Yesterday evening, I ended up spending some time in a small dive bar in the middle of Orange County, the self-baptized ‘World Famous Doll Hut’. This is the sort of place which sweats its history all over its walls with punk rock stickers and zines flyers, since it obviously has been here forever, supporting the local punk scene for ages.
I go to so-called punk shows in Los Angeles all the time, but these are the new-school punk shows played by young bands, these shows incarnate the reinvention of punk by hipster kids who grew up on Bad Religion, Green Day and T.S.O.L., and, as a matter of fact, certain of these kids are even the biological children of members of these bands.
But Los Angeles has Hollywood, the Sunset Strip and places like the Palladium or the Viper room frequented by movie stars. Orange County is another place in time and space, it’s where old school punk rock still lives far away from Hollywood’s spotlights, and the bands which continue to perform in these beat-up bars, these venues lost between a public storage and some industrial wasteland, have no care for fame and prestige, they pursue their authentic punk dream without any glamour lights or fancy drinks. There’s definitively nothing lavish about the Doll Hut, the bar and entire place is dark with a dump-like decor, the wall are covered by stickers advertising bands I have never heard about and the average age of the population is way older than the crowd at any Silverlake hangouts I am used to. And, yeah people still wear Mohawks and DIY punk patch-covered jean jackets as if it was still 1977. The famous Doll Hut may be very close to the magic kingdom where dreamers and hyper fans were giving a light saber ovation to a galactic dead princess last night, but I can tell you that this place couldn’t be further from magic, not a single old punk rocker is dreaming about this sort of fantasy anyway.
People over there never got the notice that punk was dead, and you have to admire their passion to save what’s left of it. This island forgotten by time, where you can still start a mosh pit for two on a Thursday night, is the ultimate enclave of punk resistance, but it’s also completely natural, Orange County has a long punk rock history. This may be the land of Disney, but it’s also the land of Social Distortion, the Adolescents, Agent Orange, the Vandals among many others, and many bands you will never hear about continue to carry the torch with that same fast aggressive but melodic music. The Doll Hut is a survivor of these times, it’s tiny but still in existence, and last night it was hosting KaoticRadio’s post-Xmas drive, with a few bands and a raffle. I saw the Haters, Jack N Peg, Eric Leach, 390, but there were still music to be performed when I left. The Haters played a foot-tapping punk rock, with bright sing-alongs, they were not quite Green Day, but could have been if Billie Joe had weighed a ton and had Lemmy’s gritty baritone. Jack N Peg were certainly more rock than punk, with bluesy hooks and mean solos,… more old school they couldn’t have been, sounding good and unapologetically covering Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to be Wild’ and Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’. Symbol Six’s Eric Leach did an acoustic set of songs he sang like protest tunes, thrown right in your face with a gravelly voice, more outlaw country folk than punk, but at the end what’s the difference? They were definitively drinking songs, made to be sung in bars. I left just after 390, another old-school let’s-get-mad-and-kick-some-ass band, which made two girls punk out a well-deserved mosh pit, while dedicated a song to this 2016 damn election… nothing else needs to be said.
Is there something a bit desperate in wanting to maintain an idea which belongs to the past? The Doll Hut was the punk scene’s personal party house in the 80s and 90s, it did host shows with Bad Religion and The Offspring, and people were going there to mosh and fight. It has a very familial ambiance these days but it tells you a story of survival.
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