|The classic Dr. Know logo and album art by Jaime Hernandez.|
The punk rock music scene in Los Angeles grew out of a very tiny clique of Hollywood insiders known as “The One Hundred”. Most of these people were intimately associated with the scene as either musicians, club owners, underground journalists, and so forth. But starting in the late 70’s punk started flaring up in other places as well, most notably South Bay with the emergence of Black Flag, Redd Kross, the Descendents, etc.; Orange County with the eruption of the suburban hardcore scene (Middle Class, the Adolescents, Social Distortion, China White, Circle One, T.S.O.L., etc.); and Venice Beach and the Dogtown scene (Suicidal Tendencies, Beowulf, No Mercy, etc.).
By the early 80’s two other critical scenes had sprouted up in Southern California that would also burn brightly in punk circles: Nardcore and the Slimey Valley scene. Nardcore was centered on the community of Oxnard (which is located about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles), hence the name (though not all bands hailed from Oxnard), and quickly established itself as a northern counterpart to the Orange County suburban hardcore scene. The bands played loud, fast, short songs that celebrated the intense, physical, blue collar nature of Oxnard and its surrounding area. The nardcore lifestyle centered on surfing, skating, beer, and releasing aggression through intense and violet punk shows. Many see the early nardcore scene as being one of the major evolutionary strands for the development of skate punk.
In fact, one of the earliest nardcore bands was Aggression, whose members actually skated for the Sims team in the late 70’s. In 1981 they formed their first incarnation of this band and in 1982 they’d hooked up with the Better Youth Organization, which formed in Hollywood around this time to promote a more positive image of youth and in particular punk culture in the wake of intense crackdowns by the LAPD and negative stories by Los Angeles journalists. In addition to promoting punk shows at LA/Hollywood venues, BYO formed a record company to put out punk records and in 1982 they released Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In, a now legendary compilation of Southern California punk and hardcore. Aggression had three songs on this compilation, “Intense Energy”, “Rat Race”, and “Dear John Letter”. These songs were collected with 13 others onto their 1983 album (also on BYO Records) entitled Don’t Be Mistaken, which, astoundingly enough, is available on iTunes. “Intense Energy” is, well, intense, sounding like the Adolescents but with a thundering, almost metal-like edge to the guitars that presages the work of future skate punk bands like Doggy Style and Crumbsuckers. Another song the epitomizes the nardcore ethic is “Locals Only”, which was the rallying cry in many beach communities in Southern California in the early 1980’s as surfing exploded and breaks became hyper-crowded. In Oxnard it was not unusual for visiting surfers to have their tires slashed, their leashes cut, or to be stabbed themselves. “Dear John Letter” and “Rat Race” have a more traditional 70's English punk sound—they remind me of “Bored Teenagers” or “One Chord Wonders” by the Adverts. “No Mercy” is a short (41 second) blast of speedy hardcore whose staccato, shouted vocals are similar to those of “Communist Eyes” or “We Must Bleed” by the Germs.
By 1983 another record label had sprouted up that began documenting the nardcore scene. This was Mystic Records, founded by Doug Moody. Two classic nardcore compilations were released by Mystic in 1984, Nardcore and Mystic Super Seven Sampler #1. Aggression had two songs on the Nardcore compilation, “The Smell”, which is slower and more melodic than their other blasts of sound, and “Calling For You”, which is fast like “No Mercy” but longer, clocking in at almost four minutes.
Another band that got some of its first exposure through these compilations was Ill Repute, who went on to be a standard bearer in the nardcore scene. Repute has three songs on the Nardcore compilation, “President”, “Sleepwalking”, and “Its Not Gonna Happen To Me”. “President” is classic skatecore, with a lightning rhythm and strong backing vocals. Sleepwalking is a trifle slower but has the classic hardcore feel of bands like Jody Foster’s Army. “Its Not Gonna Happen To Me” has a very catchy guitar line that sounds like early English punk but then lurches into a rumbling bass-driven sound.
Ill Repute has three additional albums on iTunes, all more contemporary releases: 1994’s Big Rusty Balls, 1999’s Bleed, and 2000’s What Happened Then. These albums are decent and keep the nardcore faith but to me don’t have quite the appeal their early work has. I do, however, like the fast, silly “Oxnard”, with its shout-out to nardcore off What Happened Then; it reminds me a little of Black Flag’s “TV Party” with its shared chorus.
Stalag 13, another early nardcore band, has 2 songs on the Nardcore compilation, “Statistic” and “Do It Right”. “Statistic” is short and fast but the guitar has an amazing, roaring edge to it that also characterizes several of their other songs and makes them one of my favorite nardcore bands. “Do It Right” is slow, and almost jazzy in a Minutemen kind of way, definitely a departure from the standard nardcore sound. Their 1984 album In Control (released on Alta Vista record label Dr. Strange) was reissued in 2006 and is on iTunes and is a classic slice of early 80’s hard/nardcore. Many of their songs evince a straightedge vibe, with titles like “Clean Up Your Act”, “The Choice Is Yours”, and “In Control”. “Clean Up Your Act” is one of my favorite tracks, its grinding guitar intro reminding me of “I Just Want Some Skank” by the Circle Jerks, but it then explodes into a speed of light blast before settling back into a lurching, sing-song verse, alternating between these disparate tempos throughout. “No Excuse” starts with a rumbling bass like Black Flag’s “Slip It In” and again the guitars kick in with a refreshing roar. This song more than anything reminds me musically of Damaged era Black Flag in its intensity. Its this guitar bite that distinguishes Stalag 13 from lesser nardcore lights and makes them a standout act.
