when my parents let me pick out a cassette tape at Target. I chose Green Day's “Dookie” because I had heard them on on KROQ, and also because I really liked the artwork. After spending some time listening to the tape in the car with my dad, I vividly remember him coming home and handing me a CD with a pink cover, saying something along the lines of, “Green Day is cool but I think they're trying to sound like these guys. You'll like this.” It was a copy of Sex Pistols’s “Never Mind the Bollocks.” He was right. From then on, I had a difficult time listening to contemporary music, as I was enveloped in listening to as much music made between 1977 and 1979. Along with anything that could be deemed influential to that sound.
What was it that inspired the first wave of L.A. punk as a city wide sound?
AR: The first wave of L.A. punk formed out of a pretty eclectic mix of music. There was still a glitter rock scene, residual country and folk revival hanging around, pop music with heavy surf influence, some rockabilly, and jazz, and a ton of garage rock. Throw in some art school kids from the first years of Cal Arts, and you'll get some great avant-garde experimentations. The Ramones, Velvet Underground and the Stooges, along with the English punk scene had already come through, and were sonically very influential as well.
What about the music's influence on the L.A. music scene after the first wave, mid 1980s onwards?
AR: The first wave happened pretty quickly, from about 1977 to 1979. By the end of the 1970s, people learned to play their instruments better, lineups changed, and with the influence of some major record labels starting to stir things up, bands’ sounds started to change accordingly. Musical symbiosis influenced by capitalism? Add some more suburban angst from Orange County, and you might have the 1980s sound.
And what are the differences that you hear between L.A, S.F. and Oakland punk scenes?
AR: I think up north had heavier influences from stoney acid rock, avant-garde performance and new wave. The two scenes were fairly close to each other but I think S.F. was darker.
You’ve included in the mix, sort of proto-new wave and post punk... it sounds kind of East Coast?
AR: I think some of those bands were putting some restrictions on themselves (like the Screamers who lacked guitars), which forced some drastic changes in sound and the inclusion of performance art on the West Coast's scene crossed over into music. But I'm not sure I would connect it to the East Coast. There was still a lot of exchange happening. I remember my dad telling me that somehow, someone would end up with a copy of a single, a cassette or an album from England or New York, and it would get passed around. There was a strong desire to make things different and new, and push out louder, more challenging sounds that had been made before.
What inspires you now listening back on these records?
AR: Even though this music is not really of my generation, it resonates pretty strongly with me. It's pretty important to find ways to harness anger, frustration, transition, and the absurd. West Coast punk was my outlet for all of this. It allowed me to be comfortable in these spaces. Can't quite say that popular music does the same for me. I get flashbacks to various moments of my youth. Driving in my friend's retired cop car between Los Angeles and San Francisco, blasting mixes we made, making friends in the parking lot of Canter's Deli by identifying patches on our clothing. And most importantly, it brings back memories of discussing and discovering music with my dad. Which is the best. Ever.
Oh, any tell me about "New Wave Theatre" and the intro of your mix?
AR: "New Wave Theatre" was an incredible cable access show in Los Angeles hosted by the late Peter Ivers, that showcased a lot of punk and new wave bands. It was an anomaly to me for a long while. I had read about it in books, seen little clips here and there but it wasn't until YouTube that I really got to see anything. Each show starts and ends with an esoteric-politico-art-music-life-monoglogue from Ivers. They're so, so good. He was a pretty fantastic figure himself, releasing a few albums worth checking out (including a collaboration with Asha Puthli!). Sadly, Ivers was murdered. The show continued on but wasn't really the same without him.
Ariel Roman is a designer and artist living in New York City, she is one third of HellaCrisis studio and DJs at Super Feliz at Doris, Bed Stuy, NYC.