In 2016, an ambitious documentary called Los Punks: We Are All We Have was released, shining an unabashed and inquisitive light on a living, breathing example of pure, unchecked subculture: the backyard punk scene of the Los Angeles area.
At the helm of this auspicious document was photographer and historian Angela Boatwright. Angela, who had already clocked 20 years photographing punk, hardcore, and metal bands throughout various American underground scenes, struck an inspired balance between music and culture in her insightful exploration of Los Angeles’ explosive backyard scene. From the documentary came a microcosm of adolescent anthropology; an incisive lineage was traced throughout the course of standard L.A. punk history.
Angela’s chapter of contribution was an expansion of modernized rebellion customized by (and for) a new generation of kids whose obstacles and inspirations mirror the story of generations of Americans. While punk rock’s largest demographics have traditionally been staunchly white-straight-aggro-male (with many obvious exceptions, of course), there is an underserved subcommittee that has taken up punk’s model of protest and statement and combined it with the sonic brutality of metal and the unflinching reality of hardcore to adopt a new, vital element of DIY youth culture. Its amalgam of cross-stitched influence and ready-made tradition lay the perfect foundation for the next generation of rebellion, one borne of the frustrations of a racially and economically marginalized sect of kids who had had enough and who had found their own collective voice.
It’s the humanity that shines through the most; it is the universal tales of neglect and abuse and the creative outlets forced from these mile-markers of adolescence. It’s the relatable sense of accomplishment that reaches out from this story, the courage and tenacity of strength and the triumph of music.
Now, in a perfect pairing of publisher and author, Angela has teamed with DiWulf Publishing House to further expand the story of L.A.’s backyard scene and its many inhabitants. Aiming for a more in-depth understanding of the humanity and the struggles involved within this underground culture, Boatwright has set out to provide a depth of feeling and understanding through photographs, thoughts, and words.
Documentation of an underground culture is nothing new for Angela. The Ohio native cut her teeth shooting some of hardcore’s best known legends from coast to coast.
Angela’s path to the underground began early. “I can’t remember the first time I heard heavy metal, probably around 1981 or 82,” she explains. “I remember seeing Kiss on Solid Gold. And I was obsessed with Ozzy Osbourne. The video for “Shot in the Dark” probably changed my life forever. Heavy metal stuck really hard, but, as I got older (14, 15, 16) I got into hardcore and punk. I loved bands like Gorilla Biscuits, Underdog, Minor Threat, and The Descendents. Now that I think of it, I remember hearing about the Misfits through Metallica’s Garage Days. That’s funny.” These early stirrings of aural rebellion propelled Angela into “the life.” Soon she was a travelling vagabond armed with a camera and a tenacious compulsion to document what was going on around her.
“I’ve done all sorts of things. I’ve been a photographer since 1990. I photographed Kurt Cobain and Nirvana in a super-small venue, literally right before they blew up. I was 16 when I took those images.”
It didn’t take long for her to become hooked. Her driven and intense need to bear witness soon took her out of her native Ohio and sent her on a worldwide journey that continues to this day. “I moved to NYC in 1993, at age 18, and immediately started photographing hardcore bands at CBGB. I was also shooting a ton of hip-hop artists at that time and for years afterwards. I took photographs for all sorts of clients including some pretty commercial stuff like Urban Outfitters catalogs — I photographed the box and product packaging for the first version of Rock Band, for example. I traveled all over the world, to places like Thailand, Finland, Mexico, etc.”
Along the way, Angela built an impressive resume full of accomplishment and experience. Her photographic eye, honed to a savagely precise aesthetic, caught some breathtaking images of punks in full flight, of bands powerful in their youthful prowess, and of the state of youth culture in all its independent glory. Angela’s ambition went beyond the scope of mere “scene photographer.” The culmination of years spent soaking in the fertile and fecund adopted family that makes up any small scene was both inspiration and motivation. From New York to Los Angeles, Angela’s instincts led her to an insular, secretive cult of backyard punks and wild-eyed artists.
“I first learned about the [LA backyard] scene after reading a couple of articles in L.A. Weekly written by Javier Cabral. And, before that, I attended a Lower Class Brats show at a venue in Reseda and just having arrived to L.A. from NYC I was absolutely blown away by how passionate the fans at the show were, and how many fans there were. It was packed, super crowded. So, I began researching some more. I attended my first show in the summer of 2013.”
From there it was just a matter of time before the ideas began to take shape for Angela: “Once I saw the bands play, I knew that this scene needed to be documented,” she states with authority. Immediately the parallels with the past were obvious. “Bands often would play with the bare minimum, drummers sitting in lawn chairs, friends holding microphones in lieu of mic stands,” she explains. “At my first show the bands were all very different: ska, street punk, reggae… And there was a merch table set up where punks were selling mostly patches and shirts for local bands. Fans were decked out in merch from the local bands, too. It was a scene that seemed to take care of itself. The bass player from the band Proyecto Makabro showed up that night in a hearse with a stand-up bass! It blew my mind. So much effort for literally no money. I fell in love with it immediately.”
