East Second: Where L.A.’S Backyard Punk Scene Thrives

Cory Lomberg talks to Rogelio Hernandez and Johan Ludisaca of East Second, who have been curating some of LA's most inclusive DIY-Punk shows.
By    August 25, 2016

Rogelio Hernandez and Johan Ludisaca are trying to save indie rock from itself. They’re taking punk back, too. What better way to make shows safe again than to have them in your own backyard? There’s hardly standing room, let alone space for classism, racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia.

It only took a couple performances at Hernandez’s Boyle Heights home to realize that this is the safe space DIY empires advertise themselves as, though they’re often dominated by cisgender, white people. Hernandez and Ludisaca are interested in genuine inclusivity — the kind that you don’t have to preach because you can see it when you walk through the door. Now, they call their space and organizing efforts East Second. In the last two and a half years, the yard has seen the likes of Downtown Boys, Roses, Tenement, Upset and Australia’s Wax Witches. New York Times critic Ben Ratliff named their Berserktown II after party one of the best shows of 2015.

At the New Age playground on York and Ave. 50, we talk under the shade of a snake-shaped slide. After all, we’re still kids in our own right — Hernandez is 24, Ludisaca and fellow organizer Dominic Cervantes are both 21. Maybe that’s why I feel far more comfortable talking with these guys than I typically would in an interview, or with anyone new. They treat me as an equal. They just want everyone to have a good time.—Cory Lomberg


How do you know each other?


Hernandez: Well, me and [Ludisaca] met maybe four or five years ago. He grew up in Downtown/Pico-Union. I grew up in Boyle Heights in East LA.

Ludisaca: I went to school in East LA so I knew his younger brother. We kind of met online, liking the same bands and stuff on the internet.

Hernandez: We met in person for the first time at a FIDLAR show. I think it was at the LA Fort, this weird little venue downtown. We just started hanging out because he was the only other brown kid I knew that liked the same bands I did. When we were going to shows, it’s not as like, inclusive or diverse as it is now. I’d go to shows and be the only brown guy.


How did you get into this specific scene in the first place?


Hernandez: Well, growing up, I was just really into rap music. I only listened to rap. And then one day, my friends called me like, let’s go to this party. So we go and we get the address wrong. But there happened to be a punk show going on at someone’s backyard there.

It was immediate for me. It was the coolest shit I had ever seen and it was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen. So after that, I got really into punk music and started going to punk shows. I threw away all my Rocawear and got back patches and shit like that.

East LA had a really big punk scene. On weekends you’d just see kids pushing carts, like grocery carts, full of equipment walking to whatever gig they were gonna play. You’d kind of follow them and find a show. So I got really involved in that scene but it kind of crumbled because it got super violent. Kids would get stabbed and jumped so the cops started shutting stuff down immediately. Years later, I got the idea like, oh, we should do a show like we used to have back in the days. I remember when I told my parents. I was like, hey mom, I’m gonna have a few friends over, is that okay? And she was like, yeah, that’s fine. The first show, I think we pulled like 250 kids. I was in disbelief. It went amazingly well. People were like, you should do another one. And we were like, we don’t know about that.

Ludisaca: Because the driveway where we have the shows is like — his dad’s a mechanic, so there’s always really heavy equipment in the driveway that we have to push out. Takes a lot of manual labor.

Hernandez: Yeah, we start really early in the morning when we do house shows. But yeah, we started doing these shows and it kind of snowballed.


You mentioned a bit earlier that when you started going to shows and stuff, it was not as not inclusive as it is now, though it’s still questionable.


Ludisaca: Oh yeah, totally. It’s Orange County.

Hernandez: I get into a lot of fights with people, telling them that punk rock and DIY is the biggest lie you’ve ever sold to kids. I’ve gone to arena shows where people were nicer to me and more stoked to know who I am than when I’m at DIY shows.

Ludisaca: I still get into it at a lot of the safe spaces and stuff. I like ours because it’s just way more inclusive than other places pretend to be.

Hernandez: If there’s one thing I’m super proud of, it’s that for the most part, a lot of people of color come out. A lot of kids from the hood come out. They get so stoked that we do shows at our house because they don’t feel comfortable at the Echo or someplace like that.

