Underground indie music has a problem: inclusivity.
Indie rock has always felt like a scene dominated by those have the capital to make it — not necessarily wealthy people, but those who have enough income to pursue music seriously. It’s the same with punk: Some of the people you who first come to mind when you hear the four-letter word grew up in affluent neighborhoods (Black Flag’s Henry Rollins and Minor Threat’s Ian Mackaye, to name a few.)
CREDIT: Credit: Wayne Ballard
There’s a reason for it: it’s expensive. It’s expensive to acquire instruments, and if you want success outside of your given location, touring is expensive, recording is expensive, meeting the people who can further your career can be expensive (this is an issue of access.) Even in underground circles, where a do-it-yourself mentality dominates who can access what, issues of privilege come into play — if you have financial support from a family member or what have you, you can make a lot of things happen. Lots of poor Latinos don’t have that privilege.
“I remember being scared because I had never seen a punk before.”
Rogelio “Rogie” Hernandez is making great strides lessening the socioeconomic and racial divide in his music community. The 25-year-old Mexican-American is from Los Angeles, a Latino town where the majority of the indie rock musicians are white. For those involved in the L.A. underground music scene, Hernandez books concerts dedicated to celebrating the diversity and culture he loves so much, with a special focus on punk — from his hometown of Boyle Heights, to all over East L.A. and beyond.
And it almost didn’t happen.
“It was kind of an accident. I was only really listening to rap music, stuff you would listen to in my neighborhood, which is mostly gangster rap, West Coast, G-funk,” he says when asked how he learned about punk in the first place.
CREDIT: Wax Witches @ Backyard in Boyle Heights Photo: Yuki Kikuchi
When Hernandez was 13, a friend invited him to a hip hop show at someone’s house — a regular event in his neighborhood. They heard music in the distance and entered the wrong home to discover a punk show. But this wrong turn became Rogie’s first experience with the abrasive style of punk music. “I remember being scared because I had never seen a punk before. My friends kept trying to calm me down; I remember being so scared and not wanting to be there,” he recalls.
The music had an immediate effect on him. “I thought, ‘What is this? It’s still scary, but I fucking like it.’ I remember moshing for the first time and staying for the whole show. The next day I went home, got rid of my [Air] Jordan’s and decided ‘I’m a punk now.’ After that I was hooked.”
That show, unlike the mostly white shows that dominate Los Angeles (and beyond) now, was “all Latino punks,” Hernandez qualifies, which became a culture shock when he started exploring other realms of local music, namely, the indie/punk stuff he spends most of his time with nowadays. He thought Boyle Heights was the epicenter of underground LA music making until he branched out to neighborhoods like Echo Park to discover similiar music was being played by, in his words, “affluent white kids.” He says, “I remember walking into random shows downtown and the crowd was 90% white. I’d be the only brown kid there, and they’d make me notice it: they’d come up to me and ask ‘You’re into this kind of music?’ Maybe they were just curious but it makes a person of color uncomfortable.”
CREDIT: Show Me The Body @ International Java Co. Photo by: Bella Vallero
But he kept going — mostly out of necessity. Hernandez felt the need to leave his Boyle Heights/East L.A. scene because the violence in his neighborhood began to overshadow the sense of community being built during local shows. And the Los Angeles Police Department wasn’t helping. “When we were kids, going to Latino punk shows in backyards, our neighborhood wasn’t the safest. There were lots of gangs, sketchy people we had to worry about. We’d go to shows and walk home and cholos would stop us, call us ‘faggots’ and beat the shit out of us. The punks started getting tired of being beaten up so they started rolling in little crews to stay safe. Those little crews became almost like punk gangs. You couldn’t go to a show in East L.A. without worrying about maybe getting stabbed or shot and I’ve seen it all happen,” he explains. “Some of those things have happened to me. You’d go to a show and within a few songs there’d be a giant fight and it would be over. LAPD started catching on that this thing was becoming hyper-violent. When you’re 14, 15, you don’t need a criminal record.”
“You’re going to be the next FYF Fest.”
Rogelio was faced with a problem: He loved the Latino punk scene but the violence gave it an expiration date. In some ways, it became exclusive — only people who felt a certain level of safety could go and enjoy themselves. On the indie rock side of things, he felt othered by race, and grew unsettled with the continued success of similar projects, driven by white males, that ignored the colorful sounds of his own backyard. The solution? To start booking shows in East L.A., at his house on East Second, where anyone and everyone was welcome.
CREDIT: Show Me The Body @ International Java Co. Photo by: Bella Vallero
Soon, the shows at his house became a phenomenon — it was dubbed “E. Second” — with Hernandez organizing upwards of three shows a month. He had found his niche exploring the rawness of a house show in East L.A. while removing the violence. Moshing was welcome, as was “losing your shit,” but the key was to be courteous. “When I told people [in the indie rock scene] I was from East L.A., they were like ‘Isn’t it so dangerous over there?’ At the time my neighborhood was getting safer, and it’s always been a really warm neighborhood. It kind of killed me that they all think of us as murders and criminals and shit,” he explains. “I wanted to show everyone that we like the same music, we like live bands.” The goal was, and still is, to act as a bridge of different cultures, and it’s reflected in the kind of bills Rogie puts together — on any given night, you can expect to see a Cumbia band play before a hardcore band who opens for a noise goth project. “It’s all about choosing the good in everything and mixing it together,” he says.
“I really want to get to a point where I can help my neighborhood sustain its own cultural identity.”
Three years later and E. Second has achieved real success — including a write-up in the New York Times. “When that happened, people in the scene were like ‘You’re going to be the next FYF Fest,’” he recalls, but things began to become unsustainable. Neighbors, once tolerant of the loud music, would get upset with its increasing frequency, demanding shows get shut down or end at a certain time. For now, Hernandez has his eyes set on taking his vision to proper venues like Highland Park’s Hi Hat. “I think it’s lost some of the magic of East Second,” Hernandez reveals. “But it’s always been DIY and punk, very informal. I started booking there because I thought it was the next step in doing this and being successful. I’ve never had the punk mentality of being like, ‘Money is bad,’ which I kind of hate about DIY/punk people. They think trying to make money is a terrible thing. For people like me, who are Latino and poor, we have to find some level of success or we can’t keep doing this kind of stuff.”
CREDIT: War of Icaza @ International Java Co. Photo by: Bella Vallero
Hernandez remains optimistic. He’s already managed to diversify his scene and the indie rock one at large, combining sounds and languages on bills that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. When asked about the future, his speech slows, “I have a vision. From the get-go, this has been a learning experience, something that’s constantly evolving.”
He pauses. Hernandez makes it clear he wants to find some personal success — but his definition of success isn’t about wealth. It’s about building respect for the art created in his community: “I want to find some personal success doing this. I don’t have the luxury of falling back on wealth. When you’re a poor Latino person, a lot of people don’t realize how necessary that is, especially in the arts. I really want to get to a point where I can help my neighborhood sustain its own cultural identity. We have a lot of great artists who, if were given a shot, could do really beautiful things for music and the world. The scene, right now, is just overly saturated with old white guys that it gets a little discouraging. You keep ignoring us but we’re here, and we’re not going to go away.”