.Why Santa Cruz Punk Bands Have the World’s Attention

“This is crazy,” Sammy Ciaramitaro exclaims, flashing his signature ear-to-ear grin. “This is totally crazy.” 

It’s a sweltering mid-summer day in 2021, and the lead singer of Santa Cruz hardcore act Drain is staring in awe at the throngs of people pouring into a San Jose parking lot. The smell of hot dogs and burgers fills the air from the couple of food booths set up at the last minute. Wave after wave of fans ranging from teenagers to mid-fortysomethings flood the lot, hurrying towards the makeshift wooden stage at the opposite end. It’s an unbelievable turnout, especially considering the location had just been released a mere two hours before. 

On June 19th, the RBS (or Real Bay Shit) show instantly became a thing of legend. Woodstock for the hardcore punks. If you know, you know.

It was the first hardcore show in the Bay Area since the 2020 lockdowns, so coordinators and musicians of the completely DIY event weren’t sure how many people would show up. Afterwards, they counted over 2,000 tickets sold–with many more crashing the gig by hopping the fence–and they spoke with several who flew in from other states. 

RBS made national news, with national music-media outlets like BrooklynVegan.com and Stereogum.com covering the event. Within hours, videos from the performances went viral on YouTube and social media. 

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The six-band lineup was predominantly local to what is now being heralded as the “40831 scene”–a name that combines the area codes of the Santa Cruz area with that of Silicon Valley. Santa Cruz bands in the line-up included Scowl, Drain and Gulch, while Maya (originally Maya Over Eyes) and Sunami hail from San Jose. 

“It’s hard to put into words just how crazy it was,” recalls Drain founding member and drummer Tim Flegal. “The videos online don’t do it justice. It was nuts!”

RBS broke the new wave of Bay Area hardcore music onto the national level. It introduced Scowl to the world and solidified the place of bands like Drain and Gulch. 

“RBS was a turning point for me, personally, in how I see the band and how I thought others saw us,” says Scowl singer Kat Moss. “There were a lot of people I didn’t know, who I had no idea were exposed to our music, singing the lyrics.” 

Yet, like all underground music subcultures worth their weight in blood, sweat and moshing, the 40831 scene has been slowly building over the last several years, with Santa Cruz at its epicenter.

CALIFORNIA CURSED

“People think that we’re a newer band,” Flegal explains. “But we’ve been a band since 2014, writing music and playing shows. It’s just that no one was there.” 

Flegal–the only original member of Drain–founded the group while a student at UCSC. They played local bars and house shows, influenced by hardcore but heavily dipping into the grimy sounds of heavy metal. 

“It was basically a completely different band,” he remembers. “We were just a couple of friends from school who wanted to play together. Our sound was all over the place.” 

It wasn’t until 2015, when Ciaramitaro, a friend of a friend through school, joined, that Drain claimed the hardcore scene as their own. 

“That’s where we found our home,” Flegal says. “Once we became aware of the hardcore scene around us, it was a pretty natural progression.”

During those first few years, the 40831 was still trying to figure out what it was going to become. Venues like the 418 Project, SubRosa and Caffe Pergolesi were the local spots for the fledgling scene—all-ages venues where kids, teens and misfits could go see some local music for under $20 (sometimes free) and be themselves, just enjoying the moment while moshing out their frustrations. 

“Pergolesi was our spot,” Ciaramitaro remembers. “We would go to or throw shows there, and we started seeing other bands come in. There was a whole group of other kids–we didn’t know them and they didn’t know us–but we started talking and realized they liked all the same stuff we did.” 

Between 2016 and 2017, Drain released two EPs, Over Thinking and Time Enough At Last. By 2017, bands like Gulch and Hands of God (both featuring Ciaramitaro on drums) along with No Greater Fight and Jawstruck (both with Malachi Greene, and the latter also with Cole Gilbert of Scowl) were making a name for themselves locally. It was around this time that the groups noticed people were paying attention. 

“I remember St. Patrick’s Day in 2016 at Pergolesi with us, No Greater Fight and Surf Combat,” Ciaramitaro recalls. “It was a free show and there were 200 kids that came out, filled the room, filled the courtyard and the cafe was booming with everyone buying drinks. There were no fights or problems, just everyone having a great time. That’s when were like, ‘Oh, something’s happening here.’” 

Since then, Drain released a full-length on Revelation Records–the largest independent record label focusing strictly on hardcore–2020’s California Cursed. As a promo for the album, they worked with Santa Cruz Skateboards to recreate the 1980s Bl’ast! poster ad of Rob Roskopp launching over the band with his skateboard. This time, it was Henry Garland blasting over Drain, shredding any doubt as to the band’s place in the scene. 

