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Punk rocks

February 19, 2004|Heidi Siegmund Cuda | Special to the Times

EYES closed, facing the crowd, Alex Flynn of 1208 rips into a fierce anthem called "Next Big Thing." In front of him, a wiry mix of Redondo Beach surfers, punks and skaters sing about the sinister music industry right along with him, even though 1208's album, "Turn of the Screw," won't be released for four more days.

The group is one of a new generation of South Bay punk bands, a generation weaned on a musical history that started in the '70s with punk legends like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. Nearly three decades later, the beachside scene is as alive and tight as ever. Almost everyone at the 1208 show is wearing T-shirts representing local bands: Instigator, 98 Mute, Pennywise, Prop 13, the Deviates, Toys That Kill. Chances are, the guy moshing next to you is in a local band, or friends with the band or on his way on stage. The club -- Latitudes, a beer-soaked nightspot on the pier -- feels like a family affair. And it is. Flynn is punk rock royalty: He's the nephew of Greg Ginn, the founder of Black Flag.

"In the beginning I was afraid of it," Flynn says. "Black Flag is such a big band to live up to."

In the South Bay, punk bands actually stress over living up to the legacy. So much of the scene is about what came before it, and lately, there has been a rush of young groups supported by the veterans. So much so that more clubs are opening their doors to punk rock.

Some of the revered old bands, including the Descendents, the Humble Gods and the Last, are back in action. And thanks to a Redondo Beach studio run by members of Pennywise, a lot of young groups have begun to record. In recent months, West Hollywood nightclubs started taking notice of the beach town bands. The Cat Club, the Roxy, the Troubadour and the Key Club are all booking "South Bay Surf Punks" nights.

"South Bay bands are raw, unpretentious and full of sound and enthusiasm," says Sean Healy, whose company SHP books shows at the Roxy, the Viper Room and the El Rey Theatre. "They are just so fresh and energetic and aren't coming at it from the typical showcase standpoint."

Still, apart from 1208 and the Deviates, the new South Bay sound is mostly local. Pennywise guitarist Fletcher Dragge believes it's too early to say if the new bands constitute a third wave of South Bay significance on par with the '80s scene and the '90s resurgence led by his own group. But he says that on the local level, it's as strong now as it's ever been, with a wealth of activity, including at his Stall No. 2 studio, meant as a place for young acts to record in a professional but affordable setting.

"A lot of bands are unknowns, don't have records out and are just playing parties," Dragge says. "But it's a strong little scene down here. That's the cool thing about the South Bay scene: The bands aren't that interested in being bigger and selling hundreds of thousands of albums."

Jeremy Perryman is whipping the locals into a frenzy. Wearing a flipped up cap and white suspenders, the singer for the Hermosa Beach hard-core band STD's, is shouting the battle hymn of the new punk republic:

"I don't care what you say. South Bay! South Bay! We just wanna surf and play -- South Bay! South Bay! South Bay's where I'm gonna stay."

It's a punk rock free-for-all, as shirtless knuckleheads in the pit push and shove each other to the point of exhilarating exhaustion. The STD's are headlining an afternoon party at Naja's Place, a dockside bar in Redondo Beach. The STD's -- which, some say, stands for Surf Til' Death -- launch into a gutterpunk version of "Light My Fire."

The STD's proudly wear their old school influences on their sleeves -- nearly every band member has the four-bar Black Flag icon tattooed on his arm. "What I see in old school is raw attitude," says Joe Hobi, the drummer. "It's about putting your cards on the table and saying, 'This is who I am.' We like to bring back the savage, raw, in-your-face kind of music."

Not surprisingly, Ginn is a fan. "I think STD's is really fun," says Ginn, who also owns SST records. "They seem to have a really good time and real good sense of community."

The STD's "destroy" style is just one South Bay flavor. There is also "emo," the emotional, passion-punk style of 1208, and more recently, "screamo," a wailing version of emo, represented by Saint Angeles and Shotblue. Add reggae-punk, led by Too Rude and Second Nature, and the straight-ahead sound of the Goods, fronted by a rare female, Katrina Hoffman.

"The South Bay's always been a vital hotbed for punk rock," says Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, who owns Epitaph Records, the label for Pennywise, the Deviates and 1208. "It just seems the stuff that comes out of the South Bay is a little bit more intense, just one notch more. It's just part of the culture."

That culture is about as far away from the bright lights of the Sunset Strip as you can go -- which has been an advantage. Instead of trying to impress A&R execs, South Bay bands are trying to impress the locals.

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