Ludisaca: People there will still be like, oh, you like this kind of music? What are you doing here?

Hernandez: I get asked that a lot: Oh, you like this kind of music? Which people don’t realize how it subtly — I don’t know.


Yeah, it’s a microaggression.

Hernandez: Hernandez: Yeah. Like, what the fuck do you want me to be into? Bomba? Which I am, but why can’t I be into indie rock? It’s a small slight that I don’t appreciate too much.

Ludisaca: Everyone’s been super supportive for the most part.

Hernandez: Hernandez: Yeah. I didn’t think there was a place for people like us. I believed that very strongly. Now we’re carving out a lane, and it feels a little weird.


Do you have some favorite shows?

Ludisaca: My favorite one was the Berserktown after party we threw. Our friend was in town, so she brought this writer, Ben Ratliff. I guess she was at Berserktown with him. He ended up writing about it for the New York Times. Like, the top shows of the year. The band was Downtown Boys.

Hernandez: That show was really pivotal for us. The Lou Costello [Park] one was really special for me too, because I work with this gang prevention program and they do this series called Summer Night Lights. In low-income neighborhoods, crime spikes during summer. Especially in places like parks. So the city started giving money to these parks during the summer so they could have barbecues and movie screenings and arts and crafts — a bunch of stuff so kids will have a place to go and have fun. When you don’t have shit to do because you’re not in school, you’ll just go around and do dumb shit.

Ludisaca: So we took over the senior center.

Hernandez: They asked if we wanted to put on a show there. We booked Girlpool and Slutever and a few other friends. Not a lot of people showed up. There were maybe 15, 20 people there. But at the end of the show, there were a bunch of little girls that went up to them and were like, can you teach us how to play guitar? So the band just sat down with a group of like 10 five year old girls, all just hanging out and beating on drums and playing guitar. One of them even asked Girlpool if they could play their birthday party, and her mom got their info and everything. I don’t know if it ever happened, but it was super cute. I know for a damn fact those girls are gonna grow up and want to play guitar and start a band or something.
 

That’s kind of why we started throwing shows. When we were growing up, we didn’t have the resources or even the inspiration to do something like this. I fought getting into music for such a long time because I was like, there’s no place in it for me. I’m a broke ass brown guy from Boyle Heights. This shit was not made for us. We’re not welcomed in it. I thought there was no way I could do anything in this little universe. But we’ve been doing shit and it’s been working out.

Ludisaca: We just keep meeting the rad, brown people behind the scenes.

Hernandez: If we can help inspire kids in our hood to do something with arts and music, that’d be fucking great. It’s been something that’s changed my life entirely, and I know they would have those same kinds of opportunities.Last favorites — we did Radiator Hospital at my house once. That was amazing. It spilled into the sidewalk, into the street. It was beautiful. We met a lot of friends that we work with now at that show.

Ludisaca: The Hi-Hat ones are okay.

Hernandez: Yeah, we just started booking at The Hi-Hat. I don’t have any favorites there yet.


People are critical of places like the Hi-Hat and Resident because they’re popping up in gentrifying neighborhoods. How do you feel about that dynamic?
 


Hernandez: I haven’t figured that out yet. I don’t know about [Ludisaca], but I do feel very conflicted about it because I recognize that places like the Hi-Hat are responsible for the gentrification happening in areas like this. I grew up in a neighborhood that’s the next Highland Park. I already see the changes happening. And I see what places like Resident have done to the Arts District. So many immigrants used to hang out there and they could eat there for cheap and live there for cheap. So I’m trying to figure out the answer to that same question.

Ludisaca: I have a different take on it. For the most part, I think a lot of these indie, white guys just come around these spaces because it’s a cool place to get laid or meet women. I think it’s important to have more queer representation because like, as soon as you get a little weird, people will get uncomfortable and not come back. They’ll get hit on by a man and leave. So we work on more representation of different backgrounds there. Not just one scene, you know? We’re trying, but it’s still important to include these popular, up-and-coming bands because it’ll draw people. It’s about finding a balance.

