Living in L.A. often comes with a lot of bullshit, and that's certainly true if you love music but can’t stomach the nonsense that comes with it. Back when I was really getting into harder metal and punk, there were few venues that were willing to take on shows because of the violence that came with the music and the ensuing insurance problems.
Many bands from this period were usually exiled to hell-holes like Fender’s Ballroom in Long Beach - so overrun with wall to wall gang fights it was often nicknamed Fender’s Brawlroom - and The Balboa Theater, which was located down in the ghetto of South Central (at least one friend of mine was robbed at gun point outside, and most bands I knew who played there swore they’d never do it again).
Not to mention this was the era where L.A. was overloaded with hair bands, and most of the clubs on the Strip instituted the infamous “pay to play” policy, which meant a band had to buy a certain amount of tickets and sell them themselves so the club could break even or make a profit. If you couldn’t come up with the money, the clubs often would keep your equipment until you paid off your debts. At least one band I knew of had to organize a fund raiser to get their drum set back. All around, it was fucked for both the bands and the people who just wanted to enjoy the music. You had to buck the system somehow.
So if you didn’t want to do pay to play, and with few clubs willing to book extreme bands, was sprouted up was the backyard party scene. Thankfully I had a friend who was dialed in to a lot of local bands that today remain local legends, and I look back on my days of hunting down party gigs fondly.
To get the word out, flyers and word of mouth were key, and Kinko’s must have been doing insane business back in the eighties when bands were flyering all over the place. This was especially big with the hair bands on the Strip. They flyered like mad to the point where they had flyer wars with rival bands, and local police were cracking down because of the litter. Aside from hair metal, flyers were also the lifeblood of punk and metal during this time. Like any fan back in the day, I had a huge flyer collection that was practically wallpaper for my room. Even if I learned about a gig through word of mouth, I’d still want a flyer to commemorate the show and have it for my collection.
Back in the '70s, bands had to start out playing Top 40 to break in, then move up to playing originals (like Van Halen did, who were also a major backyard party band way back in the day). They used to get the word out about their shows by stuffing high school lockers with flyers. In writing my metal book Bang Your Head, I spoke to several people who recalled seeing them in the party days where there would be no parking for blocks, and finally police helicopters would swoop in and send everyone home.
Somebody was always videotaping the shows I attended. I shot a few myself, and I spotted this link on YouTube that has quite a few bands I saw many times back in the day, including Entety, a death metal band from East L.A. that later became Coffin Texts; Demolition, a death metal band from the Valley; IDK, one of the best Valley bands that played a great, eclectic mix of punk and metal; Excruciating Terror, an East L.A. grindcore band; Sarcastic Existence (who later just became Sarcastic; and more. I also regularly used to go see Exoteracy, a great crossover band that were transplants from Las Vegas; Society Gone Madd, a local punk band who did their last show on the singer’s enormous backyard skate ramp; Sadistic Intent one of the first L.A. death metal bands who are still around; Mindrot, who were from the Orange County scene that Morgion also came out of (both eventually signed to Relapse); and Fear Factory, who did a lot of party gigs before signing to Roadrunner. A lot of people in the Valley can also recall seeing Incubus at a lot of local parties before they became huge.
On most flyers was a tiny map in the corner how to get to the gig, which was often a real adventure in the days before MapQuest. I can still recall tailgating somebody all the way out to the ass end of Orange County because the party got moved to another house, and I can also recall one gig in a part of downtown L.A. where there was barely a soul for miles - it was like being in a post apocalyptic New York where the streets were totally empty. Parties and Elks Lodge gigs were all over the place, and because L.A. is so spread out we usually had to break out the Thomas Guide and try to organize carpools when making a pilgrimage out to an area that could take hours to find. Going to see bands, I visited obscure areas all over Southern California I never would never have traveled to otherwise. The older you get, the more traveling long distances seems like a schlep, so it’s funny how back then at the drop of a dime I was ready to head out and see a band potentially a hundred miles away. Sometimes there’d be no traffic if you left early enough and luck was on your side.
Because these weren’t professionally organized shows, there was no security, and there would be fights here and there. The local scene had a big gang problem back in the eighties, and eventually Sadistic Intent stopped playing parties because someone got stabbed to death at one. But overall the real fans were appalled by the violence in the scene, and we were trying to support the music - not destroy it for everyone. For the most part, everyone knew everyone. We’d see the same gig friends every weekend, and again, we were there to support the music, not to be dickheads.
Going all over the place to see bands like this, you learned what it meant to be part of a scene. I thank God I held on to a lot of demos and 7 inches from my favorite bands of this era, and some I’m still trying to track down from anybody that has them. Not a lot of people knew about these bands, and it was fun to be part of almost a secret society where if you were lucky enough to be in the know, you’d hear a lot of great music. The rest of the world didn’t know what they were missing.