In September 2021, Drain announced they were signing with top punk label Epitaph, owned by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz. Ciaramitaro says while the band is currently working on new material, it’s a slow process, as their new label wants them to have the opportunity to tour the California Cursed songs in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdowns.

“From the first time I saw Drain I knew they were special,” Spencer Biddiscombe says. “I knew they were going places.” 

Ask anyone in the scene about Biddiscombe and you’re guaranteed to hear words like “legend” and “The Man.” He’s been a fixture since the 1990s, when he first started going to Fury 66 and Good Riddance shows as a high-schooler. He promoted his first gig at the Santa Cruz Veteran’s Memorial Hall (aka the Vets Hall) in 1999, and has continued to foster Santa Cruz hardcore as a promoter, fan and musician. His mid-2000s band At Risk earned a following, and his newer project, Give You Nothing, is currently working on their sophomore album.

It was Biddiscombe who first made Revelation aware of Drain by giving their demo to a friend who worked for the label. The rep was interested, and in 2019 he saw them perform at the Sound and Fury hardcore festival.

“He was floored,” Biddiscombe recalls. 

Rising Tide

2019 was also a huge year for the 40831 in other ways. 

That year, Scowl, Sunami and Spy–a politically minded hardcore group that Gilbert of Scowl also plays in–first formed. It was the same year when Gulch went viral in the most unlikely of ways when they posted a fan-designed, limited Sanrio-style hoodie that broke the hardcore internet. Kids even met the band at the airport on tour just to snag one. 

Since releasing their debut full-length ‘How Flowers Grow’ last year, Santa Cruz’s Scowl has been written up by media outlets around the world, appeared on the cover of iconic U.K. magazine Kerrang!, and recently announced they’ll be opening for Limp Bizkit on an upcoming arena tour. PHOTO: CHRISY SALINAS/@CUHHRISSEE

“Alright. So the Gulch hoodie thing was way more ridiculous than I thought it would be,” Gulch guitarist and founder Cole Kakimoto tweeted about the incident. 

Kakimoto is also the owner of screenprinting shop, Printhead, which prints designs for most of the 40831 bands, as well as other hardcore acts around the country. Before the RBS show, fans waited hours–some between three and four–to purchase merch for local bands. 

“It was close to 1,000 people,” Kakimoto said after the show. “I had to cut the line off.”

When the entire world shut down in 2020, the buzz around the Santa Cruz hardcore scene skyrocketed. With nothing to do at home, people scoured the internet searching for something new to pique their interests and the 40831 did just that. 

The lockdown also offered groups the opportunity to write and record new material, like Spy’s debut EP, Service Weapon

“I originally wrote those four tracks in December 2019,” singer Peter Pawlak remembers. “We had scheduled our recording date for April 2020, then Covid happened.”

Despite the pandemic, Spy still recorded the debut, with only Pawlak, Gilbert and producer Charles Toshio in the studio. Toshio used to play in San Jose hardcore act PCMKR (pronounced “peacemaker”) and is the engineer behind the studio records of 40831 bands like Eightfold Path, Scowl, Sunami and more. 

“It all starts with the DIY,” Pawlak says. “It’s crazy to see the rise of this wave from humble origins to the behemoth that it is now. It’s always been exciting for us in the Bay, but now the rest of the world gets to see it.” 

Bl’ast! From the Past

When it comes to punk rock and hardcore, Santa Cruz played an essential and often overlooked role in forming the California scene and sound. It quickly became a destination stop for ’80s punks bands touring between L.A. and the Bay Area, with local hardcore heroes Bl’ast!—formed in 1983–a main attraction.

“It all comes back to Bl’ast!,” says Nick Dill, a longtime underground music promoter with Bane Shows and now the Hard Times Shows. 

Before their first break-up in 1991, Bl’ast! influenced countless musicians and bands. Dave Grohl–arguably the biggest rock star in the world right now–counts Bl’ast! as one of his all-time favorite bands. He wrote about them in his 2021 memoir, remastered their first two albums in 2013 and even recorded a couple songs with them in 2015. 

As with hardcore, in any city, obscure venues allowing all-ages shows nourished the local scene; cafes, pizzerias and house parties are all essential to the hardcore subculture. In 1980s Santa Cruz, Club Culture was the place for these bands. 

“The one thing that plagues hardcore, or any heavy music, is the lack of all-ages venues that allow that kind of music,” explains Clifford Dinsmore, lead singer of Bl’ast!. “Club Culture used to bring every band through there–like Corrosion of Conformity and Eye For an Eye–and we’d all just hang out before and after shows. Once that place closed down, there was nowhere to play.”