This new interpretation of the long and storied history of L.A. Punk’s DIY existence was an evolution of tradition. Its innovation was rooted in its demographics while its honor was steeped in a ferocious sense of independence; the kind that is always most visceral when it comes from those who have been marginalized. While Angela’s photographs were vividly striking and intimate, there was so much to be covered and celebrated about this movement that the idea of a feature documentary was the only natural conclusion. In 2014 she began work on Los Punks: We Are All We Have.
“There aren’t very many all ages venues in Los Angeles,” Angela notes in describing what the backyard scene is and why (and how) it exists and thrives. “At any given time, you can probably count them on one hand. At times there are zero. And venues can be a pain in the ass, the shows are regulated, some clubs don’t let you stage dive or mosh so bands in L.A. throw shows in backyards, alleyways, abandoned houses, and all sorts of other non-traditional places. Of course, the lack of all-ages venues isn’t the only reason that people throw shows in backyards. Since forever families who didn’t want to or didn’t have the means to rent halls for birthday parties, quinceaneras, or other events would throw parties in their backyards. It was only natural that punk bands started to do the same.” The narrative came into focus with precision and deliberation. “The film focuses on four different people that participated in the backyard scene at the time: band members, fans, promoters, and so on. Within their stories you can get to know what the shows are like, some of the bands that play in the scene, and all sorts of scene atmosphere. There’s a brief history section in the film as well. The backyard scene has existed for more than 40 years, it has a really long, dynamic history.”
The resulting film was lauded for its brutal honesty and its fearless examination of racial politics in 21st century America. It is an exhaustive endeavor that lives and breathes as an extension of both Angela and the film’s subjects. It touches on many themes that run through the backyard community: the heavy day-to-day lives of the forgotten youth, the spirit of independent creativity.. And, through it all, underpinning its vitality and underscoring its emotional importance: the music.
“I’m personally attracted to scenes that act as replacement families, for a variety of reasons, and I’m fascinated about each individual and how they find their way into the scene. The relationships I made with the punks were and are incredibly important to me. I wanted to get to know everyone and do my best to understand their individual story. I’m close with hundreds of punks and adore every single one of them. They felt like family to me and I did everything I could to support them while the film was being made and after its release. I’ve never in my life opened up to and embraced people that wholeheartedly.”
Now, in a historic collaboration with Philadelphia’s DiWulf Publishing House, the continuing saga begun by the Los Punks film will be further documented in a new book composed by Angela with help from some of the punks from the backyard scene..
“The backyard scene changes very fast so I’m going to approach the book from a starting point now and not from 2014. The scene is such an important part of both punk and Los Angeles history; I hope to be able to express the history of the scene in the book, as well as what’s going on now.”
DiWulf founder Amy Yates Wuelfing was effusive in talking about Angela and her body of work: “As an artist and historian, Angela’s unique vision and strong, independent voice is exactly what we, as a publishing house, are all about. Los Punks, both the film and the book, stand as very important cultural and sociological documents of 21st century American subculture and we are honored to be able to be a part of such an amazing project.”
Together, both publisher and historian plan to bring forth a book that is rich in visual empathy and humanized with intimate and candid portraits.
“I’d like to illuminate the bigger picture surrounding of how the scene in Los Punks connects to other punk scenes in L.A., too. And with any luck we can connect with some of the characters from Los Punks,” Angela explains. “With hundreds and thousands of people in the scene you will for sure meet some new faces in the book. My hope for the film is also my hope for the book, I’d like to inspire young people worldwide to start their own scenes. To put down the video games (do I sound old yet?) and go outside and create a community. I would also like to inspire empathy and understanding with the individuals in this community, a community that is largely Latino, a community that has existed for generations. A community that worked for tens of thousands of hours, for free, to create a scene for themselves. I’d also like to illuminate the history and give counterpoint to the unfortunate assumption that punk is mostly young white kids and that the history of the Los Angeles punk scene begins and ends with Decline of Western Civilization Part 1. The punk scene, specifically the backyard punk scene, in Southern California existed before and during Decline and it and continues to this day.”
Packed with candid and action-filled photographs from her time documenting the backyard scene, Angela’s book will also include collaborative voices from the people who live the backyard scene. Angela promises updated information on the kids featured in her documentary along with commentary and insight on the progression of the scene. It figures to be an ongoing, organic history of an ever-evolving movement.
“I’ve never in my life given myself so much to a project; working on this film changed my lifeforever in all sorts of ways. I learned a lot making Los Punks, a lot about the industry and people in general.”
DiWulf hopes to have the book ready for a late-2019 release.