But perhaps the best known nardcore band was Dr. Know. This band became legendary for two main reasons: (1) the fact that their singer for a brief time was Brandon Cruz, a former child actor who achieved fame in the 1970’s family drama The Courtship of Eddie’s Father co-starring Bill Bixby (as the aforementioned Eddie’s father), and (2) the high quality of their album art, particularly the now-classic drawing of a punky blonde goth chick holding an inverted cross, which was done by famed graphic artist Jaime Hernandez (he of Love and Rockets fame; his brother Ismael played bass in Dr. Know). “Circle of Fear”, off the Nardcore compilation, captures the classic early Dr. Know sound; a complex, churning wall of guitars anchored by rifleshot drumming. The compilation Best of Dr. Know on iTunes contains some other good tracks, including “God Told Me”, “The Intruder” (which is also found on Mystic Sampler #1), and “Watch It Burn”. But as much as I like these songs-, its hard not to agree with the reviewer on iTunes who says that without the Brandon Cruz connection its not clear if Dr. Know would have been remembered today. Its ironic since I feel that the vocals (by Cruz or any of his replacements since he left in 1983) are probably the weakest part of Dr. Know; musically they play a tight (if not particularly memorable) form of hardcore but the vocals seem a trifle strident and weak. But to anyone who lived in Southern California in the early 80’s, the Dr. Know logo, with the crossed R and spider in the o of “Know” was almost as ubiquitous and iconic as the Black Flag logo. Visually they were definitely the most impactful of the nardcore bands.
Another legendary nardcore band with an acting/celebrity connection was R.K.L., which stood for “Rich Kids on LSD” (the band members hailed from the affluent Santa Barbara suburb of Montecito): Actor Josh Brolin claimed in a New York Times interview in 2010 to have been a member, though he may just have been a very devoted follower of the band who occasionally joined them onstage for their intense and sloppy shows. Three of their songs are on the Nardcore compilation, “U.S. Steal”, “Lies”, and “No Respect”. These songs are decent, if fairly generic, hardcore. “No Respect” is the better of the three. The song “Evil In You” off the Mystic Sampler #1 compilation has shouted, incoherent vocals like Darby’s on the Germs classic “Manimal”. The song I prefer by them is “Think Positive” off their Best of R.K.L. compilation which is on iTunes. The shouted vocals remind me of Junkie XL and the song has a lurching rhythm that occasionally speeds into rapid blasts of noise. They also do a somewhat lethargic cover of “Chinese Rocks” by Johnny Thunders.
Right down the road from Oxnard, another scene was forming at around the same time, in the LA bedroom community of Simi Valley, rechristened “Slimey Valley” by Mystic Records in their compilations It Came From Slimey Valley. There were several bands that were from this scene, including Reign of Terror, Crankshaft, False Confession and Slaughterhouse 5, and songs by these bands were collected into the Slimey Valley compilations (one of which is available on iTunes). My favorites are “Violent Children” by Reign of Terror, with its chugging metallic guitar line (which reminds me of “In My Hour of Darkness” by Megadeth) and “Prophecy” by False Confession.
The Slimey Valley scene had two bands that stood the tallest: Scared Straight and the Flower Leperds. Scared Straight was formed in 1983 by future MLB pitcher Scott Radinsky and friends. They had two songs on the Nardcore compilation, “Skate To Live”, a classic slice of skate hardcore and a nardcore/Slimey anthem for the skater crowd, and “Peer Pressure”, which has a slow, noodling sound that reminds me of “Rat’s Eyes” by Black Flag off Flag’s Slip It In album. In addition, 10 of their songs are compiled with the Slimey Valley compilation as a split album of sorts. I like this band but I don’t LOVE them; they’re good and some of their songs are a little catchy but nothing is especially memorable here, though “Fight Back” is another good anthemic hardcore song.
The Flower Leperds were the other standout Slimey Valley band, and one again whose logo adorned many a Southern California punk’s leather jacket in the mid- to late-80’s. They have three songs available on iTunes from their classic period (along with a 1996 album from a later incarnation of the band). “Preacher’s Confession” on the Mystic Sampler #1 and Slimey Valley compilations is a good anti-religion screed with strong vocals and solid music, and their cover of “Commando” by the Ramones is competent if somewhat forgettable off the Triple X Records 1991 Ramones cover album Gabba Gabba Hey (check out Keith Morris’ band Buglamp’s cover of “Sha-La-La (Howling’ At the Moon)”, Bulimia Banquet’s version of “Endless Vacation”, “Beat on the Brat” by Pygmy Love Circus or L7’s cover of “Suzy is a Headbanger” instead). “Only Twelve Years Old” is not on iTunes but is on YouTube and is bludgeoning 80’s hardcore with an interesting guitar line. The Leperds’ best song is the unbelievable “Death of Two Lovers” off the Slimey Valley compilation; this is fantastic fast-as-lightning melodic hardcore which again showcases singer Mark Olson’s hoarse, almost soulful vocals. This is hands down the best song to ever come out of the Slimey Valley scene.