Today, Dinsmore sings in Seized Up, a hardcore supergroup featuring Chuck Platt (Good Riddance), Danny Buzzard (Fast Asleep/All You Can Eat) and Andy Granelli (The Disillers/Nerve Agents). Their debut album, Brace Yourself, dropped in 2020, and the band followed-up with the three-song EP, Marching Down the Spiral, last year. They’re currently working on their second album scheduled to come out sometime later this year. 

“It’s definitely coming along,” he says. “There’s no real rhyme or reason to Seized Up. We write our songs by whatever everyone’s strong points are, and now it’s almost evolving into this post-hardcore sound.”

The ’90s saw a new wave of hardcore and punk in Santa Cruz, with bands like Fury 66, Craig’s Brother and Good Riddance leading the way. At that time, hardcore’s home was in rooms like the Vets Hall, the 418 Project (which was in the old Club Culture building) and Palookaville.

“Most of the bands were fans, going to the shows and contributing to the scene,” remembers Fury 66 singer, Joe Clements. “There was never a rock star attitude.” 

Fury 66 lasted a brief six years (1993-1999), releasing only two full-length albums, two EPs and two 7-inch singles. Clements went on to form the Buddhist-focused band The Deathless in 2015. Originally begun as a group, the Deathless has transformed into Clements’ solo project; he released a second EP, Audio Sangha Vol. 1, last year. 

“People like Joe are the reason why this town has what it has [in the hardcore scene],” explains Joel Haston. 

Since 2004, Haston has promoted hardcore, punk and metal shows throughout the Central Coast and state, first as Arsenic Productions then as cofounder of PinUp Productions in 2008. 

“Santa Cruz has a good sense of identity and culture, and we respect those who came before,” he continues. “And because of that reason, I don’t think we’re ever going away.” 

By the early 2000s, Numbskull Shows, Biddiscombe, Bane Shows and Haston were the four main hardcore promoters in town. Venues like the Pioneer Street location, Caffe Pergolesi, SubRosa and Jim Dandy’s in Prunedale–a truck rental garage by day and punk venue by night– became the new all-ages spots. 

“Before there was a big scene in Sacramento, bands from L.A. would go to Jim Dandy’s,” Haston remembers. “It was this little, tiny, crazy place. Our scene has always been different and unique.” 

While all four of those promoters from the 2000s are still a major part of the scene today, a new crop began sprouting up in the 2010s. 

“This younger generation of kids were so hungry they started throwing their own shows,” Haston says. “It had nothing to do with previously established promoters. The kids just wanted the punk and hardcore scene so badly they made it happen.”

FLOWERING SCOWL

“If anyone deserves [recognition], it’s Malachi,” Ciaramitaro says of his longtime friend and local scene promoter. “That dude has been in a bunch of bands and has literally carried the scene on his back.”

For almost a decade, Greene has promoted local shows through his Santa Cruz Hardcore Shows brand and social media. Recently he joined forces with a friend to form R’N’RG, which casts a wider net promoting shows throughout the state. But that doesn’t mean Greene is ever turning in his local card.  

“I still use the Santa Cruz Hardcore page a lot because I want to promote what friends and other bands from Santa Cruz are doing,” he explains. 

Celebrating their third-year anniversary as a band this month, Scowl has blossomed with audiences around the globe. RBS might’ve introduced them to the world, but it was their 2021 full-length, How Flowers Grow, that made them a household name within the scene.

Released in November, it made CVLT Nation’s “Top 10 Albums of 2021” list, and they got noticed in New Noise Magazine, BrooklynVegan.com, Revolver magazine and more. In December, they were one of three acts to be featured on the cover of U.K. publication Kerrang! and recently announced they’ll be playing an arena tour, opening for 2000s nu metal act, Limp Bizkit. 

“There’s a feeling of being overwhelmed,” singer Moss explains of the band’s sudden fame. “We’re just riding the wave, because we have no idea what to expect.”

Scowl was born when she approached Greene about starting a project, inspired by Greene and Gilbert’s previous band, Jawstruck. 

“Malachi and Cole are a package deal because they’ve been playing in bands for so long,” she says. “So it was pretty easy for them to get together and write our demo, which was in March 2019.” 

Greene played bass for that initial recording, but they soon recruited Bailey Lupo for the job. He’d been actively going to shows thrown by Greene and others at Caffe Pergolesi and SubRosa, yet remained on the periphery. However, the band’s first tour solidified their friendship together—a “holy grail” moment, according to Moss. 

