Punk’s Still Alive but Barely Breathing

The San Fernando Valley’s punk scene needs to be supported far more than it currently is. The punk scene in the valley has a long-storied history, being home to bands such as The Weirdos, System of a Down and Bad Religion.

Despite this history, the valley’s punk scene is frequently forgotten and lumped in with the rest of Los Angeles. What is far less known about the valley is that its underground punk scene is still thriving.

Punk music in the valley was largely based around White Oak Music and Arts, a concert venue and instrument lesson space in Van Nuys. The space had two stages, one in the front of the building and another in the back, which held unpermitted concerts and was the heart of the establishment.

White Oak was the place to be if you wanted to see some of the best upcoming punk bands in the area. The back room hosted bands who have since made a name for themselves including Sad Park, Crusading Under New Tides, Banned from Japan, California Lutheran University alumni The Ladyfingers, No Surprises and other bands that played the venue regularly, according to the White Oak website.

Former White Oak owner Evan Lindley said the venue recently closed its doors due to several issues, including complaints from surrounding businesses about noise.

Trevor Krause is a young musician and lead singer of the band No Surprises. Krause is trying to regroup the scene by hosting a jam session for local musicians in the valley in October.

“The back-room, specifically, was perfect for, like, all the crazy things we did,” Krause said. “Nobody could really hear out of it and it was like having a secret club, a little hidden gem.”

Lindley said the landlord decided to stop renewing their lease, shuttering a venue that had been going strong for nearly five years. This, alongside their major festival Fez Fest being cancelled, has caused major rifts in the local music scene.

“[White Oak] was talking about it…They were trying to find another place, but honestly, like, you’ll never find another place like that,” Krause said.

White Oak was incredibly DIY. Many of the shows were held in the back-room, a small garage-like structure that fits around 80 people, but frequently had more. The building did not comply with many fire codes. The space was very much unregulated and was the product of a music scene not heavily supported by the surrounding community.

The value White Oak had to bands and fans is a testament to the positive impact local music scenes have in a community. On top of punk shows, White Oak hosted many hip-hop, metal and indie rock bands and was a space where small touring bands were frequently featured. This was a space that heralded small artists and helped find them an audience they deserve–one that supported their music.

San Fernando Valley’s punk scene is full of young, talented musicians who I believe should be supported far more than they are. These musicians and others like them have created a community all on their own without the help of traditional record labels, big promoters and large venues, but they can only do so much when people around them are hostile toward the scene. Live music suffers when cities don’t want to support the arts.

People complain about backyard concerts, but when there is an attempt to make a venue like White Oak instead, they are frequently shut down. These are some of the few places where young artists can play music without paying money to a venue  at places such as The Whisky a Go Go or Chain Reaction. It’s very difficult to operate a venue under strict zoning and noise level laws, not to mention the difficulty of starting a new venue, or in White Oak’s case, finding a new location, Lindley said.

“They really built up a reputation after years of doing shows,” Krause said. “It’s gonna be a long, hard road back to where they were, but you know, it’s not impossible.”

Much of these shows are promoted through Instagram because of the cost of wider promotion.

We need to better support young musicians and their efforts so that in the future, our live music scenes can thrive. Support local artists by buying their music, attending shows they put on and helping spread the word around about these scenes.

Christer Schmidt