Hernandez: Get bands that kids like so there’s this forced meeting of different kinds of people.

Ludisaca: The art kids and the punk kids and the hip hop kids. We’re trying really hard to make it as eclectic as possible.

Hernandez: I never really wanted to start booking at venues. If it was up to me, we would just do little DIY spaces forever, but I don’t have the luxury of being a DIY guy forever. A lot of people who run these spaces and are DIY have money. They have a lot of it. I told myself, if I’m gonna do this, I have to go somewhere with it out of necessity. I grew up dirt poor, [Johan] grew up dirt poor. My parents grew up dirt poor. There were days where we couldn’t eat.

Ludisaca: Our parents are like day laborers, street vendors, stuff like that.

Hernandez: My mom still goes to the park and sells peanuts every fucking day, you know? I do this from the very bottom of my heart and it’s all super sincere, but if we’re going to take this seriously, we do have to find some success, even if it’s just enough to sustain what we’ve got going on.

Ludisaca: I always felt too weird, or too different, or too anxious and depressed to even consider the arts. If we can create a space for ourselves and people like us, I think we should. Part of that is finding some monetary success and gaining respect. We were idiot kids earlier, but we’re not the same kids now.

Hernandez: There has been some sort of change. We’re at a pivotal point, and we can turn that into something, but we don’t know what that something is yet. Naturally, we’ve upgraded to venues. We’re still figuring it out. I think we have the skill for it and we’re better than a lot of our peers. I’m trying to tone it down, but I talk a lot of shit. I don’t know if it’s created a bad rap for me, but I feel bad being so negative sometimes.<

There’s a difference between being negative and calling out shit when it’s there.
 


Hernandez: That’s true. What upsets me is that I feel like so many of our peers are lazy. At the end of the day, I consider what I do a fucking art. We take so much time to curate these things. We don’t just throw a bill together because the bands are available and they sound like each other. Like, I want so-and-so to play with so-and-so, and if we can’t get them this time, we’ll wait until we can.
 


I think that’s an important quality right now because so many shows will be like, oh, we need more women on this bill, so they’ll just put acts on together because they’re women.
 


Hernandez: I had a big tiff about Burger A Go-Go. I think, in theory, it’s cool to have an all-women festival. But when Burger Records got called out for not having enough women on their Burgerama bill, instead of being like, alright, let’s give the girls their own festival, they should just put more women on Burgerama. They’re good enough to play Burgerama. Instead of branding shit as feminism and this and that and talking about it, be about it. Don’t book the separate festival for women, just add women to all of your shows. Add more queer folks to all of your shows.

Ludisaca: I’m even guilty of being a tougher critic of women and brown people. There’s not enough representation so I want them to be the best, you know?

Hernandez: If we’re so about brown people, it should be visible. I think for the most part, we’ve done a good job of having female and brown and queer artists play our shows. We make it a conscious choice and honestly believe these people make great art. We believe that they’re just as good as the four white guys in a band, if not better, and with a more important message.

Ludisaca: Smart lyrics and smart content.

Hernandez: We just want to help our community, we want to put on for our community, because I’m in love with East LA and Boyle Heights. I don’t think I love anything in the world more than where I grew up. Out of everything I’ve done in my life, I think this is the closest I’ve come to.

Ludisaca: Being happy?

Hernandez: —making some sort of actual change, you know? I think this is what we’re good at. We definitely have so much room to grow. We don’t know what we’re doing half the time.


What do you think is the most important thing to improve upon right now?
 


Hernandez: Well, I think we could be more inclusive. We always need more brown bands and more bands composed of women.

Ludisaca: I also don’t like to know everyone’s problems in this very clique-y scene. Everyone knows everyone’s gossip and I don’t think that’s cool, necessarily. I like to form my own idea of people. I don’t like being told, you can’t work with them.

Hernandez: LA is a fucking scene.


Sometimes the most beautiful thing is being able to go to a show and not see someone you know.

 


Ludisaca: Totally.
 

Hernandez: Dude, yes. I went from not having anyone to go to the show with to here. This is a brand new world, so I’m not sure how to navigate it.

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