“Kat and I had a collective moment where we realized, ‘Oh shit, he is just as much of a shithead as Malachi,’” says Gilbert with a laugh. 

“I remember seeing them in Jawstruck and thought they were fucking sick. Now we’re in a band together and I hate them,” Lupo jokes.  

Their second EP was released in November 2019, with the intent on touring in the spring of 2020. However, the lockdown gave Scowl the downtime needed to focus on what would become How Flowers Grow. It’s a blistering 10-song, 15-minute-and-34-second absolute ripper of an album stripped of any unnecessary fat, delivering a raw and bloody sound. 

From the opening on “Bloodhound,” with its slow call-to-war drum beat, to Ciaramitaro’s guest vocals on “Fuck Around” and Moss’ manic growls on “How Flowers Grow,” the debut album burns everything in its path and leaves a scorched earth behind. 

Scowl’s rocket to the top of the underground scene is equal parts talent, tenacity and standing apart from the rest of their peers. Moss’ vocals are brutal yet with precise pronunciation making every word clear and distinct. Unlike other bands in the genre who rely on cliché black and white imagery, Scowl simmers in a world of bright colors and flowers. From the dandelion in their logo and psychedelic cartoons imposed over live footage–filmed in Santa Cruz County, of course–in their videos to Moss’ bright make-up and fashion-forward outfits, Scowl is unapologetically themselves. 

“I like to present myself this way, it’s part of my identity,” she says. 

Identity and personal evolution are the major themes spun throughout the album. 

“I had a lot of stuff going on in my life that was pissing me off. I was experiencing a lot of growth and I projected everything lyrically,” says Moss.

“It’s fun to catch people off guard,” Greene says of Scowl’s spirit and sound. 

It’s a sentiment exemplified by the track “Seeds to Sow,” when Moss abandons her screams for clean singing, and band friend Adrian Delaney jumps in on the most unlikely of hardcore instruments, the saxophone. Greene points to the founding days of hardcore and punk as a major influence on Scowl breaking down musical barriers. 

“Look at bands like Bad Brains doing reggae, or Husker Du, who started as a hardcore band,” he says, adding Scowl will never “pigeonhole” themselves. “Anyone who trips on that never listened to punk.” 

FUTURE CORE 

“Realistically the scene will not be sustainable at the level it’s at right now,” Biddiscombe answers when asked about the future of the 40831. “That’s not to say it won’t be amazing, vibrant and big. These bands have been building for a little while, but right now there is [an explosion], partly because of the catharsis of everyone going to shows again.”  

Just as Covid helped break the scene, it also gave hardcore a giant black eye by closing down many of the all-ages venues that originally fostered this new wave. But venues like the Vets Hall and the Catalyst are hosting more all-ages hardcore shows, and Biddiscombe has recently started throwing shows in Soquel at a new location called the Flo Spot. 

Still, the lack of a dedicated all-ages venue is glaring. 

“Right now is the perfect time for someone to open up an all-ages venue, because you will corner the whole market,” Dill says. “The whole Bay Area market.” 

The spotlight on the 40831 has also changed the dynamic for many of the people in the scene. Last September, Gulch announced they would be breaking up sometime this year, right at the height of their popularity. They currently have only seven shows left, with three of the locations and dates still a secret from the public. 

“A lot of bands want attention like this,” Kakimoto says. “But nobody in Gulch is interested in it. We do what we want, when we want to.” 

Regardless of the setbacks, the 40831–and specifically the Santa Cruz scene–is showing no signs of slowing down. 

Along with Drain’s work-in-progress, Scowl is also working on new material amid the endless short tours and summer European festivals they plan to play this year. 

“I can’t stop writing. It keeps me sane,” Greene says before adding with a laugh, “Maybe I should go to therapy.” 

Pawlak says that Spy is also working on new material and will release a split single with a band he’s not allowed to disclose yet, along with a “proper hardcore full-length” later this year.

“So maybe 15 to 20 minutes long,” he laughs. 

“Spy is the next to blow up,” Dill states. “They were on a lot of top ten albums of 2021 lists—and that was just an EP.”

And while this current wave must inevitably crash at some point, the people who have kept the scene alive all these years don’t worry about it ever truly going away. 

“There will always be a different resurgence,” Clements says. “There will always be different incarnations of hardcore, because it’s about what’s happening now, what people are going through. It’s relatable.” 

For Ciaramitaro, taking it all one moment at a time is the best way to experience the here and now. 

“I wish I could put my finger on what makes everything the 40831 is doing so cool,” he says. “It pops off, I don’t know what it is but I’m stoked for it. It won’t be like that forever. But for now, I’m just loving every minute of it and going to every show I can.” 

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